Sunday, March 31, 2019

Discussion 4 (Conclusion) ~ Emily of New Moon Read-Along

Welcome to the fourth and final discussion of the Emily of New Moon read-along! ♥ If this is the first you've heard of the read-along, you can learn more about the schedule in this invitation post.

Today we're going to discuss chapters 25-31. If you've already read them, you can share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Emily of New Moon read-along tag.) If you still need to catch up, you're welcome to check in whenever you're ready. :)

Hope you enjoy the discussion!

~ ~ ~

Emily of New Moon: Chapters 25-31

Discussion format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and five questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes
  • "I can pray in my mind—I'm sure God can hear thoughts as well as words. It is nice to think He can hear me if nobody else can."
  • "You look like a star—you have a radiant sort of personality shining through you—your proper habitat should be the evening sky just after sunset—or the morning sky just before sunrise. Yes. You'd be more at home in the morning sky."
  • "If everybody had always been happy there'd be nothing to read about."
  • "Teddy will paint pictures and I will write poetry and we will have toast and bacon and marmalade every morning for breakfast—just like Wyther Grange—but never porridge. And we'll always have lots of nice things to eat in the pantry and I'll make lots of jam and Teddy is always going to help me wash the dishes."
  • "Time went on and autumn passed and winter came with its beautiful bare-limbed trees, and soft pearl-grey skies that were slashed with rifts of gold in the afternoons, and cleared to a jewelled pageantry of stars over the wide white hills and valleys around New Moon."
  • "Though I may not be very good-looking now, when I go to heaven I believe I'll be very beautiful."
  • "Elizabeth Murray had learned an important lesson—that there was not one law of fairness for children and another for grown-ups."
  • "For heaven's sake, girl, don't write what you can't understand yourself."

General Impressions

Confession time: I finished Emily of New Moon about a week ago and promptly proceeded to read Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest (completing the trilogy). I was eager to see what happened to Emily and her friends and how the series ended! Don't worry; I won't talk about those other two books and spoil anything here. ;) But if anyone else reads them and wants to chat, please feel free to comment below or message me through Goodreads or via email (! I'd love to hear your further thoughts on these characters and their lives. ♥

As for the end of the first book, I definitely found it intriguing. Emily has a couple of near-death experiences: one that leads to her friendship with Dean Priest, and another that leads to solving the mystery behind Ilse's mother's death.

Dean...I'm so torn about him! In some ways, his friendship with Emily is so charming and heartwarming. In other ways, some of the things he says when he first meets her (after saving her life) are a bit...shocking. But then, big age gaps in relationships are not uncommon in my family, and there's even a story I heard about my great-great grandparents (I believe) wherein my great-great grandfather saw my great-great grandmother when she was a little girl and he was a young man, and he knew right then he was going to marry her someday. So...! It's definitely not an unheard of thing, but it does feel a little jarring, hearing Dean hint at romance with a girl who could be his preteen daughter. Especially when he talks possessively. And yet, I couldn't help but be intrigued by what might come of it all in time. Maybe, down the road...?

Speaking of romance... Again, I realize Emily is a little young yet! But there are some really sweet moments with the boys in her life in these last chapters. Teddy and Emily share a secret adventure in the Disappointed House. While Emily doesn't seem to like the idea of marriage at this point, I think their daydreams of delicious breakfasts and helping each other with the dishes is pretty adorable. :) And then there's Emily's illness and the way Perry keeps watch through the night, so worried about her and wanting to know she'll be all right. ♥

We must talk about the new teacher in town! I love that Mr. Carpenter turns the education system upside down, just like Muriel Stacy in Anne of Green Gables. And I love the way he balances encouraging and challenging Emily in her writing, even if the challenges come off more strongly than the encouragement. ;) I'm so glad that these kids finally get a different teacher who is able to joke, wants to help the students excel in what they're best at, and doesn't treat them like Miss Brownell!

I loved seeing the relationship between Aunt Elizabeth and Emily grow and mature at the end. Aunt Elizabeth recognizes how she wronged Emily and actually asks for forgiveness! And Emily hurts when she realizes she hurt Aunt Elizabeth. It's realistic to know things don't become perfect after that scene, as is said in chapter 30: "Their points of view were so different that there were bound to be clashes; they did not speak the same language, so there was bound to be misunderstanding." And yet, I'm happy that there's been such progress and there is such hope for them. :)

As with other sections in this book, so much happens and develops in these chapters. And as I mentioned earlier, the introduction of these characters and their adventures made me want to read more and finish the trilogy to see how it all turns out! Also, isn't it neat how these last chapters set up the title of book 2, Emily Climbs? :)

Discussion Questions

Answer any or all five of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. What did you think of Emily's first meeting with Dean Priest (and the near-death experience that brought it about)?

2. How would you feel about having Mr. Carpenter as a teacher? Do you agree with his teaching methods and how he critiques Emily's works?

3. Were you surprised by the truth about what happened to Ilse's mother? How did this chapter ("When the Curtain Lifted") make you feel?

4. Which scene in this book was the most adorable (or romantic) to you?

5. What was your favorite part of Emily's story? What are you hopes or predictions for what will happen to her in the rest of the series?

Thank you for joining us for the Emily of New Moon read-along! I loved chatting about the book with you! 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Discussion 3 ~ Emily of New Moon Read-Along

Welcome to the third discussion of the Emily of New Moon read-along! ♥ If this is the first you've heard of the read-along, you can learn more about the schedule in this invitation post.

Today we're going to discuss chapters 18-24. If you've already read them, you can share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Emily of New Moon read-along tag.) If you still need to catch up, you're welcome to check in whenever you're ready. :)

Hope you enjoy the discussion!

~ ~ ~

Emily of New Moon: Chapters 18-24

Discussion format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and five questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes
  • "I'm in a scrape and I've been in it all summer. You see"—Emily was very sober—"I am a poetess." "Holy Mike! That is serious. I don't know if I can do much for you. How long have you been that way?"
  • "Of course, it was trash. Father Cassidy knew that well enough. All the same, for a child like this—and rhyme and rhythm were flawless—and there was one line—just one line—'the light of faintly golden stars'—for the sake of that line Father Cassidy suddenly said, 'Keep on,—keep on writing poetry.'"
  • "A queer feeling came into me and I thought 'What would I feel like if I was stuck before a big crowd of people like this? And besides the honour of the school is at stake,' so I whispered it to her because I was quite close. She got the rest all right. The strange thing is, dear Father, that now I don't feel any more as if I hated her. I feel quite kindly to her and it is much nicer. It is uncomfortable to hate people."
  • "'I love Revelations.' (And I do. When I read the verse 'and the twelve gates were twelve pearls' I just saw them and the flash came.)"
  • "A certain thing happened at New Moon because Teddy Kent paid Ilse Burnley a compliment one day and Emily Starr didn't altogether like it. Empires have been overturned for the same reason."
  • "Everybody who has ever lived in the world and could string two rhymes together has written a poem on spring. It is the most be-rhymed subject in the world—and always will be, because it is poetry incarnate itself."
  • "The air seemed to be filled with opal dust over the great pond and the bowery summer homesteads around it."
  • "Aunt Nancy says the way to be healthy is to eat just what you want and never think about your stomach."
  • "I can bear it when other people have a bad opinion of me but it hurts too much when I have a bad opinion of myself."

General Impressions

As you can see, I had a lot of favorite lines in this section...and there are so many more I could have included! I don't know if this will horrify you, but I've been underlining and writing in my used copy of the book. (I know!) But I enjoy doing that, especially for a read-along, as it makes it much easier to find lines I liked or remember my impressions. :) Anyway, if you looked at my copy, you'd see a good amount of "Ha!," "LOL," smiley faces, and exclamation points in the margins for this group of chapters.

I suppose it would make sense to start with Father Cassidy, as chapter 18 is all about Emily's encounter with him. I absolutely love his sense of humor, which is balanced so well with his kindness and respect for Emily. Yes, he does poke fun at her, in a sense, but he encourages her and speaks her language (as the narrator notes on page 194 in my copy). He listens to her and appreciates the gravity of her request to save the bush and of her passion for poetry. And he even writes her a letter, which means so much to her! He serves as an example to me of caring for children and their interests. :)

I also enjoyed seeing Lofty John humble himself (to some degree) and Aunt Elizabeth laugh some more and stand up for Emily at the Christmas gathering. Progress!! Speaking of progress, it's lovely to see Emily growing and maturing in her perspective of others (like in that third quote above regarding her archenemy Rhoda). But Emily still has plenty of growing left to do.

In the Teddy vs. Perry competition, I found it funny that Emily noted in one of her letters, "Teddy's [Christmas gift] was a little the nicest." She seems to be aware whom she favors of the two at this point in time. ;) Which explains why she really doesn't like Teddy complimenting Ilse (fifth quote above). LOL.

But oh my goodness! Perry's aunt Tom asking Emily to marry him when they're older...that scene was both unnerving (at the beginning) and hilarious (when Perry shows up). Perry telling Emily, "Ilse is better looking of course, and I don't know why I like you best but I do"...oh boy! But Emily's retorts are great, capped off by Perry's threat to knock Teddy's head off again. ;)

And then we end up at Wyther Grange. When Aunt Nancy asks Emily for a visit, it totally reminded me of Anne (in Anne of Green Gables) winning over Diana's great-aunt Josephine. (I confess that even though I've read the book, the images from the 1980s adaptation are ingrained in me!) Anyway, Aunt Nancy is quite a character, as is Caroline. Aunt Nancy says some absolutely hilarious things, like "The Murrays have keep-your-distance eyes" and "I never held with inflicting kisses on defenseless creatures simply because they were so unlucky as to be my relatives." LOL.

But as funny as Aunt Nancy can be, I don't really see her being a good influence on Emily, and I don't really care for how she treats poor Caroline, even if Caroline dishes it back some. While Emily notes the similarities between their friendship and hers with Ilse, I feel like there's an extra layer of meanness with these adults. Still...they do keep each other company and stick together, so there's that, I guess! I'm not sure what to think about Emily breaking the Jacobite glass... It was an accident, so I'm glad she wasn't punished severely, but perhaps there should have been some consequence? While Aunt Nancy's response isn't really instructive, it is funny, and I can't blame her for being relieved! ;)

One last note: It was interesting to see the reference to Gothic romances at the beginning of chapter 23. Yep, there seems to be a flavor of that in Emily's story, and it's fun to see the author mentioning that genre!

Discussion Questions

Answer any or all five of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. What are your impressions of Father Cassidy? What do you like or not like about how he interacts with Emily?

2. If you could pick a line from these chapters that resonates with you the most—that makes you think, That's me!—what line would it be and why?

3. How did you feel about the Murray Christmas gathering described in chapter 20? How is it different from or similar to some of your own family Christmases (from childhood or more recently)?

4. What was something fashionable when you were younger that you really wanted, like Emily's desire for bangs? Have your tastes changed since then?

5. If you were invited to visit Wyther Grange for a while, would you want to go? What might you think of the place and its occupants?

Join us next Sunday for our last discussion! 
(Chapters 25-31)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Maya's Story: A Hiatus

Hi, friends! I just wanted to pop in really quick and let you know that I haven't forgotten about Maya's story. I really wish I had another chapter ready to post, but I confess I don't at this time. :( However, I do hope to write another four chapters soon to complete the story! If you haven't read the first four chapters, here are the links:
For the moment, I guess you can consider this the intermission halfway through the project. ;) Thank you so much for your patience, and I hope it won't be too long before I have the next set of chapters ready to share! ♥

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Discussion 2 ~ Emily of New Moon Read-Along

Welcome to the second discussion of the Emily of New Moon read-along! ♥ If this is the first you've heard of the read-along, you can learn more about the schedule in this invitation post.

Today we're going to discuss chapters 11-17. If you've already read them, you can share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Emily of New Moon read-along tag.) If you still need to catch up, you're welcome to check in whenever you're ready. :)

Hope you enjoy the discussion!

~ ~ ~

Emily of New Moon: Chapters 11-17

Discussion format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and five questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes
  • "I should not write fassinating again because you told me I must not use the same word too often but I cant think of any other that deskribes my feelings so well."
  • "The call always had an odd effect on Emily; it seemed to her that it fairly drew the heart out of her body—and she had to follow it. She thought Teddy could have whistled her clear across the world with those three magic notes."
  • "Ilse glanced happily around her—poor little neglected Ilse, who found in Emily's companionship what she had hungered for all her short life and who was, even now, being led by love into something of her rightful heritage."
  • "Old Kelly thought that the surest way to please a female creature of any age was to tease her about getting married."
  • "Perry was away with Cousin Jimmy all day and when he came home at night he said to me, very feerce, Who has been making you cry. I said I had been crying—a little but not much—because I was not let go to the party because I had laughed at prayers. And Perry marched right up to Aunt Elizabeth and told her it was all his fault that I laughed."
  • "There is a beautiful fringe of isikles along the cookhouse roof. But there will be much more beautiful things in heaven."
  • "Spring is such a happyfying time isn't it, Father."

General Impressions

For a sweet but emotional coming-of-age story, these chapters sure seem action packed! We get to know Ilse much better, and we also meet Teddy and Perry. There are lovely scenes with the children playing and spending time together, and then there are scenes full of excitement and horror—like when Emily thinks she's been poisoned, or when the teacher decides to be very awful (and completely unprofessional) and reads Emily's poetry aloud to the class in a mocking way. (Just...ugh!!)

Did anyone else think the scene where Emily gets locked in the spare room as similar to the red-room scene in Jane Eyre? There does seem to be a bit of Gothic flair to this story!

Overall, I'm really enjoying getting to know Emily's new home, family, and friends. The moment when Aunt Elizabeth actually cracks a smile over Emily's dramatic near-poisoning suggests there might be hope for her to grow more tender in time. (A very, very small ray of hope, but still!) As always, Aunt Laura is a dear, and I absolutely love when Cousin Jimmy speaks up and reminds Aunt Elizabeth and Miss Brownell that no human should kneel before anyone but God in that way. (Go, Jimmy! And I'm so glad Elizabeth listened and changed her mind.)

I'm pretty sure I would be like Emily in having to adjust to the constant tantrums and fights with a friend, but I must admit that Ilse is hilarious and charmingly genuine in all she thinks and feels. I love how her friendship with Emily is helping her grow and opening her eyes to truths beyond her dad's opinions.

As for Teddy and Perry... Goodness, I like both of them. ♥ I love Teddy's gentleness and sweet friendship, and I love Perry's forthrightness and protective nature. Perry standing up for Emily makes my romantic heart happy, even though I realize they're a little young to be thinking too romantically yet. ;) (This is making me want to find out what happens in the rest of the trilogy though!)

There are so many humorous lines and scenes in this section of the book, and it's really fun to get some of Emily's point of view through her letters to her father. I'm looking forward to reading more and seeing how Emily's friendships and writing develop!

Discussion Questions

Answer any or all five of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. If you could have Ilse, Teddy, or Perry as your friend, which one do you think you would get along with the best? Which one do you think would help you grow the most?

2. What did you think of Emily's response when Lofty John suggests she's eaten poison? How might you have reacted similarly or differently?

3. Which scene did you find the most humorous in these chapters? What part particularly made you laugh or smile?

4. Imagine yourself as a student in the classroom when Miss Brownell is reading Emily's poetry—or in the house when Miss Brownell comes to speak with Aunt Elizabeth. How would you feel, and what might you do to come to Emily's aid during or after the incident?

5. If you lived at New Moon, which season would be your favorite to experience?

Join us next Sunday for our third discussion! 
(Chapters 18-24)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Discussion 1 ~ Emily of New Moon Read-Along

Welcome to the first discussion of the Emily of New Moon read-along! ♥ Before we get started, if this is the first you've heard of the read-along, you can learn more about the schedule in this invitation post.

Today we're going to discuss chapters 1-10. If you've already read them, you can share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Emily of New Moon read-along tag.) If you still need to catch up, you're welcome to check in whenever you're ready. :)

Hope you enjoy the discussion!

~ ~ ~

Emily of New Moon: Chapters 1-10

Discussion format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and five questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes
  • "Darkness and hobgoblins were nothing when you had plenty of company. But to be alone—ah, Emily shivered with the delicious horror of it!"
  • "It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse—and heard a note of unearthly music."
  • "Your mother thought Emily the prettiest name in the world,—it was quaint and arch and delightful, she said."
  • "Everything we had was small except our love and our happiness."
  • "One couldn't be afraid or bitter where love was—and love was everywhere." 
  • "Nobody who was loved as much as he was could be a failure."
  • "Books were Emily's friends wherever she found them."

General Impressions

I'm fairly certain this will be my first time reading through Emily of New Moon... (Unless I'm forgetting something!) I think it's felt familiar so far because I might have tried starting it when I got this copy and especially because I watched some of a mini-series based on this book with my uncle and grandparents when I was younger. (Not entirely sure how far we got through that!)

Anyway... ;)

Some elements remind me of Anne of Green Gables: the fact that Emily is orphaned, her love for nature and describing it through lovely words, and the way she feels different from everyone else. But Emily definitely seems to be her own character, and I appreciate her love for cats, her passion for writing, and her desire to honor her father's memory.

Her three new guardians are also quite different from Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (from Anne of Green Gables), although Emily is still getting a mix of strict upbringing and secret kindness. I really hope Aunt Elizabeth softens and starts to see what a blessing she has in Emily. I love Aunt Laura and her gentle ways! And Cousin Jimmy... I do like the thoughtfulness and generosity he shows Emily, although I'm not sure what to think about the times a switch seems to flip and he frightens Emily with his intensity (not meanness, though, thank goodness!).

New Moon itself seems charming, if a bit dark with the stories it holds and the fact that they only use candlelight at night. I hope Emily will come to love the sound of the sea. :) And I'm eager to see how this place, with the nearby fairy path and Jimmy's beautiful garden and the property's dear quirks, becomes home to her.

Of course, there's also school and making "friends." The back cover description assures me there are more true friends to come on the scene, which gives me hope! It's not all that fun to read about how "children can be the most cruel creatures alive" (a quote from chapter 8). Ugh! Makes me think of Lord of the Flies by William Golding (thank goodness things aren't that bad in Emily's story...but still!), which is a book I had to read for school once upon a time that I really, really didn't like. But I guess all this serves as a reminder that we humans are sinful beings from birth and in desperate need of God's grace and mercy.

Chapter 10 ends with a sweet little poem and a promise of great big trouble to come...

Discussion Questions

Answer any or all five of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. What did you think of Emily's life before her father passed away? What stood out to you as wonderful or sad?

2. Which of Emily's Murray relatives has made the greatest impression on you so far in either a positive or negative way? What is it that makes their character so striking?

3. Are you a cat person? What did you think of Emily's choice between Saucy Sal and Mike?

4. Are you a fan of poetry like Emily? If you enjoy reading it, do you prefer blank-verse or rhyming poetry? What's your favorite poem you've read or written?

5. What are your thoughts on Emily's school experience so far? If you could step in and make changes to the system, what might you do?

Join us next Sunday for our second discussion! 
(Chapters 11-17)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Chapter 4 | Maya's Unconventional, Not-So-Fictional Romance {A Just-for-Fun YA Story}

Maya's Unconventional, Not-So-Fictional Romance is a young-adult story I'm writing just for fun! I'm sharing a new chapter each week.

Maya's adventures continue on the Fourth of July, meeting new people and finding herself challenged in different ways. If you'd like to see how her journey on the Northern California coast began, here are links to the first three chapters...
Chapter 4 starts now. Thank you for tuning in!

Maya's Unconventional, Not-So-Fictional Romance
By Amber Holcomb

Chapter 4

As it turned out, Conner lived in Arcata, about a 20-minute drive south of Trinidad. His family's house was one of the few normal-looking ones in an area crowned by small Victorian homes of various colors ranging from subdued blue to bright pink.

Maya drove herself there—the farthest she had ventured out since the move. She briefly panicked about finding a parking spot, but one appeared down a nearby street that didn't require fancy parallel-parking techniques, thank goodness. For a moment, she sat in the quiet of her car, taking a few deep breaths to calm her nerves and wondering if she should have offered to bring some sort of side dish.

A man with long dreadlocks pulled into a ponytail ambled down the sidewalk, and once he'd passed, Maya grabbed her orange fabric purse and stepped out of the car.

She arrived at the front porch of Conner's house at the same time as a middle-aged man and a girl who might be close to her own age. She offered them a smile but didn't know what to say or how to greet them. The girl, who had straight auburn hair and a bag of potato chips clutched in one arm, held out her free hand. "Hi! My name's Lucy, and this is my dad."

The man, whose hair color nearly matched his daughter's, nodded with a polite smile as Maya shook Lucy's hand and then his.

"Um, I'm Maya. Conner's friend."

Lucy's grin widened. "You know Conner? He's my cousin. He's a few years older than me, but he's really cool and fun to hang out with. We have some other cousins who should be here today too."

"Cool." Maya held her purse close to her side, wishing she had something else to bring inside. She followed Lucy and her dad up the three short steps and let them be the ones to knock.

A woman answered and held the door open. "Hey, Rick, Lucy. Come on in!" Then the woman caught sight of Maya standing behind them and offered her hand once the others had passed. "You must be Maya. So glad you could come." Her smile was warm, and her soft face looked cheery framed by her short, platinum-blonde curls.

Maya shook her hand and smiled in return. "Thank you so much for letting me come."

"Of course." The woman who must be Conner's mom ushered her inside. "Before I forget, let me go grab the book I want you to borrow. As soon as Conner told me you were reading classics this summer, I knew I had to introduce you to this. Be right back."

Conner's mom hurried off, weaving through a small crowd gathered in a large open room to the right. While Maya waited, she thought about how her mom and Conner's would probably like each other, given their shared love of reading. Maybe if they had a chance to meet, they'd become BFFs.

Voices filtered over from the room tucked down the hallway to her left, which appeared to be a kitchen from the smell of barbecued meat wafting from that direction.

Before Conner's mom returned, Conner himself stepped away from a group of guys and met her in the entryway. "Hey! Did my mom abandon you?"

"She's just grabbing a book for me." Maya slid her purse down her shoulder. "Where should I set this?"

"Right there is fine," he said, pointing to a bench with a variety of tennis shoes and sandals beneath it.

Maya set her purse next to another much smaller, less colorful one on the bench and untied her sneakers, placing them among the other shoes. When she stood up, she found Conner smiling at her with an openness that caused her own smile to bloom.

"I'm happy you're here," he told her. "Let me introduce you to my cousins."

Maya was about to tell him she'd already met one of them when Conner's mom reappeared. "Here you go!" She held out a little hardcover book that looked old but beautiful, with red and gold flowers etched on the green cover. "It's a collection of essays called Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. Perfect summer reading. I bet you'll love it."

Her excitement had Maya accepting the book with an eagerness usually reserved for the days when she discovered new releases available at the library. "Thank you so much for letting me borrow it." She turned and gently slipped the book into her purse. "I promise I"ll be careful with it and give it back to Conner soon."

When she turned back around, Conner's mom beamed at her. "No rush, sweetie. I love introducing people to great books." She glanced at Conner. "Are you going to introduce Maya to everyone?"


"Good. Lunch should be ready soon." And with that, she headed off down the hall—a woman on a mission.

"Your mom is really nice," Maya said.

Conner nodded in agreement. "She is. Ready to meet some more of my family?"

He didn't give her a chance to say no or run away...which she may or may not have been tempted to do. Instead, he put a supportive, guiding hand on her back and led her to the two guys he'd been talking with earlier.

"This is Drake," he said, nodding to the younger one, who had a kind, rounded face. "And this is Tanner." He tilted his head to the taller guy with a more angular face and a full head of hair even darker than Conner's.

"Hi. I'm Maya," she said to both of them, hoping her smile didn't look as awkward as she imagined it to be.

"Hey," they replied. Tanner raised the cup he was holding in a semi-salute that almost made her giggle. She bit her lip to contain her grin as she watched a trickle of the guy's soda run down the clear plastic and over his fingers.

"These two and Luce are my best friends. Lots of family gatherings over the years, so it's not like we had much choice." But one look at Conner's face told Maya that he didn't resent the fact at all. He clearly enjoyed having them as friends, if his grin and relaxed expression were any indication.

"Did you guys start talking about me while I was in the kitchen?" Lucy appeared beside Maya, obviously the youngest of the group and used to tagging along.

"We were telling Maya how terrible you are at Mario Kart," Tanner said, grinning mischievously.

"What?" Lucy practically shrieked, startling Maya. But none of the adults sitting on the couch or standing near the front window reacted or paused in their conversations. "You guys are totally going down!" Lucy continued, her tone still one of high-pitched outrage. "I will prove once and for all that I'm the best."

Drake chuckled, hands in his jeans pockets, just like Conner. Maya caught Conner and Tanner exchanging a glance before Conner said, "You're on. Right after lunch." Then he met Maya's gaze and asked, "You'll play, too, right?"

Maya felt Lucy's excited energy mounting as the girl bounced up and down on the balls of her sock-clad feet. Tanner and Drake seemed both chill and happy at the thought of new competition. And Conner... He looked at her with such hope that she felt enveloped in a cozy sense of belonging.

"Only if you don't mind getting your butt kicked," she said.

The group "ooh"-ed appropriately, and Conner's gaze narrowed in friendly challenge.

Maya smiled triumphantly.

* * *

It was probably the best Fourth of July Maya had celebrated since she was a little girl. While she only won one race when they played Mario Kart on the Wii, it happened to be the very first game—and thus, obviously, the most important. Lucy had high-fived her, Tanner and Drake had groaned good-naturedly, and Conner had tipped his head in appreciation of her victory, his eyes almost twinkling with the sunlight that streamed in through the living-room blinds.

Lunch had been a lot of fun too. There had been hamburgers and hot dogs, a whole table full of chip bags, potato salad, a green salad topped with cucumbers and little cherry tomatoes, watermelon, and strawberries in a glass bowl. For dessert, they had a variety of cookies and brownies to choose from.

All the adults—Tanner and Drake's parents, Conner's mom, Lucy's dad, and two more couples, plus a set of grandparents—had been welcoming and kept the stories and laughter flowing in abundance.

Maya had returned home full. And the great day had ended with a trip to Eureka at night with her parents to see the fireworks over the bay. Each white sparkle and purple pop and red bang had sent shivers of hope through her. She'd left behind family and friends and interesting places, but maybe she could love this new home too.

But then the rest of the week fizzled in comparison. Maya had exchanged cell-phone numbers with Lucy, but hadn't yet heard from her. Conner had agreed to take someone's shift at work on Saturday, so he couldn't come to the beach with Ace for their usual walk. After the excitement of the holiday, Maya found herself growing bored. She didn't want to read another book for school. She was tired of unpacking boxes of dishes and clothes. And the house was so quiet, her parents busy preparing for their classes in the fall. Maya wanted to do something and nothing—but nothing was winning each new day.

It wasn't until the Monday after the Fourth-of-July party that Maya decided to pick up the book Conner's mom had lent her: The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome. She didn't really think she'd like it, but she found herself chuckling while reading the preface and giggling through the first random essay. She devoured the whole collection that afternoon, feeling better for the laughter and the understanding—as this man from the 1800s articulated her feelings so precisely on topics like the hardship of getting out of bed and the way moodiness tends to strike in the evening.

For a while after she finished the book, she sat curled up in the corner of the couch, thinking. Then she got up, grabbed her journal and a pen from the desk in her room, and returned to write her own "idle thoughts."

"On Being Homesick and Lonely"

I've been homesick many times, since I've experienced many moves and new homes. I don't know exactly which place I'm homesick for most; I guess it's usually the last place I lived because that's where I'd been trying to rebuild my life, and that's where my most recent set of friends are.

In some ways, I like change. I like the thought of what's waiting for me, of what might be exciting and new. But I don't like having to settle down and make friends again and again. It's hard work. It's lonely work for a long time.

Wouldn't it be nice if you moved to a place and were given a set of friends along with the keys to your new home? You wouldn't have to try and fail, to reach out and feel rejected. They would just be there, wanting to spend time with you.

But I guess those friendships wouldn't feel very real. You wouldn't have a story of when you met that you could laugh over together after you've been friends for a long time. You wouldn't have those early memories and the closeness you feel only when someone has chosen you when you were alone. I wouldn't even trade these awkward but awesome weeks with Conner just to be automatic best friends with him and his cousins. It's just hard to remember all this when I'm feeling lonely and tired of trying. I guess that's why I need to remind myself.

Maya read over her very short essay, which wasn't exactly profound, but somehow made her feel a bit more hopeful.

She hadn't realized how dark the room had gotten in the early evening gloom until her mom turned on the tall lamp next to the other side of the couch.

"Is that better?" her mom asked with a parental smirk that had a chuckle behind it.

"I guess so." Maya grinned.

Her mom sat next to her, pulling down the light blanket from the top of the couch to drape over their laps. "What are you writing?"

"Just some thoughts." She held up her closed journal, then set it on the end table. After a moment of comfortable silence, she added, "I wish it wasn't so hard to make friends."

Her mom patted her knee. "I know. I like Conner though. He seems like a nice boy."

Maya nodded. "I was just hoping his cousin Lucy might text me. She's a couple years younger than me, but she seems really fun and sweet. And I wish Conner would invite me to hang out again, since Saturday didn't work."

"Well, maybe you have to be the one to reach out to them this time. It's not always about who does the inviting. It's still a gift if someone wants to spend time with you, even if they didn't reach out first."

Maya pulled at a string coming loose at the edge of the blanket. "But I don't know my way around the area like they do." She glanced up in time to catch her mom's sympathetic smile.

"You don't have to. Sometimes all it takes is a kind gesture to get the ball rolling."

"But I was the one who wrote Conner a letter. I've used up my bravery."

Her mom's laugh was full of love. "Remember, Conner invited you to that family gathering last week. Don't keep score, honey. Just be a good friend yourself, and the rest will fall into place. It might be hard sometimes, and not everyone will stick with you, but you'll never regret being the initiator. You've been so good about that before. Don't lose heart now."

Maya felt her eyes water, and she laid her head on her mom's shoulder. "Thanks, Mom. I love you."

A gentle hand swept back her curls. "Love you too."

* * *

That night, Maya sent two texts. One to Lucy, asking her how she was doing and seeing if she'd maybe want to go shopping sometime. The other to Conner, asking how his shift went on Saturday and wanting to know if he and Ace could show her a new trail.

Copyright © 2019 Amber Christine Holcomb