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Love Like Sky
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 8, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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"Love ain't like that."
"How is it then?" Peaches asked, turning on her stomach to face me.
"It's like sky. If you keep driving and driving, gas will run out, right?"
"That's why we gotta go to the gas station."
"Yep. But have you ever seen the sky run out? No matter how far we go?"
"No, when we look up, there it is."
"Well that's the kind of love Daddy and Mama got for us, Peaches — love like sky."
"It never ends?"
G-baby and her younger sister, Peaches, are still getting used to their "blended-up" family. They live with Mama and Frank out in the suburbs, and they haven't seen their real daddy much since he married Millicent. G-baby misses her best friend back in Atlanta, and is crushed that her glamorous new stepsister, Tangie, wants nothing to do with her.
G-baby is so preoccupied with earning Tangie's approval that she isn't there for her own little sister when she needs her most. Peaches gets sick-really sick. Suddenly, Mama and Daddy are arguing like they did before the divorce, and even the doctors at the hospital don't know how to help Peaches get better.
It's up to G-baby to put things right. She knows Peaches can be strong again if she can only see that their family's love for her really is like sky.
Copyright © 2018 by Leslie C. Youngblood
Cover art © 2018 by Vashti Harrison
Designed by Marci Senders
Cover design by Marci Senders
All rights reserved. Published by Disney Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
To my brother, Samuel C. Griffin, and all of those who are smiling on us from above.
“Ooh, watch me, watch me. Ooh, watch me, watch me,” I sang as I finished the Nae Nae, and Peaches clapped. No one was hardly even doing that dance anymore, or the Dougie, but Peaches still liked for me to do ’em. They were her favorites.
“Dance some more, G-baby,” Peaches yelled.
“Let me catch my breath first. That was the third time.” I flopped down next to her on my bed, worn out.
Being a big sister was hard work. I was dancing the Nae Nae and the Dougie darn near every day. Sorta like I was on Grandma Sugar’s favorite show, Dancing with the Stars, except I was dancing in pajamas and my bare feet.
And if all that wasn’t enough, I let Peaches sleep in my room, when she had her very own. She only ever wanted to go in her room to feed her goldfish, Girl. Guess I can’t blame her, my room was pretty spiffy. I picked out everything in my favorite color—lilac, which is like purple with milk in it.
It’s not like I had much else to do since Mama got remarried and we moved out here to Snellville, Georgia. It don’t even sound like a place kids should live unless they want to collect bugs. When we were in Atlanta, my best friend, Nikki, and I went to the mall every weekend. There were more singers, rappers, and other famous people at Lenox mall during Christmas than I could name. But not one in Snaily Snellville.
Like Nikki always said: “Zip. Zero. Zilch.”
I thought one cool thing about Mama marrying our new stepdaddy, Frank, and moving us out here would be that I’d have a big sister; that’s something that even Nikki doesn’t have. Her situation isn’t as bad as all that, though, because she has a big brother, Jevon. Sure, he teases her and makes her do his housework, but Nikki can still go to him if she needs help. Even though Mama says I can always talk to her, she means Mama stuff, like if someone is bullying me, or if a teacher is mean. Not like how to kiss a boy, or when it’s time to sneak a few cotton balls in my bra, ’cause Nikki says I’m flat as a pancake.
It don’t even seem like we got a spanking-new big stepsister right across the hall. We’ve been together in our new house for six months, and she’s never invited me into her room—never even seen her door open all the way. She left it cracked once, just enough for me to see a zillion cheerleading and gymnastics trophies in there.
“Look, G-baby, I’m jumping like Tangie!” Peaches hopped up and down, using my other bed as a trampoline. Funny thing is that neither one of us had ever seen Tangie jump in real life, just in videos Frank liked to show us sometimes.
“Stop that before you break your neck. And you’re making too much noise.”
“Can’t nobody hear me,” she said. “Can I ask you somethin’, G-baby?”
“Do you think Tangie don’t like us ’cause her real sister’s in heaven?”
That question almost knocked me off the bed. Took me a minute to figure out what to say, since I’m supposed to have all the answers. That’s what it means to be a big sister, and why I want one of my very own. I’d have to share her with Peaches, like my room, but that’s fine with me.
“Remember when we first met Frank and you cried because he wasn’t Daddy?”
“Well, Tangie might feel a little like that. She doesn’t intentionally not like us, but she misses her own sister.”
“Will she like us one day?”
“Maybe. It might take longer than it took for us to like Frank.”
“Umm, ’cause she’s a teenager, and like Mama says, ‘she has a mind of her own.’”
“We share minds, G-baby?”
“No, everybody got their separate minds…but when you get to be a teenager it works differently.”
“You’ll be a teenager soon?”
“Yep, in two years, I’ll be thirteen.”
“Will you have a mind of your own, too?”
“You’ll still love me?”
“Not if you keep jumping on the bed, I won’t,” I said, trying to sound serious.
A second later she crash-landed on the floor and made a huge bang, because she’s chunky for six. I’m kinda tall and skinny, what Mama calls “a beanpole.” The school nurse said I was fifty-three inches, that’s almost five feet. Mama says I’m bound to sprout up past that at any moment.
You don’t have to study long to tell we’re sisters. We both got Mama’s dark brown eyes and dime-size dimples, but Mama said we’re “double fudge-dipped,” like our real daddy.
Just then, Mama opened the door and stepped into my room. Last night, we put gel on Mama’s hair, then twirled it around spongy rods. After that she covered it with a silk scarf. Now her hair was big and curly around her face, and it made her look like an angel.
She had on pink lip gloss, and her eyelashes were as long as a baby doll’s. Frank calls Mama his “cinnamon beauty.”
“G-baby, Peaches, what are you two doing in here?”
“Nuttin’,” Peaches fibbed, scrambling up off the floor.
“Too loud to be nuttin’. You two behave yourself. Frank and I are getting ready to leave.” Mama kissed me on the cheek, then Peaches.
I sniffed. “Red Door!”
“You are a little bloodhound.” Mama kissed me again. She has a dresser full of fancy perfume bottles. I can always tell which one she’s wearing.
Peaches hugged Mama. “I knew it, too.”
“No, you didn’t,” I said. Peaches is always trying to get in on something.
“Fooling with you two gonna make us late for our date night,” Mama said, as she tickled Peaches.
Mama didn’t start that date-night business until she read President Obama and the First Lady had ’em. When Mama explained it, she said they’re like “mini honeymoons.” Now, once a month, sometimes twice, she and Frank get dressed up, and go out to dinner and a movie. Sometimes they even go dancing.
Mama calls those nights “the whole shebang.” But I bet when Malia and Sasha lived in the White House, they weren’t stuck in their rooms while their parents were out doing “the whole shebang.” I wondered if, when Malia was a little girl, did she ever want a big sister?
“Katrina…” Frank called, his keys jingling as he jogged up the steps. His voice is deeper than Daddy’s. Grandma Sugar said he sounds like Barry White. Frank used to be a marine and likes to be on time for everything.
A few seconds later he was at the door dressed in his favorite navy-blue sports jacket and tan pants. He’d shaved and was in shape like a soldier, unlike Daddy who’d slap his belly and say, “This here is evidence of good living.”
“If you two behave yourselves, we might bring home doggie bags,” Frank said.
Peaches’s eyes lit up. “Chocolate cake?”
“That’s your favorite, isn’t it?” Frank said.
“G-baby’s, too.” Peaches pointed at me.
Frank held up two fingers. “Couple doggie bags it is.” He palmed my head and then Peaches’s.
That’s his way of hugging us.
“We’re leaving, Tangie,” he shouted on his way downstairs.
“Yeah, okay!” she yelled without opening her door.
“We’ll be home before midnight.” Mama blew us kisses and walked out the door.
I folded my arms. “Mama?”
“Yes, G-baby?” She stepped back in.
My words stuck in my throat.
“What is it, honey?”
“You think if you and Daddy had date nights, you’d still be married?” I asked. Mama and Daddy divorced three years ago. She and Frank have been married close to one.
Mama unfolded my arms. “Oh, sweetie. It wasn’t one thing that could have fixed your daddy and me. If it was, we would’ve done it. Understand?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“But grown-ups who’ve been married before learn from mistakes and try to get it right the next time.”
“Is Daddy coming to see us soon like you said, Mama?” Peaches asked.
Now I really felt bad for saying anything. Sometimes most of my dancing was to make Peaches get used to the fact that we were in what Mama called a “blended family” and there I had to go talking about Daddy.
“I’m sure he will, baby.”
I glanced at Mama’s hands to make sure she wasn’t crossing her fingers behind her back.
Mama planted a kiss on Peaches’s forehead, then gave me a big hug. I sniffed her perfume and wasn’t sure it was Red Door. She could be fibbing about Daddy calling, too.
When Mama and Daddy first tried to explain it, Mama said sometimes grown-ups “fall out of love.” The best I can figure it: love is just a big old bed. When you’re not happy, you fall out of it.
When I heard Frank toot his horn twice, I ran to the window and watched them drive off. Frank’s minivan was the only thing moving outside. Some houses had lights on, but there was no other sign anyone was home, not even a dog barking. When we lived in College Park in Atlanta, if you stared outside long enough, you were bound to see someone opening a window, closing a curtain, or coming out to sit on the porch. This whole entire neighborhood seemed to have an eight o’clock curfew.
As I stood there, I plotted how I could get Tangie out of her room.
“Think he’ll call tonight?” Peaches asked.
“I doubt it,” I snapped, though I didn’t mean to. “Who knows, maybe.”
“Do you still love Daddy?”
“Of course. That’s a silly question,” I said as quickly as I could.
Peaches went back to jumping on my bed. All the jumping made her ponytails come loose. She had two thick puffs of hair on both sides of her head, with butterfly barrettes hanging on.
Before I could work out anything close to a way to talk to Tangie, she called “Dinner!” from downstairs.
As soon as we sat down, Tangie slid our plates in front of us. Tonight, it was chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and sweet peas.
Tangie stood next to me filling my glass with apple juice like I couldn’t do it myself. Her hair was in a million tiny braids she’d put up in a messy bun to hide the braids that were unraveling. And like cool girls on TV, her long T-shirt was hanging off one shoulder and had Georgia National Cheerleading Competition written on the front.
I closed my eyes and leaned over the plate. “Mmmm, this smells so good. I love peas.”
“G-baby, you said before that you don’t like—”
I kicked Peaches’s foot hard enough so she’d stop talking. She wrinkled up her face and chomped down on a nugget.
Tangie didn’t say a word as she dropped napkins on the glass tabletop.
“Tangie?” I asked.
For the first time that night, she looked at me. Tangie’s hair and eyes were sandy brown like Frank’s, but she had a face full of teeny-weeny freckles.
“Uh…can you teach me to cook like you?”
She sighed. “Open a can of peas. Pour them in a pot. Get some frozen nuggets, put them inside the stove. Turn the thing on. And voilà! You’re cooking.”
“Well, you made the peas taste delicious. Better than Mama’s.” I bit my lip.
I hadn’t even tasted half a pea, too scared she’d say something and my mouth would be full.
Peaches’s eyes widened. “Nobody cooks better than Mama.”
Tangie turned to leave but paused to uncuff her sweats.
“Pink!” Peaches shouted when she saw the word printed on Tangie’s backside. “Oooh, your daddy said not to wear them pants.”
I almost choked on the peas I’d finally shoveled into my mouth. Peaches didn’t know when to shut up. I squinted my eyes so tight at her she was only a head. “Frank only said she can’t wear ’em out the house,” I corrected.
What he’d really said: “No daughter of mine is walking around with big letters across her butt. Just like she isn’t going out with no octopus college boy.”
Tangie ignored her, and Peaches knew better than to glance my way.
I had a feeling why Frank called the college boy “an octopus,” and it wasn’t good. He might be like that boy at my old school who got sent to the principal’s office for pinching girls on the behind.
On her way out the kitchen, she ordered, “Before you two come upstairs, I want the table cleaned off and the dishes put in the dishwasher.” Then she glared at me. “And could you keep your sister quiet and not work my nerves for a change?”
“Don’t ‘ma’am’ me. I’m not one hundred,” she snapped.
An hour later, Peaches tired out and fell asleep, but I was still wide-awake. If Tangie’s music wasn’t loud, and Peaches wasn’t jumping around, all I heard was crickets. I lay there in bed looking up at the ceiling, wondering how many lonely crickets were out there rubbing their wings together. Then, along with crickets, I heard voices outside.
I got up and flew to the window. In the corner of our porch I saw Tangie talking to a boy.
I once heard Tangie giggling about a boy named Marshall to her best friend, Valerie, so I guessed he must be the octopus. She’d snuck those Pink sweats out in her purse when Frank made her take us to the mall with her and Valerie. Valerie kept an eye on Peaches and me while Tangie changed in the bathroom. I got two dollars, and Peaches got fifty cents, for keeping our mouths shut.
“You don’t have to pay me, Tangie. I’m not a tattletale,” I’d said, standing in front of Chick-fil-A.
“Well, you look like one,” Tangie had said, and she and Valerie laughed.
When I put that out of my mind, it hit me: this was my chance to prove her wrong. If Frank caught Octopus at our house, he would ground Tangie for life and then some. I had to keep watch for her.
Trying to get another glimpse, I bumped my head against the pane.
I bit my lip and leaned back. Then the front door opened. I peeped out again, and they’d gone.
“Peaches?” I called real low. Good, still asleep. I tiptoed over to the window.
The first step in being sisters, even stepsisters, was not to be a tattletale. This was my chance to show Tangie all her secrets would be safe with me without her paying me a dime. Even as I thought about that, though, butterflies went fluttering in my stomach like when I had to give my speech about Shirley Chisholm in front of the whole class.
I inched into the hall and stood at the top of the stairs. I couldn’t hear anything. Holding my breath and tiptoeing, I crept down the first step, then the second and third.
“Where is your car?” I heard Tangie say.
“Around the corner. You sure you can’t leave for an hour?”
“Nada chance. The older one is talking about cooking. Nothing but a house fire waiting to happen.”
“I’m not,” I said under my breath, glad Peaches didn’t hear Tangie’s meanness.
“But they’re sleeping,” he said in his library voice.
Please don’t check. Please. I squeezed my eyes shut.
“If they weren’t, the chubby one would be shaking the floors. But I can’t leave them here alone.”
“Not even for me? C’mon, please. We won’t be gone long.”
“I can’t risk it.”
“Y’all out here in the ’burbs. How risky can that be?”
“They’re little kids. Think about it.”
“You’re right. My bad. But I can only stay a sec. Meeting up with my roomie and a few others to lock down some plans.”
“So you’re going through with it?”
“Have you heard anything on the news or social media about Roderick Thomas?”
“See. Told ya. That’s what I’m talking ’bout.” Each of Marshall’s words sounded like exclamation points. “Media and social sites only get riled up when somebody is killed. What about the everyday violations of black people? Rod’s like the second one harassed this month.”
“No lawyer, huh?” Tangie asked.
“Tee, we talked about that.” Marshall sighed. “Not everybody can lawyer up. This is real life, not Law and Order. But what we can do is march, obstruct traffic, whatever we need to at the very spot the police stopped him. When it happens to any of them, it happens to me. I can’t just sit back.” He must have hit his fist into his palm because it sounded like someone catching a baseball in a mitt. “I can’t.”
His voice was low and heavy with sadness. I felt like an intruder for eavesdropping, but Frank wouldn’t care how his voice sounded if he caught him in the living room.
I’d leaned forward a bit more to hear Tangie because her voice was even lower, like when Mama comes in to tell Peaches and me good night.
“I know we’ve gotta do something. But blocking traffic? That’s what the mayor wouldn’t allow during the Ferguson protest downtown. Trying to cross that barricade got protesters arrested. My dad and I were there.”
“Can’t barricade what they don’t know. And if some of us get thrown in jail, better for this than for no reason at all.”
My stomach twisted when he said that. I’d heard Frank tell Mama that he and Tangie were at one of the Ferguson protests. He said it was the closest he’d been to going to jail since he was in his teens. When I saw Michael Brown’s picture on TV, I asked Mama could I go, too. But she said that I was too little. But every time she’d see his picture she’d say, “Bless his mama, Lord. Bless his mama.”
“Count me in, Marshall. I mean, I can make posters, whatever you need me to do. I just can’t go tonight. But for the protest, I want to be there.”
“Not happening for about two weeks or so. Thinking about gathering in the evening. How are you going to get away?”
“I’ll come up with something. If he could just get to know you, then he’d see what you’re all about.”
He laughed quietly. “Yeah, he’d see I’m all about you.”
She said something soft back, and they moved away from the stairs. I heard whispering and then…smacking. Loud smacking.
Kissing. They’re kissing.
To get to my room, I had to go for it now. I got as low as a turtle and crept back.
Nikki. I wanted to tell Nikki but knew better. The first time she got mad at me, she’d go tell anyone who looked her way.
This was my first real little sister test, and I had to ace it.
Then a light flashed in my window. I raced to check it out. If it were Mama and Frank, nothing would stop me from leaping down those steps like a super ninja to warn Tangie.
“Whew!” I said when two taillights lit the street. I made it my business to stand in that window like a scarecrow. After a few minutes, I put my elbows on the windowsill and rested my head in my hands.
Everything was quiet.
Minutes later, our front door opened.
Please don’t leave. I could be a lookout for her, but I couldn’t cover for Tangie if there was no Tangie in the house.
Marshall was standing closer to the light this time. He was almost taller than Daddy and had on a hoodie with jeans. I squinted hard to see if his jeans were all the way up, no underwear showing. If they were sagging, Frank wouldn’t like him for sure, and neither would Mama. They didn’t mind hoodies, especially after what happened to Trayvon Martin. But Frank says, “There’s no reason on God’s green earth a boy should walk down the street with his boxers hanging out.”
Marshall bent down and hugged Tangie, who was a little taller than I was. Spying on them wasn’t even on my mind anymore. I stretched my neck to see down the street, still keeping an eye out for Mama and Frank. If Frank caught Marshall here, he’d be so mad at him that he’d never get to know what Marshall was all about. Well, it wasn’t like I knew what he was all about, either. But anybody who wanted to stand up for people couldn’t be all bad. Plus, if Tangie thought he was worth the risk of getting grounded, so did I.
My thoughts went back to Mama. She’d said that she and Frank were doing the “whole shebang.” But what if, for whatever reason, they only did a half shebang? They could be home early.
When I looked at Tangie and Marshall again, he was walking down the street. I jumped back from the window and sat on my bed, listening. The door closed. Moments later, Tangie rushed up the stairs and her door slammed.
That woke Peaches. Just my luck, she picked up where she’d left off, like she hadn’t been sleeping at all. “Let’s play Beauty Shop.”
“Did you dream about that or something?”
“C’mon, G-baby, it’ll be time to go to bed for real soon.” Peaches went to my dresser and snatched up my comb and brush.
“Just for a little while.”
I undid my two French braids and let loose what Grandma Sugar called “a gloriously wild bush of hair.” Next to my dresser Peaches pulled up a chair, and I flopped in it while she stood on a plastic crate behind me.
As Peaches tugged the comb through my hair, I thought about Tangie. If I could get her to trust me and talk about Marshall, then I could ask her what to do about a boy, too—Kept Back Kevin Jenkins. He used to always hang around us at my old school, Sweet Apple Elementary. Nikki said it was because he liked me. I’d never say it to Nikki, but I thought he was cute. His eyes were two different shades of brown, and his eyelashes were longer than mine. And he never made a girl cry like some of the other boys.
What if he did like me? What was I supposed to do? My brain was pounding.
I leaned back, and Peaches scrubbed her stubby fingers on my scalp. One thing was for certain, I could think until my brain exploded, but I wasn’t gonna figure it out alone.
I needed help from a real, experienced teenager, not Know-It-All Nikki, who was just like me and never even kissed a boy.
“Ouch, Peaches! That hurts.”
Peaches pulled and twisted my hair for what seemed like hours before an idea hit me. I remembered Tangie’s loose braids and figured she’d been trying to take them out. I sprung up in the chair.
“G-baby, water is dripping everywhere!” Peaches shouted.
I pretended to take a towel and wrap it around my head. “I got something better we can do,” I said.
“What?” Peaches forgot about the make-believe water.
“Let’s ask Tangie if she needs help with her braids.”
“Okay,” Peaches sang, hopping off the crate, then heading for the door.
As soon as we opened our bedroom door, I heard Drake’s voice belting out of Tangie’s room like he was having a concert in there. Peaches and I stood in front of her door like we were about to see the Wizard of Oz.
Praise for Love Like Sky:*"Youngblood's debut is a celebration of intergenerational family bonds. Readers in co-parenting or blended families especially will relate to the conflicts between Georgie's loving but imperfect parents. An openhearted, endearing, and unforgettable debut about the challenges of friendship, growing up, and the boundless love of family."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
- "Brims with charm and compassion. Readers will immediately be rooting for G-Baby, a girl with the biggest heart, trying her hardest to help everyone around her."—Vashti Harrison, New York Times best-selling author of Little Leaders
- "Readers will fall in love with Georgie and her 'blended-up' family as they navigate tough challenges and new family dynamics."—School Library Journal
- "Using beautiful prose, Youngblood's debut explores the expansive love only siblings can have for one another, while capturing the heart and soul of what it means to be a blended family. The multilayered characters and compelling story will resonate with readers... Young readers will fall in love with these characters and gain a new favorite author."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Oct 8, 2019
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers