Lilli Clarke. They call her the marked girl. Beginning at her left shoulder, a pink birthmark tracks up her throat just past her jaw, like a finger pointing to her brain. Abandoned by her family, she is ostracized by everyone but her grandmother and cousin Bert, Six years of dust storms have left sixteen-year-old Lilli close to death with dust pneumonia. Now she must leave the only real home she’s ever had, or risk death when the next storm hits.
Lilli is sent to her aunt and cousins in Florida to recover. The possibility of a different life presents itself, yet circumstances snatch it away, and she flees to New York City. Unable to find a safe place, she yearns for the storm ravaged home she left. All doors appear to be closed to her, and she resigns herself to the lonely fate of a marked girl. Once again, she is close to death, this time with no one to help her. Will this storm prevail, or is there a new answer for Lilli?
Available Through These Ebook Retailers & More!
~~Maybe the silence woke me. Had I finally died? My eyes blink open and the ever-present grit hurts my eyeballs while I survey the room. The weathered clapboard walls and roof still stand. I lift a pale hand and study it. I’m still here, too.
The front door yawns open, and the two windows on either side are un-shuttered. A portion of cloudless blue sky shines above the flat, brown landscape. I draw in a shaky breath, relieved that only a slight rattle sounds in my chest. Voices flutter in from somewhere on the porch.
Gram says, “I decided. When she’s strong enough, I’ll send her to my sister.”
“What if Aunt Margaret don’t want her?” Cousin Gerald clears his throat. “Lilli’s bad luck. Cursed. Everybody knows that. She’s marked.”
If I had enough damp in my eyes, I might cry. How unfair people are. It always surprises me, though by now I should have wised up.
Gram’s sweet voice calms my flush of anger. “It’s wrong to blame her for things that happened. It’s not her fault. And I don’t believe in luck.”
“Aunt Helen, open your eyes. When bad things happen, you got to ask why. Cousin Sally lost her wits after she birthed Lilli. She was fine after she had Frank and Jasper. Then, after Lilli, there goes her right mind.”
“It’s not Lilli’s doing. I’ll never believe that.”
“Well, you’re the only one who don’t. This family’ll never live down what happened.” A chair leg scrapes and Cousin Gerald’s boots sound on the porch steps. “I’m glad she’ll be going, though, for your sake. You ain’t had a moment’s peace the years you’ve had her.”
My heart breaks for Gram. Maybe he’s right. Nothing has gone well for her since I came. The few pleasures she did enjoy have been stripped away. Invitations to social gatherings and friendly drop-by visits have dried up like the creek in our back yard. People avoid her, even at church, because she brings me there. They say God marked me, like Cain, though I never murdered anyone like he did. But murder followed me anyway, so they say.
God can smile on her once I leave. The slight, rhythmic thump of her rocker punctuates her humming of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”
His eye is on you, Gram. But He doesn’t care a lick about me. Why do I have to go live with Great-Aunt Margaret? I hardly know her, but she’ll hate me like everyone else does. Everyone except Gram and Bert. I heave out as big a sigh as I can manage and drift back to sleep.
The smell of food cooking wakes me and Gram’s soft singing from the porch makes me smile. Bert will come by soon, like he does every afternoon. I roll onto my side and sit up on the edge of the bed. Dust plumes up from the mattress and settles on the floor, coating my bare feet. I stifle a cough. If Gram knows I’m up, she’ll leave her singing and come see about me. Let her have a few moments of enjoyment.
“Lilli? You awake, hon?”
Oh, well. “Yes, Gram. I’m okay. Don’t need anything.”