Welcome to the Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Justina Chen Blog Tour! I am delighted I can be part of the tour. Squee
For today’s tour I got information on the book and the author, an excerpt (Chapter Thirty-Six including a hot kissing scene), and a giveaway.
On Sunday night, at the official moment the sun sets in Seattle at 6:22 p.m., I escape. Everybody else — notably, my parents — is tethered to the game, watching the Seahawks pummel the Buffalo Bills. (That said, the Buffalo Chicken Soup is the clear winner on this Souper Bowl Sunday. Sometimes, all you need to turn adequate into awesome is one secret ingredient: sriracha sauce.) Perfect timing, the living room erupts in cheers as the Seahawks unexpectedly intercept the ball again in the middle of the first quarter.
I dash out of the back door to meet Josh in the driveway, just as I planned. According to my calculations, we have a good ninety minutes of sunset to get to Queen Anne, run a couple of the secret staircases in the fading light, and return home before the game ends.
“You don’t need to tell your parents?” Josh asks, his hand on the handle but making no moves to open the door.
“Nah, they’re busy.” Which is technically true. Just as it’s technically true that Josh picked me up. And that I’m not sneaking out so much as I’m not interrupting my parents, who are otherwise occupied, fist-bumping each other and everyone else in their matching jerseys and Seahawks logo painted on both their cheeks. As for my cheeks, while I look like a skin- shedding zombie, at least my blisters are gone. Just in case, my face is shaded in my spacecraft hat, and every spot of my body is slathered in SPF 100 sunscreen.
“Hmm.” Josh looks unconvinced, casting a look over his shoulder like he wants to head inside and confess our plans.
I tell him the truth as we approach his truck, “I’m so unbelievably excited to run.”
“Not what most normal people say,” he tells me, grinning.
“I’m not most normal people.”
As soon as we reach Queen Anne, a neighborhood perched on the highest hill in Seattle, I hurry out of his truck, bouncing in my trail- running sneakers. Nothing tastes better than freedom. Josh is still opening his carefully folded Map of the (Oft) Pedestrian Public Stairs of Queen Anne Hill when I take off.
He catches up, refolding the map hastily. “The first staircase is back that way.”
“We’re taking the scenic way around,” I say, laughing.
“Definitely not normal.”
I luxuriate at the feel of my legs stretching long and fast on this road, Josh loping at my side. I quicken the pace; he keeps up easily. When we finally hit the first set of steep stairs near Kerry Park, I feel at home. This may not be the wooded forest, meeting Darren on a dirt trail, but here on these manmade concrete steps, I’m still heading uphill. My muscles protest after days and days of being mostly sedentary, yet it feels good and right and real to be here, now, with Josh. Winded at the top of the stairs, my hands go to my waist and I suck in air.
“I’m out of shape,” I gasp.
“I’m afraid to run with you in shape,” he says.
“Really?” Without warning, I trot down the staircase, smiling as I hear his laughter.
“So which international dark sky park would you visit if you didn’t have to worry about money or parents?” he asks, catching up.
“Oh, the one in South Korea. Totally,” I tell him because, why yes, I did do my research, not just for Persephone, but for the next potential bake- sale beneficiary. Preserving pockets of land for their dark skies is a cause Geeks for Good could support, feeling even more convinced of that as we head one block over to hit a second set of stairs, even steeper than the first and surrounded on both sides with evergreens. We need spaces that are pristine and beautiful. “It’s their firefly conservation area. So you’d get both stars and fireflies.”
“In the meantime, we could grab some Bok A Bok chicken after dark —”
I interrupt him, stunned, “You know Korean fried chicken?”
“I’ve been doing some research.”
“That I thought you’d like.”
He has? My gasp is camouflaged by my panting as we run up a shorter set of stairs yet another block over.
“So maybe we could drive up to North Bend sometime and eat the Bok A Bok in the total dark,” he tells me, too casually to be casual. The boy has given this some distinctly non- work- zone thought. “It’s not exactly a dark sky park, but . . .”
“It’s a great Plan B. I love it,” I tell him truthfully. Work- zone, I tell myself. Work. Zone.
“So help me with a Plan B for another research expedition for Persephone. I thought Angkor Wat would be a great scene, but that’s a little too Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I say, following him down the street as we draw toward a thick copse of trees in a cul- de- sac. In the middle of this urban greenbelt, a concrete staircase curves up the hill.
“I was worried about that.”
“But there are ruins in Laos that predate Angkor Wat.”
“Yeah? How do you know that?”
“Auntie Ruth.” Just saying her name makes me feel guilty because it’s been days since I’ve spoken to her, not since I left her auto repair shop without stopping inside. It’s so stupid, but I can’t help feeling angry at her for abandoning our travel plans so easily, like she was canceling a haircut, not cutting off one of my dreams.
Josh isn’t even breathless, halfway up these stairs. “Does she travel a lot?”
“She’s been ticking off the bucket list she and Uncle Amos made before he died. She takes each of us, her nieces and nephews, on a trip with her when we turn seventeen.”
“That’s so cool.” Josh is quiet for a moment so all we hear are our footfalls on the concrete steps. “All the places I had Persephone visiting were ones Caleb wanted to see.”
“So he’s still part of the story.”
“Yeah. You know what’s weird, though?”
He sidles an uncertain look at me, one that I can read clearly in the moonlight. The planes of his face are sharpened in the shadows like he’s aged half a de cade, chiseled whatever was left of childhood from his cheeks and jaw. “Caleb and I would have the same ideas at the same time, but us? You and me? We build on our ideas together.”
Us. We. Together. Even if he’s talking in purely professional terms, my smile grows. “I love that.”
“Hey, where are we?” I ask. “I mean, the map.” (I mean, us, we, together.)
“I’ll check.” At the top landing, Josh unfolds his map, while I collect my breath. What he says next makes me lose my breath again. He taps the map as proof, while his voice drops an octave. “The Comstock Grande Dame. It says this is great for kissing.”
Grateful for the darkening sky because I blush, I’m not sure what propels me to say, “I won der what empirical evidence they have for that?”
Josh steps closer to me, then closer. “Who was telling me that she believed in primary source research?”
“I’m a great researcher.” I match him step for step, drawing so near our bodies almost touch.
And then they do. With his arms around me, pressing me tight to him, he asks, “Yeah?”
“But it depends,” I whisper to him, lifting onto my toes while he bends down to me, “on the research subject.”
“Like this?” He kisses me hard and deep, a ferocious hunger, like this is what’s been keeping him up at night, what’s been haunting him by day.
Or maybe that’s me because my breath goes short, fast like I’ve been running all this time in one direction: to him.
Josh whispers, “Or this?” His kiss softens, gentles, as he cups my cheeks tenderly.
“Or this?” I trace his lower lip, tasting him, deepening the kiss, slow and sure. I lean into him, tilt my hips against his.
I lose sight of time and place and planetary rotation until an alarm goes off. Literally.
I groan. “What’s that?”
“Time for you to pumpkin,” Josh says, silencing his cell phone.
“Seriously? You set an alarm?”
Mr. Responsible shrugs. “Yeah.”
When we head back to his truck, the night is completely dark. He takes my hand, his fingers moving gently on mine like he wants to keep our contact. How weird is it that holding hands is even more intimate than a kiss? Empirical evidence of one girl, me, shows that I don’t want to let go when we get into his truck.
This is doable, I tell myself, buckling my seat belt. This, us, the dark. We can go on night runs, play night golf, take up night skiing in the winter. In the summer, we can dive off the dock into the lake at midnight. And then there are movie theaters, the perfect (safe) place to make out even during the light of day. The street where we’re parked may be deserted, but Josh checks, then triple- checks his blind spots. His hand squeezes mine, once, before he places both of his on the steering wheel.
Back at home, I kiss Josh in the driveway, breezily tell him that I’m an in de pen dent woman, I don’t need him to walk me up to the door. In the darkness, I wave to him, hearing the raucous cheers from inside the house.
I let myself in. No one has noticed that I’ve been gone.
This will be doable. It has to be.away