-Barely, but, yes, more than anyone else. I remember even in preschool when the teacher would grab her hand, she’d stare at the spot where their skin connected as if it were an affront to her existence. Just stand there and glare like she wanted to hurt someone.
-Junipera suffers from a rare phobia.
-Please, what does June not suffer from?
-When did she start chasing storms?
-In third grade she started obsessing about the rain. Full blown? I’d say after hurricane Katrina she never looked back. And she didn’t just chase them, June became those wild storms.
Junipera and Gemini Jones, Irish twins born during the month of June, survive a childhood of neglect and poverty by looking out for one another. Destined for a group home, the girls are rescued by a rich aunt and uncle who move them from Northern Minnesota to Fairfield, Connecticut. One sister thrives while the other spins out of control. A violent assault leaves Gemini searching for clues, but what she finds might be questions that are better left unanswered.
“Fresh, raw, relevant. TOUCHED slips under your skin with lush prose, unforgettable characters, and a story like no other.”
-Leylah Attar, New York Times best-selling author
“Hauntingly beautiful and downright emotional, White grabs you by the soul in her latest novel, Touched, and leaves an indelible mark.”
-K. Bromberg, New York Times best-selling author
“Mara White has crafted characters so real and complex, they live and bleed. Watching their story unfold was heartbreaking, beautiful, and riveting. Touched is stunning work.”
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“Touched is a truly beautiful book. It’s raw, real, and possessing of a quiet poetry.”
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“I can confidently say, without a shred of doubt, that this story and these people will stay with me for the rest of my life. I bow down, Mara White. You wrote a category 5 masterpiece.”
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“A phenomenal, mesmerizing and unforgettable masterpiece!
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-Suanne Laqueur, Best-Selling author of the Fish Tales Series
If she lined her spine up perfectly with the porch railing, she could balance. One leg on the porch, the toe of her sneaker just touching, the other dangling maybe two feet above the scraggly grass and the house’s foundation. Her view when she rested her head all the way back was half of the porch roof overhang and half of a deceptively sunny blue sky that wasn’t as warm as it pretended. Still, she wore shorts and a t-shirt with a stretched-out neckline. Some other kid’s faded camp shirt, found at the Goodwill, advertising a canoe ride Gem never in her life got to go on.
Fuck them. Who cared? She didn’t want their stupid camp anyway.
It was summer and Gem wasn’t going anywhere except to the front porch, the creek, the gas station for candy and maybe to the lake to swim if she were lucky. Her sister June wouldn’t be going either. But June had Maggie and Maggie’s mom Charlene who was generous and responsible; she’d pick June up and bring her over to their house for the day, feed her, and sometimes even give her clothes.
Gem struck a mosquito on her exposed thigh. Her legs were bruised. Scabs decorated her knees like a relief map, little brown islands on a white sea of skin.
Both girls had birthdays this month. Gem would be turning ten and her little sister June, nine. They were Irish twins, born twelve months apart. They left their father when they were just babies, or maybe their father left them. The story changed every time their mother told it.
Charlene beeped the horn of her rusted Buick as she turned onto 5th Street. All the windows in the car were wide open and neither Maggie nor June wore seatbelts. Charlene blasted the radio and sang along to “Eye of the Tiger,” while smoke from her cigarette swirled through the car. Both girls slid across the long backseat as she took the corner. They were too wrapped up in their Pretty Ponies to notice. Charlene beeped again once she was in front of the house and Gem sat up on the railing. The world swung at a dangerous angle so she locked her thighs around the railing and pushed one sneakered toe between the rungs as she waited for the dizziness to subside.
“Hey pretty girl!” Charlene sang to Gem. She waved from the car but didn’t get out or turn down the radio. Gem watched her light another long skinny cigarette as soon as she extinguished the smoking one in the ashtray. Charlene smelled like cigarette smoke, Charlie perfume and Aqua Net hairspray. Charlene’s hair was naturally big and she teased it even higher.
“Hey Charlene, hey Maggie.” Gem waved back at them as June knocked open the car door with her hip and stuck one bare foot out onto the curb.
“Shoes are in her backpack,” Charlene said to Gem. Maggie was up on her knees, half of her whole body leaning out of the car window as she said goodbye to June. “I can take her all day on Saturday. You can come too if you want. You don’t have to play with the girls, just watch TV if you want?” Charlene said. Gem would love to jump at the chance. Have someone to talk to, watch her and June, feed them—it all sounded too good to be true. She always had a nagging feeling in the back of her mind that Charlene must want something from them if she was so nice.
“I’ve got stuff to do,” Gem lied. “But thanks. June can go if she wants to.” Every time she spoke to Charlene she felt like an amateur, a fraud. She was used to pretending to be nice, to be happy, two things she felt very rarely. Instinctively she knew that those were qualities adults desired from her and her sister, so she put them on like ill-fitting clothes in their presence and shrugged them off as soon as they were out of earshot. Charlene never questioned why it was always Gem taking care of June and the one to give permission. She didn’t ask questions about their mother; she’d heard it all in town. The woman was a deadbeat—too wrapped up in herself to take care of her own.
“Have fun?” Gem asked June as she marched up the steps. June stepped gingerly on the third one because it was rotten in the middle and a heavy foot on the suspect step could easily crash through it. Her dirty pink bag with the long strings was thrown over her shoulder. A stripe of sunburn swept across her nose and cheeks. Her lips were chapped and her hair was tangled.
“Did Charlene feed you lunch?” Gem asked. June was a quiet kid, not much of a talker. She nodded instead. Gem wanted to ask her what she’d eaten but she was afraid of making herself hungry. June liked kid food. Mac ‘n’ cheese, Spaghetti-Os, grilled cheese on Wonder bread, crinkle cut potato chips, even hot dogs. Luckily, those were the kinds of things Charlene usually fed her. Gem, on the other hand, had a taste for real food. She rarely got it.
Gem slid down to the floor, where June sat and emptied out her bag. She had treasures from Maggie’s house. Some marbles, a few Pretty Ponies, their hair braided and twisted in a tangle of elastic bands. There was a Jolly Rancher that looked like it had been sucked on once and then slipped back into the wrapper.
“Mom home?” June asked her.
“Nope,” Gem answered. Their mother Anne was out most of the time. She worked a lot, she got lost, she met men and forgot she had kids at home, or at least that’s what Gem and June deduced from her behavior. They sat on the porch brushing through the pony’s hair, stretching their legs out to the railing, both of their backs up against the house.
“Want to jump rope?” June asked. She pulled a wound-up jump rope out of her backpack. The girls stood and stretched their arms and backs, sauntered down the steps to the sidewalk. The apartment building across the street was filled with “lowlifes” as they’d heard their mother call them. Young people, poor people, who got drunk and rowdy more often than not. They were coming out now, sitting on the steps or the folding chairs on the lawn. A boom box attached to an orange extension cord ran back in through the front door like a snake’s tongue.
June jumped to the beat of the music instead of the rhymes they usually chanted. Her blond hair bounced all over her face; she needed a bath. Gem could see that the bottoms of her feet were covered in dirt and it was thick under her nails. She probably hadn’t brushed her teeth last night either, fallen asleep sucking on a Jolly Rancher in the middle of her tongue. Gem was too tired to care. She counted to fourteen and June stumbled.