The Messenger


By the time the messenger arrived at our front door, Jackson had already been dead two weeks. I stared at the large yellow envelope in the man’s hand, completely blank apart from my name, scrawled crookedly across the center. I recognized the familiar careless handwriting from years of sporadic birthday cards and notes scribbled on Post-its.

I’m sorry. I have to do this.

I almost closed the door in the messenger’s face. I almost told him to go back to wherever he had come from. He was running a fool’s errand.

Because I was so convinced there was nothing Jackson could have left me that would ever matter. That would ever erase what he did to me and my mom. Nothing that could possibly change my life. For better or for worse.

As it turned out, I was wrong.

4:05 p.m.

Russellville, CA

Inventory: (0)


I stand on the front porch, watching Mom shove her overnight bag into the cluttered backseat of Rosie’s sedan. I suppose I could blame Rosie for getting Mom the job in the first place, but that would be petty and childish. We need the money. I know that. Mom knows that. Even Rosie knows that.

It’s why Mom is disappearing to Sacramento for a week to serve fancy appetizers to even fancier people, leaving me to finish packing up the house by myself.

Graduation is coming up! How will you be spending Senior Week?

  1. Hitting up every party in town.
  2. On a beach in Mexico.
  3. Trying to fit your entire life into a box.


Not that I really have anything better to do.

Sure, there’ll be parties. My best friend, June, already told me she was having one tomorrow night. But it’s definitely not what I had planned for the week between the last day of high school and graduation. Although to be honest, I’m not sure what I had planned.

I just didn’t expect this.

I didn’t expect Mom to give up so easily.

I didn’t expect to be the one still fighting.

Mom comes back to the porch to hug me good-bye. She takes in my crossed arms and the permanent scowl that hasn’t left my face since she came home last week with what she called “the keys to our new life.”

She really should have worked in advertising, instead of food service.

“Don’t worry,” Mom says. “I’ll be back in time for the moving truck.”

“I could ask Pam for an advance on my paycheck,” I tell her.

Still fighting.

Mom sighs. “We’ve been through this. You know it’s not enough.”

“Maybe if we sell the car—”

“Ali, give it up. It’s over.”

“But—” I try to argue.

“But we’ve been through all the buts. A thousand times. There are no more buts left.”

“There has to be.”

Mom brushes a strand of curly brown hair from my face. She’s already getting blurry through the tears that are forming in my eyes. I hastily gather up my unruly hair and secure it with the rubber band I always keep around my wrist.

“I think you’ll like living in Harvest Grove,” Mom says. “They have a pool. And a gym. All the apartments come with new carpeting. No more of that ugly brown shag.”

“I like the ugly brown shag.”

Mom chuckles. “That’s just because you’ve never seen nice carpet before. Plus, you’ll have a great place to come home to when you visit me from UC Davis next year.”

I swallow down the giant lump that has just formed in my throat.

You got a full scholarship to the college of your dreams! Do you:

  1. Start shopping for dorm room furniture.
  2. Spend the entire summer obsessing over the course catalog.
  3. Hide the letter in your backpack and “accidentally” forget to tell your mother you never accepted the offer.


“Mom,” I say, my voice cracking. “Don’t do this. Don’t let them take it. We have to fight.”

“We’ve been fighting!” Mom’s voice rises and then immediately falls again. “Ali. I’m done. Done fighting. Done trying to get out from under his mistakes. This gives us a fresh start. Please try to understand that I need one.”

My gaze falls to the ground. Because I can’t look at her when she says stuff like that. Because how do you argue with that? Because she’s right.

I know she’s right.

And yet, everything about this feels wrong.

“I’ll see you in a week.” Mom kisses me on the forehead before I can come up with any more useless protests. And then, she’s gone. By the time I look up again, Rosie’s car is already halfway down the driveway.

I turn and head into the house, navigating through the maze of cardboard boxes. I’m surprised there are so many. I didn’t think we had that much stuff. Mom and I share a love of decluttering. We’re always finding excuses to throw things away, or donate them to Goodwill.

But I guess everyone accumulates things. Even us.

I walk into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. As it brews, I head to the desk in the living room where Mom keeps all the paperwork for the house. Bills, bank statements, legal documents. All meticulously organized in hanging file folders in a drawer. I find the folder I’m looking for and flip it open to the first document inside. I skim over all the fake niceties. The “Dear Ms. Collins, we regret to inform you . . .” Like they’re simply writing to tell us that the pillow shams we ordered are out of stock.

I scroll down to the bottom. To the giant black box surrounding the words: “Total Amount Overdue” and the deadline: Friday, May 29.

A week from tomorrow.

I sigh and shut my eyes tight.

She’s right. It’s not enough. Even if we sold the car and the furniture and Pam was able to give me the biggest advance ever offered to an employee in the history of the pet boarding industry, it wouldn’t be enough.

I glance around the living room. At the walls that won’t be our walls. At the carpet that won’t be our carpet. At the boxes that will emptied somewhere else. Stuff stuffed into new cabinets. New drawers.

No, not stuffed.

Never stuffed.

Neatly stored. Meticulously organized. Maybe even labeled.

I’m sure most people would look at this house and laugh at my desperation. I know it doesn’t look like much from the outside. Or the inside. The drywall has cracks in it. The paint is chipping. The bedrooms are tiny. The kitchen is tinier. The microwave hasn’t worked in more than two years. The shower stall in the one bathroom that Mom and I share leaks.

But it’s ours.

Mom’s and mine.

No matter what has happened to us in the past eighteen years—no matter how many times he’s let us down—this house has been there for us. A rock beneath the trembling ground. It’s been our safe haven—our eye of so many storms. Russellville may be saturated with painful memories but this house is where all the good ones live. The sights and sounds and smells. Mom singing in the bathroom as she gets ready for work. Rain pooling at the base of the front porch, causing us to have to jump off the last step. Pumpkin bread baking in the oven. Not only in the fall, but year-round, because Mom and I both love pumpkin.

Where does all of that go?

How can the bank possibly repossess things like that? How can they just suck it all up into their vaults and lock it away forever?

The coffeepot beeps, interrupting my thoughts. I shut the folder, slip it into place, and close the drawer. I head back into the kitchen and pull one of the two coffee mugs down from the cabinet. We’ve never kept a lot of stuff in the house. Just the essentials. Two of everything. Two plates, two sets of silverware, two glasses, two coffee mugs. By the end of next week, it will all be in boxes too.

As I pour the coffee, watching the stream of dark brown liquid fill the mug, I think about holes.

Big, gaping holes cut into the ground.

Holes so deep you can’t see the top once you’re inside. And the ground keeps sinking beneath your feet. Like quicksand. Pulling you farther and farther down, until your hope of ever climbing out is gone.

And then, of course, I think about Jackson.

Smiling his disarming smile.

Murmuring his empty reassurances.

Holding a shovel.

Excerpted from The Geography of Lost Things by Jessica Brody. Copyright © 2018 by Jessica Brody. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.