Where You Left Us
Writing for Young Adult Shortlist
Title: Where You Left Us
Author: Rhiannon Wilde
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Cinnamon Prince is angry. She’s living at home with her rockstar father after his latest breakdown, and she’s stuck in a town where people have whispered that the Princes aren’t quite right ever since her Great Aunt Sadie vanished without a trace. Not that Cinnamon cares about anyone else’s opinion. Except, she might be really starting to care what her gorgeous co-worker Daisy Leung thinks.
Scarlett Prince is anxious. Most of the time, and also about spending the summer with her sister and barely there dad. She’s holding it together. Just. But when sister’s ex-boyfriend-now-best-friend Will starts helping her search for the truth about Sadie, things get all-the-ways complicated.
Can finding the truth fix their broken family?
This gothic family saga is set during a muggy summer in a coastal Australian town. Two very distinct and compelling voices, sisters Cinnamon and Scarlett, come together and navigate fraught family relationships. Wilde weaves a haunting family history mystery through the narrative, and casts Scarlett and family friend Will as an endearing detective duo. The characters are real and complex, the romances are sweet, and the pacing is tight. A range of sexualities and mental health experiences are depicted authentically and thoughtfully. Wilde is playful and innovative with formatting and language, and writes settings so unique and intense they feel like characters.
Cinnamon wakes up late the next morning. She watches Will sprawled asleep on her floor for a while, before nudging him with her foot. ‘Hey, Sleeping Beauty. Get up. I have work.’
Will groans and covers his eyes.
Cinnamon steps out of bed and smooths down her sleep- matted hair. She’s fairly sure there was a weird moment last night when they almost kissed, a bright look between them that made her go ‘oh’. This happens sometimes: one of them accidentally puts their head on the other’s shoulder, or holds their hand, and the months of Broken Up collapse inwards like wet paper.
That’s not normal, is it?
She exhales the thought and starts rifling through the piles of dirty clothes on the floor for her (also still dirty) work uniform.
‘What was that last night?’ Will asks, his voice morning-thick. Cinnamon successfully pries her work pants free from the pile, but no blouse. The empty grave flashes through her mind for a second – the Prince-ness of burying things so well there’s nothing there – but thinking about Sadie makes her think of
Maggie, which remains unthinkable. ‘What?’
Will frowns sleepily. ‘There was, like, screaming.’
Cinnamon makes another frustrated sound, both at her lack of blouse and the memory of last night, standing with Scarlett in wet dark, looking down into emptiness.
Maggie smiling when they asked about Sadie.
‘That was just Scarlett being a drama queen.’ ‘About what, though?’
Maggie in that graveyard, dead.
‘One of the graves collapsed in the rain,’ she answers impatiently. She needs to get out of this conversation. ‘Down the back near the fence. We think, anyway – it was kind of hard to see, but it was hollowish underneath. I dunno, maybe it was always just, like, a memorial thing.’ Cinnamon’s fingers finally snag on white starchy fabric. She pulls out the wrinkly work blouse triumphantly and slings it over one arm.
Will props himself up on his elbows. She thinks of telling him the rest about the grave: the nothing underneath. How looking at it felt like being entangled in it, like being lied to, like being buried too. He took his shirt off to sleep. The graceful- pale twin brackets of his collarbones catch the sunlight. They distract Cinnamon, for a second, before she shakes that thought away too.
‘Seriously?’ Will frowns again. ‘How does a grave just collapse?’
‘I don’t know!’ Cinnamon throws up her hands, pushing her thoughts back to the familiar work day stretching out ahead of her and not Will or gravestones or Sadie. ‘Why don’t you ask Scarlett, if you’re so fascinated?’
Will covers his eyes again with the bend of his elbow. ‘Maybe I will.’
Cinnamon thinks about it for a second, then decides to get dressed in the bathroom.
A year ago (was it that recently – has it been that long?) it was their end-of-school dance, and he was standing in her front yard with a smile on his face that was like an open door, the sea spread out to infinity behind him. ‘You look wow,’ he said. She wore a white mini-dress and had straightened her hair.
He put flowers around her wrist, and she held it out to inspect them. ‘Thanks. I hate it.’
‘Aw. Is this how you’re gonna be on our wedding day?’
This is how Will says most things – grinning, quick and unthought – but around Cinnamon it was especially pronounced. As though he didn’t need to think first because she’d never judge him. Which was true. But also, a lot of responsibility.
‘You look good too,’ she said, and he did, in his black suit with the cufflinks winking in the afternoon light that haloed his hair. Will drove her down the winding cliff road while the sun set fire to everything over her shoulder. Pink and orange painting the sky in giant gorgeous strokes.
A very slow song she only half liked started playing on the radio, and Cinnamon had a feeling she’d had a handful of times before, of being inside a moment she was going to remember. A weird kind of fluttery, stabbing sorrow. Because it was so good. Because she knew there was nothing she could do to make it last. When they got to school Will opened her door, and his familiar hand wrapped around hers to pull her towards the auditorium.
‘Wait,’ she said. ‘Can we wait a second?’
He frowned, bringing her hand up to hold it with both of his. ‘You okay?’
‘Yeah, I just … Listen …’
‘What?’ Will’s eyes flicked down, worried and glittering in the dark. His hands moved to cup her waist the way they always did, like she was made of glass even though she’s not.
‘Nothing,’ she said, and stood up tall to kiss him as long and hard as she could.
Now, she’s coming out of the bathroom dressed for work and Will is moving his arm away from his eyes to pull an ironic what are you staring at sort of face and throw a pillow at her. The room smells like his clothes do – coffee and sugar and boy.
‘Are you gonna leave for work on time?’ he prompts. ‘You can’t get fired. Literally all we do is work and go out for pancakes.’
Sometimes she thinks that missing him is her favourite feeling in the world.
About the author
Rhiannon Wilde is a writer and former Brisbane high school teacher. Her debut novel, Henry Hamlet’s Heart, won the Queensland Literary Awards Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards – Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature, longlisted for an Indie Book Award and was a CBCA Notable Book. She can usually be found drinking coffee dressed like a slightly subdued Elton John, and lives with her partner on a hill near the sea.
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