Extract: The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti

In the beginning of spring, sixth period, immediately after lunch, always dragged on forever. Something about the last of the melting snow from a late winter storm, the rising temperature combined with the rain. Everyone yawned, huddled deeper into their sweatshirts, their heads popping out like turtles. No one listened. Teachers gave quizzes just to keep everyone awake.
Bridget had gone to the office in the morning, her fingers scanning the attendance sheets until she saw the name Lucia Hamm in the absent column. The girl was inches away from truancy and no one seemed to care.
Bridget cleared her throat at the administrative assistant, a dandelion-puff head of a woman, who grumbled and grouched at Bridget no matter what she did anyway. “Did anyone call Lucia’s house?”
Bridget studied the small flower arrangement on the desk in front of her. A coffee mug, a ball of daisies and carnations like a scoop of strawberry ice cream. Nate’s scrawled handwriting on a rectangular card. To Ginny, Happy Birthday. We’d all be lost without you! Nate.
Bridget forgot her name was Ginny. To be fair, Ginny had started last year, right before Bridget’s leave.
Ginny reached out, her long red fingernails snatching the coffee mug back, out of Bridget’s reach and tucked it behind the desk. “We haven’t had a phone number for that girl since she started high school and her father disappeared.”

“I don’t understand, how does a student just skate through the system like this?” Bridget slapped the attendance sheet on the counter and Ginny rolled her eyes.
“She’s eighteen now.” As if this negated the need for help, as if seventeen was a world away from eighteen. As if overnight, they were no longer children.
Bridget still held out hope that Lucia would show up to seventh-period creative writing. Ask for help, admit to needing someone, anything. She’d never known her to.
Bridget texted Tripp. She’s not in school today.
If you can’t find her by 6 p.m., we’ll file a report. I’ll go back to the mill today. Tripp’s reply was immediate, like he’d had his phone in his hand, waiting. Then another quick buzz. Are you ok?
Bridget was so used to people asking her this question, or subtle variations of it: Are you ok? How are you doing? Do you need anything? Often the question was accompanied by a casserole, a bottle of wine, an edible arrangement delivery. Bridget was grateful, but sometimes being on the receiving end of everyone’s pity was grating. Today, the question, framed by a new situation, felt fresh, almost thrilling.
Fine. She hit send, then texted a smile emoticon. He didn’t write back.
At least now, she had a purpose, something to keep her busy besides her frozen dinner and her red Solo cup of cabernet.
Seventh period passed, as did eighth, and then the final bell. Bridget closed the door to her classroom and waited for the commotion in the halls to die down. Her feet bounced as she sat, restless, and her heart pattered irregularly.
She checked her phone a hundred times between four and five o’clock; nothing from Tripp. The minute hand inched toward the twelve as she waited for the buzz of an incoming text, Tripp telling her he found Lucia or, alternately, to meet him and they’d file a report together, but nothing came. She’d stayed late to read journals; she’d fallen behind with the craziness of the past few days. They weren’t hard to keep up with, just a check to make sure the students were doing them—class topic assignments and a few sentences, at least three days a week. Generally, they wrote much, much more.
The one black-and-gold-trimmed journal flashed at her from the bottom of the pile. She pulled it out and fanned the pages, the smell of smoke and must wafting up. Bridget’s thumb ran along the edge of the pages until she found the latest:
I can’t ever go back to that hell. He is such a useless prick, a fucking tool. He’s so high he doesn’t know I’m his sister or he doesn’t care and now all I can think of his breath that smells like garbage close to my face, so close I can’t breathe, and he’s so heavy. I’ll have a scar forever, on my neck for the whole world to see. I hate it here. I hate this town. I hate everyone.

I will never go back there, no one can make me. I have nowhere else to go.

In a quiet town, a thousand dead starlings fall onto a school playing field. As journalists flock to the scene, one of them catches a teacher, Nate Winters, embracing a female student. The student claims that she and Nate are having an affair, sending shockwaves through the close-knit community. Then the student disappears, and the police have only one suspect: Nate.

Nate's wife, Alecia, is left wondering if she ever really knew her seemingly loving husband. Nate's co-worker, Bridget, is determined to prove his innocence and find the missing student. But both women will have to ask themselves do they really know what Nate is capable of?

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