We Now Return To Regular Life by Martin WilsonWe Now Return To Regular Life by Martin Wilson

We Now Return To Regular Life

byMartin Wilson

Hardcover | August 1, 2017

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The Face on the Milk Carton meets The Impossible Knife of Memory in this ripped-from-the-headlines novel that explores the power of being an ally—and a friend—when a kidnapped boy returns to his hometown.

Sam Walsh had been missing for three years. His older sister, Beth, thought he was dead. His childhood friend Josh thought it was all his fault. They were the last two people to see him alive.

Until now. Because Sam has been found, and he’s coming home. Beth desperately wants to understand what happened to her brother, but her family refuses to talk about it—even though Sam is clearly still affected by the abuse he faced at the hands of his captor.

And as Sam starts to confide in Josh about his past, Josh can’t admit the truths he’s hidden deep within himself: that he’s gay, and developing feelings for Sam. And, even bigger: that he never told the police everything he saw the day Sam disappeared. 

As Beth and Josh struggle with their own issues, their friends and neighbors slowly turn on Sam, until one night when everything explodes. Beth can’t live in silence. Josh can’t live with his secrets. And Sam can’t continue on until the whole truth of what happened to him is out in the open.

For fans of thought-provoking stories like The Face on the Milk Carton, this is a book about learning to be an ally—even when the community around you doesn’t want you to be.
Martin Wilson grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where both of his novels take place. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and the University of Florida, and his work has appeared in Tin House, One Teen Story, and other publications. His first YA novel, What They Always Tell Us, was the winner of an Alabama Author Award and a Lambda ...
Title:We Now Return To Regular LifeFormat:HardcoverProduct dimensions:384 pages, 8.56 X 5.75 X 1.26 inShipping dimensions:384 pages, 8.56 X 5.75 X 1.26 inPublished:August 1, 2017Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0735227829

ISBN - 13:9780735227828

Appropriate for ages: All ages

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chapter 1That DayBethWe’d been studying on his couch, our Advanced Chemistry textbooks sitting on the coffee table, suffering through questions about alkali metals and noble gases, when Donal made a joke about gas beingignoble. And I’d laughed, like I always did at his dumb jokes. And then our knees touch and our shoulders bump and suddenly we start kissing each other. Like, a real kiss, deep and forceful, sending gentle sparks up my back. I’m wondering how in the world this happened when my cell phone starts ringing.It’s Mom—I know from the ringtone, I don’t even have to look. The one day I cut out from school early. The one day I break routine. I pull away from Donal, instantly wishing I hadn’t. I let out a little laugh and instantly feel this ridiculous mix of nervousness, because Mom is calling, and regret, because we stopped kissing too soon, and then confusion, because why were we even kissing to begin with?“Damn,” Donal says. “Let’s not stop.”I stare into his blue eyes, which look a little dopey right now. He isn’t my boyfriend. He’s my friend, just my friend, ever since freshman year. Why did I like kissing him so much? I wipe my lips, but I also have the urge to lean into him again and start all over.But the phone keeps ringing. I can’t ignore Mom. I’m her dependable daughter. And if, for once, I’m not, she’ll freak out.I scoot away from Donal and make a move to go to my purse on the floor at the end of the couch, but I stop.Did he plan on kissing me all along?“You gonna get that?” Donal asks. “Or can you just ignore it,” he says, breaking into a smile while raising his eyebrows again and again in a silly way.It must be close to three o’clock. I’m skipping sixth-period soccer practice. We both are. I hurt my ankle last week and have a doctor’s note—a light sprain. I’m not out for the season or anything. But I’m still supposed to sit on the sidelines and physically be there—you know, be a team player, rah-rah-rah.But I snuck away with Donal. He’s on the boys’ team, but his coach had the flu and their practice was canceled. It was his idea, skipping out. “Let’s get this chemistry assignment done,” he’d said. And then he added, “at my place.” He knew I didn’t like to spend a lot of time at my own house. So yeah, maybe he planned this. Makes total sense. Except it doesn’t. And now my phone won’t shut up.I finally hop from the couch and grab my phone from my bag, squatting on the floor. I don’t answer, I just stare at the word “Mom” flashing on the screen. Then the ringing stops. “Great,” I say. Somehow she’s figured out that I’m not at school. Maybe Coach Bailey called her. All I can think about is my mom’s worried face, the thoughts that must be swirling through her brain.Donal runs a hand through his red hair then leans forward, his eyes on me, but he’s not making the funny face anymore. Then the phone starts ringing again, and he leans back on the couch, laughing.I try to gather my thoughts. Okay, quick—what’s my excuse? Screw it. “Hello,” I say after the third ring. I brace myself. But I don’t hear any words. I just hear something like a moan. “Hello?” I say again.The moan turns to some sort of heavy breathing, and then I hear Mom’s voice: “Beth?” It sounds like she’s been crying.“Mom, I’m here,” I say, feeling sick to my stomach. I was worried about being in trouble. But now I’m just afraid.“Thank God I found you!” Mom says. I hear her take a few deep breaths. She sniffles and says, “They said you weren’t at school. I thought, I thought—I didn’t know what to think.”I’m used to hearing my mother cry. For over three years it’s been a fact of life. She can be laughing one minute and then, wham, she’s leaking tears. Like she feels bad for ever having fun. I’m so used to it, it hardly ever phases me. I’m always there to hug her, rub her back, play the good daughter. But the way she sounds now is different. “Mom, I’m okay. I’m at a friend’s—”“Just come home. Come home.” Then she makes some kind of gurgling noise.“Mom?” My heart is revving up. I hear a voice in the background—my stepfather’s, probably. I think I hear him sayTell her.Oh God. I look over at Donal, but he’s still staring up at the ceiling, smiling in an exasperated way.“Beth,” Mom says, her voice sounding shaky.I hold my breath, close my eyes.“They found Sam.”I let out my breath, or maybe it’s a gasp, but I don’t say anything, and I keep my eyes shut. Because when I open my eyes I’m not sure what the world will look like.I’ve been waiting for this moment for three years.“Beth,” Mom says, speaking carefully now. “He’s alive.”I open my eyes. The world looks the same as before. But it shouldn’t. It should be brighter, more colorful, like a wondrous land of make-believe. I must be in some weird dream now.Because what Mom is saying isn’t possible.“They found him this morning, honey. And now he’s home, he’s home with us.” She starts crying again, and then I realize why she sounded different. This is a happy cry.My brain can’t make sense of it. Sam + Found + Alive + Home = Sam is found, Sam is alive, Sam is at home.Our home.It’s all wrong. Sam is dead. Sam is gone. He disappeared three years ago. No, more than three years ago. Vanished. Like one of those kids on the milk cartons. You never see them again. You just don’t.“Beth, did you hear me?” Mom says.Donal is looking over at me now with a concerned expression. He mouths something but I’m too foggy to read his lips.“Beth?” Mom says.I press the phone back against my ear. “Yes,” I say.Mom says, “Wherever you are, just come home.”“Okay,” I say. “Okay. I’m coming.” I end the call and drop the phone back in my bag. I just stay there, frozen. I should be screaming and jumping up and down. I should be the happiest person alive. But I don’t feel like I’m in the real world.“Beth? You okay?”Donal sits up and I stare over at him and that’s when I realize that I’m not dreaming all of this. “I have to go.” I don’t say good-bye or hug him or anything. I grab my stuff and rush out of his house into the overcast October day. It’s not cold, but I’m shivering when I take out my car keys. I can hear Donal shouting my name from the front door of his house, but I don’t look back. I steady my hand and get in my car and drive. I manage to obey traffic laws. I manage to get back to the southern side of the city, where we live in Pine Forest Estates, in the same house we lived in back when Sam went missing.My stepdad, Earl, had wanted to move. But Mom was adamant that we stay.What if he comes back and doesn’t find us? How will he be able to find us if we move? Ridiculous. Earl thought so, too. Ridiculous that she could even think that might happen, as if Sam were some stray dog who had simply lost his way.But now we’re the ridiculous ones.Sam. I can see him. Brown hair, brown eyes, stubby little nose, sharp dimples. A classically cute kid. And he knew it. Even at that young age, he had the cockiness of a good-looking older boy. Mom always said he was going to grow up to be a heartbreaker. He’s eleven in my mind. Always eleven. But of course he’d be fourteen now, wouldn’t he? Heis fourteen now.I’m driving, getting closer and closer to our neighborhood, approaching a future I never knew existed. That day in July was hot and sticky. A day when you just wanted to stay inside, which is what I was doing the day Sam disappeared. The AC was on, but Earl was tight with money, and he didn’t like us to run it too low. So basically we all suffered, with useless ceiling fans blowing the stuffy air around. At least my room faced the backyard, which was mostly shaded by a big oak tree. So it was a little cooler in there. But I remember the heat, because it became one more unpleasant thing about that day.Mom and Earl were at work. We’d been fighting a lot back then—Earl and I. About the AC, about how late I stayed up, too late, about how I talked to Mom (“Don’t be smart,” he’d always say). She had married him the year before. He was fine, but I still didn’t know him that well. Like, who was this guy living in my house and telling me what to do, pretending to be my real dad?On that day, Sam pushed open my bedroom door, around two in the afternoon.“What?” I said.He was always barging in, which I hated. Normally I locked my door but that day I must have forgotten.“What do you want ?”Let me pause to take in Sam that day: He was tall for his age. He played soccer, basketball, sometimes football, so I guess you can say he was an athletic kid, but he was too young to be muscular. He rode his bike, played video games. He was active, loud, energetic—a boy. That day he was wearing cargo shorts and a Superman T-shirt, looking flush, his dark hair slightly sweaty and stuck to his forehead.“Josh and I are going to the mall.” Josh Keller was our neighbor, a kid Sam’s age. “We’re gonna ride our bikes.”“You’re kidding?” The nearest mall was two miles away along a busy road. It was a dying, crappy mall. And it was hot as hell out. “Why doesn’t Mrs. Keller drive you?”“She’s too busy studying or something. We want to buy some new video games.”“Mom will kill you if she finds out.”“But she won’t find out,” he said, smiling that dimpled smile. He knew he could get away with anything. “You want to go with us?” he asked. Maybe he was trying to rope me in so we’d both get in trouble.“No way,” I said. The idea of riding a bike with two eleven-year-old boys, all the way down Skyland Boulevard as cars zoomed by, was too embarrassing to contemplate.“I wish you could drive,” he said.I was fourteen, but turning fifteen that September, and I could get my learner’s permit then. “Me too,” I said.“If I’m not back by the time Mom gets home, will you cover for me?”I rolled my eyes and he gave me a pleading, innocent look—always performing, hamming it up. I have to admit, sometimes he was hard to say no to. We were brother and sister, after all. Even if he bugged me, we still had some kind of pact. Especially after Dad had left, when Mom’s bad moods could strike us like thunder.I sighed. “Fine.”He cracked his impish grin and gave me a thumbs-up. Then he shut my door.I almost yelled, “Be careful!” or something like that. But I didn’t say anything.That was the last time I saw him. Two or three hours later, I was still in my room. I’d fallen asleep while readingForever for the millionth time. I’d been trying to read My Antonia, because it was on our summer reading list—this was the summer before I started high school—but, sorry, it was too hot for fine literature. It was the knock on the door that roused me, the sound of it whooshing open.“Where’s your brother?” Mom asked from the doorway. She was in her work clothes, but her hair—light brown like mine, but with gray roots because she wasn’t good about coloring it—was sort of messy and wilted.“I don’t know,” I said, feeling groggy. I rubbed my eyes and was almost surprised to find her still standing there. “He’s probably at Josh’s house.” I looked at the little pink digital clock on my bedside table. It was just after five.“I just saw Josh. He was riding his bike around. I didn’t see Sam.”I thought about what Sam had said earlier, about how I should cover for him. If Mom found out he was riding his bike out of the neighborhood—one of many things that was strictly forbidden—then he was toast. Part of me wanted to rat him out right then and there. Precious Sam disobeyed you. But he always broke the rules, and it never mattered. Plus, if he got grounded he’d be in my hair a lot more than he already was. So I decided to play dumb. Let Mom figure it out on her own.Besides, I didn’t think anything was wrong. Bad things didn’t happen to Sam. He’d fallen off his bike once, flipped and rolled, and all he had was a scraped elbow. When most of the kids in his third-grade class got the flu one winter, Sam was fine, not even a sniffle. He seemed invincible.“Call his cell,” I said. Mom had given us cell phones, but they were meant only for “emergencies.”“His phone’s in his room. I checked.”“I don’t know then.”Mom stared at me, folding her arms across her chest, which is what she always did when she meant business. “You’re supposed to watch your brother,” she said.“He’s not a baby.”Mom shook her head and walked out of my room without even bothering to pull my door shut.A few seconds later I heard the front door slam. I went down the hall to the living room—the room we never used, with its white carpet and fancy furnishings—and looked outside and saw Mom marching across the street to the Kellers’ house. Josh was riding his bike around his driveway in tight circles, but he stopped when he saw Mom approach. Josh was Sam’s friend, but I knew Sam kind of thought he was a tool. A sissy. He had sandy blond hair and fair skin that freckled in the summer. He looked delicate, not like the rough-and-tumble type of boy that Sam was. He was quiet, polite, careful. Josh was the only kid who was Sam’s age in the neighborhood. They were friends of convenience more than anything else.“Josh hasn’t seen Sam for hours,” Mom said when she came back into the house. “He said they rode their bikes on the trails in the woods, but he went home and Sam stayed there.”The trails? What happened to the mall? “Yeah, I’m sure he’s just still goofing around out there.”Mom nodded, pulling her hair back away from her face, barely pushing back panic. It’s like she knew. Mother’s intuition or something.I went back to my room, but I didn’t stay there long. I felt an uneasiness gnawing at my insides. I putForever down again and went outside into the heat and over to the Kellers’. I felt better, doing something, instead of sitting around. Josh wasn’t outside anymore, so I knocked on the door and Mr. Keller answered, the cold air from inside whooshing out at me. Mr. Keller was tall, blond going gray, wearing jeans and a blazer. “Hi, Beth.”“Is Josh here?”“Yes, he is. You want to come in?”“Can he just come out for a second?”“Sure,” he said. He yelled for Josh, who came down the stairs to the foyer and seemed to pause when he saw me. He came outside, and Mr. Keller shut the door and left us alone.“Sam’s not home,” I said.“I know. Your mom already came over here.”“Did you two ride to the mall earlier?”He hesitated. “Yeah, we did. Did you tell your mom that?”“No. She would flip out if she knew.”He seemed relieved. “We did start out together. But I came back.”“Why?”Again, he hesitated. “I don’t know. He was mean.”“What did he do?”“Nothing.”“Josh, you just said he was mean. What did he do? You can tell me.” I felt a twinge of tenderness for him. I wanted to say:I know how he is. He can be a little brat.“Someone drove by and threw, like, a Coke at me. It got all over me and I fell off my bike and Sam . . . he just laughed. He laughed at me.” He rubbed his elbow and I saw a scrape. There were a few scratches on his knees, too.“Are you okay?”He shrugged. His face reddened as he looked down at the ground.“So you came home after that?”He nodded. “I was all scratched up and all covered in dirt and stuff. So I rode my bike home. I—never mind.”“What?”“I just rode off. I was mad at him. I didn’t look back.”“Well, maybe he rode on to the mall. I’m sure he’ll turn up soon.”Josh nodded again. “Yeah.”“I’m sorry he was mean to you.”“It’s okay.”“I’ll just tell Mom what you told me. That you were riding in the woods.”“Okay, good. I just didn’t . . . I don’t want to get him in trouble.”We were both protecting him. Or so we thought.“He’ll turn up,” I said again, like if I said it enough it would come true. Josh looked at me then, relieved. He believed me. And, right then, I still believed myself.Panic didn’t truly set in for another hour or so, when Sam still hadn’t shown up. Outside, the daylight was fading.“And tell me again, what did Josh say?” Earl asked Mom when he got home and she started explaining. She’d already called him on his cell, which she hardly did when he was at a construction site job.“He said he left him in the woods.”“So let’s go look there.” He was in his jeans, a sweaty white T-shirt, and his boots. He looked sunburned and overheated from the long day.“I can help.” That unease was gnawing at me again, and I wanted to do something to keep it at bay. Still, deep down I thought Sam would turn up eventually. Just like him to cause us so much worry.“No, you stay here in case he comes back. Call my cell right away if you hear from him,” Mom said.I could tell she blamed me for this whole mess. Somehow it was my fault, and not Sam’s. I almost told them right then that he had gone to the mall—that he had totally broken the rules. But then I’d be in trouble, too, for letting him. And anyway, they were already out the door, carrying flashlights for when it got dark, which I realized would be soon.Where the hell was he? The idea that he would have vanished seemed ludicrous. Little girls were the ones who went missing. Boys knew how to take care of themselves. Nothing could happen to a tough boy like Sam.I sat and waited, tried to distract myself with my book, then with TV. But nothing really worked. The unease  spread through my whole body like a fever. I couldn’t get my mind off Sam. As it got darker out, I started to get scared. I finally walked over to the Kellers’. I knew I was supposed to stay put, but I had to speak to Josh. He answered right after I knocked, like he was expecting me.“He’s not back yet?”“My mom and my stepdad went to the woods to look for him. Josh, we have to tell them.”A voice floated from the living room. “What’s going on, Joshie?” It was Mrs. Keller. She walked down the hall toward the foyer, barefoot with a pencil tucked behind her ear. She was in law school.Weird,for a woman her age, my mother always said. But maybe she said that because she was jealous. Mrs. Keller was pretty—tall, with long dark hair, an elegant and smooth face with hardly ever any makeup on. She was going to be a lawyer,a fancy rich lawyer, Mom would say. We’d always been friendly and neighborly, but I could tell that Mom didn’t feel totally comfortable around them. Maybe because Mom believed the Kellers thought they were better than us. Mr. Keller taught geology at the University of Alabama. Earl was in construction—the foreman, in charge of a lot of elaborate projects and renovations, a good job, but still. Mom was a secretary at an insurance company. She had never finished college, because she’d gotten pregnant with me. So everything was always my fault.“Sam’s missing,” I told Mrs. Keller.“What? Since when?”“Since this afternoon.” I looked at Josh, and I could see his blue eyes widen.Don’t tell, he seemed to be saying. “Mom and Earl are looking for him in the woods.”“Can we help?” She turned then and shouted, “Hal!”“Josh may be the last person who saw him,” I said.“When, Joshie?” she asked, stooping slightly and zooming her focus on to him. “When did you last see Sam?” She was normally a distracted person, kind of spacey, maybe because she was always thinking about legal cases and writing papers and stuff. But now she was giving us her full attention. I knew then that it was serious.“I dunno. Like, at three maybe? We were in the woods.” He looked back at me, like he was checking to see if we were still going to continue with this. But I knew we couldn’t.“You’re sure it was three?” Mrs. Keller asked.He stood there, sort of staring into space. “I dunno.”“Think. This is important.”Mr. Keller walked up then. “What’s going on?”I rehashed the whole situation.“Josh? You sure it was three?” Mrs. Keller asked again.Right then, as if under a bright light, Josh began to break down, started crying. “I dunno,” he said, and then choked out the story, the truth about heading to the mall. “I came back home. I . . . left him.”Mrs. Keller was calm. Mr. Keller, too. They looked so kindhearted and understanding, and I envied Josh for that. Not the glares and tears and accusatory tones that would normally come from Mom, not the put-upon looks from Earl.“And what did Sam do?”“He kept riding, I guess. He shouted at me to come back.” He wiped a tear away, sniffled. “He yelled he was sorry. But I just kept riding.”I didn’t know Sam had said he was sorry. I felt a pang then.Mrs. Keller rubbed Josh’s head, touched his cheek. “It’s okay, it’s okay.”“I’ll go find your parents,” Mr. Keller said, heading off toward the woods.Beyond him, I watched the entry to Pine Forest Estates, hoping against hope that, right then, Sam would ride up the little slope on his bike. I was ready to yell at him, and hug him, too.“We’ll find him, Beth,” Mrs. Keller said, putting her hand on my shoulder. I stepped away, staring off in vain toward where I hoped Sam might appear.I sometimes later wished that I could do that moment all over. I wish I would have just stood there and enjoyed the touch of her hand. I sometimes wish I would have turned around and hugged her and let her comfort me. But instead I stood there, apart, clutching myself like I was cold, waiting. It’s like I knew it was the beginning of a new sort of life—a new life for all of us—and I was bracing for what was yet to come. Mr. Keller told Mom and Earl what had happened when he found them in the woods, and by the time they got back to our house they were

Editorial Reviews

“Deeply compassionate and full of hope, this book is proof that we can survive both horrific harm and our earliest, most awkward stabs at self-determination. We Now Return to Regular Life is a graceful, moving testament to love of all kinds.”—National Book Award finalist Laura McNeal, author of Dark Water“An extraordinary book about first regret and finding redemption.”—Aaron Hartzler, author of Rapture Practice and What We Saw."Martin Wilson’s We Now Return to Regular Life is brave, bold, and giant-hearted. It’s packed with raw emotions and is as compelling as any literary thriller could hope to be. Five pages in, there’s no turning back. Why? Because this is an astoundingly good book."—Patrick Ryan, author of The Dream Life of Astronauts and Saints of Augustine* "Populated with wonderfully complex and empathetic characters, Wilson’snovel is beautifully written, displaying the perfect balance of heartbreak and hope."—Booklist, starred review"The whole story unfolds in a fast-paced, near-cinematic sweep of Alabama heat, religion, and family drama...complex and heart-rending read."—Kirkus Reviews"A moving and believable depiction of a damaged survivor and what his return means to those around him."—Publishers Weekly