A Million JunesBy: Emily Henry
FROM my bedroom window, I watch the ghost flutter. She shifts and warbles in the dark yard, her pink sheen caught in moonlight. I wonder if she’s looking up at the spread of stars or if she’s facing the farmhouse, watching us. Maybe things like her don’t have eyes. Maybe they wander, unseeing, through the world.
At the edge of the clearing, the sudden shuffle and bob of branches draw my eyes from the ghost. A couple of giggly sophomores I recognize break through the brush and hesitate, half-shadowed, as they scour the hilltop our house sits on.
They look right past the shimmering pink spirit and focus instead on the cherry tree that sprawls out in front of our porch. The tree’s as old as the town itself, planted by my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Jonathan “Jack” Alroy O’Donnell, when he first settled here. He, like Dad, could talk roots into spreading anywhere, but part of the reason Jonathan stayed in Five Fingers was the taste of the cherries that grew on this hill. Like heaven on earth, Dad used to say, like the silent world before anything had gone wrong.
Within months of his arrival, Jonathan had started a farm a couple of miles from here, closer to the water, where the earth mixed with sand. For two generations, the O’Donnells built a legacy of roots and branches. It’s been four more since the Angerts, my family’s mortal enemies, foreclosed on the farm. But the cherries from that land are still sold in grocery stores and farmers’ markets, at festivals and fairs, beneath hand-painted signs and vinyl banners reading JACK’S TART.
The sophomores, Molly Malone and Quincy Northbrook, run toward the tree now, folded in half like they’re trying not to block a movie-theater screen. Neither of them sees the ghost, but they both shiver as they pass through her, and Molly stops and glances back. Quincy’s halfway up the tree, trying to shake down the empty branches. He hisses at Molly, and she runs to stand below him, folding her shirt up like a grocery bag as a few shriveled cherries drop.
Gravel crunches then, and headlights swing up the curve of our long driveway. In the tree, Quincy freezes like a raccoon caught robbing a trash can, but Molly’s already running, halfway back to the woods with her spoils. At the breathy honk of the car horn, Quincy drops from the branches and takes off full tilt after her.
Hannah rolls the Subaru’s window down and shouts, “Yeah, that’s right! You’d better run, punks!” She shakes her head in mock disapproval then looks up at me, affecting surprise. “But soft!” she calls. “What light through yonder window breaks?”
“It’s me,” I yell back.
“Wait. June? You’re positively glowing. I thought that was the east and you were the sun.”
“Yeah, I’m ovulating. Common mistake.”
“Well, get those incandescent ovaries down here. We’ve got death traps and deep-fried John Doe waiting for us.”
I pull on my canvas tennis shoes, swing my leather backpack over my shoulder, and flick the lights off. But something makes me take one last look at my room from the hallway, at the wild constellations of green star stickers Dad and I tacked on my ceiling when I was six years old. I’d been sure back then they’d glow forever—that nothing Dad touched could dim.
Mom even used to say, “June, your daddy’s the sun.”
And he was. He could make anything grow. He warmed every room he stepped into. When he touched an animal, it would lie down and nap. He even went away in the winter, like the sun so often did, and without him the house became cold, lethargic.
It’s been almost ten years since he died, and not a single star sticker still glows. But some people are too alive to fully die, their stories too big to disappear, and he was one of them. I see traces of him all over our magic house. I hear him in the creak and groan of the floorboards as the summer nights stretch them, can visualize him sitting at the foot of my bed, saying, Other houses have support beams and foundations. Ours has bones and a heartbeat.
I close my eyes and listen to the house hum and yawn, stretch and curl. Outside, Hannah honks, and I close the door and jog downstairs.
In the soft light of the kitchen, Mom and Toddy, my stepdad, are laughing and tickling each other like freshmen on a first date while they choose a bottle of white wine from the fridge. Shadow and Grayson are in the living room, standing on the couch, playing a gladiator video game with motion sensors.
“Han’s here,” I announce, and Grayson screams something like katchaaaaaaw over my words and kicks the air.
Mom yelps with laughter and squirms in Toddy’s arms, turning her sparkly Torch Lake eyes on me. Dad always said they were the first part of her he fell for. They met far away from here, but she was a little piece of home to him, so he swept her up and brought her back with him, because he wanted all the home he could have in one place.