Jennifer Hubbard The Secret Year

ISBN 13: 9780142417799

The Secret Year

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9780142417799: The Secret Year

Colt and Julia were secretly together for a year, and no one ever knew, not even Julia's boyfriend. Why would they-they were from two different crowds. Julia lived in her country club world and Colt . . . didn't. Then Julia dies in a car accident. Colt is devastated but can't mourn openly, and he's tormented that he may have played a part in her death. And when Julia's journal ends up in his hands, he is forced to relive their year together-just when he is trying to forget. The problem is, how do you get over someone who was never really yours to begin with?

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About the Author:

Jennifer R. Hubbard lives in the Philadelphia area. She is a hiker, a chocolate lover, and a night person who believes that mornings were meant to be slept through. Her short fiction has appeared in literary magazines. Her published books include the contemporary young-adult novels The Secret Year, Try Not To Breathe, and Until It Hurts To Stop.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Alone in my room that afternoon, I placed the notebook on my bed and stared at it for a minute. It wasn’t that I was debating whether to read it. I knew I was going to read it. But at the same time, I was scared. What the hell had she written?

I flipped open the cover.


Dear C. M., I had to write this down because I don’t believe what just happened. If anyone had told me this morning that we would do what we did down by the bridge, I would’ve thought they were crazy. But it happened. Maybe that’s why I want to write about it. I need to make it real.

I didn’t even notice you much last year, when you were in Calvert’s class. You sat in the back and kept your mouth shut. But tonight it felt like you could see right into me, like you knew what I was going to say next. That never happens with Austin. What I have with him doesn’t go far enough.

I have to break up with him now. All I want is to be back with you, standing thigh-deep in the river, feeding you my tongue.


I closed the book. She had a pretty good way of describing that first time we kissed. That didn’t surprise me, since I knew she liked to write. She wrote poems, and she’d even shown me some. Most of them were about her family or nature or something like that, poems she could hand in or publish in the school magazine. There were a few poems that she showed to me but not to her English teacher. Poems about nights we spent together. Why hadn’t she ever shown me this notebook, though? She was supposedly writing to me, after all.

“Standing thigh-deep in the river, feeding you my tongue.” I couldn’t get that phrase out of my head now. That’s the way it happened, all right.

That night I’d been on one of my rambles, walking along the riverbank from where it ran behind my house down to the bridge. Higgins Farm Road was just a two-lane street, its bridge nothing more than a low-railinged bump in the road. They should’ve made the bridge higher; it flooded every time we had a storm. It made a good meeting place because everyone knew where it was, and when you went under it you were out of sight of the road. And there were streetlamps, so it was never totally dark.

Kids did party there sometimes, and they had marked the bridge’s underside with so much spray paint that you couldn’t read any of it anymore. But most partiers liked the vacant lots on Oldgate Road better. That was especially true when the riverbank was muddy. Since it had rained a lot that week, I didn’t expect to see anyone at the bridge.

I had good boots, so I didn’t mind the ooze and muck. In fact, I kind of liked it. Everything smelled wet. When I got to the bridge, I saw a shiny car parked off to the side of the road. Then I noticed a girl standing up to her knees in the river. She wore a black dress, which she had hoisted up so she could wade deeper.

“What are you doing?” I called out. Ordinarily, I would’ve left without letting her see me. I didn’t feel much like talking to anyone that night. But this was so strange--a girl wading into the river all alone in a fancy party dress--that I figured I should speak up. In case she was trying to drown herself or something.

She looked over her shoulder at me. The dress had a low back, and her white skin was the same color as the moon. “Who the hell wants to know?” she laughed.

I recognized her then. I knew a lot of Black Mountain kids by sight, even if we never talked, because they were in some of my classes. She was a year older than me, but she’d been in my math and science classes. “You going swimming, Julia?”

“Sure.” She kicked up a foot, spraying drops. “Who are you?” She squinted at me. “Oh, I know you. You were in my math class last year. But I don’t remember your name.”

“Colt Morrissey.”

“Right. You live around here?” She swept out an arm like she was welcoming me to the neighborhood, like it was perfectly normal to be standing in the Willis River in the middle of the night.

“Yeah. But you don’t. What are you doing here?” She’d let go of her dress, and the bottom of it dragged in the water. “You always wear that to come wash your feet?”

She ran her hands down the top of her dress, the sides of her hips, her thighs. “You like black satin? I thought it would be nice for a dip in the river.”

“Okay. Just so you’re not drowning yourself or anything.” I hadn’t meant to say it that bluntly, but after talking to her for a couple of minutes I still had no idea what she was doing, and it made me nervous.

“Drown myself? Over Austin Chadwick?” Her laugh made me shiver--something about the way it tore out of her throat, like it shouldn’t be a laugh at all. “Yeah, that’ll happen.”

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to hear about Chadwick. I figured that she’d come here to cool off after having a fight with him. “Your dress is getting wet.”

“I could take it off.” She smirked, but when I didn’t say anything, her mouth softened. “You know, when I said that, your eyes didn’t even bug out of your head. I like that.” She held out a hand. “Come join me?”

“In the water?”

“Well, that’s where I am.”

I don’t know why I did it. I took off my boots, because they were good boots and I didn’t want to fill them with river water. I took off my socks, too. Then I waded out to her. My jeans got soaked and heavy, clinging to my legs. “Happy now?”

She couldn’t stop laughing. “I can’t believe you did it.”

“Why not?” My toes sank into the velvety silt floor of the river. It felt slick, oily. I hoped we wouldn’t step on any of the broken glass or rusted cans I sometimes found here. Looking down at her legs, I said, “Aren’t you worried about leeches?”

She shrugged. “They don’t hurt. I’d just peel them off.”

I’d never thought a princess from Black Mountain would say anything like that. That was when I started to like her.

We stood a few feet apart. The river swirled gently around our legs. “What are you doing down here?” she asked. “You always come to the bridge at night?”

“Night, daytime, whenever.” It was none of her business what I was doing here. “I like it here.”

“This town isn’t that big,” she said. “There can’t possibly be two of us who just like to come look at the river at night.”

“Then what do you think I’m doing? Meeting my fellow secret agents? Passing them my latest surveillance notes?”

She laughed and scooped up a handful of black water. “It’s like liquid ebony,” she said, and it ran through her fingers. “There was this dance tonight up at the country club. Austin got drunk. He thinks it’s fun to spend five hours hanging over a toilet bowl.” She shook her wet hand, spraying me with drops of the river. “I mean, God, when he gets drunk I can’t even talk to him! He can’t follow a conversation. He can’t kiss without slobbering.”

“Austin the Teenage Alcoholic,” I said. “It would make a great TV movie.”

“Ohhh, listen to that sarcasm. You don’t like him.”

“Why should I like him?”

She shrugged. “You’re right. There’s no reason you should.” She turned away from me, and the breeze caught her hair. “Anyway, it’s not like I’ve never been drunk myself. But there’s a difference between a little buzz and all-out drooling sloppy.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “If he needs it, I’m sure his daddy will buy him a new liver.”

She turned back around. I thought maybe I’d gone too far with that one, and she’d slap me or something, but she grinned instead. “You think he’s got everything, don’t you?”

That one didn’t even need an answer.

“Colt,” she said, teasing, scolding. “If you’re lucky, you should know you’re lucky.”

That was exactly how I’d always felt about the people who lived on Black Mountain. But I’d never put it into words before, or heard anyone else put it into words. “You talking about Austin?”

“I’m talking about you.”

“Me?”

“You don’t believe it? You need me to tell you how?” She stepped closer to me. “I could go with the obvious, tell you how someone sleeping on the street would be glad to live in your house. Or how a ninety-year-old with a walker would love to be seventeen like you.”

“Sixteen,” I interrupted. I wanted to choke myself as soon as I said it. It wasn’t even exactly true; at that point I was still a couple of weeks shy of sixteen. I knew she was seventeen, though.

“Whatever. But I won’t even go that basic. I can tell you how you’re luckier than Austin Chadwick.”

“This ought to be good.”

She took another couple of steps toward me, close enough now that I could smell her shampoo, a soapy peach scent that I got to know very well later. She counted on her fingers. They were long and white, with perfectly curved nails. I wanted to touch them, but I didn’t. “One, you’re smarter than Austin. Two, you’re probably not an alcoholic. Three, you’re better looking than he is. Four, you’ve got the balls to wade out into the Willis River with me.”

“That’s some list.”

She laughed low in her throat and took one more step, and now I could feel the heat coming off her skin. “You still think Austin has it better than you? You’d rather be sprawled out on the floor of the country club men’s room than here with me?”

“Not especially.”

That’s when she kissed me.

I’d had a girlfriend the year before--Jackie--my first real girlfriend. She’d moved away over the summer. We’d done everything together, but the first time I kissed Julia, I felt like I hadn’t done anything. Julia’s mouth was hot and the river was cold and her satin dress was so smooth it didn’t even seem to be there.

“Five,” she said, breathing hard, “you’re a much better kisser than Austin.”

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