Strong-willed teenager Leilani Grady is suffocating on her family’s island. She wants off, but her parents say the rest of Earth is destroyed.
When a stranger shows up, Leilani realizes her parents have fed her a life of lies.
The rose and yellow sky stretched out over the horizon. The sun, still hidden below, was coming, acting as an offstage spotlight, casting an amber glow toward my family’s island.
I loved this spotlight moment, the colors mixing across the sky, the light calling attention to the jutting and cutting of the cliffs off in the distance. In moments like these, the island felt larger than it was, the brilliance adding a new dimension to everything, leaving me with hope that I could make it another day living here.
My oldest brother, Clark, liked to tell me how good I had it. Me, the first born after the world ended. Technically, I was born before the world ended. But not by much. Therefore, I was always lumped into the after group. My sister, Caroline, was six years older than me, and the last of us born in the before group. A big divide between me and all my half-siblings.
Our Labrador, Huck, found me sitting on the beach. He brought a stick, commanding my attention with his wagging tail and demanding bark. I willingly succumbed to his pleadings and tossed it along the crescent beach.
From our house, I came down to this spot every
morning. Sometimes to think, or to daydream of
going someplace else, or just to get away.
All my other siblings were married now, living
on other parts of the island. It was just me and Dad
and Mom—and sometimes that was still too many
Behind me, Dad cleared his throat. With even
greater exuberance, Huck returned the stick to
him. Then Dad did his trick. He took the stick and
threw it so far into the patch of trees and bushes
that it would take Huck a good twenty minutes to
locate the right one. Huck was a loyalist, unwilling
to settle for anything other than the original stick,
which meant Dad wanted this time undisturbed.
Here on Mom’s errand, all three of us knew a
reprimand would come softer from Dad.
I stood but didn’t face him. Instead, I let the
waves bury my feet in the sand while I looked
toward the horizon. The sun now shone on my face.
“Hi, sweetheart,” he said quietly.
At least he would talk respectfully, whereas
Mom would expect blind obedience and speak to
me like I was a little kid.
I gave a nod. “Just tracking the swells.”
“And? What have you found?” Amid his
assignment to reprimand me, he sounded pleased.
I let silence carry for a bit as I performed a count.
“Four feet at ten seconds.”
He let out a chuckle. “Nice job, scientist.”
Instead of smiling, I closed my eyes while I
waited for him to accomplish his task.
He breathed loudly. Finally, he said, “You know
why I came to talk to you.”
I kept my eyes closed and folded my arms. My
fight with Mom began yesterday afternoon only to
worsen this morning. I figured silence was my best
“You shouldn’t have . . . talked to your
mother . . . like that,” he said.
I opened my eyes toward the blue sky. It took a
lot of willpower to hold back the exasperated huff
building inside. I placed a fist against my hip. “Dad,
she wants me to be like Violet and Grace. And I’m
His tactical silence caused me to look at him. He
stayed waiting until I dropped my fist to my side.
We stared at each other. As the island patriarch,
and self-appointed mediator of any family divide, he
most likely was trying to choose his words wisely.
Even though Mom was wrong, he would feel
obligated to side with her. However, my theory was,
if he understood the full story, he’d secretly agree
And, with his granddaughters, Violet and Grace,
even though I was right that they were lightminded
in what they thought about every day, Dad wouldn’t
be able to say anything unkind about them.
By the time he actually spoke, I concluded I
could have done a faster job of writing his mediation
script. “You don’t need to be like Violet or Grace.
But you do need to be respectful to your mom.”
My lips pressed together to suppress the
huff. Then I proceeded to give him the full story.
“Yesterday after school, I was reading The Descent
“I thought you were reading The Origin of
“I finished it.” I gave him a shrug. “So, when I
returned it to your shelf, I saw The Descent of Man
and borrowed it.”
“Oh.” He nodded at the ocean, but I caught
the pride that spread across his face. As I’d hypothesized,
the more details he had, the more support
he’d give me.
So, I continued. “But Violet and Grace were at
the house, and Violet said, ‘Why do you read that?’
So I said, ‘Because I like it.’ And Grace said, ‘I don’t
get how you can even understand that stuff.’ Then
Violet said, ‘I only read romance.’ Grace said, ‘I
don’t read.’ And Violet said, ‘Well, you should at
least read romance, it’s all about love and getting
together with your man.’” I raised my eyebrows at
him. “Dad. I don’t want to get together with my
man. So, all I said was if they learned how to actually
read, and then think, they wouldn’t need a man.”
Although his mouth didn’t share a smile, his eyes
did. “Your mom said you said a few other words,
“Only after she told me to be careful what I say,
and that right now I know too little about all that
A half-smile came. “She just wants you to be
open to falling in love. Someday.”
“Like with who?” I tossed an arm toward the
sea emphasizing there were no options here.
His smile left. “Right now, you’re way too young
to be worried about any of this.”
I couldn’t help it; I had to roll my eyes at him.
Then, my annoyed chuckle followed. “I’m not
the one who needs that reminder. I’m not the one
reading to get together with my man.” I placed my
hands on my hips and took in a large breath. Then I
added, “I’m the one that would rather be out there
doing something with my life, instead of hanging
around those immature subadults.”
I knew it. Dad would support me once he had
the facts, but he would never tolerate any of us
engaging in name-calling—and I was guilty.
I let out a sigh—my effort to signify my remorse.
“I’m just tired of listening to Violet and Grace talk
about how the only reason they are willing to learn
‘stuff’ is so they can be better moms and teach that
‘stuff’ to their children, while they stay home and
take care of their herds of babies. Seriously, they
talk about it all the time! And if I speak up and say
I’d rather focus on doing something useful, with
science, Mom gets mad at me. I said I don’t want to
be like her, and she said, ‘What, be a mom?’ And I
said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘Then I might as well give
myself a life sentence of despair and misery.’”
“I doubt she said those exact words.”
Dad also wouldn’t allow for exaggerations.
“There’s a whole life ahead of you.” He kept his
words calm. “With lots of wonderful things. You
have plenty of time to figure out what you want.
And I think, in time, you’ll find you want some of
those joyful things.”
I scowled at him. The reprimand was only
leading us toward the bigger issue. I turned back
to the water and spoke to the waves. “I want to do
something good with my life.”
“And you will, Leilani,” he said softly.
“What I plan to do with my life doesn’t involve
me staying here on this island.”
He drew in a long breath. He did this every time
I brought up the suffocating feeling I felt. Every day
it just seemed to grow more intense.
But each time I mentioned it, he would pull in
a big breath of air, and let it circulate through his
lungs like he wanted to delay talking to me about
my real concerns. Like he was just trying to say
what I’d already heard others say: that I was lucky
to be alive, and that I was lucky to have a place to
live, even if it was just this island.
He shifted to look at a wave crashing against
some cliffs in the distance. “You’re right, Leilani.
You will do something good,” he said, “something
great, with your life. But what you are destined for
involves great things on this island.”
“No.” I moved to place myself directly in his
line of sight. I pressed my fists against my hips. Then
I tilted my head out toward the horizon. “I want off
He looked past me. Finally, he said, “You
already know what I’m going to say.”
“How can there be nothing else out there?”
“Because there isn’t. You already know this.”
Again, I shifted, standing almost on tiptoe to
make sure I directly met his eyes. “It doesn’t make
sense that this is all there is.”
A movement occurred behind us. We both
turned. From the brush, I expected to see Huck
finally emerging with his stick. Instead, I caught the
movement of a larger shadow shifting, followed by
a low voice, “An excellent observation.”
Dad stepped back. I peered toward the brush.
“Certainly,” the voice came again, a bit louder
now, “there is more out there.”
Dad gasped. A strange man emerged. He was
dressed in a metallic purple suit with a nearly translucent
beige button shirt that opened at the chest. A
mass of blond hair, sculpted into a tousle around his
forehead, jetted out toward us. In place of flip-flops,
his alligator loafers treaded through the sand.
“You know there’s more.” The man nodded at
Dad said nothing, only tilted his head to look
closer at the man with his orange-tinted skin and his
sharp facial lines. Then, as the man’s ice crystal eyes
narrowed, Dad gasped again.
“Ashyr,” Dad said quietly.
My mouth fell open as the two stared at each
One hundred and eighty-nine people lived on
the island. Actually, one hundred and ninety
due to my half-sister Kate’s recent baby boy. Every
person I knew. Either they were family, which was
the case with most people on the island, or the others
were on the island because they had a longtime
working relationship or friendship with my parents,
before the world ended.
So, it was hard to process what I now saw: this
stranger, there on the beach with his shiny suit, his
reptile-skinned shoes, and the black liner around his
Even though it was rude, I couldn’t pull my eyes
away. And I couldn’t seem to shut my gaping mouth
I felt a brain wave malfunction because I could
only process two ideas.
He knew Dad.
And he wasn’t from here.
Meanwhile, I liked his eyes. They were clear blue
as the softest wave on a quiet day. But when those
eyes met mine, I quickly looked away. My cheeks
burned like I should be ashamed over how intrigued
I was with this mystery man.
I shook off the feeling, only to spot the ink on his
neck: the word EnRapture in fancy script running
down toward his bared chest.
I looked to Dad. His head was pulled back, his
brow furrowed, his stance firm but shifting back
toward the house. He was tense, something I rarely
see in him.
“Who is he?” I whispered, although the man
was still close enough to hear.
“No one.” But right as Dad said that, the man
extended a hand covered in gold bangles and a large
ring and stepped toward me.
“Ashyr Harmon. And you?”
“Go get your mother.” Dad’s firm voice shook
Before I could accept the handshake, Ashyr’s
hand drew toward his lips. “Ah, yes. Mariana.
Won’t she be delighted to see me?”
This was too much! I looked from this man,
Ashyr, to Dad. He knew Mom, too.
“Maybe she’ll invite me to stay for a bite,”
he said. “It was a long trip, as you know. You’re
not easy to find. But I figure that’s all part of your
Dad didn’t move.
“I suppose you didn’t expect to see me, did you,
old mate?” While Dad’s eyes stayed locked on him,
Ashyr’s eyebrows raised like he had just won a game
or something. “You’re not the only one whose hypothetical
invention worked out. Congrats to both of
My brain still felt caught in some kind of malfunction.
I tried to grasp what this Ashyr guy meant
while Dad turned toward me. The scowl on his face
ran deep. “Go, now!”
But I couldn’t move. Instead, I looked back and
forth. Dad’s shoulders were tight against his loose
Hawaiian shirt while this stranger, in his shiny suit,
shared a casual grin toward the ocean.
“Leilani,” Dad’s tone remained even, but the
discomfort on his face was clear.
I chose one of the many questions pounding
inside my head. “Which invention is he talking
I caught Ashyr’s grin widen. His bracelets
clanged together like music as he spread his hand
across the panorama beach, the ocean waves, the
land behind us. “This pl—”
“Stop!” Dad interjected. “Enough.”
“Dad?” Fear surfaced in my voice.
Although Ashyr’s grin softened, it still hung on
the corners of his lips. “Your daughter.” Those clear
blue eyes studied me, as if evaluating me.
I shot Dad a glance, but he volunteered nothing,
only kept his eyes fixed on Ashyr.
When I looked back, Ashyr nodded at me and
said, “How old?”
“Sixteen,” I volunteered. “Seventeen next month.”
A smile bent around Ashyr’s face. “In our
society, seventeen starts the integration process into
Suddenly, Dad moved fast. He stepped between
me and Ashyr and planted his hands firmly on my
shoulders. He met my eyes. “Get Mom, now. Quick.
It was the pressure in his hands—and the fear in
his voice—that made me agree.
I hustled up the sand, but when I reached the
house’s path, I turned back to see the two still
standing near each other on the beach.
Whatever this was, it was clearly important—
this stranger who seemed to have fallen from the