Part One: Chapter Six

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 When Andrea picks him up at the airport, she surprises him with the first hug any foster parent has ever given him. “I was so worried,” Andrea says as she takes one of his bags. “Please don’t ever do that again.”

The last weeks of summer settle like the leaves beginning to turn and fall in pirouettes off their stems, and Atlas returns to his normal days of tree climbing and book reading with little interruption. At first he buys his muffins and returns his library books, vowing to be a good citizen of the world like Huckleberry Finn when he moves in with the Widow Douglas, but by the Friday before Labor Day Weekend, he has to send his first round of stolen books back to the library using his fake name and return address.  That Monday, as he climbs back in his tree with the magnet-free Oliver Twist to enjoy the final day of summer and his last school-free day, his backpack holds two stolen candy bars, three sodas, and a bunch of bananas.

Before he can finish the first page, he hears rustling below him, and then whoever is there throws a black hat that sails through the tree branches and lands directly on top of his lap. He would recognize those three corners anywhere, but when he peers down at the ground, the grass contains no booted feet. “Mary?” he asks, moving the hat to his head to he can close the book with both hands, “Is that you?”

“Who else would give you their favorite pirate’s hat because they don’t know how to apologize?” the voice asks from above him, and when he sees her crouched three branches above him, he almost falls off of his perch. She wears the same black dress she wore to their first dinner at the resort, but her hair is just plain red and she has purple circles under her eyes.

“I told you never to contact me again,” Atlas says, trying to hold down the happiness welling up inside of him at the mere sight of her.

“I know, and what I did is completely unforgiveable. But if it means anything, I didn’t take the money.”

“You didn’t?”

“I left it exactly where it belonged: in the hands of the people who cared about it the most.”

“But I thought you wanted to get your revenge?”

“I did, but I lost sight of the real reason I was mad at them in the first place: choosing money over us. And then I realized that no matter how much I wanted to take that bag and leave them stranded in Cancun, penniless and friendless, I didn’t want is as much as I wanted my little brother back. So I dropped the money at their feet and came back here to see if maybe, just maybe, you might let me back into your life again.”

“Well—”

“I also thought that after you graduate from high school, we could use our ‘talents’ for the greater good. You could move in with me, and we could focus on taking money back from the bad guys and sharing it with the good ones. We could have our own team and everything, and I already have the first recruits.”

“You do? Who?”

Mary whistles, and two familiar blonds walk out of the forests and stand under the tree. “What are you doing here?” Atlas asks, unable to take his eyes off of Lana.

“Once Mary told us the real reason you agreed to steal that money, we decided to join the cause. She claims you two can teach us enough to be useful, so we accepted these.” Lana holds up her own sword necklace, which glitters in the slanted sunlight filtering through the leaves.

“So what do you say?” Mary asks him, jumping from her branch to his. “Are you back in?”

Atlas fishes out his own sword, which, despite his anger, has hung close to his heart since he got back. “I was never out.”

“A pirate heart,” Mary says with satisfaction. “Then it’s settled. Finish up your last year of high school, and then we set sail. Until then…we’ll be around.” She pushes the black hat down over his eyes, and when he pushes it back up again, they’re gone.

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This is the last section of Atlas and Mary Read Part I. Starting on 9/18, author Kelly Ann Jacobson will begin posting Part II. Thanks for reading!

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