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TITLE: 

5.625 × 8.5  SPINE: 0.9375”

Author of Something Like Fate and All I Need

U.S. $17.99 CAN. $19.99

WHAT IF YOUR BOYFRIEND WAS THE WORLD’S BIGGEST ROCK STAR? STERLING IS CRAZY IN LOVE with © Jayd Jackson

Ethan. Not only is he the sweetest boy she’s ever met, but he’s an incredibly talented guitarist, singer, and songwriter. And since forever, he’s believed he has what it takes to be a star. is the bestselling author of When It Happens, Take Me There, Waiting for You,

“Like Sarah Dessen, Colasanti knows how teens operate.”

When Ethan becomes an overnight

—Kirkus Reviews on When It Happens

sensation, he’s thrown headfirst into the

“Colasanti ably captures the teenage voice.”—VOYA on Take Me There

glam world of celebrity—and so is Sterling. Before she knows it, she’s attending red-

bachelor’s degree from the University of

“Colasanti presents an authentic picture of how complicated it is to be a teenager, especially one in love.”—Publishers Weekly on Waiting for You

Pennsylvania and a master’s degree from

“A romantic page-turner.”—Booklist on Something Like Fate

clothes, and flying around the country

Something Like Fate, So Much Closer, Keep Holding On, and All I Need. Susane has a

New York University. Before becoming a full-time author in 2007, Susane was a high school science teacher for ten years. You can connect with Susane at:

carpet premieres, getting free designer to attend Ethan’s monumental sold-out

“A bouncy, captivating example of the teenage romantic comedy.”

concerts.

—Booklist on So Much Closer

It’s a dream come true . . . but whose

“Emotionally satisfying from beginning to end.”

dream is Sterling living? And what do you do

—Kirkus Reviews on Keep Holding On

when “forever” comes to an end?

“Grab your blankets and sunscreen now: This is an ideal summer beach book.”—Kirkus Reviews on All I Need

VIKING

An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014 Visit us at www.penguin.com Printed in the U.S.A. Jacket photo copyright © 2014 by Michael Miranda • Jacket design by Vanessa Han

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p VIKING

FINISH: PEARLESCENT PAPER

2/18/14 10:24 AM


P r ol ogue

205,132,379. That’s how many times his new video has been viewed. That’s how many people went to his site, pressed play, and watched the hottest musician in the world perform his latest single. It wasn’t like this a year ago. No one even knew who he was back then. His website only had a few hundred hits. His music wasn’t playing on the radio every five minutes. His music wasn’t out there at all. And now it’s everywhere. All these girls’ eyes on him. All these strangers singing along in their rooms, on the other side of all those screens all over the world. He’s the world’s biggest rock star. He’s the boy every girl wants. He’s my boyfriend.

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1 [ 1,549 f o l l o wers]

When I open my front door, Ethan is holding his phone over his head playing “In Your Eyes.” “Happy anniversary,” he says. “You remembered!” I’ve been wondering if Ethan was going to remember that our first date was one month ago today. He didn’t say anything at school. So I didn’t say anything, either. I didn’t want to come off like a total spaz over being together for a month. Now I’m so happy I didn’t ruin his surprise. I had no idea Ethan was planning this when he said he wanted to come over tonight. He comes in and kisses me. Still holding his phone over his head. Still playing “In Your Eyes.” “You rule,” I tell him. “I don’t rule yet. Maybe I’ll rule when we get to where I’m taking you to celebrate. If you like what we’re doing.”

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4h

“You didn’t have to do all this.” Ethan hugs me tight. “I wanted to make tonight special.” It’s hard to believe we’ve only been together for one month. It feels like I’ve known him forever. Today at lunch we were talking about last Saturday night. We were driving around in Ethan’s car with no destination in mind. I was supposed to be home in half an hour. But I was desperately trying to block out the harsh reality of time. So was Ethan. “What if we kept driving?” Ethan said. “Got a motel room in some random town? We could say we got lost.” “And we got the motel room for safety. You were really tired and we were worried you might fall asleep at the wheel.” “Exactly. Your mom would buy that, right?” “As much as your mom would.” We smirked at each other. Both moms would see right through that scam. Ethan reached into my lap and held my hand. This was always the worst part of the night, when we knew we’d have to go home soon. I wanted to drive around all night. Holding hands in my lap or his. Singing along to the radio. Getting lost down side streets to make out. We’re both shocked by how much alone time we want together. Neither of us has ever felt this way before. Ethan loves having lots of people around. He’s a classic extrovert like me. We’re both into going out and meeting new people. But nothing compares to how happy I am when it’s just the two of us. A David Bowie song came on. Ethan started laughing. “What?” I asked.

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“Obscure reference.” “Try me.” “‘Hey Bowie, do you have one really funky sequined space suit?’” “Flight of the Conchords! I love that show!” “How are you so awesome?” “How are you so awesome?” “We’re both Flight of the Conchords geeks. That makes us both awesome.” “I love our obscure awesomeness.” “I love everything about you.” Ethan made me melt when he said that. I was melting right into the passenger seat. My bones went soft and my heart swelled and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling happier than I did right that second. I knew he could see how much I loved him when he looked into my eyes. We haven’t said “I love you” to each other yet. But we both know it’s there. That night in Ethan’s car feels like it was three weeks ago. But it was only three days ago. When we’re together, time dilates and stretches in mysterious ways. It’s like we enter our own private universe. Especially when we’re alone. Especially when we’re making out. When Ethan is touching me and kissing me and we’re pressed against each other in bed, I never want it to end. I wish we could stay together forever. We usually go to my apartment after school. One minute it’ll be three thirty and we’ll have three whole hours until Ethan has to be home for dinner. The next thing we know it’s after six. How do

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6h

hours pass in a space of time that feels like minutes? I suspect time is going to pass even faster tonight. I have no idea where Ethan’s taking me to celebrate. But something tells me it’s going to be really romantic. “In Your Eyes” finishes playing. Ethan smiles in that way he has where his eyes sparkle like I’m the most important person to him. “Are you ready?” he asks. Why does it seem like he’s asking about more than just tonight? Ethan won’t give me any hints in his car. He even takes a few random turns to fake me out. Our small town is already shut down for the night. The river, piers, and boats all seem like they’re sleeping. I’m surprised when we end up at his house. “Didn’t see that coming,” I say. “You have no idea.” No one’s home at Ethan’s house. We go up to his room. Which is filled with candles. Candles in different shapes, sizes, and colors are on every available surface. Candles are on the windowsills, the dresser, the desk, the shelves, the night table. There are even some big pillar candles clustered in a corner on the floor. Ethan turns the lights off. He starts lighting candles. “Have a seat,” he says. “This might take a while.” I lie back on Ethan’s big bed and watch him light the candles. I love watching him. One time he fell asleep in my

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room. I watched him for almost an hour, memorizing the slope of his nose, the curves of his cheeks, the shape of his lips. Ethan Cross is the most gorgeous boy I’ve ever seen. And he picked me. How did I get so lucky? After he lights the last candle, Ethan grabs his iPod. He lies down next to me. Then he puts one earbud in my ear and the other in his. “Thanks again for the song last night,” Ethan says. “I loved it.” I was so nervous about sending Ethan “Everything” by Lifehouse. I’ve had that song on repeat ever since the day Ethan first asked me out. To me, it’s Ethan’s theme song. It sounds like him. It feels like him. I love losing myself in the sound of him. I’m so deep in the love haze I can’t remember what I used to think about before Ethan. Last night I was suddenly inspired to share the song with him. The message I wrote with it said that he’s all I want. He’s all I need. What we have is amazing. The second I sent the song, I worried that it was too much. The last thing I want to do is scare him away. But Ethan isn’t a typical boy. He doesn’t get freaked out by strong emotions. And he’s so romantic. “Your song inspired me to find one for you,” Ethan says. Haunting, resonant music starts playing in our earbuds. “Have you heard of Sigur Rós?” “No.”

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8h

“They’re Icelandic. They have an ambient, post-rock sound.” Ethan strokes my cheek. “Their music is beautiful. Just like you.” Melting. On. The bed. “I don’t have the words to tell you how I feel about you. So I found a song in another language to do it for me. I don’t know Icelandic, but I read that it’s about two people falling in love. How they spend the day together walking around downtown and enjoying being in their own world where they understand each other better than anyone ever has before. It’s called ‘An Alright Start.’” “You always out-romantic me. I thought I was being all sweet sending you ‘Everything.’ You’re like, ‘I had to go to a whole other language to tell you how I feel!’” “You were being sweet. You’re the sweetest girl I’ve ever known.” I put my head on Ethan’s chest, breathing with him and listening to the music. Ethan slides his fingers through my hair over and over. “Sterling,” Ethan says. “Yeah?” “I love you.” I lift my head to look at Ethan. He glows in the candlelight. Just looking at him takes my breath away. “I love you, too,” I tell him. How could it be any better than this?

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2 [ 4 ,9 1 1 follow er s ]

“What key is this in?” Drew asks. “B-flat,” Gage tells him. “My pages are messed up.” Drew makes some notations on his sheet music with a pencil. “Let’s hit it,” Stefan says from behind the drums. Stefan is only happy when he’s behind the drums. Drew, Gage, and Stefan are Ethan’s band mates. Those guys’ high school days are behind them. Now they’re working random jobs while waiting for the band to get megafamous. Their band is The Invincibles. Drew plays bass and Gage rocks the keyboard. Along with Ethan’s best friend, Miles, these guys are Ethan’s closest friends. The band breaks into “Now and Forever.” Ethan’s hoping it will be their first single. He looks at me while he sings.

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10 h

Don’t worry about tomorrow. We always have today. Right now is all that matters. Right now is here to stay. Ethan wrote this song for me. I couldn’t believe he wrote it in two days. He said he was inspired by his muse (i.e. me). “Now and Forever” is all about appreciating the moment you’re in, anytime, anywhere. It’s about quieting the noisy part of your brain that’s anxious about the future and soothing it by finding happiness in whatever you’re doing right now. Ethan said that I make him happier than he’s ever been. He wanted to write a song that would capture how happy he felt with me. Yeah. My life is pretty good. I put my feet up on the edge of the couch cushion, hugging my knees to my chest. Ethan snagged this couch for the garage when his parents redecorated the den. It’s perfect for watching band practice. “That was awesome,” Ethan tells the guys when the song ends. “Did you see ‘Aluminum Rain’?” Gage asks Ethan. “I sent it to you last night.” Ethan nods. “Can we try it?” Things always get awkward when Gage wants The

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Invincibles to play a song he wrote. Everything the band plays was written by Ethan. There’s an unspoken understanding that Ethan’s music is phenomenal. That’s why Ethan is destined to be a rock star. But Gage thinks he’s also destined to be a rock star, despite his music lacking the depth and soul of Ethan’s. That’s why he keeps pushing Ethan to add his songs to the set list. They’ve already done some shows at local venues. So far, Ethan’s songs are the only ones they’ve played. “We don’t really have time,” Ethan tells Gage. “Then can we at least add it to the next set list?” “I don’t think that would be the best approach,” Ethan says. “Seriously? Are we ever going to play my songs?” Ethan glances at the other guys. Drew picks at his bass uncomfortably. Stefan itches to pound the drums. Gage faces Drew. “You liked ‘Aluminum Rain.’ You said it spoke to you.” “It’s a good song,” Drew agrees. “But not as good as Ethan’s songs. Right?” Drew throws Stefan a look. Stefan looks at his drums. “Come on, man,” Drew says. “Take it easy.” “No, I want to know. That’s what you guys really think, right? That Ethan’s songs are better than mine. Why don’t you just admit it so we can move on?” “Your songs are good,” Stefan says. “Maybe just not as . . . strong.” “We all want to be successful,” Drew says. “That’s only

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12 h

going to happen if we rock our strongest sound. You know how hard it is to get people’s attention. How long have we been practicing in this garage? Two years? And we only started playing gigs .  .  . what, three months ago? Things are finally happening for us. We have to stick with what’s working.” “You’re right.” Gage yanks the cover over his keyboard. He grabs his bag. “Where are you going?” Ethan says. “We still have twenty minutes.” “I’m done.” “You mean . . . for today, or . . . ?” “I’m not sure this is working for me anymore.” “Dude,” Stefan says. “Don’t be such a drama queen.” Gage turns to Stefan like he’s going to say something. Then he stalks out of the garage to his car. He slams his door and peels out. “Was it something I said?” Stefan wonders. Watching band practice is usually fun. These four guys all started out at the same level, practicing in Ethan’s garage three days a week after school. The thing is, they’re not going to be at the same level for much longer. Especially now that Zeke is in the picture. Zeke Goldstein is a beast. Ethan met him at a show they played in New Haven. Zeke wasn’t even there scoping out talent. He was on a blind date his friend set up. As soon as Ethan sang his first note, Zeke knew he was destined for greatness. He was determined to sign Ethan

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right away. Zeke is on the grind 24/7. He just started working on building Ethan’s career and Ethan already has thousands of followers. He says Ethan is about to go places beyond his wildest dreams. And that boy’s dreams are pretty wild. Zeke will be the first one to tell you that he discovered Ethan and that he deserves to take credit for Ethan’s future success. Which comes off as arrogant to me. The way Zeke sees it, he’s confident in his ability to build an artist’s career. And he believes in Ethan more than anyone he’s ever represented. He even dropped a few clients to make more room for Ethan on his list. Zeke insists Ethan’s career is about to blow up. “I guess we’re done here,” Ethan says. Drew packs his bass. Stefan riffs on the drums. Ethan comes over and scrunches against me on the couch. “Sorry about the drama,” he says. “Honey badger don’t care.” “It just takes what it wants.” “And of course what does the honey badger have to eat for the next two weeks?” “Cobra!” we both yell. We were on the floor the first time we saw that video. I don’t know what’s so hysterical about it. But we were dying. We were also dying over that video of the race car. The race car isn’t even moving. It’s just a picture of a race car. Some guy is making race-car sound effects over it like, “Rinnnng neee neee nee nee neeeee!” Again, way more hysterical than it should be.

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14 h

Ethan scrunches even closer to me. He holds me tight. “I have to get up,” he says. “But I don’t want to get up.” “I don’t want you to stop hugging me.” “They need to invent a tool to pry us apart.” He’s right. It’s like we have to touch each other all the time or we’ll die or something. “They should call it the peeleroffer.” “OXO should make one.” “I was just going to say that!” OXO is one of my favorite brands of kitchen tools. They’re into form plus function. Which is the best combo for cooking supplies. Drew and Stefan shuffle over to talk to Ethan before they leave. I go inside. The last thing I want to be is the lead singer’s clingy girlfriend.

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3 [1 8 ,7 3 6 follo wer s ]

Being a culinary geek means that no shiny new kitchen appliance fails to catch my eye. Or shiny new utensil. Or shiny new tableware. Which is why Crate & Barrel is my mecca. I’m meeting my best friend, Georgia, for brunch in twenty minutes. The brunch place is across the street. There’s no way I could resist coming here first. Not to get anything. There’s just something about walking around the kitchen section, admiring how the dazzling light glints off every single glass surface and which spatula colors are the hot trend this season and seeing what new cupcake sprinkles they have, that is incredibly soothing. It makes me happy. And it makes me excited for my future self, who will own most of this stuff. “May I help you find something?” an employee asks. She has bright red lipstick, a sky-high, gold-streaked ponytail; and enough perky energy to power the entire store.

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“No, thanks. I’m just looking.” “For anything in particular?” “Not really.” It’s hard to explain what I’m doing here. It’s actually kind of embarrassing to try explaining my obsession out loud. “Let me know if you need anything. I’ll be right over there.” She points to an island of registers. “Okay. Thanks.” Something sparkly catches my eye behind the registers. I dart over to find out what is so sparkly. Snow-cone cups with neon stripes are stacked in glittering containers. A super profesh snow-cone machine sits next to them along with an array of syrups. The summery display makes me smile. School just ended. I have the whole summer to chill. Cooking and reading are definitely on the agenda. I’ve recently gotten back into yoga, working on being present in the moment. I want to be more focused, less preoccupied. There will be lots of time to hang out with Georgia and Miles and our other friends. And there will be lots of late nights with Ethan. . . . A typed sign hanging behind one of the registers says: do not close this drawer. hinge is lose. See, that’s just depressing. A typo anywhere is insulting. But a typo at Crate & Barrel is personally offensive. I rely on Crate & Barrel to dispense information in their signature smooth, bold font that is both accurate and charmingly lyri-

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cal. True, this sign was done by an employee, not corporate. But that’s no excuse for ignorance. To bother going to the trouble of typing the sign? And then hanging it where everyone can see? Ms. Perky swings around behind a register. “Ready to check out?” she asks. “No, sorry. I was just . . .” There’s really no way to explain myself. First with the Crate & Barrel obsession. Now with the typo obsession. I know I’m not normal. But I can’t help who I am. It all started with a vegetable. My cooking class went to New Haven last year for Restaurant Week. There was a tasting menu at a restaurant where our teacher knew the executive chef. We got to see how they prepped for the dinner rush. When we were walking around earlier that day, we went into a deli for drinks. The deli had an awning that looked brand-new. The awning was green. The awning was huge. And this is what the awning said right across the front: deli, groceries, beer, snacks, vegetable Dude. They only had one vegetable. I pointed out the typo to a girl from my class. She was like, “We better run in quick and snatch that vegetable up before someone else gets it!” After the vegetable debacle, I started noticing typos everywhere. On handwritten signs in store windows. At school.

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18 h

Even on billboards that people had paid a lot of money for. One time when my mom and I were at the grocery store, I saw a handwritten sign on an employees only door that said open “slowly.” Those stupid quotation marks annoyed me the whole time I was pushing our cart around. I almost ran over an old lady, I was so annoyed. While Mom was checking out, I went up to the customer service desk. “How can I help you?” the smiling guy behind the counter said. “You can actually help everybody. See that sign?” I pointed at the crooked piece of paper on the door. “Yes?” “Notice anything strange about it?” His smile vanished. He looked again. “What are you getting at?” he accused. “See those quotation marks around slowly?” “Yes?” “Why are they there?” “We’ve been having problems with the door. People are opening it too fast and slamming into people.” “You don’t need those quotation marks,” I explained. “The sign should just read ‘open slowly.’” “You serious?” He laughed. “Why are you wasting my time with this?” I was two seconds away from grabbing the black marker from his desk, marching over to the sign, and scribbling out the quotation marks. But I restrained myself from looking like a lunatic at ShopRite.

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“You should correct the sign,” I said. Then I walked away. Walking away is not my thing. For a while after the Open “Slowly” Incident, I corrected any typo I saw on a sign. No sign was safe. I did it on the DL so I wouldn’t offend anyone directly. It was my way of trying to make the world a smarter place. But whipping out a marker to change “their” to “there” in “Their are two lanes open” wasn’t enough. Not even close. That’s why I want to be a book publisher. The decline of our society’s collective intelligence is sad. I mean, really, is this the best we can do? Not that I should talk. I didn’t take school seriously up until last year. School was just something I had to endure until I could graduate and focus on real life. But now that I have a career goal I feel passionate about, I’m putting a lot more energy into my classes. I want to show other people that knowledge is a good thing. As a publisher, I’ll have the power to share quality work that can change the world. I can make a much greater impact by publishing books that advance our collective intelligence than I can correcting a few random signs three people might notice. My mom is in full support of my career goal. She has a severe dislike for pop culture and what it’s doing to our society. She loves that I want to help preserve the English language. When I see the ridiculous comments posted on Ethan’s pages with their typos and misspellings, I want to comment back how stupid they sound. But of course I would never do that. Restraint is just one way I support Ethan’s big dream.

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4 [ 1 0 3 ,2 0 4 follow er s ]

“Look at this,” Ethan says. Something about being in Ethan’s room puts me in a warm, fuzzy trance. Maybe it’s how everything is so familiar. Or how it smells like him, a mix of Gucci Guilty and vanilla. I always feel so comfortable here. This is where Ethan grew up. His room knows all his secrets. His true feelings. His desires. I could stay on his bed reading for days. But I pry myself up and go over to his desk. What he’s pointing at on the huge computer screen is incredible. He has 103,204 followers. “That’s over five hundred more than yesterday,” he says. “Of course it is. You’re amazing.” Ethan reaches up and pulls me down on his lap. He slides his fingers through my wet hair. “You’re amazing,” he says.

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N o w & F o re ve r h 21

We just came in from Ethan’s pool out back. It’s one of the many reasons I love coming over to his house. His house is so massive, you wouldn’t even know his parents and little sister live here, too. I’ve come over lots of times without seeing any of them, even when they’re all home. We read the comments on the new video he posted today. Or Ethan reads while I watch our reflection in the mirror above his desk. I love how good we look together. Ethan is athletic lean with big blue eyes and dark brown hair. He has the kind of look that makes girls melty. I’ve melted in many locations just because he looked at me in that intense boyfriend way. His eyes are almost the same shade of dark blue as mine. It’s weird seeing my hair so dark in the mirror. I changed my hair right before summer vacay. I’m still getting used to it being black with a jade streak. Ethan pulls me closer. Right when he’s about to kiss me, his computer pings with new comments. How can you look so sexy without even trying? You gangsta now :D Hot video. Scorching. En fuego. OMG!!!!!! we luv u in richmond, Ethan! Do a show hre pleeeeeze???

The very first comments Ethan got when he started posting videos two years ago were exciting. He told me he used

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22 h

to write everyone back. That was before I knew him. It’s so weird how I didn’t even talk to him back then. Ethan still reads and appreciates every comment, but now there are way too many for him to write back to everyone. He would if he could, though. The boy has serious love for his fans. This new video is getting more views and comments than ever. Ethan’s mom hired a professional filmmaker to do his last three videos. Then Ethan hooked up with Red Bedroom Records, an indie label that’s all about discovering stellar new talent. He recorded his first album with them. Forever is about to drop. Red Bedroom only wanted Ethan, so he recorded Forever without The Invincibles. He’s hoping that attention for the album will inspire attention for the band. Ethan’s stoked that Zeke signed him in the spring. That gave Zeke time to hustle enough to make sure Forever will be huge. Red Bedroom is releasing the song for this video, “Night on Fire,” as Ethan’s first single off the album. The video is fierce. Instead of the standard overproduced video format, Ethan wanted to go with something more relatable to his fans. He filmed most of the video himself with a handheld camera. The filmmaker recorded the longer shots of Ethan and did the editing. “Night on Fire” is about one magical summer night when a boy and girl meet. They have this immediate connection. It’s love at first sight. In the video, they spend the whole night together in downtown Manhattan, playing mini golf on a pier in Tribeca, getting Italian ices at Rocco’s, and walking along the Hudson River. He kisses her on the rooftop of a building they sneak into, sparkles of city lights all around

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them. Watching the sunrise, they realize that no matter what happens, they will always have this one night to remember forever. The fire of their passion will never die. Obviously, this video is speaking to a lot of girls. More melting the first time I saw it. Ethan isn’t a typical teen rock star. His music has a quality and depth that boy bands typically lack. You can totally hear Ethan’s influences in his music. His sound is a combination of pop and hip-hop mostly inspired by The Beatles, Elvis, and Michael Jackson. Ethan believes they were the musicians who made music what it is today. He’s also into contemporary artists like Eminem, Usher, and Justin Timberlake. Ethan’s musical style is hard to describe. He has a unique sound no one else has ever created before. Even though his music is so original, its tone is familiar. His songs somehow relate to everyone. They just feel like home. His lyrics achieve the impossible by being both catchy and deep. His target demographic is girls ages twelve to twenty-four. But nine-year-old girls and grandmas also love him. Plus he has lots of guy fans. Basically, Ethan makes the kind of music generations have been waiting for. It’s obvious why he has such widespread appeal. More comments pop up. Brazil LOVES YOU!!! Te amo xxx Where can I get a night on fire? Ahhhhh how are you so perfect? <3

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24 h

“That last comment was obviously meant for you,” Ethan tells me. “You’re the one who’s perfect. I should know. I’m your biggest fan.” “Hmm.” Ethan scans the comments. “I wonder why my biggest fan didn’t comment?” “All of my comments are private.” “But you like the video, right?” “I love it. You’re so hot I can’t believe the screen didn’t ignite.” Ethan kisses me. When Ethan kisses me, every part of me ignites. “Ahem,” goes a voice in the doorway. “Nice knock,” Ethan says. “Um, your door was open?” Sydney says with tone. Sydney is Ethan’s little sister. She is thirteen and not at all impressed with Ethan. Which is ironic considering she’s in his target demographic. If Ethan becomes even half as famous as he’s hoping, Sydney’s friends will be dying that he’s her brother. “What can I do for you?” Ethan asks. “Mom wants to know where Sterling put the garlic press.” “Then why don’t you ask her?” Sydney’s detached gaze flicks over to me. I’m still sitting on Ethan’s lap. She’s clearly wondering why I’m even remotely interested in her brother. “It’s in the second drawer by the refrigerator,” I tell her. “The one with the big utensils.”

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N o w & F o re ve r h 25

“That’s not where it goes.” “Oh, sorry. I thought it was.” Sydney retreats, shaking her head at the floor over my audacity at presuming to shove a garlic press where it does not belong. She plods downstairs to rectify my outlandish behavior. “How dare you,” Ethan says. “I thought that’s where it went.” “Garlic presses don’t like to be misplaced.” “Oh, really?” “Know what happens to people who put garlic presses in the wrong drawer?” “What?” “Tickling.” “No tickling.” Ethan presses his fingers against my sides. “No tickling!” I spring up from his lap, laughing hysterically even though the tickling never started. Even the threat of tickling makes me hyper. More pings from Ethan’s computer. More comments from girls all over the world raving about how cute and sexy and talented he is. Ethan scrolls down to read the new ones. I want to stay in Ethan’s room forever. Every time I leave, it feels like I’m leaving part of myself behind. Tonight, with the summer breeze drifting in the windows and the smell of dinner cooking downstairs and senior year about to start, I’m overcome by warm contentment.

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26 h

I guess Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m just feeling nostalgic tonight. But also excited about the possibility of Ethan becoming a huge rock star. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s worked so hard for this. How much time has Ethan spent in his room, in the garage practicing with his band, in jam sessions, in studios, building the dream? Enough for this to be his time. Something tells me that the way we are right now at the end of summer, on the edge of everything, is a way we will never be again. Something tells me our whole world is about to change.

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TITLE : ALL I NEED

5.625 x 8.5 SPINE: 0.875

Author of So Much Closer and Keep Holding On

U.S. $17.99 CAN. $19.00

the last night of

summer

is only the beginning. SKYE WANTS TO MEET THE BOY who will change her life forever. Seth feels their instant connection the second he sees Jayd Gardina

her. When Seth starts talking to Skye at the last beach party of the summer, it’s obvious to both of them that this is something real. But when Seth leaves for college before

“Insightful, fresh, and fun.”—Washington Post Book World on is the author of six bestselling teen novels. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s from New York University. Back in the day, Susane wished for fun summer nights with a boy who would change her life forever. That wishing (plus her obsession with soul mates, ’80s music, and colored sand) inspired All I Need.

they exchange contact info, Skye wonders

When It Happens

if he felt the same way she did—and if she

“A mix of self-discovery, self-deprecation, humor, and teenage angst.”—VOYA on Take Me There

will ever see him again. Even if they find their way back to each other, can they make

“Chick lit for girls who think.”—Kirkus Reviews on Waiting for You

a long-distance relationship work despite trust issues, ex drama, and some serious

“A romantic page-turner.”—Booklist on Something Like Fate

background differences?

“A bouncy, captivating example of the teenage romantic comedy.”—Booklist on So Much Closer

Teen favorite Susane Colasanti returns to the alternating-voice style of her beloved

“Emotionally satisfying from beginning to end.” —Kirkus Reviews on Keep Holding on

debut, When It Happens, in this Serendipityinspired story about summer, soul mates,

VIKING

and the moments that change our lives

An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014 Visit us at www.penguin.com Printed in the U.S.A. Jacket photo copyright © Jayd Gardina, 2013 • Jacket design by Vanessa Han

forever.

p VIKING FINISH: MATTE

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1/10/13 9:33 AM


one

%

Skye bring on the night “SOMETHING’S GOING to happen tonight,” Adrienne says.

“I can feel it.” It would be awesome if she was right. We’ve been coming to this beach party for seven years. Nothing ever happens. When summer is shiny and new and filled with possibility, I always hope that it will be the summer when I’ll meet him. The boy who will connect with me like no one else ever has. The boy who will change my life forever. But summer is almost over. The same sadness that always overwhelms me near the end is making my heart heavy. We walk down the steps from the boardwalk onto the beach. This annual party that my parents and their friends throw isn’t exactly a party. It’s more like an excuse to sit around a big seafood cookout in the pit and gorge yourself. After it gets dark, there’s a bonfire where you can toast marshmallows. The rest of the time I’m making small talk with people twice my age or trying to entertain the little kids.

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2 4 There are never any cute boys. But that doesn’t stop me from hoping this time will be different. “I can’t believe school starts in two weeks,” Adrienne groans. “No school talk on the beach,” I demand. “This is a happy place. Only happy thoughts allowed.” I’ve been trying to avoid all the back-to-school displays in town. Whenever I’m ambushed by one of those annoying ads in a magazine, I quickly flip the page before reality sinks in. My determination to make the most of every last second of summer is fierce. Adrienne and I head over to the crowd with our flip-flops flinging sand around. I’ll find sand in everything—my bag, my drawers, even my books—way after we pack up the summer house and go back home. I’m not looking forward to the day when all the sand is gone. My parents are sitting together on a blanket. They’re staring out at the ocean, Mom leaning against Dad, still happy to be married after twenty-one years. That’s all I need. To find a soul mate to share my life with. To have a love so epic it will never die. Adrienne’s little brother runs right at her. He slams into her legs. Adrienne dramatically pretends to be tackled, sprawling back on the sand with her arms splayed out. Dustin thinks this is the most hysterical thing ever. “Come on, you rugrat,” she says. “Let’s go husk some corn.” Before my parents’ friends start coming up to me with their boring questions, I take a minute to watch the ocean. It’s all sparkly in the evening light. Diamonds of sunlight shimmer way into the distance. I stare at the horizon, trying to find the

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All I N e e d 4 3

farthest sunlight diamond. Something makes me look away. A boy is staring at me. He’s sitting on one of the logs circling the pit. I’ve never seen him before. I would definitely remember. It takes me a few seconds to realize that I’m staring back at him. I can’t help smiling a little. He smiles back. I turn away, feeling like an idiot. Maybe Adrienne was right. Maybe something really will happen tonight. Why couldn’t I be rocking something sexier than my standard oversized tee/ cutoffs/flip-flops look? “Did you know Zenyattà Mondatta is a portmanteau?” someone says behind me. I know it’s him even before I turn back around. “What?” I say. The boy who was staring points at my shirt. “Oh.” I look down at the vintage Police concert tee. “This is my dad’s old shirt.” “Are you into the Police?” “They’re okay.” “They’re okay? Have you heard the Police?” “Only when my dad plays them.” “We’ll have to fix that.” A zing of adrenaline shoots through me. “Are you, like, a Police superfan?” I ask. “They were musical geniuses,” he says. “I’m into lots of eighties music. And some late-seventies stuff. That’s when the

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4 4 best music was made. The overplayed crap everyone listens to now is meaningless.” This boy is intense. And he’s striking in a way I’ve never really seen before. His eyes are pale green like sea glass, like you could see right into his soul. His straight, clean-cut brown hair makes me notice his eyes even more. He’s about five ten with the kind of medium build I’m into. I even like what he’s wearing— green Vans, cargos, and a plain white T-shirt. “I’m Seth,” he says. “I’m Skye.” “Do you live around here?” “Just for the summers. Our house is up there.” I point to the hill where my house sits next door to Adrienne’s. Adrienne and I met the summer my parents bought our house when we were both nine. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have a summer friend the same exact age right next door. People even say we look like sisters. Which is an exaggeration. We both have long, wavy, honey-blonde hair, but mine’s darker. And our eyes are different shades of blue. Still, I think of Adrienne as my summer sister. “What about you?” “Oh, I’m . . . staying with my dad.” When Seth takes a drink from his Coke bottle, I notice his friendship bracelets. He has a bunch of them in all different patterns and colors. His watch is one of those big ones with an extrawide band. It looks really good with the friendship bracelets. “I love your friendship bracelets,” I say. Then I brace myself for Seth to tell me that his girlfriend made them.

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All I N e e d 4 5

“Thanks. My cousin Jade made these at camp. She sends me new ones every summer.” That. Is adorable. “Wait,” I say, remembering. “What’s a . . . portmanteau?” “A blend of other words. I forget which words went into Zenyattà Mondatta. Pretty sure Zen was one of them.” It’s so weird that Seth just said Zen. Adrienne and I were talking about her new feng shui book on the way here. She wants to redecorate her room with pairs of things against the southern wall. That’s supposed to bring love into your life. I totally forgot about Adrienne until now. We’re the only people we actually want to hang out with at this thing. She must be ready to kill me. But when my eyes find hers in the crowd and I give her an apologetic look, it’s clear she’s stoked that I’m talking to Seth. She gives me a thumbs-up, then points at me “get it, girl” style. I hope she meets someone tonight, too. This annoying lady who has the most outrageous estate on the hill swoops in to air-kiss a mom trying to get her two little kids to stop running around her in circles. “Celia!” Annoying Lady shrieks. “How are you?” “A bit frazzled at the moment,” Celia says, pointing out the obvious. “We must do lunch before you leave. It’s been ages.” “Well, I’m not really available for lunch these days.” “Why’s that?” Annoying Lady looks confused. Like the thought that a mom could be raising her kids without a nanny never occurred to her.

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6 4 Seth moves closer to me. “Why do people always do that?” he says. “Pretend not to live in reality with the rest of us?” “That. And ask how you are when they have no interest in hearing it.” “I know,” I say. “It’s like people are afraid to be real.” Even as I’m saying it, I know Seth is different. I already know he’s the real thing.

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two

% Seth

only in dreams could it be this way I DIDN’T want to come to this beach cookout thing. I’d rather

be hiding out back at my dad’s. But then I see her. She’s coming down the steps from the boardwalk with another girl. I can’t take my eyes off her. Which is weird, considering that exactly zero girls have caught my attention since my heart was ripped out, stomped on, and shoved back in my chest with dirt and twigs stuck all over it. But this girl . . . Do I know her from somewhere? I feel like I’ve met her before. And not just because she’s beautiful. If you could turn summer into a girl, she’s how it would look. Shiny blonde hair. Cute cutoff shorts. Tan from chilling at the beach all summer. Dude. She’s wearing a Police tour shirt. A part of me that’s been comatose since my heart was destroyed wakes up. When she looks at me with those unreal sky-blue eyes, I know that everything is about to change.

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8 4 Nick snaps his fingers in front of my face. “She’s hot,” he confirms. “But she must be crazy. She obviously wants you.” My dad went to high school with Nick’s dad. They grew up in Stirling, a town in New Jersey not too far from West Orange, where I’m from. I met Nick when we went over to his place for dinner a few days ago. His house is one of those massive McMansions way up on the hill. Sea Bright has an interesting socioeconomic diversity dynamic. There are all these extravagant houses up on the hill, not that far from a bunch of ramshackle beach houses down below. As if the delineation of wealth weren’t painfully clear enough, a stream divides the two areas. Most of the beach houses down here look like they’d be reduced to a clattering pile of boards in a strong wind. The hill houses are oriented so that their enormous windows provide sweet views of the ocean. Their picture windows look like faces in a movie theater, all turned toward the screen. Nick is okay. I feel like less of a loser having someone to hang out with on the beach and stuff. Nick’s the one who told me about this party. I didn’t have anything better to do. So here I am. With her. I have to know who she is. “Go for it, man,” Nick encourages when I get up. Like I even remotely have a chance. But I can’t help it. My body and mind are in throwdown mode. Logic is not winning this battle. I can’t believe I’m doing this.

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All I N e e d 4 9

I walk over to her in a trance. Words come out of my mouth. I have no idea what they are, but she’s talking back. We’re apparently having some sort of conversation. She says her name is Skye. When she points out that one of those gigantic houses on the hill is hers, I do not point out my dad’s ramshackle hut. “Want to go for a walk?” I blurt. I need to get out of here. I don’t want her to see how awkward I am around people with money. This party seems to be all hill people. Including the shrill lady next to us who won’t shut up. “Absolutely,” Skye says. We walk along the ocean’s edge. Skye takes her flipflops off and holds them so she can walk in the water. I try not to stare at her legs. “The moon is so pretty,” she says. “Look how it’s right next to that star.” “That’s actually Venus.” “It is?” “Yeah. It’s brighter than any star we can see right now. And the moon’s a waxing gibbous. A quality phase. But my favorite phase is waning crescent.” “Why?” “It looks like the moons we drew in elementary school.” If only I could go back. Not crazy far back to elementary school. Just back to last year. I wish I could start over again knowing what I know now. I never would have given Chloe that stuffed bear for Valentine’s Day. He looked so innocent at the time with his fluffy white fur and satin red

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10 4 bow. But he was an instigator. An evil, fluffy instigator. “Sometimes I miss how simple life used to be,” Skye says. “Totally. When did everything get so complicated?” “I know, right? The highlight of my day was playing cat’s cradle with my friends at recess. Now it’s like some days I can’t even breathe.” “Most days I have to remind myself to breathe.” “Why?” “I’m kind of neurotic. A common affliction among artists.” “You’re an artist?” “More like a wannabe artist. I mostly mess around with mixed-media collages.” “Like layering papers and metals and things?” “Exactly. And I like using found objects.” Skye bends down and picks up a smooth, white rock. “Here’s a found object.” She holds it out to me. “What can you do with it?” “So many things,” I say, despite not being able to think of even one. Skye puts the rock in my hand, her fingers brushing against mine. Her skin is incredibly soft. “Um. Isn’t cat’s cradle that game with the string?” “You’ve never played?” “Guys aren’t really into string games.” “Anyone wearing friendship bracelets would like cat’s cradle.” “Got any string on you?”

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All I N e e d 4 11

“Next time.” So there’s going to be a next time? “Old-school stuff rules,” Skye declares. “I hate how everyone’s stuck in front of screens all the time. It’s like people don’t want to interact with the real world anymore.” That bothers me, too. How does this girl know everything? “Have you seen that sand-painting guy?” I ask. I found him yesterday on my way to the snowball place. He creates incredible designs on the concrete ramp using colored sand. “Yes! He’s amazing. His colors are so vivid.” “I know. At first I thought he was mostly using pastels—” “—but it’s all colored sand! I have a thing for colored sand.” “Me too. It works really well on collages.” We smile at each other, bonded by art. The art of collage has always appealed to me. When I was seven, my mom took me to an exhibition at the Guggenheim with these large-scale collages. I was in complete awe. I remember winding down the spiral path, stopping in front of each piece to gawk up at it. Every collage tells a story in such a unique way. They’re like pieces of a puzzle or chapters in a book. They can be subtle and speak volumes at the same time. I love how the final effect is greater than the sum of its parts. “Guess you’ve been to the snowball place,” I say. “Uh, you mean my second home?” Skye reaches down to pick up a ridged white shell with gray stripes. “We’ve been

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12 4 coming here every summer for the past seven years. Snowballs were an immediate addiction. And they’re essential when it’s hot. I always get them when I’m laying out.” I hope Skye doesn’t ask me why I’m in Sea Bright. Escaping with her like this is making me feel alive. I can recognize parts of myself I haven’t seen all summer. But talking about school would force me to relive it all over again. My friends have been telling me to get back out there. To start meeting new people. I thought hiding out in my room all summer was a better idea. Which is why my mom made me come here for the week before college starts. So I’m staying with my dad at our beach house. Except ever since he bailed last year, it’s been his all-year house. That’s how badly he needed to escape. Skye stops to look out at the ocean. Standing here with her, I’m overwhelmed with possibility. Maybe I really can have the life I want someday. Even though my heart keeps telling me I can’t. “I love it here,” Skye says. “I brought my sketchbook down here the other day and worked on a new collage. This whole peaceful vibe thing is really inspiring.” That collage turned out to be one of my favorites. I layered tissue paper shreds in different shades of blue and green to create an ocean look. Watching the colors of the water change over a few hours was something I’d never done before. It gave me a new appreciation for the ocean. Skye gives me a strange look. “What?” I say.

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All I N e e d 4 13

“Nothing.” We start walking again. “Just . . . you’re kind of perfect.” “Not even close. Everyone has their thing.” “What thing?” “Everyone comes with baggage. No one is perfect. You can work on one problem, but even if you solve it there’s always going to be another problem. So your ‘thing’ is your biggest problem at any given time.” “That is so true.” “What’s yours?” “My thing?” I nod. “It’s a secret,” she says. “Waiting to be revealed.” “Then I guess you’ll have to discover mine, too.” “But I can tell you a different secret.” “Go for it.” “You know that creepy rabbit from Donnie Darko?” “Yes!” “Sometimes I have nightmares about him.” “Dude. He’s so creepy.” “He redefines creepy.” “I looked up creepy in the dictionary and there was a picture of him.” Skye laughs. There’s something about this light before sunset that captivates me. Trying to re-create the colors of the water and sky isn’t easy. But I keep taking mental pictures, hoping that I’ll get it right eventually.

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14 4 “Pink clouds,” Skye says. She looks so beautiful, backlit by the sun. I didn’t notice all the hues of gold and copper in her hair before. “Race you to the dune,” she challenges. “Wha—” “Go!” Skye takes off running toward a big sand dune surrounded by tall sea grass. I run after her. She’s pretty fast. I’m not the spontaneous type, but I make an effort to catch up with her to pretend I am. By the time I get to the top of the dune, I’m panting. I should be in better shape. I look like I’m in better shape. It’s deceiving. Skye laughs and twirls around. The breeze blows her hair back. The sound of her laughter blends with ocean waves crashing. I realize we walked a long way. The party is this tiny point in the distance. We probably should turn back soon. But for now, it’s just us. Our instant connection is undeniable. I watch Skye watching the sunset colors glowing on the water. There might never be another chance like this again. When Skye turns to me, I don’t think. I pull her close to me. And I kiss her.

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DATE: 12/07/12 

TITLE: KEEP HOLDING ON

5.5 × 8.25  SPINE: 0.594

4

SUSANE COLASANTI

Fitting in is a totally foreign concept.

I

Front / Back cover

t’s bad enough having to sit alone at lunch—but that’s hardly the worst thing for Noelle. Besides avoiding guys

Author of Something Like Fate and Waiting for You

SUSANE COLASANTI

like Warner Talbot, who make her life a living nightmare, Noelle is desperate to hide her humiliating home life—and the only comfort she finds is from meeting her boyfriend, Matt, in secret. But he’s not the one Noelle really wants . . . there’s just no way she could ever be with Julian Porter. So when Julian starts to notice her, Noelle naturally shies away—after all, it’s safer to stay with Matt than to risk a far, Noelle knows it’s time to stand up for herself—and for everything that makes her keep holding on. “An important story for anyone who has felt the sting of their peers’ cruelty.”—VOYA “Emotionally satisfying from beginning to end.”—Kirkus Reviews

MAKE IT HAPPEN WITH SUSANE COLASANTI!

on novel spine spine width narrower than 1/4" (Sabon Bold 9pt)

Keep Holding On

on novel spine spine width 3/8" and wider

broken heart. But when the bullying of a friend goes too

Keep Holding On

on novel title page (Sabon11.5pt, track +)

www.susanecolasanti.com SPEAK www.penguin.com/teens

U.S.A. $8.99 / CAN. $9.99

Sometimes love is worth the risk.

Triangle next to barcode

p DESIGNER: TE 

EDITOR: TK 

9780142426333_KeepHoldingO_CV.indd 1

Cover image: Sean Locke / Getty Images Cover design: Theresa M. Evangelista

PASS: 3P 

INT PAGE COUNT: 240

PAGE: FCVR/BCVR 

EFFECTS: XXXXXX 12/7/12 12:00 PM


one

tuesday, april 5 (53 d a y s l e f t)

Julian Porter is blocking me.

The blocking is probably unintentional. He sits two rows behind

me in Spanish. We have to use the same aisle to get to our desks. I know he’s already been to his desk because his notebook and pen are sitting on it. Maybe he forgot something in his locker. Whatever the reason, he’s coming out of our aisle as I’m trying to go in. Julian moves over to let me pass. I can feel him smiling down at me, but I can’t really look up at him. Looking at him is beyond intense. It’s like looking at the sun. But I can see him without looking. Images of Julian are burned into my brain. Hazel-green eyes. Disheveled sandy-blond hair. All-American Boy build. Four inches taller than me. Even the intricacies of his glasses are permanently etched in my memory, with their rectangular black frames that glint electric blue when the light catches them a certain way.

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2

SUSANE COLASANTI

I press up against Julian as I brush past him. We’re talking serious sensory overload here. I’m overwhelmed with more attraction in this instant than I’ve ever felt with Matt Brennan. And I let Matt put his hands all over me. I want Julian Porter to put his hands all over me. I want him to take me to his room and kiss me all night. Does liking two boys at the same time make me a slut? Having Spanish with Julian is excruciating. I’m always wondering if he’s looking at me. Or at least thinking about me. When I’m supposed to be paying attention to imperfect verb conjugation, I’m sneaking looks at Julian instead. There are ways to sneak looks at him without being obvious. Usually, I pretend I’m looking at something to the side and then rely on my peripheral vision. Or I’ll turn around and pretend to be interested when someone in the back is answering a question. I don’t like watching people answer questions, though. I get so nervous when teachers call on me. And the way everyone stares at me when I’m answering makes me even more nervous. The bell rings for class to start. Julian comes back to our aisle. My heart pounds so hard I suspect it’s visible to anyone within a five-mile radius. On his way back to his desk, Julian slides two fingers over the fresh page in my notebook. Why did he touch my notebook like that? What does it mean? I have a sudden urge to rip out the page and save it. But if Julian saw me do that, it would be crazy obvious. I might be crazy obvious when I sneak looks at him, too. I should probably cut down on that.

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Keep Holding On w

w

3

w

No one ever wants to sit with me at lunch. I never look around in the cafeteria. Being forced to sit here like some trapped zoo animal eating alone for the whole world to watch is embarrassing enough. I really don’t need to see them laughing at me. I wish I could be transported to another school in an alternate universe where required learning doesn’t have to involve this traumatic test of survival skills. No one would care if you’re different in the alternate universe. Or maybe everyone would be different. How cool would it be if differences were celebrated? And the more different you were, the better? Fitting in would be a totally foreign concept. But no. I’m stuck in this universe. Chew. Swallow. Chew. Swallow. Don’t look up. Tommy sits alone at the small table by the door. I sneak a glance at him. Our eyes lock. The Eye Lock says, We are both outsiders. We are outsiders for different reasons. Tommy doesn’t fit in due to extreme geekitude. With me, it’s a lot more complicated. I look back down at my lunch. Tommy and I have acknowledged that we are both rejects. But each of us will continue to pretend that we’re not the bigger reject.

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4

SUSANE COLASANTI

My lunch is: l

sandwich consisting of white bread, lettuce, and mayo

l

some store-brand potato chips

l

water

I qualify for free lunch, but there’s no way I’d subject myself to that kind of humiliation. You have to show a special card that everyone would see. The free-lunch cards are orange. The normal cards are blue. I’d rather scavenge in our empty refrigerator than have everyone know how poor I am. Not that I’d ever buy lunch anyway. Back when I had friends, I might have gone up to get a pack of cookies or something. But now I’d have to walk all the way from the front of the cafeteria to my table in the back with everyone watching. Which would draw even more attention to the fact that I sit alone. There’s a snort of laughter from the next table. My shoulders clench. Warner Talbot is pointing at my sandwich. I try to avoid sitting near him. But when you’re the person no one wants to sit with, you don’t always have a choice about where you end up. “Dude,” Warner says. “Her sandwich is only lettuce!” “That’s messed up,” someone at his table says. My face burns. Their sandwiches are fat with meat and cheese and lettuce and tomato. I bet those cold cuts are the expensive ones from the deli section at the gourmet grocery store. I bet their sandwiches have two kinds of cheese. I try to imagine what it feels like to bite

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Keep Holding On

5

into a sandwich packed with all those things. Crunching through the lettuce. The juicy tomato bursting with flavor. The soft succulence of the meat and cheese. Rich-kid sandwiches must taste incredible. I try to hide my sad sandwich under the table. That just makes them laugh harder. Making fun of me apparently never gets old for Warner Talbot. He’s been exposing my lunches for two years, ever since the first day of ninth grade. All I could find in the refrigerator that day was mayonnaise, mustard, and the end slice of some bread. So I made a mayonnaise and mustard sandwich. Well, half a sandwich—I had to fold the slice of bread over. And somehow, Warner was right there laughing at me. It was like his radar for unfortunate people went ballistic when it detected me, all flashing red lights and wailing sirens. Warner says, “Someone throw this girl a biscuit.” Everyone at his table laughs. They know I can hear them. They just don’t care. w

w

w

My last class is precalc. The anticipation of freedom in forty-six minutes almost makes me like math. I dart to my desk in the second row. I’d much rather sit in the back. But I had to move up this year. Some of the things teachers were writing on the board were starting to look blurry. These two rowdy boys who sit in the back bust in right as the bell rings. They’re wearing almost identical polo shirts. Everyone

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6

SUSANE COLASANTI

dresses the same around here. Everything is The Same. All of the big suburban houses are practically identical, with their saccharine front yards and indistinguishable driveways and uninspired architectural designs. People in this town hate anything different. No one is allowed to diverge from conformity. Original thoughts, interests, and style choices are strictly prohibited. And if you disobey these rules? There are consequences. My town is like thousands of other American towns. You might have heard of it: Middle of Nowhere, USA. Welcome to suburban wasteland. As if subsisting in a town that’s ultra conventional and entirely devoid of culture weren’t enough fun times, this is the kind of suburbia that borders on the country. So it’s remote enough not to be close to anything interesting. The city is an hour away. Which might as well be twenty hours away without a car. If I had a car, I could escape this hateful town whenever I wanted. I’d drive to the city every day after school and stay until it got late. I don’t know why we live here. We don’t even remotely fit in. We rent the second floor of a little, dilapidated house from an old lady who’s lived here forever. The carpet, kitchen appliances, and wallpaper didn’t get the memo that 1964 is ancient history. Newer, bigger houses have gone up all around this one. I cannot wait to leave this place and never look back. Maybe I’ll live in the city. Or in another city even farther away. I don’t want to see any of these people ever again. Except Sherae. I’m lucky to have a good friend. She hates how cookie-cutter everything is around here, too.

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Every day is a countdown to graduation. That day I’m set free will be the Best Day Ever. The calendar on my wall has a countdown to the end of the year. I did the same thing last year. Next year will be the last one. I want to help make the world a better place when I am far away from here. Because if we’re not improving the world in some way, then what’s the point? Things will get better after this. They have to.

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two

thursday, april 7 (5 1 d a y s l e f t)

Sherae is still having nightmares.

“I’ve been up since four,” she says. She looks even more ex-

hausted than she sounds. “I wish there was something I could do,” I tell her. I’d do anything to take her pain away. But I wouldn’t even know how to begin saying the right things to her. Sherae is staring into her locker like she forgot what she was looking for. “Maybe I should have told someone,” she says. I definitely think she should have told someone. I really wanted her to. But Sherae just wanted to forget about it and move on. I’m still hoping she’ll change her mind. w

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w

w

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Graffiti in the second-floor girls’ bathroom, written in black marker on the wall above the first sink:

Noelle W exler Is Corroded w

w

w

There’s this thing I do with Matt Brennan. It’s a secret thing. Something Matt said I can never tell anyone. I really want to tell Sherae. But I promised him I wouldn’t. Matt Brennan and I make out. We sneak away when we’re supposed to be in study hall. Not every day. Just a few times a week. It’s not like we’re missing anything. And the monitor is so spotty about taking attendance that we usually aren’t even marked absent. We meet behind the stone wall across from the tennis courts. No one ever goes back there. It’s not a nice place to hang out. It’s just a scraggly patch in the middle of some trees. There’s nowhere to sit. It gets muddy when it rains. But it’s good for making out. And when I’m kissing Matt, I can block out everything else. Matt has a bad-boy reputation. But just because someone always wears a black motorcycle jacket and looks angry most of the time doesn’t mean he’s trouble. I heard he was into some hardcore stuff like dealing drugs, but he told me those are just rumors. Only, Matt also told me that his parents suspended his allowance, and that’s why he’s working at the gas station. He wouldn’t tell me why he got in trouble. Even though we’re close physically, there’s this distance between us that never seems to go away.

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We don’t say much when we get together at our place. We just start kissing. We haven’t started kissing today, though. I’m still mad about what happened last week. “I said I was sorry,” Matt reminds me. “What else do you want?” “Um, I don’t know. Not to be your dirty little secret anymore?” Matt puts his arms around me. He hugs me close. “You know it’s not like that,” he whispers. I want to believe him. I really, really do. But he didn’t even tell me it was his birthday last week. I had to find out from overhearing his friends talk about his party. Which I wasn’t invited to. “Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?” I ask. “No!” “Then why can’t we go out and do things like normal people?” I push away from him. This isn’t how a boyfriend is supposed to act after you’ve been together for a whole month. Matt should want us to hang out with his friends. He should want to take me places. But I can’t give up on him. I’m lucky to have him. And I know he can change. “You want to go somewhere?” Matt says. “Yes.” “Fine, we’ll go somewhere.” “When?” “Next Friday. Okay?” “Okay.” Then Matt starts kissing me. I forget all about the birthday present for him in my bag.

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Keep Holding On w

w

11

w

I have Spanish right before lunch. My stomach always growls in class. When I feel a growl coming on, I’ll do something like cough or flip pages loudly to hide it. It’s so obvious what I’m doing, though. The worst is when we’re taking a test and we have to be quiet for the whole period. I get so nervous that my stomach’s going to growl. Which of course makes it start growling. The fact that Julian can hear my stomach growling makes me want to run away and never come back. Luckily, it’s a very noisy day in Spanish. Mrs. Yuknis started the class by playing some music. Then she pointed to where the music came from on the South America/Spain combo map. George asked if the music was going to be on the test. At the beginning of the year, everyone was assigned a Spanish name. Noelle doesn’t translate to anything, so I got Belén. Julian is Julio. Anything’s better than what George got. He has to be Jorge. Which sucks for him because it’s pronounced “whore-hey.” “Entonces,” Mrs. Yuknis says. Then she says a bunch of other stuff in Spanish. I’m totally lost. I know I should know what she’s saying by now. But I’m still clueless most of the time. Mrs. Yuknis is wearing the same pants she wore on Monday. She’s done this Monday/Thursday wearing-of-the-same-pants thing before. When the pants make their second appearance of the week, they are considerably more wrinkled. Does she not know we know? Doesn’t it bother her not to have more pants? I think her limited wardrobe is ridiculous. She can buy more clothes any time she wants. I know this sounds weird coming from someone who hates

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school, but I want to be a teacher. I want to reach out to kids who need help. How cool would it be if my class were a place where students could be themselves? I mean we’d still do work and everything, but there wouldn’t be all this stress and nervousness involved. I could connect with kids who feel like outsiders. They’d be able to trust me because I’d know what I’m talking about. Maybe showing them I care will make them feel less alone. I have a list called Things to Remember When I’m a Teacher. I always keep it in my binder. You never know when inspiration will strike. After observing Mrs. Yuknis’s pants trend, I added this to my list: H a ve m ore t ha n f our pa irs of pa nts. Don’ t w e a r t he m on a sc he d ul e .

My list is getting long. I started it last year after Carly ripped up my spiral notebook in history. Ms. Herrera totally saw. She didn’t even say anything. She just sat at her desk ruffling papers and pretending she wasn’t looking. But she totally was. Carly stood right there next to my desk tearing my notebook apart. The pages fluttered to the floor in shreds. I was shocked that Ms. Herrera didn’t do anything. I even looked at her like, Why aren’t you doing anything? Ms. Herrera looked confused. And scared. Like if she made Carly stop, maybe Ms. Herrera would leave school one day and find her tires all slashed. Or her flower garden ripped up. It’s so lame. If grownups won’t stand up for us, who will?

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After Carly finished ripping up my notebook, she stomped on the shreds as she went back to her seat. Then I added this item to my list: I f y ou se e som e one b e ing b ul l ie d , m a k e it st op.

Why is that so hard for us to do? w

w

w

Mother looks exhausted at dinner. She always looks exhausted. As if just being alive is too strenuous. There are only a few things mother makes for dinner. Tonight we’re having mushy spaghetti with cheap sauce and prepackaged garlic bread. I bite into a piece of garlic bread. It’s still cold in the middle. My stomach is a tangled ball of knots. You never know what mood mother will be in. This one time last year, she came home really late and woke me up when she slammed the front door. Then she whipped my door open. I could see her glaring at me, the light from the hall illuminating the hate in her eyes. She didn’t say anything. She just slammed my door. Then she opened it and slammed it again, harder. I pulled the covers up. I watched my door for a long time, shaking on my thin mattress. Dinner wouldn’t be so stressful if I could eat in front of the TV. I got away with doing that for a while. But then mother started yelling at me to come to the table. If we eat dinner together, she can pretend we’re a real family.

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“Work is killing me,” mother complains. “You wouldn’t believe the idiots I have to deal with all day.” Then she proceeds to vent about a customer who was trying to return a toaster without a receipt. That kind of thing happens a lot at Retail Rodeo. It’s this massive discount store about half an hour away. Mother works in customer service. I can’t think of a worse person to work in customer service. There are plenty of days when mother says less than ten words to me. Sometimes she doesn’t answer when I ask her something, like I’m not even there. But tonight she’s on a rant of epic proportions. Her rants are almost always about work. Or lack of money. There isn’t much else she talks about. The following topics are always avoided: school, people who aren’t idiots, female issues, and anything else that normal moms talk about with their daughters. I can’t remember the last time I saw her smile. Some guy got a promotion at her job. Mother thinks she deserved it more. “He’s the last person who should be general manager,” mother says. “That guy doesn’t know the first thing about dealing with people.” I twirl more spaghetti around my fork. I’m too hungry to care that it’s mushy. Mrs. Feldman is probably serving an amazing meal over at Sherae’s house. Thick, juicy cuts of steak. Mashed potatoes made from scratch with extra gravy. Fresh, roasted vegetables. Soft, warm rolls with garlic butter melting on them. “I can’t get a break,” mother rants on, looking everywhere but at me. She avoids eye contact. If she saw me, like really saw me, she

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would be forced to face reality. “It’s like the whole world’s against me. How am I supposed to raise a kid if I can’t get paid decently? They have no idea what it’s like to be a single mother in this community. None.” There will also be dessert at Sherae’s. Mrs. Feldman’s chocolate cake is unreal. She makes this vanilla frosting that is so insanely good you can’t even believe it. And when she ices the cake, she puts a lot of frosting on. We’re talking frosting so thick you get a forkful with every bite. “They think welfare and food stamps cut it?” Mother laughs bitterly. “What a joke. They should walk in my shoes for a day. They wouldn’t even last five minutes.” Moist, delicious chocolate cake. Sweet, rich vanilla frosting. “I mean, look. I’ve been there much longer than the idiots who’ve gotten promoted. He’s always trying to keep me down. I should be his boss. Then things would start running the way they’re supposed to.” She takes a sip of soda. “Why can’t I ever get a break?” “Maybe the other customer service reps are nicer to the customers?” I suggest. “And that’s why they got promoted?” Mother snaps her head up. She squints at me in a daze, like she’s trying to remember who I am. “What?” she says. “Nothing.” There’s no point in trying to convince her that the conspiracy she’s imagining doesn’t exist. She’s convinced that the whole world is against her. Including me. Soon this rant will segue into mother complaining how she

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has no money. According to mother, it’s my fault that we’re poor. If she hadn’t had me right after high school, then she could have gone to college and had a real career. Instead of making minimum wage at a job she can’t stand. She explained all of this to me when I was thirteen. “You ruined my life,” she told me. My mother is not a mom. She’s just some selfish woman who should have never had a kid. w

w

w

Things parents are supposed to do for their kids: l

buy needed supplies

l

help pay for college

l

look at them

l

do laundry

l

talk to them about their lives

l

love them

Things from the above list that my mother does or intends to do: l

none

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three

monday, april 11 (49 d a y s l e f t)

My hair is so scary that if you saw it walking down the street,

you’d cross to the other side. This humidity is not helping. It’s just an excuse for my hair to let its frizz flag fly.

I seriously doubt Jolene DelMonico has to get up way early to deal with hair that refuses to be tamed. She’s in my physics class. Every morning her perfect hair is like a smack in the face. Keeping mine shoulder-length helps. I can kind of control it with product, but it’s impossible to maintain for more than a few hours. And it’s this boring, light brown color that almost exactly matches my eyes. Unfortunately, my hair isn’t the only disgrace I have to deal with this morning. My eyes are puffy. There’s no way I can go to school with puffy eyes. Time for the cold spoon.

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I go to the kitchen and grab the spoon I keep in the back of the refrigerator for puffy-eye emergencies. My eyes probably shouldn’t get puffy like this. It might be some kind of allergic reaction. But mother never takes me to the doctor, so I guess I’ll never know. In the bathroom, I close my right eye and press the back of the spoon against it. The cold metal soothes my swollen eyelid. My eye waters. While I’m waiting for the puffiness to calm down, I consider wearing something different from what I decided on. I have on my standard ensemble for the middle of April: jeans and an oversized tee. In the winter, I can get away with wearing bulky sweaters. Or one of the same five long-sleeved shirts I’ve been wearing since forever. One of them has an oil stain right on the front. I want to throw it out, but I hardly have any clothes. I’ll put on one of my two pairs of Converse before I leave. They’re beyond destroyed. But I think all the holes and tears in them look cool. Plus, I write song lyrics and movie quotes all over them. This one time when I was wearing my most destroyed pair, I walked by two popular girls who were sitting against some lockers in the hall. After I passed them, I could hear one of them say, “Did you see her shoes?” I got a little thrill out of that. By the time I get to school, my hair has puffed up to an alarming amplitude. I don’t even have to see myself to know it’s atrocious. As much as I hate getting to school early, I appreciate it on days like this. Maybe a miracle will happen where my hair becomes perfectly flat by first period. You have to wait in the cafeteria if you get to school early. I

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take my usual seat and try to smooth down my hair. Not a lot of kids get to school this early. It’s basically just me and some freshmen in the back. Most mornings I read or do homework. Even when I’m absorbed in studying for a test, part of me is always on alert. Sometimes Julian comes in early. Sometimes he comes over and we talk. Which cannot happen with my hair spazzing out like this. But I can’t go anywhere because they won’t let you in the halls this early. There’s a new monitor guarding the door. Maybe he’ll let me go. I grab my bag and head for the door. “Going in already?” Julian asks. I whirl around so fast my bag slams against his leg. “Oh!” I didn’t see Julian come in and my hair is outrageous and I just smacked him with my bag. “Sorry!” “No worries. I thought we were trapped here until the bell.” “We are. I was just trying to make a break for it.” “Sounds scandalous. I’m in.” “Nice.” I throw a glance at the monitor. “If you distract him, I can sneak out the far door.” “Distract him how?” “With a ruckus.” “Right. A ruckus.” Julian nods thoughtfully. “Allow me to ponder the nature of said ruckus.” I press down hard on my puffy hair. It refuses to be smoothed. Why does it have to be raining today? “Got it!” Julian says. “I’ll make this sudden commotion like someone just slipped on the floor coming in. That should buy you a few seconds. If you sneak your way over to the door first, you’ll have enough time to slip out.”

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“Sweet.” “But then how will I get out?” “Hmm.” My head is spinning. I can’t believe Julian is talking to me despite how repulsive I look. “I’m not sure.” “Let’s sit and figure it out.” We sit at the nearest table. And that’s when I notice the new silk-screen mural on the wall. “You finished it!” I say. “Yeah.” “It’s amazing!” “Thanks.” Julian does these Andy Warhol–type silk screens. I saw some of them in the mixed media elective we had together last semester. Whenever we were working on projects, Julian would come over to my area to see what I was doing. I couldn’t believe I was talking to a boy. Who I didn’t even know. For the first time ever, I felt like a normal teenager. That’s how I found out he wants to be an architect. He made these gorgeous home designs in class. Houses that were impossibly balanced off cliff sides. Houses that looked like they were floating above water. Houses with trees growing right up through the roof. Julian’s designs give you the impression that there are much better ways to live. His philosophy is that your home should be a unique reflection of your personality. “I can’t wait for Sherae to see it,” I say. Julian painted a palmtree mural on the wall. Last week it was just an outline. Then color started to appear. And now it’s . . . it’s freaking incredible. “She’s obsessed with all things California.”

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“What about you?” Julian asks. “I don’t really think about California. But I definitely can’t wait to get out of here.” “I hear you. No, but I meant . . . what are you obsessed with?” “Oh.” Dir. “Not much. I mean, you know I like art.” I look at his mural again. “That is so good.” Julian smiles. It’s like he can tell I really mean it. “You’re sweet,” he says. I try smoothing down my hair. “What kind of art do you like?” he asks. “You know Alexander Calder?” “Not personally, but . . .” I laugh. He smiles again. “I like his mobiles,” I say. “And I like Brancusi’s sculptures. Especially Bird in Space.” “I don’t know that one.” “Oh, it’s gorgeous.” I describe the smooth curves of the sculpture. I tell Julian about the time airport customs taxed Bird in Space because they thought it was a household item instead of a work of art. Their argument was that the bird didn’t have a head, feet, or feathers, so it couldn’t be classified as a sculpture. As I’m telling him all this, Julian leans in closer. He seems even more interested in the story than I was when I read it. Talking to him is always so comfortable. Julian just has this way of making me feel safe. w w w

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Ms. Scofield is on one of her TGIM kicks. “TGIM!” she shouts with way too much enthusiasm for first period. On a Monday. But of course she would only be shouting about TGIM on a Monday. It stands for Thank God It’s Monday. Her concept is this: Why are we all living for Friday? Every single day is an opportunity to improve your life. That’s why we should respect all days equally. Monday comes with the added bonus of being the first day of a new week. So not only is it a fresh new day, it’s a fresh new week. With tons of potential. According to Ms. Scofield, that rules. “Ready to get your Monday on?” she asks us. We stare at her blankly. “It’s fresh and new,” she coaxes. A prolonged yawn drifts from the back of the class. At least she’s trying to wake us up. She’s like the only teacher who understands how hard this is for us. If Ms. Scofield didn’t care, physics would be a total drag. Jolene DelMonico sits in front of me. I’m scandalized by the extreme shine of her hair. If her hair were any shinier, the harsh fluorescent lighting would reflect off it and burn a hole in the Einstein poster. How absurd is it that her hair is pin straight in 100 percent relative humidity? And how absurd is it that I have to sit next to Warner Talbot and pretend he hasn’t been harassing me for years? He doesn’t just make fun of my lunches. He fired spitballs at me in eighth grade. He kept crank-calling me in ninth grade. And last year he’d do this stupid rap about me every time he saw me in the hall. Now I’m forced to sit next to him like none

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of that stuff ever happened. That’s what school is. Acting like the things that matter the most don’t matter at all. At least I don’t have to work with Warner for activities. Whenever Ms. Scofield tells us to get in pairs or groups, Warner practically hurls his desk in the opposite direction. I work with Ali Walsh in pairs and this girl Darby sometimes joins us for groups. Ali is nice, but she’s a loner like me. I don’t know much about Darby. She kind of skulks around the periphery. “Let’s turn those brains on triple fab high power!” Ms. Scofield cheers. Then she tings a bell on her desk that’s just like the one Retail Rodeo has on its customer service desk. The bell is named Lloyd after a character from one of her favorite movies. Tinging Lloyd is supposed to encourage us to get in gear when she senses that we’re fading. Lloyd is also tinged when someone says something fascinating. Or answers an impossible question correctly. Or just to emphasize a point. Lloyd serves many functions. No one can figure out why Ms. Scofield is always so perky. She doesn’t drink coffee. Allegedly. How can her extreme level of perkiness be achieved without caffeine? “Is everyone ready to start the optics unit?” Ms. Scofield queries. “I know I am. What about you, Gumby?” She picks up the Gumby figure from her desk. Ms. Scofield has a thing for Gumby and Pokey. And this other dude Prickle, who is a yellow dinosaur. She had to explain who they all were at the beginning of the year because only one person recognized Gumby. She puts them in her lessons sometimes. We’ve also become acquainted with Mr. Bill from old-school Saturday Night Live. Whenever we’re working on

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a problem where something falls off a cliff or gets crushed in a ninety-ton hydraulic press, Ms. Scofield will make Mr. Bill the smashed object. Then we’ll go, “Oh, nooooo!” Mr. Bill style. It’s fun in a retro sort of way. Ms. Scofield doesn’t care that she’s corny. She just busted out with all this random stuff on the first day, totally confident about who she is. Even though most of us aren’t thrilled about science, we appreciate her effort to try to make it fun. Her confidence is impressive. School would be way more tolerable if everyone wasn’t so afraid to be who they really are. And if everyone else would let them. w

w

w

After school, Sherae drives us to her house. In her new car. How awesome is it that I’m like the only one in our class who doesn’t have a car? I don’t even know how to drive. Mother’s not about to pay for driving lessons. What would be the point, anyway? She would never let me drive her car and there’s no way I could buy one. Fortunately, Sherae is incredible about giving me rides. As soon as Sherae opens the front door, her fuzzy cat comes meowing over. The cat resembles a walking sphere of white fluff. Her name is Nimbus. As in the type of cloud. Sherae’s geektastic older brother named her. I like it better around here now that he’s away at college. He always gave off this vibe like he was better than me just because he had money. Like I didn’t even deserve to be at his house. But if you took away his rich family, we’d be more

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alike than he would ever admit. Sherae’s mom is unpacking groceries in the kitchen. We go in to help her. “Hi, Mrs. Feldman,” I say. “Hi, Noelle. How was school?” “Good.” School was actually decent for once. Julian talked to me for a really long time. Warner Talbot left me alone at lunch. My skin miraculously looked okay. And I’m going out with Matt Friday night. Of course I’m dying to tell Sherae all about Matt now that we’re official. But I can’t. Not that she would tell. I just want to prove to Matt that he can trust me. Anyway, we’ll only be a secret for four more days. Then we’ll be out in public at the mall for everyone to see. Other kids from school will definitely be there. We help unpack the groceries. There are eight bags. Eight bags of food for three people. When mother goes grocery shopping, she usually brings home one bag. I lift out package after package of deli cold cuts. Three kinds of fresh bread. An entire roasted chicken. Tons of fruit and vegetables. Mother prefers to avoid fruit and vegetables. She says they’re too expensive. Clearly, Mrs. Feldman does not have the same issue. There’s more meat and fish and ice cream and lots of different drinks and chips and pretzels and cookies. My stomach growls. “How are you feeling?” Mrs. Feldman asks Sherae. “Better,” Sherae says. She keeps telling me she feels better, too. But I think she’s pretending.

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Mrs. Feldman doesn’t know what happened to Sherae. The next morning, Sherae told her she was sick. Then she stayed home for two days. Mrs. Feldman was here taking care of Sherae because that’s what she does. Mr. Feldman doesn’t get home until dinnertime. He’s a big-shot lawyer. Sherae puts some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies (warmed up for us by her mom—how sweet is that?) on a plate while I get drinks. Then we go to her room. I’m accidentally assaulted by my reflection in the big mirror above her dresser. “Uuuuhhh!” I groan. “What?” “Is that what I look like?” My hair could not be any frizzier. I press it down. Sherae stands next to me so our eyes meet in the mirror, almost at the same level. She’s a little shorter. “You’re so lucky your hair isn’t flat,” she says. “Mine just hangs there. Yours is pretty.” “If by ‘pretty’ you mean ‘impossible to control,’ then yeah.” We’ve gone over this a million times. I complain about my hair and Sherae complains about hers. But she’s just being nice. She has superlight blonde hair that’s really fine. It’s like sunlight. Plus, she has blue eyes, so she’s got that wholesome Girl Next Door thing going on. I give up trying to make myself look presentable and flop onto Sherae’s lounge chair. I could seriously live in this chair. It’s a burgundy velvet chaise with a swooping back that’s high on one end and then curves down so it’s lower on the other end. It is very fancy. When I’m lounging on it, I pretend that I am also

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very fancy. The difference between Sherae’s room and my room is like the difference between Godiva and Hershey’s. Some highlights:

Sherae’s Room l

huge

l

light and airy

l

cute night table

l

throw rug in the shape of a poppy flower

l

fancy lounge chair

l

welcoming

My Room l

microscopic

l

dark and dingy

l

milk crate masquerading as a night table

l

grungy carpeting circa 1964

l

calendar where I’m crossing off the days until the end of the year

l

embarrassing

My room is The Fortress. I’ve tried to make it comfortable despite its many flaws. The Fortress is the only place where I can totally relax. Even when I’m with Sherae, I never feel like I can completely be myself. There’s a cootie catcher on the side table next to the lounge

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chair. Sherae and I love making these. One of us will start making a new cootie catcher. Then we’ll pass it back and forth, adding numbers and colors and fortunes until it’s done. The warm cookies smell amazing. “Here.” Sherae brings me three cookies on a napkin. I bite into one. It’s slightly crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. The chocolate chips are almost melted, just the way I like them. “Ya-hum!” I approve. I only have two cookies left. I could eat about a hundred more. “Want to watch something?” Sherae asks. “Always.” Nimbus leaps up on the lounge chair. I pet her fluffy fur. She immediately starts purring. Sherae’s just sitting on her bed, staring at her wall mural. “Are you okay?” I ask. “Hmm?” I wish I could tell her that she doesn’t have to be strong in front of me. But I don’t really know what words to use. “We can just talk, if you want,” I say. “Nope.” Sherae gets up and goes over to her entertainment center. In addition to the enormous flatscreen, she has a cabinet filled with a massive supply of fun. “Freaks and Geeks?” “Awesome.” Freaks and Geeks is one of the best shows ever. Even though it was only on for one season, there’s no limit to how many times I can watch those eps. No matter how depressed I am, that show can always make me smile. I even have a poster of James

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Franco as Daniel Desario on my wall. And one of Nick Andopolis rocking his disco gear that says you’re too tall to be a good dancer !

Sherae’s big wall mural is an Alan Maltz photo of the ocean framed by palm trees, taken during a spectacular sunset. The colors are intense—bold purples and blues, hot pink, and bright red and orange. The photo might have been taken in Florida, but it totally looks like California. Sherae’s obsession with California is fierce. She’s only applying to colleges in SoCal. She ultimately wants to have a house right on the beach. Which is perfect because she already looks like she’s from there. I can’t wait to move far away, but I don’t really get why Sherae wants to. I mean, we’re both frustrated by the confines of suburban nonliving. But Sherae has the perfect life right where she is. Her parents basically buy her whatever she wants. She even has her own credit card. Right after I turned sixteen last year, I got a job. Mother told me I had to start saving for college. But I wanted to work. It was understood that she wouldn’t be helping me pay for college or anything else. At the end of last summer, I went to the bank to take out some money for back-to-school clothes. You can’t set up your own bank account until you’re eighteen, so mother set up the account for me when I got my first paycheck. I couldn’t believe I didn’t even have to ask her to do that for me. It was the first kind thing she’d ever done. I followed one of the customer service people to her desk to

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make the withdrawal because I didn’t have a bank card. All of the desks looked the same. No one had any pictures or toys or anything. It seemed like a pretty depressing place to work. The customer service rep tapped her keyboard. She said, “There are no funds in that account.” “What?” “The account has a balance of zero.” “But that’s my savings account.” She tapped her keyboard some more. “When was the last time you made a withdrawal?” she asked. “I’ve never made a withdrawal.” My heart was pounding. My throat was tight. It was getting hard to breathe. “I’ve been saving for college.” “Let’s see . . . it looks like your mother set up this account for you as a minor, correct?” I nodded. “She’s been withdrawing funds bi-weekly since your first deposit.” There were times when I’d been furious with mother before. Her neglect was disgusting. But this was a whole new level of furious. When I got home, mother was drinking a glass of red wine on the couch, staring at nothing. “Why did you steal my money?” I said. Mother didn’t even bother to look up at me when she said, “It’s not your money.” She drank more wine. “Of course it is! It’s from my job!” “Handing people hot pretzels at the mall isn’t a real job.”

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“Um, I get paid? So that’s a real job.” “Well, I’m the one paying rent around here. Do you have any idea how expensive that is?” “What does the rent have to do with saving for college?” “College?” mother scoffed. “That was rent money.” Blood pounded in my head. I was shaking all over. “What kind of a freak are you?” I yelled. “It’s not my responsibility to pay the rent! I’m only sixteen! You’re the mother! You’re supposed to take care of me!” “How dare you talk to me that way,” mother calmly told the wall. “I want my money back.” “Too late. It’s gone.” “I can’t believe you stole my money! You’re insane!” I stormed off to The Fortress and slammed my door. Then I opened it and slammed it again even harder, just like mother did that night she scared me so hard I couldn’t go back to sleep. But the slamming wasn’t loud enough to wake her up. w

w

w

The knife is sharp. I’m using a new one tonight. This is the best way I know how to get lost when I need to escape. I stick the tip of the X-Acto knife in. I place my index finger on top of the blade and press down hard. The cardboard pops, then crunches. All I know is that I want this shape to be some sort of squiggle. I’ll let the knife take me where it wants to go. The squiggle will be the newest addition to

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my standing mobile. My neighbors were throwing out this little yellow chair last week. I saw it by their garbage when I was coming home. That night after it got dark, I snuck out and snatched the chair. Now it’s the base for all these shapes extending from the chair, suspended by wire. Calder did these eclectic standing mobiles I adore. I have a thing for simple, modern designs. I’m fascinated by how he combined art and science to create these perfectly balanced objects of beauty. His mobiles have totally inspired mine. I mostly make hanging ones. Since I can’t hang my mobiles from the ceiling, I have them hanging all around my room on hooks. Something about talking to Julian and seeing his finished mural really inspired me. This exciting creative energy has been building up all day. I couldn’t wait to get home and work on my mobile. It’s cool how Julian’s artwork is inspiring my own. I wonder if I’ll ever have the courage to tell him about it.

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Author of Something Like Fate and Waiting for You

SUSANE COLASANTI So Much Closer

Follow your heart . . . no matter where it takes you


One Today I’m telling

Scott Abrams that I’m in love

with him.

Sometimes I think that if he knew, he would admit he feels the same way. Other times I think he would laugh in my face so hard I would never get over it. But. It could be so easy. Just go up to him, tell him, and see what happens. Put it all out there. Finally know how he feels about me. It would probably be easier if he knew I existed. The hope that Scott Abrams could like me back has kept me going for two years. It’s like this energy I live on. The idea of being with him is almost more exciting than being with him for real. But of course I want to turn this fantasy into reality. The thing is, he’s never noticed me. Saying sorry because he ac-

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cidentally bumped into me in the hall last year doesn’t count. So telling him that I know we belong together is probably a crazy thing to do. I guess I’m crazy then. Because I’m doing it anyway.

“You can’t do that,” April said. Telling Scott was never some big plan or anything. I mean, yeah, I thought about it every day. I imagined how amazing it would be to let someone in. To trust someone completely. I just never thought I’d actually tell him. So it stayed a fantasy. Then April and I were blowing up balloons for the junior picnic yesterday (she’s more of a joiner; I thought it would be ironic) when it hit me. I would tell him at the junior picnic. It would probably be the last day we’d see each other until senior year. Plus, it would be the perfect time to start going out, with the whole summer ahead of us. The combination of being with Scott Abrams and two months of freedom would be the ultimate. April didn’t agree. “Why not?” I said. “Think, Brooke.” April let the air out of a partially inflated red balloon. “What do you think he’d say if you told him?” “I don’t know. That’s why I haven’t told him yet.” “How many times have we gone over this?” April had a point. She’d been hearing me obsess over Scott Abrams for two years. She was more than ready for a subject change. “But you’re assuming he doesn’t like me just because he’s never talked to me,” I went. “We don’t know that for sure.”

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“You’re seriously going to do this?” “Yes.” “After everything we’ve talked about?” “Yes.” “Don’t you care that—” “No,” I said. “I don’t care if he tells the whole school. And I’ll even tell Candice that I like him. I can’t keep pretending we don’t belong together.” “But how—” “I just know.” I can’t explain The Knowing. It’s something I’ve had for as long as I can remember. There are certain things I just know, like when something crucial is about to change my life. It’s only happened to me a few times, but when it happens it’s undeniable. I’ll get this intense feeling of clarity that forces everything else into the background. The Knowing is not supported by logic or factual information. But The Knowing is always right. You’d think April would be less skeptical about The Knowing by now. We’ve been friends since eighth grade. She’s been there. Well, she wasn’t there for the hardest parts, but those things happened before we were friends. Anyway. That’s how I know Scott and I are supposed to be together. I’ve never been so sure about anything in my entire life.

There’s always drama at the junior picnic. For the past three years, major spectacles have occurred. Not major as in epic and intense. Major as in horrifying and wrong.

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Last year, Gina Valento went into labor reaching for a burger bun. Her water broke all over Mr. Feinburg’s nasty man-sandals. The year before, some kid broke this other boy’s nose for keying his car. And the year before that, Ms. Richter’s pants ripped open along the back seam. Like, a lot. I really hope I’m not going to be part of the major junior picnic scandal everyone gossips about next year. Scott Abrams is over with some other boys from the lacrosse team. He’s not like them. I mean, Scott has straight, sandy-blond hair and very light-blue eyes and he’s six feet tall, so he instantly fits in with any group of physically privileged boys. But I’ve been watching Scott long enough to know who he really is. He listens closely when people talk to him. He radiates confidence in a way that makes you want to be his friend. And he’s really smart. If you saw my report card, you wouldn’t think I’m smart at all. But if school actually interested me enough to care about getting decent grades, things might be different. Mom always says how smart I am. This is usually followed by a rant about how I should be doing better in school or how I’m lazy or how I’m throwing my life away by “not working to my full potential.” So the part where she says I’m smart gets annihilated. Mom wasn’t always this harsh with me. Before Dad moved out, she was much easier to get along with. Everything changed when he left us. It’s like he was the glue holding us together. He moved out when I was eleven. It’s been six long years of a strained relationship with my mom, which I don’t think we’ll ever be able to fix. He ruined everything. April pokes me.

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Was I staring again? I was probably staring again. Note to self: stop staring at Scott Abrams. “Are you still going to do it?” she asks. “Yeah.” “Do what?” Candice says. “Here’s your lemonade.” “Oh, thanks,” I say, taking the cup from her. “Um—” April flashes me a look. “Brooke was just saying how she’s getting that bag she wants,” she tells Candice. “The one from Mandee?” Candice goes. “The one and only,” I confirm. “We belong together.” “Is it on sale?” “No, but there are only two left and I know if I don’t get it I’ll be mad at myself.” I’ve been watching this bag for a few weeks now, waiting for it to go on sale. It’s black with silver trim. Those are my colors. “Oh, there’s Jill—let’s go ask her about next week,” April says to Candice. I know what April’s thinking. The threat of leaving me alone to make a fool of myself in front of Scott is less serious than the threat of me telling Candice that I like him. So April drags her away, glancing back at me with pleading eyes like, Don’t do it! Scott is still hanging out with the lacrosse team. I don’t know how I’m going to get him alone. When I suddenly decided to tell him yesterday, my decision didn’t come with instructions. Then Scott goes over to the drinks table. Alone. This is my chance. I’m almost too nervous to take it. The thing is, it might be the only chance I get all day, and if I don’t

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take it I might not see him until next year. So I force myself to go over to him. He’s rummaging through a cooler. “Seen any Mountain Dew?” he says. I turn around to see who he’s talking to. We’re the only ones here. Scott Abrams is talking to me. “Um.” I scan the soda cans. “No. Sorry.” He grabs a ginger ale. Whenever I’m near Scott, he has this extreme power over me. He doesn’t even have to be within visual range for me to get all flushed. Just knowing he’s in the same building reduces me to a jangle of nerves. Being this close to him makes every cell in my body twang with anticipation. He’s holding the cooler lid open. “Did you want one?” “Oh! Yeah, right. Sorry.” Note to self: stop apologizing. “This is pretty lame,” Scott says. Which means he’s talking to me some more. “Totally.” I’m the one who’s lame. For some stupid reason I will never figure out, I’m still staring into the cooler trying to decide which drink I want. Which is apparently impossible to do while the boy I’m in love with is watching me. Focus. Should I just come right out and tell him? Or should I ask if he can talk later? “You do origami, right?” Scott says. Wait. How can he possibly know that? I’ve been folding paper

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for years. My origami fascination started in seventh grade when Mrs. Cadwallader taught us how to make paper cups. I went on to master the penguin, the dinosaur, and the elephant. I’m currently working on a family of octopi. “Yeah.” I select a ginger ale. Scott closes the cooler. “How do you know that?” “I’ve noticed you,” he says. “You have?” “Didn’t you do those ornaments for Ms. Litchfield last year?” “Yeah.” “Those were awesome.” “Thanks.” I cannot believe he remembers that. And what did he mean by “I’ve noticed you”? I’ve noticed how ordinary you are? Or I’ve noticed you because I’m in love with you, too? With all the possible things I could talk to Scott Abrams about and all the backup scenarios I’d planned in case an opportunity like this ever came up, I can’t think of one single thing that would keep him interested in this conversation. It’s time to take a chance. “Scott, I—” “Yo, Abrams, pass me a Dew!” Chad yells. “All out!” Scott yells back. “Pass me a Sprite!” Scott throws him one. Of course the throw is perfect. And of course Chad snatches the can out of the air like it’s the easiest thing. These boys aren’t standard jock types, but they have this

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sporty/preppy physical language I will never be fluent in. I don’t suck at sports, though. I’m flexible and I can run pretty fast. I even went running with my dad a few times, and that was back when I was a lot younger. Some of my mom’s friends describe me as “wiry.” I’m just not team-sports material. You have to trust people to be part of a team. “Yeah?” Scott goes. “What?” “You were saying . . . ?” “Oh no, just . . .” What was I thinking? I can’t tell him here. Someone could come over any second. But it’s not like I can ask Scott if he wants to go for a walk or something. That would be weird. This is the first conversation we’ve ever had. If you could even call it that. “Nothing,” I conclude. He looks at me. He says, “Too bad we never talked before.” “We always have next year.” “No we don’t. Well, you do. I’m moving.” Stop. Scott Abrams is moving? Heart. In. Pieces. “You’re . . . moving?” “To New York. I hate that I won’t be here next year, but my dad’s job relocated him.” “When?” “About three months ago they told him—”

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“No, when are you moving?” “Next week.” A bunch of kids race by, spraying Super Soakers at each other. My shirt is immediately drenched. “Bummer,” Scott says, looking at my shirt. All I can say back is, “You have no idea.”

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Two Dad went above

and beyond.

“I can’t believe it.” I gawk at the room. “This is unreal.” “So you like it?” Dad asks. “Are you kidding? I love it.” Dad was somehow able to get this

room set up for me in a week. Apparently, it was his home office before. Now it’s my new room. In New York City. The only thing I could think about all summer was Scott moving away. How he’d never know what he means to me. How he’d never realize that we belong together. How I’d never find out if he feels the same way. I keep replaying the things he said at the picnic. I’ve noticed you. Too bad we never talked before. A person doesn’t say things like that if they’re not at least a little bit interested in you. And

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the way he kept looking at me, like he was trying to tell me something. Something I’d want to hear. I see the potential of us. I see what we could be together. If only I had one more chance. When my dad left, he bought a two-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village. I’d never been there, but I’d heard the neighborhood was amazing. It sounded like the kind of place I belong. Even though the New York City skyline was close to my South Jersey town, it still felt so far away. Living in New York had been my dream for a really long time. I always hoped that I’d get to live there eventually, when my real life started. This was a chance for my real life to start way sooner. It mattered to me so much that I called my dad. That was a big deal. I hadn’t talked to him since he left. Naturally, he was surprised to hear from me. He tried to keep me in his life when he left, but I didn’t want any part of it. I didn’t return his calls or visit him when he invited me. After a while, he gave up. Which is why he couldn’t believe I was calling. “I’m so glad you called,” Dad said. “I’ve missed you.” “Well . . . I know it was a long time ago, but you know how you told Mom I could stay with you?” “Yep.” “Is the offer still good?” “Anytime.” Of course I didn’t tell him about Scott. Just how I needed a change and how a better school would motivate me academically. “I really want to transfer schools,” I told him. “I’ve already looked into West Village Community online.”

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“It’s one of the best schools in the city.” “I know.” “I’d love having you here,” Dad said, all excited. When forces beyond your control take over, they make you do stupid things. Or crazy things, like the way love was making me twist my whole life around. It felt amazing to even be thinking about moving. I also felt bad, though. I was lying about the whole school thing. Like I care where I go. But it was the only way to convince Dad that I had a valid reason for moving. And it was the only way to convince Mom to let me go.

“What’s this about?” Mom said, flopping down on the couch. I remembered when Dad used to flop on that same couch, exhausted from his long day at work and hectic commute home. It’s still so weird to be in the same house with the same stuff, without Dad. I had too much nervous energy to sit. I stayed near the coffee table, swaying a little. I couldn’t remember the last time I talked to Mom without feeling all tense. Ever since Dad left, it’s like we can’t even watch TV together without Tension cramming in between us like an unwanted guest who says they’ll only be staying for a little while and then never leaves. “If you don’t feel like talking . . .” I said. Not that she ever felt like talking anymore. But I should have known better than to try talking to her when she got home from work. She hates her job. Personally, I don’t think there’s any job she would like. Mom didn’t work when Dad was here. She was a much happier

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person. Then he left and she turned all bitter and miserable. “Now’s fine,” she said. “Because we could talk later.” “Brooke.” Mom rubbed her temple. “What is it?” The grandfather clock in the corner ticked. The ticks sounded louder than usual. “Okay, there’s this thing I want to do and I’ve already planned it out so you don’t even have to do anything. All I need from you is permission.” “For what?” There are two topics that infuriate Mom: school and my dad. I avoid these topics as much as possible. But if I wanted to make this happen, I had to bring up both of them. “It’s nothing bad. I um . . . I want to live with Dad for a while, is all. Just for senior year.” Mom barked out a laugh. “Why would you want to do that after everything he did to us?” “Basically? I’m not challenged enough at school. And you’re always saying how I need to apply myself more and how I’m not working to my full potential and everything. But I can’t work harder unless I’m motivated. My school sucks. The school in Dad’s neighborhood is excellent.” “How do you know?” “I researched it. There’s a lot of money in that area. More money means better schools.” “Is that really why you want to live with him? To go to a better school?” “Yes.” I was totally lying again, but I didn’t care. There’s no

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way she’d let me move to the city and live with Dad just to follow some boy. “I have to show colleges I’m serious about improving my grades. Plus, I can write about my transfer for application essays.” Mom was skeptical. “He said I could live with him if I wanted to—” “I know. What he said.” “So . . . can I?” “Absolutely not.” “Why not?” “Is living with me so bad that you have to go running off to that manipulative bastard?” Didn’t Mom realize that anger was destroying her life? The Mom I used to know was so different. She used to plant flowers in the front yard every spring and play cards with the neighbors and volunteer at the senior center. She would even surprise me after school sometimes with fresh-baked peanut butter cookies. Those were always my favorite afternoons, sitting in the kitchen doing my homework at the table while she started dinner. It felt really safe, like nothing would ever have to change. I was so naive back then. Over the last few years, Mom gradually stopped doing those things. Sometimes I don’t even recognize her. My leg banged against the coffee table, as if suddenly my brain couldn’t control it anymore. The remote control jumped. I wished it had a button for reset conversation. “He’s not—”

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“You only have one more year left. Then you can go anywhere for college.” “Well, I can’t exactly get in anywhere, but—” “Why are you doing this to me?” So irritating. It’s always about her. “This isn’t about you, Mom. It’s about me.” “Well, you can forget it,” she retaliated. “I don’t think so.” “Excuse me?” “I’m not trying to be confrontational. You always think that, but I don’t want to fight with you. I just want to go to a better school.” “It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind,” she said. “It’s not like I can force you to stay. So if that’s what you want, fine. Let him deal with raising his daughter for a change.” “I just want to do what’s best for my future,” I said quietly. “I don’t like this.” “You don’t have to.”

So now I’m here. Staying with my dad. Going to a new school that starts in two days. All so I can be closer to Scott Abrams. “My interior designer did a fantastic job,” Dad says. “I can’t believe this was my home office.” “She worked really quickly.” “That’s what you get when you pay for the best.” I nod as if I can relate.

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“My file cabinet used to be here.” Dad gestures at a big dresser. It has that new-wood smell. “I love it!” “She thought you would. It’s from Crate and Barrel.” “It’s awesome. I totally needed more drawers.” Dad and I are off to a good start considering this is the first time I’ve seen him in six years. I think we’re both trying to make things work. The way I see it, there’s no reason for unnecessary drama after all this time. Which is probably why we’re being extra polite to each other. And why my dad is giving me this incredible room. He explains the other changes his interior designer made. I have a new desk and bookcase and night table, all in matching glossy white. The closet was redone so there’s a section to hang clothes and another section that’s all drawers and shelves and shoe cubbies. Light pours in from the two big, south-facing windows, a breeze puffing against the white cotton curtains. My bed is also from Crate and Barrel. It’s way higher than my bed at home, with drawers underneath. Obviously, I love my new room. I keep noticing more details. A round rug with bright stripes in the middle of the hardwood floor. Pillows on the window bench in colors that match the stripes. An apple-green beanbag chair. A shiny red stapler on the glossy white desk. A magnetic strip by the door with cool glitter magnets. “I’m glad you like it,” Dad says. “Thanks for letting me stay.”

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“This is your home, too. It’s great having you here, kiddo.” Kiddo punches me in the gut. That’s what he used to call me. Back when he was a real dad. Not that there’s any point in getting angry about things that can’t be undone.

I can’t believe I’m actually here. After all that time wishing I could live here one day, this is suddenly real. Excitement fizzes through me, making me feel alive in a way I never have before. It doesn’t take long to unpack. I left a lot of my stuff back home. I mainly just brought clothes and books. And my wish box. My wish box is the most secret thing about me. No one knows it exists. Not even April. I would feel like a huge dork explaining what it’s all about. The box works like this: I put notes with my wishes in it. Then I hope. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane, keeps me believing in the possibility of things that probably won’t come true. But I have to hold on to that hope anyway. Hope is what keeps me going.

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Three I moved here

for a boy I don’t know how to find.

At least we live in the same neighborhood. That’s what I heard

from Chad when I ran into him at the Gas ’n’ Sip right before I moved. So you’d think finding Scott wouldn’t be that hard. Only, this is New York. There are like a zillion people on every block. We could live here our whole lives and never see each other. My stomach is churning. I’m so afflicted that I can’t even tell if I’m just nervous or also hungry. Before Dad left for work, he gave me money for the week. Then he told me where to get the best bagel and coffee—the most important survival tip, according to him. It was weird how he assumed I drink coffee instead of saying I wasn’t allowed, like Mom. The stomach churn prevented me from eating before school. Now I wish I’d had something anyway. I sneak another glance around the auditorium. This is the se-

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nior assembly, so if Scott goes to this school he has to be somewhere in here right now. Every time I look around, kids stare back at me. I force myself to quit looking. I don’t want to get an instant reputation as a staring freak. I took a risk by bringing my phone. If it gets confiscated, I can always say I didn’t know the rules. I reach into my bag and check my messages. Still nothing from Candice. In a lot of ways, it seems like every other first day of school. Everyone’s wearing their best new clothes. Students are nervous. Teachers are handing out class contracts that will soon be forgotten. It’s all new pencils and telling how your summer was and mourning the kind of freedom you won’t have again until June. But in other ways, it’s seriously different. The classrooms are relatively pristine. The teachers look and sound more professional. There’s even a real discipline code. I was shocked to discover that there are actually consequences for not following the rules. My old school was huge, so you could totally get away with anything because no one even knew who you were. I get the feeling things don’t work that way here. By fifth period, I still haven’t seen Scott anywhere. I’m beginning to think he doesn’t go here. It’s the only high school for kids who live in this school zone, but schools work differently here. You don’t have to go to the school closest to where you live. Scott could go to some random school in Brooklyn for all I know. Finding him is the only thing I care about. I didn’t come here to make new friends. I already have April and Candice. Leaving them was really hard, but we’ll talk all the time. And visiting will be easy—the train runs all day between here and there. Who

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needs more than two good friends? And what’s the point of making new friends anyway? We’re all going our separate ways at the end of the year. Eventually, everyone leaves. The closer you get to someone, the more it hurts after they’re gone. So yeah. I’m not exactly joining the pep squad. Right before eighth period when I’m assuming that I’ll never see Scott again for the rest of my life, I careen around a corner desperately searching for a room that apparently doesn’t exist. The bell rings. I search my bag for my schedule to double-check the room number. “Lost?” someone says. “Sort of. Well, yeah, I can’t find room two thirty-eight. Do you—” I look up. And there he is. Scott Abrams. “Hey,” he goes. “I know you.” “Hilarious,” I say. Because of course he knows me. He said we should have talked more. He said he loves my origami. Except he’s not smiling or anything. Then Scott says, “How do I know you?” World. Shattering. Apart. “Um. I’m Brooke Greene. We went to—” “Right! Sorry, I’m spaced. Trying to find two thirty-eight.” “Same here.” “Do you think it’s a conspiracy?”

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“All I know is, two thirty-eight should be somewhere between two thirty-six and two forty and it’s not.” Note to self: do not burst into tears. I would put this in the Of Course file if it weren’t so tragic. My mental Of Course file is jammed full of stuff like this. As in, Of course I moved all the way to New York for a boy who doesn’t know I exist. But then there’s The Knowing. I know that I belong with Scott. I know that I belong here. “Should we ask in the main office?” I suggest. “Good idea.” We get halfway down the hall before Scott goes, “Wait. Why are you here?” “I go here.” “That’s so weird!” “I know.” “When did you move?” “A few days ago.” “Why?” There’s no way I’m going to admit why. At least, not yet. “Oh, because . . .” Then again, if I just come right out and tell him he’ll finally know. Isn’t that why I came here? To make him understand that we belong together? The problem is, I might be the only one who can see the potential of us right now. If I scare him off, we might never be together. I decide to go for the truth with a side of omission. “. . . I’m living with my dad now.”

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“Is that cool?” “Yeah, it’s awesome. I love it here.” “Tell me about it. Any place you can get a sandwich at three in the morning is my kind of town.” We get to the main office. The secretary is on the phone. We wait. When Scott leans against the counter, his arm brushes up against my arm. Our arms are totally touching. And he’s not moving his arm away. “Where’s your dad’s place?” Scott says. “Perry Street.” “We’re on West 11th.” “Aren’t they near each other?” Scott smiles. “Hey, neighbor.”

When I answer the phone after school, April doesn’t even wait for me to say hello. She goes, “Oh my god you found Scott?!” “Yes! How’d you know?” “Chad told me.” “Since when do you talk to Chad?” “Since today. We both stayed after and he came up to me.” “But how does Chad know I found Scott?” “Scott told him.” “What?!” “I know!” “When?”

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“Scott called him right after school.” “What did he say?” “Just that you have a class together. And he was really surprised to see you.” “He was?” “Of course!” “Like, surprised in a good way?” “For sure.” Things are definitely working out. Scott and I live right next to each other. We go to the same school. We have a class together. We even get to sit together. By the time we found room 238, there were only two seats left in the front. My aversion to the front row was nothing compared to my desire to sit next to him. Scott Abrams told his best friend about me. It’s a relief that April is excited about this. When I told her I was moving here, she wasn’t exactly thrilled. April still thought telling Scott how I felt was a bad idea. She thought following him here was an even worse one. Even though she knew how I’d wanted to live in New York for a long time so it wouldn’t be like I was just following some boy here, we both knew that I totally was. She didn’t want me to get hurt any more than I’d already been. But by the end of summer, she was in my corner. She saw how miserable I was. She knew I had to do this. I tell April every single detail about what happened with Scott today. “I can’t believe you got seats together in class,” she says. “How perfect is that?” “Seriously. Now I don’t have to track him down like a creeper.”

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“So . . . when are you going to tell him?” “I’m not sure. Maybe it’s better to wait a while. I mean, I’ll get to see him every day. Maybe I should give him some time to get used to me being here.” “That sounds good.” “It’s really bad that he didn’t recognize me, right?” “Well, it’s not the best. But it was his first day at a new school, too. You were both kind of out of it. I wouldn’t worry—he told Chad about you and everything. I doubt he’d do that if he wasn’t happy you’re there.” That makes sense. We could dissect the situation forever, but the only way to know what Scott thinks for sure is to ask him. April and I compare our first days. I always knew my old school sucked, but now I have confirmation that it sucked way worse than I thought. Then I say, “What’s up with Candice? She hasn’t responded to my last two texts and she’s not calling me back.” “I don’t know. Do you want me to ask?” “Yeah. It’s weird that we haven’t talked for two days.” “I’ll tell her to call you.” “Call me tomorrow.” “Of course. Good luck with Scott.” Luck isn’t what I need. What I need is to know that I haven’t disrupted my entire life for nothing.

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Four Scott could be

in his room behind any one of

these windows. He could be watching me right now. I can’t believe he lives one street over from me. That’s one for the Of Course file. Of course we live closer to each other now than we did back home. The thing is, he could live anywhere on West 11th Street. It’s several blocks long. I’ve been walking up and down his street for over an hour. Just walking and wanting to find him. I love exploring my new neighborhood like this. I’m so used to riding in cars. No one walked anywhere back home. But New Yorkers walk everywhere, and now I’m one of them. My legs are already complaining about the difference. I stop. I want to be still for a minute and absorb the energy, feel how incredible it is to be in this place that’s been calling to me

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for so long. It’s like I already know it here so well, like these streets have somehow always been mine. Just being out on this warm night under the streetlights and neon, the excitement of finally being surrounded by everything I’ve imagined is exhilarating. “Nice night,” an old lady says, leaning out of her first-floor brownstone window. The window is wide open and she’s watering the flowers in her window box. “Yeah,” I say. “I love your flowers.” They’re small ones in all different colors. They look happy. “Thanks, I try. It’s not always easy.” I nod without understanding what she means. Is it not always easy to keep flowers alive? Or not always easy to remember to water them? Or maybe it’s a general statement about life. When is life ever easy? It’s usually one problem after another. Like the problem of living with my dad. It doesn’t look like there’s a problem from the outside. From the outside, it probably looks like a happy father-and-daughter reunion. The truth is that the past three days have been really stressful. Our conversations still have that polite tone. But underneath all that polite is a world of hurt. We both know it’s lurking there. Except we’re pretending it’s not. All topics of conversation are kept on the safe side, like school (which I’m getting used to) and the city (Dad’s planning for us to do some touristy things together) and college (I have no idea where I want to go). Dad hasn’t asked me anything about Mom. I haven’t asked him why he left us. What’s the point of digging up a lot of stuff that’s better off staying buried? It feels like I’ve been searching for Scott’s place forever. He is

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nowhere. Eventually, I find this little cobblestone road that looks like it belongs in a different century. I slowly go down it, passing windows with warm lamps in them, families having dinner, people mesmerized by their computers. It’s so different here. Back home, everyone closed their curtains at night. Here you can see right into almost every apartment. It’s like New Yorkers are saying, Look all you want. We know we rule. Suddenly, there’s a highway, and then the Hudson River. I stood at my window on the other side of that river so many times, staring at the distant skyline like it held endless possibilities for a better life. Wishing to be on this side of things. And now I’m here. I’ve made it to the other side. And it’s all because of Scott Abrams. He gave me a reason to leave my whole world behind. There’s a path by the river where a few people are walking their dogs or running or riding bikes. The air smells like fresh-cut grass. Everything looks new and clean. A sign says: h u d s o n r i v e r pa r k open u n til

1: 0 0 a . m .

I’m exhausted from all the walking. I just want to sit somewhere and fold this piece of paper I found. What I love most about origami is that there’s always something new. You can never master everything there is to know, whether it’s a harder design than the one you just did or a completely new one nobody’s thought of yet. You can always do better than you did before. You always get another chance.

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I find this area with tall grasses and flowers and simple wooden benches. It’s like some kind of Zen garden. I sit on a bench looking out at the river. Then I smooth out the wrinkles in my paper. Found paper is way more challenging than perfectly square precut origami paper. Found paper is real life. Real life isn’t confined by exact dimensions. It extends beyond the boundaries. It comes with flaws. Things are never easy, especially when you expect them to be. Like when people disappoint you by turning out to be entirely different from who you thought they were. People can be really corroded sometimes. Recently, I mastered the origami giraffe. Now I’m trying a rhinoceros. It’s hard to stay focused for more than a few minutes, though. This park is amazing. There’s so much going on, even though it’s getting late. All the people here and in boats on the river, tons of lit-up windows in the surrounding buildings, cars zooming by on the highway. No matter what time it is, there are always people getting stuff done in New York. Back in suburbia, everyone’s probably inside watching TV right now, getting sleepy. They’ll all go to bed around the same time and get up around the same time. But here, you can be free of those constraints. You can live this totally unique life that’s all your own. Just outside the Zen garden, there’s a row of benches along the river. A girl is sitting on one of them, sketching something. It makes me really happy to be around people who are smart and artistic even if I don’t know them. Just knowing that all of these creative types came to New York to follow their dreams is inspiring. This girl looks like she’s my age, so she probably grew up here.

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She’s probably lived here her whole life. A pang of jealousy stabs at me. She’s like this Sparkly City Girl who knows all these cool secrets about this place. Does she even know how lucky she is? Does she appreciate everything she has? This is ridiculous. I’m jealous of a girl I don’t even know. I concentrate on my paper folds. But after a while, I look up again. Under the glow of the streetlamp, I can see her profile. We both have the same shade of medium brown hair. Hers is really curly while mine’s only wavy. And I think we both have brown eyes. If I could change one thing about myself, it would be my eye color. My eyes are that boring shade of brown with nothing interesting going on. Sparkly City Girl probably has gold flecks in hers. She probably has a lot of things I don’t have. Whatever. I may never have all of the things I want, but one thing I do have is a fresh start. And it’s up to me to decide what happens next.

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Questions for Susane Colasanti What inspired you to write SO MUCH CLOSER? Although I grew up in the country, I was a city girl at heart. I knew my true home was in New York City. My Knowing was very similar to Brooke’s. Going to a small school meant that everyone knew my business. Kids defined me as a nerd in junior high. I felt like there was nothing I could do to break free of that label. I wanted my real life to begin in a place where no one knew me, where I could choose to meet tons of new people or be completely anonymous, where I could be the person I’d always wanted to be. New York lets everyone start fresh. No matter how many hard times you’ve survived or how lost you feel, this city will help you find your way. It even seems like the more of an outsider you were where you came from, the more you fit in here. New York is a magical place where dreams become reality and anything is possible. That sense of infinite possibility is what brought me here. And it’s what brought Brooke here, too.

SO MUCH CLOSER takes place in New York City and you weave in many amazing Big Apple locations and institutions throughout the book. Is this your love letter to the city? If so, please do elaborate. SO MUCH CLOSER is totally a love letter! There’s just this amazing energy here I wish everyone could feel. Writing this book was my way of sharing that energy. I’m beyond thrilled that the High Line was featured on the cover. It’s such a unique, transcendental space. The scenes that take place on the High Line were inspired by my own experiences there. Every time I visit, it feels like a Zen retreat. The flowers, the breeze, the sunset…it’s like this peaceful enclave to which I can always escape.

Where do you like to spend your time in NYC? Favorite restaurant? Favorite park? There are so many fun things to do here! It's unreal. My idea of “fun” mainly involves books, games, movies, quirky art installations, and green spaces. A mini golf course just opened on a pier in Tribeca and I cannot wait to play. I’m always thrilled when one of my author idols does a reading nearby. The chair set up in the second row center at the Union Square Barnes & Noble knows me well. I’ve camped out for hours to see author rock stars like Jodi Picoult, Jonathan Tropper, Nick Hornby, Steve Martin, and Jon Stewart. But even routine things like playing backgammon with a friend at my neighborhood coffeehouse make me happy. Some of my fave places to eat were featured in TAKE ME THERE and SO MUCH CLOSER, like Westville, Chat ‘n Chew, and Crumbs. I’m into places with an old-school diner vibe. After the High Line, Hudson River Park is my park of choice. I love going for walks along the river on warm spring nights. I love being surrounded by the synergy of water, trees, and sparkly city lights. Every single time I’m there, I instantly reconnect with the restlessness I felt when I was on the other side of the water, longing to be here. It makes me so thankful that I made it.

Do you have specific real-life people in mind when you create your characters? If so, who has inspired some of your cute male characters? Anyone famous? Some of my boy characters have been inspired by people I’ve known. Others are completely unique. John Dalton from SO MUCH CLOSER is an example of a character who just busted in and took control. Tobey Beller from WHEN IT HAPPENS was inspired by a real boy I knew in high school. James Worther from TAKE ME THERE

1


is a combination of boys I’ve known and my ideal intellectual dreamer. Nash Parker from WAITING FOR YOU seemed to introduce himself from out of nowhere like John. I think Nash and John were besties in another life. Regular readers of my blog know that I have serious affection for John Krasinski. His character on The Office, Jim Halpert, did inspire some of Jason’s mannerisms in SOMETHING LIKE FATE. I heart Jim something fierce.

Who is your favorite character in SO MUCH CLOSER and why? Although I love all of my characters, I have to say that John Dalton is my fave. I don’t know anyone like him in real life. But I wish I did – that boy is amazing! He’s so unique and caring and intelligent. And he rocks some cool graphic tees.

Brooke learns so much about herself and her heart and what she is capable of. What do you hope readers take away from reading SO MUCH CLOSER? I want Brooke’s story to resonate with readers who are academically unmotivated. During my ten years as a high school science teacher, I saw a lot of extremely intelligent kids slack off because they weren’t inspired or they were getting picked on for being smart. I want teens to know that kicking academic butt will open so many unexpected doors for them for the rest of their lives. At first, Brooke doesn’t know what she wants to be. But when she starts a new life in New York, she begins to see how she can turn the things she feels passionate about into an actual career. She starts to realize the potential of academic power and how doing well in school can help her create the life she desires. I want my readers to take similar control of their fate by doing everything they can to shape their lives right now.

What was your favorite part about writing this novel? Being able to share the little things I love most about my neighborhood was a blast. I’m all about the little things. Most people don’t notice incredible rooftop gardens or the intricacies of building facades or how beautiful water towers are. In SO MUCH CLOSER, John opens Brooke’s eyes to these sweet parts of the city. He encourages her to look up. I really enjoyed connecting the “look up” theme with the importance of having a positive attitude, dreaming big, and working towards goals that make us feel alive.

What is the best thing about being a YA author? Having this amazing opportunity to reach out to readers is the best. With every book I write, my goal is always to reach out to teens and help them feel less alone. Knowing other people have survived the same hard times they’re experiencing hopefully helps my readers to stay strong through what will probably be the most difficult time of their lives. I also love hearing from my readers. Being able to communicate with them so easily online rules!

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Front / Back cover

E

SUSANE COLASANTI

Fate knows no boundaries....

PUFFIN LOGO 2007-PDF TEMPLATES

Author of Take Me There and Waiting for You

SUSANE COLASANTI

rin and Lani are best friends ...and opposites ontotal novel spine

when it comes to everything, including boys. 3/8" But and wider spine width

then Erin starts dating Jason; and from the minute Lani meets him, there is an undeniable chemistry. As junior year ends and Erin goes away for the summer, Lani is left behind...with Jason. Will Lani be able to put her friendbe the love of her life?

on novel spine spine width 5/16" and wider

“An intelligent, fast-paced present-tense narration . . . which will resonate with readers attracted to bittersweet and tearjerking romances.” —Kirkus Reviews “A romantic page-turner.” —Booklist “As a realistic portrayal of first love and BFF betrayal, this hits the mark.” —BCCB “Colasanti has her finger on the pulse of teenage dialogue and emotions.” —VOYA on novel spine

omething like fate

ship first, or will she be tempted by the guy who may just

spine width narrower than 1/4" (Sabon Bold 9pt)

on novel title page (Sabon11.5pt, track +)

READ ALL OF SUSANE COLASANTI ’ S BOOKS!

www.susanecolasanti.com

u.s.a.

$8.99

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Triangle next to barcode

speak

speak $10.99

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Cover photo © Barbara Cole, 2010

What if your soul mate is your best friend’s boyfriend?


1

I never meant

for it to happen like this. But if I had

the chance, thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no way I would take it all back.


2

“Why are you

always checking your horoscope?”

Blake accuses. “Why aren’t you?” I say. Checking my weekly horoscope every Monday is an essential part of my life. It’s like, took a shower, check. Went to school, check. Did homework, partial check (depending on the length of work involved and difficulty level). Today is Monday, so read horoscope, definite check. He goes, “Um, I don’t know, maybe because it’s bogus?” I gasp. The gasp is half joking and half serious. “Take that back!” “No.” “Take it back!” “Not until you prove that horoscopes aren’t a totally bogus waste of time.”


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3

“Like that’ll be difficult.” I grab my laptop, which is sliding off the pillow. When I’m online, I like to sit on my bed. But when I’m doing homework, I sit at my desk. My bed is a relaxation-only zone. “Go ahead, then,” Blake challenges. “Fine, I will.” I’m on the best website for weekly horoscopes. I don’t know how this astrologer does it, but she’s scarily accurate every single week. She just knows. True, I’ve only been checking the site since school started, and it’s April. So that’s like . . . thirty horoscopes. Which I think is enough to know that my horoscope is something I can trust. It helps me feel prepared for whatever happens next. Sort of. I’m not a fan of the Unknown. The Unknown can change your entire life in an instant. The Unknown can take everything away from you and never give it back. Your life can end in a flash before you even have time to know it’s over. There is no safe. There is no control. I scroll down the page, searching. “Oh! Here.” I scroll down some more. “‘Mars and the creative Uranus synergistically merge their energies on the ninth, exposing you to an exciting world of possibilities. Mars, the ruler of ambition, is turning your life around and will be pushing you over new thresholds and into new situations. If you continue to cling to your comfortable routine, you could miss out on new people, interesting ideas, and’ . . . yeah.” “And yeah what?” Blake says. “And just . . . whatever, the rest didn’t go.” “Aha!”


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SUSANE COLASANTI

“That is so not the point. Everything else totally goes!” “So then why doesn’t the last part go?” “Because it’s about professional possibilities. It’s for people with jobs.” “See? You don’t have a job.” “Because I’m in school!” “Exactly!” “What, like I’m the only Taurus who’s sixteen? We’re all different ages!” “Uh-huh.” “What about the rest of it? How do you explain how perfect all that other stuff is?” “Riiight. Because new opportunities are only happening to you.” “That’s not . . . forget it.” It’s not just about what my horoscope says. It’s about astrology in general. I definitely believe that whatever sign you are determines your inherent personality traits. I totally fit the description of a Taurus: loves nature, seeks comfort and pleasure, connects with the Earth, into serenity, stubborn, passionate, and nurturing. It’s a quality sign. “Aw.” Blake sits on my bed. “Don’t get all offended.” “I’m not,” I say. But I am. I’m sensitive about people blowing off the things I believe in like they’re nothing. Like I’m this freak who’s confusing fantasy with reality. People who don’t get astrology are always like, Why do you even care what your horoscope says? Why don’t you just live your life? The thing is, if you know what to look out for, you can be


something like fate

5

ready for anything. Well, maybe not anything, but you can be ready for things you wouldn’t normally be ready for if you didn’t know about them. It helps me deal with the Unknown. Blake scrunches up next to me. He’s like, “What does mine say?” There are a few people in my life I can always count on. Blake is one of them. We’ve been friends for two years and we’ve never had a fight. The only person I’m closer to than Blake is Erin. She’s been my best friend for a long time. Erin’s a Leo, which means her temper can be a problem. She’s also fearless and self-confident, which sometimes makes me jealous. I wouldn’t call myself an introvert, but I wish I were as outgoing as Erin. I’d give anything to know what it feels like to be fearless. Blake is awesome. He’s so funny. And super reliable. He’s never let me down, not even once. Plus, he’s really cute. But not in a way where I’m attracted to him. Well, maybe I would be if he weren’t gay. No one else knows. If Blake were any farther back in the closet, he’d have random Boy Scout camping equipment and shirts he outgrew in middle school piled on top of him. Blake’s dad would kill him if knew he was gay. For real. So Blake’s not coming out until college, when he says his real life will start. He spends a lot of time on school stuff so his transcript will open doors to wherever he wants to go. He’s always talking about how amazing college will be—when he can be his true self, without worrying about impending death by deranged parent. Things might be different if his mom were still here, but


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SUSANE COLASANTI

she married some other guy when Blake was thirteen. Then she moved to California. At first, she called Blake all the time. Now Blake only hears from her on his birthday. Everyone assumes Blake is straight. He likes blending in. It’s just easier that way. Besides me, he only hangs out with a couple other friends. Kids at school see us together all the time. I even heard a rumor that we were going out. Blake considers this a compliment because he insists that I’m a “hot babe.” Whenever he calls me that, I laugh so hard. I don’t think I’m hot at all. Unless you consider short and skinny to be hot. I wish I were taller with more curves, like Erin. My hazel-blue eyes hardly make me more attractive. Neither does my straight, black hair, even though it’s long. I wear it with bangs to cover the scar on my forehead. Trust me. There’s nothing sexy about a ripped-up face. I totally think Blake would be out if it weren’t for his dad. It’s not that Blake wants to hide who he is. He doesn’t even care that much what other kids think. He just doesn’t want to deal with his dad finding out. The fights they have are seriously scary. Blake’s dad never hits him or anything (which might change if he knew), but I’ve heard his dad yell. Some of the things he’s said probably hurt worse than anything physical ever could. Blake trusted me with the truth last summer when we were spending all this time together. It was obvious that something major was going on with him. I swore that I wouldn’t tell anyone. Erin doesn’t even know. I click on “Capricorn” so we can read Blake’s horoscope. “There!” I yell. “What does the second paragraph say?” “Yeah, yeah . . .”


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7

“That wasn’t a rhetorical question.” “You’re very demanding today.” “You love it. Now read.” Blake reads. “‘Hiding behind your protective layer is wearing you down. With the moon in dramatic Leo, you’re inspired to launch a personal crusade to support your future ambitions. Keep your eye on the prize and continue handling unrewarding arrangements with calm determination. When the dust settles, you will prevail in a domestic or personal transaction.’” I’m like, “Now what have we learned?” “Hmph.” I can tell Blake is fighting it. He has to admit there’s something legit going on here. “Doesn’t it make you feel better about things?” “I’m not particularly motivated to go out and launch a personal crusade yet. Maybe this applies to a year from now?” “It can be for whenever you want.” “Let’s ask Magic 8 Ball,” Blake says. I have a special glittery Magic 8 Ball. We always consult it for matters of importance. “Is it time for me to launch a personal crusade?” he asks. Then he shakes Magic 8 Ball and turns it over. “‘My sources say no.’” “It does not say that!” “Yuh-huh!” Blake shoves Magic 8 Ball at me. “Okay, well . . . like I said, it can be for whenever.” I just hope that whenever gets here soon. Blake should be living the life he wants.


3

Erin is in love. “Who’s the boy?” I ask. “What boy?” she goes. I don’t know why she bothers pretending. She knows I know there’s a boy. I can always tell. I’m like, “The boy you’re in love with.” Now that Erin’s scored the glossy new Beetle convertible she’s been lusting after forever (in heaven blue, which is a seriously sweet color), I don’t have to wait for Mom to pick me up after school. I love the feeling of riding home with Erin, like we’re totally free, like we can go anywhere. Her Beetle gets about twentyfour miles per gallon. This could be better, so I only partially approve of its efficiency. But I absolutely approve of the cute flower holder, which I keep filled with flowers from my garden.


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Since Erin got her car, she’s been great about driving me home. Everything’s so spread out in our town. Some people take walks, but just when they feel like walking. They don’t actually get anywhere. I’ll ride my bike to go somewhere nearby, but you need a car to get anywhere real. When Erin gives me a ride home, it takes her all this extra time to go from my house to hers. Good thing she’s so into her car. Any excuse to drive it works for her. “There’s no boy,” Erin says. She has this secret smile and faraway eyes. It’s obvious there’s a boy. “Oh,” I say, “there’s a boy.” “Well.” More faraway eyes. “There might be a boy.” “If there was a boy, what would his name be?” “Jason.” I’ve had a few classes with Jason, but I’ve never really talked to him. He’s in Erin’s multimedia elective. She was lusting after him so hard when spring semester started, but she couldn’t figure out what to do about it. Then they got put together for a group project and started talking. Actually, they were talking a little before that. They have a big group of mutual friends. I call it the Golden Circle. It’s the same group I used to be in, but that was before it absorbed Jason and some other kids I don’t really know. I’d still be part of that group if I were the same joiner I used to be. Oh, and if Bianca didn’t have that tizzy fit last year. I don’t know what her problem was. I guess she noticed that I was gradually drifting away from everyone. It wasn’t like a conscious decision or anything. I just didn’t feel like doing as much


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group stuff anymore. Especially since it felt like the same parties at the same houses with the same hundred people. My connections with them started to seem so superficial. Bianca took offense. “Why are you being like this?” she went. A bunch of us were hanging out after school at Green Pond, just goofing off and wasting time. I was getting bored. I found a big rock jutting out over the pond and went to sit there alone. Bianca followed me. “Being like what?” I asked. “You’re acting like you’re better than us.” “No I’m not.” “Then why didn’t you come out with us last weekend?” “I just didn’t feel like it.” “Why not?” “I don’t know. I didn’t realize it was a required activity.” I had no idea why Bianca was harassing me. She was getting more annoying every day. Bianca was all, “Since when don’t you feel like hanging out with your friends?” “It’s not like that. I’m here, aren’t I?” “Yeah, but are you having a good time?” “Where is all this coming from? Did I do something?” “You think you’re too good to be around people who aren’t activists or whatever.” “No I don’t!” “Just because we’re not out saving the environment doesn’t mean we’re losers,” Bianca huffed. “We do a lot for the school, you know.”


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The Golden Kids have a reputation for being friendly and helpful. They do a zillion school activities. They’ve completely taken over the student council. A few of them mentor at the middle school, which Erin’s been thinking about doing. They’re all popular, but not crazy popular like the jocks. They’re sort of all the kids who are lucky enough to have both decent looks and decent home lives. Which means they also have a decent amount of money to play with. I’d rather have my parents save money to help me with college, so I’m not into the Golden Kids’ materialistic ways. But it makes sense that Erin’s still friends with them. She loves volunteering, especially with little kids. Erin was a candy striper in the pediatric ward at the hospital for a long time. She’s the best babysitter. She even has a bag of tricks that she brings over when she babysits. She’s completely not embarrassed to still like all the fun stuff we were into when we were eight. Kids love Erin as much as she loves them. Anyway. After that confrontation with Bianca, I basically stopped doing stuff with the group, except for Erin. I’d still talk to everyone if they talked to me, but after a while they stopped. It’s interesting how you can know someone for a long time, and then one day you just see them in this whole different way. That’s clearly what happened to Erin with Jason. “I think he likes me,” Erin gushes. “Cool.” “Everyone’s been pushing us to get together, so they must have a reason.” “Maybe he told someone he likes you and now they all know.”


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“You think so?” “Totally.” “Of course we got put together for multimedia. The Energy is bringing us together.” I definitely believe everything happens for a reason. I’m just not sure I believe Erin’s reason for why she got put with Jason. Erin’s all, “Jason stayed after yesterday to ask me about something he totally could have found out from anyone. But he asked me!” “Because he obviously likes you.” “Really?” “Of course. Why else would he ask you?” “I know!” Erin’s cheeks get pink. “He is so cute.” “Yeah.” “You think he’s cute?” Erin thinks I can get any boy I want. She’s seriously delusional. The boys who approach me are usually obnoxious types who dedicate their lives to picking on anyone even remotely different from them. Like that’s attractive. Erin knows that we could never be interested in the same boy. Not that I’d ever go after him if I were. But it would be impossible for me to like a boy she likes. We have totally different types. I go, “He’s cute for you, I mean.” “Really?” “Totally.” “All signs point to us being together. I had a dream where I was eating this huge ice-cream cone. You know what ice cream represents?” We always interpret our dreams. Erin believes that symbolism


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in dreams foretells the future. I’m more into the kind of dream analysis where you interpret how the symbolism relates to your current situation. We’re both obsessed with fate. Anything that helps us make sense of this life is fascinating. At the beginning of the year we made a chart. The chart has topics related to fate that we want to know more about. Each topic has its own month. During that month, we learn as much as we can and have these intense discussions about everything we find out. By the end of this year, we’ll be experts on fate. Here’s our chart: Erin & Lani’s Fate Study Chart—Junior Year September

Numerology

October

Graphology

November

Birth charts/Moon signs

December

Creative visualization

January

Buddhism/Taoism

February

Shamanism

March

Dream analysis

April

Tarot

May

Palmistry

June

Gemology

Even though we were just learning about dream analysis, I can’t remember what ice cream represents. Or if I even learned that one. It’s impossible to memorize the meanings of more than a


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few symbols. We decided that the key to dream analysis is checking a reliable website or book after every dream. “I don’t remember that one,” I go. “It symbolizes compensating for lack of contentment and foretells that the best is yet to come. Oh! The ice cream was this rusty orange color? And the next day Jason was wearing a shirt that exact same color!” “Get out.” “Well, it was almost the same color.” Erin tells me more about Jason and how she thinks he likes her but how she doesn’t know for sure so she’s going to wait and see if he asks her out. “Do you think that’s a good idea?” she wants to know. “Yeah. Or you could always initiate things.” “But isn’t it better to wait for him to ask me out?” “It is, but don’t wait too long. What if he asks someone else out because he doesn’t know you like him?” “If he likes me, he shouldn’t be asking anyone else out!” “I know. I’m just saying if he doesn’t do anything soon, you might want to.” If we weren’t so close, I might be jealous that Erin has a boy to like and I don’t. But I just feel happy for her. Erin and I are bonded for life. Being bonded for life isn’t the same as being best friends. I mean, we’re best friends, but it goes way beyond that. What do you call it when two people have an intense shared history? When nothing can ever separate them? Soul sisters. That’s what we’ve been ever since the accident. Except lately I can feel things changing. It’s like we’re growing


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apart or something. The weird thing is, this somehow happened when I wasn’t looking. There’s not really any one thing I can say is the reason we’re drifting. Maybe that’s just what happens when you grow up. My parents hardly know anyone they went to high school with. How is that possible? Do you graduate and then just let your friends fade away? Even when they seem like your whole world? I know that won’t happen with Erin. I love being so close to another person, knowing that our connection will always be there. It makes me feel safe. Only . . . if I were going to be really honest with myself, I would have to admit that we’re not the same Erin and Lani we were before. I can’t tell how much of our connection is because of the things we still have in common or the one thing that bonds us for life. But no matter what happens, I know I can totally count on Erin for anything. And she knows I’d do anything for her.


4

I’m trying not

to spill more paint. So far, I’ve made

five signs and spilled blue paint on my floor. At least my house has hardwood floors, so it wasn’t impossible to clean up. To make this sign for the cafeteria recycling bins, I’m using bold colors and big letters. I’m also putting on glitter and outlining the letters in metallic markers. I want to make it impossible for people not to notice the bin labeled bottles & cans. I’m so over kids using the tired excuse that they didn’t see the sign every time they throw their water bottles in the garbage can. With my new signs, no one will have an excuse not to recycle. Marnie and Bianca were supposed to help me make the signs, but they canceled at the last minute. I wish they weren’t in our club. It’s so obvious they’re just using it to put on their college apps. Danielle came over for a few hours, though. We became


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really good friends after I broke away from the Golden Circle. These days I have more in common with Danielle than Erin. She’s the only other person at school who cares as much about saving the planet as I do. I’m president of One World, our school’s environmental club. A junior gets to be president for two years, so at the end of next year we’ll vote for a new president. I guess you could say my love for Earth is genetic. My mom’s an environmental-health specialist and my dad builds greenhouses. They obviously have the environmental thing in common, but Mom is fifteen years younger than Dad. So that’s where the similarity ends. Dad’s ultimate night involves sitting at home working on a crossword puzzle or reading a mystery novel. Mom’s all about the social life. She loves meeting new people and getting the word out about green living. We even have an organic garden in our backyard. Mom sells vegetables from it at the green market every summer. Everyone in town knows my mom. We live in one of those small New Jersey towns that’s close to a lot of other small New Jersey towns called things like Tranquility and Peapack and Gladstone. Everyone tends to know everyone else in towns like these. So my friends are used to Mom’s house rules. When they come over, they always turn off the lights when they leave a room. They never let the water run when they’re not using it. We also have to unplug the TV and computer when we’re done with them, because when they’re left plugged in they still use electricity, even when they’re turned off. One thing I like about my house is that there’s tons of natural


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light, so we usually don’t turn on lamps during the day. It has a lot of glass and high ceilings and open spaces. We have three skylights and two sets of sliding-glass doors—one for the upstairs balcony and one for the back porch. The back porch leads out to a dock with Dad’s rowboat tied to it. Sometimes he rows out to the middle of the lake and does his crossword puzzles there. An entire container of glitter just spilled all over the place. Educating the public is never easy. Somehow I manage to finish the sign without spilling anything else. Then I lean it up against the wall to dry. My computer dings with an IM. It’s from Erin. aceofwands: omg you are NOT going to believe this!!! berrygirl: what? aceofwands: jason called me! berrygirl: shut up! aceofwands: i gave him my number in class today. we just got off the phone. berrygirl: details please. aceofwands: he wanted to know if i did the homework yet. he said he had a question on it, which we all know is code for he wants me. berrygirl: did it even sound like a real question? aceofwands: hells no! and that’s not all. i think he’s going to ask me out. berrygirl: how do you know? aceofwands: just a feeling. oh, and i told him i like him. berrygirl: what happened to waiting for him to come to you?


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aceofwands: i did! he’s the one who called me, remember? so i was like, okay, he’s putting himself out there, i can meet the boy halfway. berrygirl: what did you say? aceofwands: i was just like how i think he’s cute. and funny  berrygirl: and? aceofwands: and he said he had no idea i felt that way. berrygirl: boys are so clueless. aceofwands: tell me about it. but now he knows. so it’s just a matter of time. berrygirl: you go with your fine self. aceofwands: thanks, i will. what about you? berrygirl: ? aceofwands: with greg?! berrygirl: how many times do I have to tell you this? i. do. not. like. greg. aceofwands: why not? berrygirl: *headdesk* um, i don’t know, maybe because we have absolutely nothing in common? at ALL? aceofwands: oh. that. berrygirl: why do you always act like i never told you this? aceofwands: i’m not sure. maybe for the same reason you always act like he’s not the most gorgeous slice of boy you’ve ever seen? berrygirl: like that’s the most important thing. aceofwands: it doesn’t hurt. berrygirl: and it doesn’t help when we have nothing to talk about. aceofwands: who’s talking about talking?


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berrygirl: slut. aceofwands: stop talking trash about yourself. berrygirl: gotta go . . . more signs to do. aceofwands: ciao for now.

I’m less than shocked that Erin went ahead and told Jason she likes him before she even knew if he liked her. When she wants something, she stays totally focused on that one thing until she gets it. She’s fearless like that. I wish I could say the same thing about myself.


The best thing about summer camp is the last day. Because that’s the day you get to go home and live like a normal person again. Don’t get me wrong. Camp was freaking awesome. I spent the entire summer in Maine at a special camp for the arts. My dad gave me his old nikon camera and taught me how to develop photos last year, and ever since then photography has been my passion. There’s something about vintage film that captures the now in a way digital can’t. It just makes everything look softer somehow. And the whole old-school method of developing your own photos exactly how you want them is really cool. So yeah, I learned a lot more about photography at camp and had a ton of practice. I’ve also been playing the violin since seventh grade, so I had violin lessons there, too. We even had a concert last night. I've only been home for like three hours but I’ve already participated in the following critical post-camp activities: • Took a real shower. With water pressure. That actually got me clean. • Remembered what air-conditioning felt like. Did a little happy dance at the supermarket. • Put on clothes that didn’t smell like mildew. They also did not feel permanently damp. • Sat on the couch and watched TV. • Got a cold drink from the refrigerator. Ice rules. The only thing left on my list is to get together with Sterling for the first time since June, so I'm majorly stoked. I can’t wait to see her. Not just because she’s my best friend, but because school starts in a week and we’re getting psyched for it. I love the beginning of the year. It’s all about renewal and reinventing yourself, becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be. You can go back to school as a whole new person and have a totally different time. Every year I get all excited about how everything’s going to be different, but it never really is. I'm tired of always being disappointed. This has to be our year. It feels good to knock on Sterling’s door with “Wheel” playing in my head. Like I've come full circle after a long journey, even though I’ve only been at sleep-away camp for two months. But


this is such a “Wheel” moment. That song rocks. The best part is where John Mayer says how our connections are permanent, how if you drift apart from someone there’s always a chance you can be part of their life again. How everything comes back around again. I have a theory that the answers to all of life’s major questions can be found in a John Mayer song. Sterling flings the door open. Her hair isn’t brown anymore. Now it’s blonde. “Oh my god, your hair!” I yell. Then she grabs me and we’re hugging and squealing and doing this thing where we’re hopping around. “I know!” Sterling goes. “It was supposed to come out more like yours, but the stylist said your color is complicated.” “Why didn’t you tell me you were dyeing it?” “I wanted it to be a surprise.” “Oh, I’m surprised.” “So, what do you think?” Sterling twirls around so I can inspect her hair from all angles. It’s a lighter blonde than mine, since my hair has different shades of blonde mixed in, and I’m not sure if it works with her coloring. “It’s hot,” I say. Maybe I just have to get used to it. She points to my usual stool in the kitchen. “Sit,” she says. Sterling took over the kitchen when she was twelve because her mom can’t cook. Plus, she’s never here. And Sterling got sick of eating things like hot dogs and Tater Tots and those instant pasta sides every night for dinner. So one day, Sterling announced that she was doing all of the cooking. Now she takes cooking classes and everything. Her mom was thrilled. The agreement is that Sterling puts what she needs for the week on the grocery list and her mom gets everything. There are four different pots going on the stove. Vegetables in all different colors compete for space on the counter. Two place mats are set out across from each other on the other counter where we always sit, with cloth napkins and schmancy silverware. “You didn’t have to do all this,” I go.


“Of course I did. What kind of lame welcome home dinner did you think I was making?” “Yeah, but it’s so . . . extensive.” I had to beg my parents to let me come over to Sterling’s for dinner since it’s my first day back and all, but they finally let me. And we’re going to a pier party after. “Only the best for you, friend girl.” “Wow.” Something bubbles in one of the pots. Everything smells so good. “Thanks for doing all this.” “Please. You’re the one who’s doing me a favor. No one’s tried any of this stuff yet. Well, except for me, but I’m not exactly impartial.” Sterling picks something out of a bowl and stuffs it in her mouth. “I can’t stop eating these,” she says. “Try one.” I peer into a bowl of weird-shaped cracker thingies that look like someone cut them out of cardboard. “What is it?” “Feng Shui rice crackers.” Sterling used to have this tone with me when I asked her what something was, like, How can you not know this? But now she’s used to my culinary ignorance. My family is basically the meat-and-potatoes kind. Slowly, I stretch my hand into the bowl, as if a rice cracker might bite me. They feel kind of sticky. But I don’t want to insult Sterling, so I take a small bite of my cracker. “Hmm.” “Aren’t they so good?” I guess I’m not a rice cracker person. “They’re . . . different,” I tell her. Which I know will make her happy. That’s like the highest compliment you can give Sterling about anything going on in her kitchen. She’s into the exotic. “I know.” She chomps into another cracker. “I’ve already eaten like a whole bag of these.” It’s hard not to be jealous of Sterling. She’s so tiny, but she eats constantly. If I even look at a doughnut I immediately gain five pounds. Sterling darts to the stove and multitasks between two pans and a massive pot. “What are you making?” I ask.


“Risotto. Wait, I have to concentrate on this part. It’s all about the timing.” While we’re eating, Sterling tells me about her new lifestyle plan. She got on the self-improvement train the first day of summer vacay and is riding it right into sophomore year. “Okay. So.” She puts her fork down. “Do you need more sauce?” “No, I’m good.” Everything tastes incredible. Sterling could be a professional chef right now, and people eating at her restaurant would never know she’s only fifteen. You know, if she stayed hidden in the kitchen and all. “So,” she goes. “You know how I’m kind of high-strung?” “Pretty much.” “Guess what I’m into now?” “Uh . . . competitive Ping-Pong?” “No.” “Auto repair?” “No! Guess real guesses.” “I give up.” Sterling puts her hands up, like, Wait for it. Then she announces:“Yoga!” “Yoga?” “Is that cool or what?” I’m kind of leaning toward “or what.” If it was anyone but Sterling, I’d agree that it’s cool. But she’s the most hyperactive person I know. Her attention span is nonexistent unless a recipe is involved. She can’t even sit still for more than three minutes. And now she’s doing yoga? How is that possible? Of course, I can’t say any of this. I’m her best friend. I have to be supportive. So I go, “is it fun?”


“It’s already changing my life! i can feel my concentration improving.” “That’s awesome.” “Totally. now you.” We do this every year. We get together before school starts, when all of the electric energy of possibility is zinging around, and make a pact on how we want our lives to change. “I’m tired of waiting for my real life to start,” I go. “Like, when’s all the good stuff finally going to happen?” “Now! This is our year!” “How do you know?” “I can just tell.” I really hope she’s right. There’s only so much waiting a person can endure until they start thinking that maybe nothing exciting will ever happen to them. Like, ever. “Your waiting is over,” Sterling insists. “Trust me.” The problem with the last few days of summer? is that you can’t hold on to them. They zoom by way too fast. You live through them in a dream until they’re over. And then everything slows down to a glacial pace again. Usually I’m not nervous until the day before school starts. But today I’m already nervous because we’re going to Andrea’s pier party tonight and everyone will be there. Or at least the one person I’m extra nervous about seeing will be there. When we get to Andrea’s house, we go around back and find her sitting on the sand. She waves us over. “Hey, you guys,” Andrea says. “How was your summer?” “Awesome,” we both say together. I glance around for him while trying to look like I’m not looking for anyone. And then I see him. There’s a volleyball game and Derek is serving the ball. His shirt is off and his bathing suit is sexy. It’s red and has a thin neon orange stripe along the seam. It’s so perfect that he plays volleyball because he’s


got that classic California surfer boy look. If we didn’t live in Connecticut, you’d totally think he was from San Diego or something. I watch him play. I haven’t fully absorbed how perfect his body is yet. “Hello! Earth to Marisa!” I snap out of my Derek trance. Sterling and Andrea are looking up at me. When did Sterling spread her towel out? How long was I staring at Derek? And did everyone see me staring at him like a total loser? Okay, remain calm. Remember: Control your thoughts to control your actions. I spread my towel out and try to concentrate on what they’re saying. As usual, Sterling’s drooling over some boy who’s too old for her. “Who’s that?” she asks Andrea. “Who, Dan?” Andrea goes. “He’s my brother’s friend from college.” “How old is he?” “Like, twenty-one? Twenty-two?” “Does he have a girlfriend?” Sterling wants to know. Andrea gives her a look. “What?” “Why can’t you like boys your own age?” “Ew! Maybe because they’re gross?” She has a point. But so does Andrea. Sterling always likes guys who are way out of her age range. And then she complains when all they do is flirt with her. “I’m just saying,” Andrea goes. “Yeah, well I’m just saying that Dan is seriously hot,” Sterling says. “Can you introduce me?” Andrea scrunches her face up. “What?” Sterling goes.


Andrea’s all, “Forget it.” But she obviously thinks Sterling’s a slut for going after older guys. Sterling’s never done anything with any of them, though. Sterling’s like, “Could it be any hotter?” I go, “in hell, maybe.” “The water’s great,” Andrea says. “You guys should go in.” “Sweet. Coming?” Sterling asks me. “I’m good.” “I’ll go,” Andrea says. “I’m completely crispy.” At first, I watch them in the water and talk to some girls I know from orchestra and convince myself that I shouldn’t stare at Derek anymore. But that doesn’t really work, because I keep sneaking looks at him. And then something amazing happens. Something seriously lifealtering. Derek looks over at me and smiles. He’s smiling right at me! I think I smile back, but I’m not sure if my face is working right. He does this little wave thing and goes back to the game. I wish it could stay like this forever, with the anticipation of everything. It’s always weird seeing everyone when summer’s over. There are kids who got tanner. Kids who got thinner. Kids who totally changed their hair. It’s interesting to see how people reinvent themselves over the summer. I wonder if anyone thinks I’ve changed. Walking home in the dark, I see Nash out on our dock. He’s sitting under the lamplight, probably getting a head start on whatever we have to read for English. It’s so weird that I don’t really know him anymore, because he used to be such a fixture in my life. We played together in third and fourth grades. We practically lived out on the dock all summer, swimming in the river and playing water games. But then everything changed when middle school started. I just didn’t feel like hanging out with him as much


anymore. The thing is, I can’t remember why. We’ve known each other forever. Far Hills is one of those small Connecticut towns where everyone knows everyone else. Where you go to school with the same exact kids from kindergarten until you graduate. Plus, Nash and I are neighbors. He lives three houses down, and we still use the same dock for swimming in the summer (our town is on a peninsula, sticking out into Five Mile River). We actually like using the dock all year. It’s a really good place to go when you need some space. It’s just that now we avoid using it if the other one’s already out there. Sometimes when I see Nash on it, I want to go over and say hi or something, the way we used to do all those years ago. But then it’s like he got there first so I should respect his privacy. I know what it’s like when you just need to be alone for a while and block out the world. It’s strange how you can live so close to someone and grow up with him without ever really knowing who he is. Or maybe you used to know him, but now you’re like strangers. It’s weird how time can change something you thought would always stay the same.

Can I just say that when you’re hoping things will get better but they don’t, it majorly sucks? I really, really thought that today would be different. I imagined getting to school and everyone reacting to me like I’m not such a freak anymore. But that’s not how the first day of school is going. It’s bad. Like, desperately bad. Because when everyone expects you to be a certain way, it’s really hard to escape that image. It’s like once everyone decides who you are, you’re locked into their version of you and that’s it. And everyone decided I was crazy last year. But I’m determined to break out of that. I have to believe that there might be a possible escape route for me. Sterling seems fine. But she’s always fine. She’s little and cute and people like her. We don’t have any classes together this year and I have no idea how I’ll survive lunch. I saw her in the hall when we got our locker assignments and she was talking to people and laughing like she wasn’t even nervous. I always have a knot in my stomach on the first day of school that doesn’t go away until


I get home. Plus, I can never fall asleep the night before, so I’m trying to handle the disaster of my life on two hours’ sleep. I was expecting people to realize that I’ve changed. I made an effort to smile at people and say hi in homeroom, but I was basically ignored. Why doesn’t anyone want to talk to me? I mean, other than the same people I’ve been talking to for years. I was sort of hoping to make some new friends. I only have a few friends and I find that to be lame. Lots of kids go out in these big groups. That would be so fun. Whatever. I can’t even deal with this now because we’re supposed to be doing a getting-to-know-you activity in chemistry. I hate it when teachers make you sit in a circle on the first day of school and do some activity where you have to introduce yourself. It’s like, every nerve in your body is already twanging, which is bad enough. The last thing you want to do is talk in front of people. How can teachers not know that? So I guess it isn’t too heinous that Mrs. Hunter is making us do this activity in pairs. We already got assigned seats. I sit in front of Nash. Then we got this sheet of questions and we had to pick ten that we would most want to ask a potential friend. Which isn’t a bad idea if you think about it. Being able to interview your potential friends would rock. Because then you wouldn’t get so many nasty surprises later. it’s not like you can take back a friendship. After we pick our ten questions, I turn my desk around to face Nash. Nash goes first. “if you were a shape, which shape would you be and why?” I smile at my paper. That was the weirdest question, which is why it was my favorite. “What?” Nash goes. “I picked the shape one, too.” “So what shape would you be?” “Hmm.” I have to seriously think about that. Not only am I sitting in front of this boy for the rest of the year, but we’re also lab partners.


Which means we have to do every lab report together, plus a few big projects. So if I make a sucky impression and he thinks I’m a reject, it’ll be really hard to prove him wrong after that. Okay, so it’s not the first time he’s meeting me. But this is the first time we’ve said more than three words to each other since elementary school and I want to make a good impact on everyone today. I don’t just care about how I look (shoulder-length blonde hair with natural highlights, brown eyes that have these green flecks if the light hits them the right way, not fat or skinny, white T-shirt, jeans, black Converse). It’s also important to make sure my new personality is showing. “I’d be . . . a circle,” I go. “Within a square.” “I think you’re only supposed to pick one.” “Well, I can’t be defined by just one shape.” “I see.” “I’m a very complex person,” I say, even though I'm not. But I feel daring and wild, saying it. Like I could be anybody and he wouldn’t even know the difference. “I’m getting that,” Nash goes. He has this glint in his eyes and a smile where his mouth only turns up on one side. Don’t let that fool you. He’s not potential boyfriend material. Here’s why. Nash is totally geeked out. His hair is always messy, his shirts usually look like he slept in them, and he constantly has to correct people when they’re wrong, in this annoying know-itally way. His social skills are pathetic and i want more friends, so we don’t exactly have the same priorities. Plus, I’ve seen him lick his fingers at lunch when the napkin is like right there. There’s just no way. Nash does have some good qualities, though. I like how he’s really shy and sweet. He’s not like most other boys who are always acting all doofusy and fifth-grade about everything, where it’s like, Hello, we’re in tenth grade now, grow up already. Nash seems a lot more mature. He’s the type of person Aunt Katie would say has an “old soul.” All those good things about him were enough when we were younger, catching fireflies in the summer and making snowmen


in the winter. We could be friends without things getting weird. But everything has a different meaning now that we’re older. Now there are, like, implications.

It’s so weird that school started two weeks ago. It feels more like two months ago. It’s also weird to think about how I used to be. Because I was nothing like I am now. Well. Maybe the core of me is the same. You know how there’s always a part of you that stays the same, no matter how many other things change or how drastically you try to reinvent yourself? But I’m different now in one major way. The thing about having an anxiety disorder is that you never quite fit in with everyone else. Not like that’s a bad thing. But when all you want to do is function like a normal human being, not fitting in just makes your problems a million times bigger. Last year, I was antisocial and depressed and always thinking these negative things. Life kept moving all around me, but I wasn’t really involved in any of it. I watched everyone else doing all of the things I thought I was supposed to be doing. Those things looked so easy for them, like joining clubs and doing the school play. But it always felt like such an act if I tried to fit in the way normal kids did. “How’s it going over there?” Dad says from his side of the table we’re sanding. My dad makes furniture. Everything he makes is solid wood, which is expensive but lasts a lifetime. Several lifetimes, actually. He has studio space in town, but he also works at home. That’s why there’s this whole carpenter’s setup in the garage. Sometimes I help him with things that won’t ruin whatever piece he’s working on, like sanding. “Looking good,” I report. “Like I knew it would.” I love helping Dad. Whenever we’re working on a piece of furniture, I just focus on what we’re doing and my anxious thoughts calm down. It’s part of my Cognitive Behavioral Therapy I learned from my psychologist last year. if I’m having anxious thoughts, I’m supposed to do something to redirect my energy until I relax.


We’re using very fine sandpaper, and all you can hear is this soft fffft-ffft sound as we sand the table. Dad taught me how to use a very light touch and this special circular motion so the surface won’t get sanded down unevenly. “How’s school going?” Dad asks. “Good.” Fffft-ffft. “We’re already practicing for the winter concert in orchestra.” “Of which you’ll be the star. You’re concert mistress, right?” “Dad.” “What?” “It takes years before that happens. Like maybe by the time I’m a senior I might get noticed.” “But you’re so good already.” That’s how my dad is. He’s always super supportive. No matter how badly I screw up, he’s always there to pick up the pieces of me. I think it hit him harder than my mom when they realized how messed up I was last year. I wasn’t bipolar or insane or plotting to blow up the school or anything. I was just, like, depressed. A lot of people with anxiety get that way sometimes. For me, I think my obsessive negative thinking and worrying about things like stupid stuff I did or what people think of me just naturally made me depressed, as if my mind was breaking down from the stress of it all. Mom is always more comfortable talking to me when I’m feeling normal, but Dad reaches out no matter what. Let’s just say Mom didn’t talk to me much when I was at my worst. But I’m better now. And I want everyone at school to know that I’m not a freak anymore. Except I’m finding out how hard it is to revise the previous version of myself. All of that energy Sterling and I had before school started with our improvement pact and reinventing ourselves has kind of worn off. Dad hands me a new piece of sandpaper. “Anything else going on I should know about?” “We’re setting up an aquarium in chemistry.” “How is chemistry related to fish?” “We haven’t had that yet. I think it has something to do with


pH.” “Ah. Sounds fun.” “I guess.” “You were working on your chem lab yesterday, right? Over at Nash’s house?” “Don’t remind me.” “I thought you liked going over there.” “I do, but . . .” Fffft-ffft. “It’s just, I’m totally lost in that class and Nash knows everything. His brain is like this industrial sponge that sucks everything in and keeps it trapped there forever. You can ask him anything and he’ll totally know.” “Sounds like a smart guy.” “He’s a freaking genius.” Dad smirks at me in this way where he’s thinking that I like Nash. “I know what you’re thinking,” I say, “and it’s not that.” “It’s not?” “No.” “Then what is it?” “He’s just . . . really interesting. Like . . . he collects bells? From all around the world?” “Cool.” Mom opens the garage door. Dinner smells waft in. “Hey, you two. Time to eat.” “Be right there,” Dad says. “Now,” Mom emphasizes. “Gotcha.” Mom knows how lost in his work Dad can get. One time she


told him to come in for dinner and he was still out here an hour later. He said it felt like only five minutes had passed. Mom’s job has always been being the mom, but over the summer she got a part-time job as a personal assistant. When I asked her what that was, she said some things about organizing travel itineraries and buying gifts, but I still don’t completely get what she does. All I know is she’s not around as much anymore and there are some nights when she has to work late. I’m already planning on going to Sterling’s for dinner on those nights. Dad making my sister Sandra and me frozen waffles isn’t the most appetizing. Mom goes inside and I start cleaning up. “Hey,” Dad says. “I’m really proud of you.” “For what?” “For this year. I know how hard it must have been to get better, and you did it.” “Thanks.” “You know I’m always here if you need anything, right?” My throat feels really tight, so all I can do is nod.

© 2009 Waiting for You by Susane Colasanti


My life could not possibly suck more than it does right now. I try not to cry. And to let it go. I don’t want to be this totally depressed person, with a heart so broken it hurts every time I breathe. I still love him. And here’s the worst part. I want him back. The homework pile on my desk is laughing at my pain. I’m not laughing with you, it says. I’m laughing at you. You pathetic idiot. The homework pile is right. I am pathetic. I am an idiot. I vaguely remember remnants of my normal life. They’re like a dream. These detached, blurry images that may belong to someone else. I hate being like this. And then other times I’m like, Okay, Ree. Enough already. Get over it. Because how can I let someone who doesn’t love me


anymore turn me into this person I don’t even recognize? Being awake sucks. My Persian cat Snickers, aka Snick-Snick, jumps up into bed with me and purrs. He curls up in a fluff ball, pressing against my ribs. I pet his long, soft fur. He feels sad, like me. Question: When does the pain go away? I reach over to my nightstand for the remote and my glasses. I turn on the TV. Here’s the agenda: I’ll watch a gazillion movies, read the huge stack of magazines I’ve accumulated because I never have time to read them, and snarf horrifying amounts of junk food until it’s time to get up and go to school on Monday. Getting dumped is crazy times. Like . . . what? You’re supposed to instantly turn off all your emotions just because he says it’s over? You’re supposed to go on with your life like nothing happened? Garden State is in the DVD player. I press play even though I just watched it a week ago. I wish Steve were here so bad, watching the movie with me. We had this way together. I would lie against him with my cheek on his chest, feeling his heartbeat. And he would hold my hand with my fingers folded in between his. He had this way of making me feel so good by not really doing much of anything. Just by being him. Question: Where did all that love go? Last week I went through the motions of school on automatic. I cried at the most random things. Someone would be pouring a glass of water and I’d suddenly feel tears running down my face. But the absolute worst was when people asked if I was okay. Because then I had to admit that it was real, it happened, and we weren’t together anymore. And yeah, it got better. My stomach eventually went back to normal. I didn’t cry every day. But my heart. My heart will always be broken. Just when Zach Braff is screaming into the rain, Brooke comes barging in with Cinnabon.


Brooke’s hair is wrapped in a towel because she’s in grad school and on break and it’s two in the afternoon and that’s what time she gets up. Brooke is ten years older than me (I’m seventeen), so you have to wonder what my parents (who are over fifty) were thinking. She’s in this endless PhD program for art history. Dad’s always ranting how she’ll never find a job after. But it’s just what she’s into, and she’s not changing her mind. That doesn’t stop Dad from trying to change it for her, though. He’s an international currency trader, and he’s all about the big bucks. As in he wants us to get paid the big bucks when we grow up. Which is highly unlikely, considering the types of careers we want. But Dad is really stubborn. So he got this summer internship all set up for Brooke with a broker at Citigroup, where he works, hoping that she’d see the light and become someone she’s not because that’s what responsible adults do. But she was like, I’d rather eat dirt than expose myself to the corruption of impressionable minds. So Dad was like, Okay fine, be like that, but don’t expect me to keep paying for it. Anyway, Brooke has an apartment in this sketch neighborhood uptown near Columbia, where she goes, but she always stays here for breaks since the downtown nightlife is where it’s at. She works the bar-and-club scene something fierce. Like she’s nineteen and just having fun instead of twenty-seven and interviewing potential husbands. So she’s been home for a week, but she’s going backpacking through Europe on one of those Europe-on-Thirty-Dollars-aDay plans. She’s leaving Friday. “Extra icing!” Brooke reports. She sits on the side of my bed and puts the Cinnabon box on my stomach. I haven’t moved since I woke up. Or whatever you call it. Brooke glances at the TV. “Oh! I love this movie! I sniff at the box. She goes, “But how can you watch it again?” “It’s the best.” “But you already know what happens.” “So?”


“So then how . . . ? Whatever.” Brooke looks me over. “And FYI? This is the last day we’re letting you sulk. No boy is worth wasting a gorgeous weekend over. It’s really nice out, by the way.” “How would you know?” “I’ve been out, hello.” I pop open the box. This intense cinnamon smell wafts out. “So?” “So you have to get up and get on with your life.” Brooke rubs her hair with the towel. “He is so not worth it.” “It’s only been a week.” “Yeah! Exactly!” Brooke rubs furiously. “Which is more than enough time to recuperate. News flash! You live in the best city in the world! There are endless possibilities out there!” I peel open the container of extra icing. “And plenty of guys who will treat you better than Steve ever did.” “He treated me great.” “Please. The boy couldn’t get a clue if they were giving them away on the street.” It’s not like I’m agreeing with her or anything. But if your boyfriend, out of nowhere and with no advance warning whatsoever, dumps you for no apparent reason, is it really about you? Or is it all him? When the phone rings, I have no idea how long I’ve been in bed. All I know is I’m on my third movie, I’ve read two People magazines and one Teen Vogue, and I’m most of the way through a box of Vienna Cremes. The Cinnabon is long gone. “Hello?” my voice cracks into the phone. “Hey,” James says. “Hey.”


“What’s wrong?” That’s the thing about James. He knows when something’s wrong, before you even say anything. He’s so not a typical straight boy. It’s impossible to describe my agony. And I’m sure my friends are sick of hearing about it. So I just go, “I’m still . . .” “Still?” “Yeah.” “Drag.” Everyone says that it gets better with time and that time heals all wounds and blah-di-blah-blah. Question: What if they’re wrong? “Tell me about it,” I mumble. “Sounds like you could use a change of scenery.” I wait for him to try. It’s not going to work. He goes, “Nice how Keith’s party is tonight.” “I already told you. I’m not going.” “Um-hm, yeah. So when am I picking you up?” “No way.” “Come on.” “Not going.” “You have to go.” “I’m not leaving this bed.” “Distraction is your friend.” “Not leaving.” I so don’t want to deal with people right now. Plus, there’s a chance Steve will be there. But still. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a voice is screaming at me to get up,


brush myself off, and go. So it’s complicated. “Steve is such a dumbass,” James informs me. “I knew it!” I always knew James had a problem with Steve, even though he never said anything. James has been my best friend since seventh grade, when I lost my notebook on the first day of school and he helped me find it. It’s awesome that we ended up going to the same high school, too. “But why?” “You deserve someone better.” “Better like how?” “Better like not a dumbass.” “Yeah. He was overrated.” Not like I believe what I’m saying. I’m just trying to convince myself that out of me and Steve, I wasn’t the one who did anything wrong. “Exactly,” James says. “So what time should I pick you up?” Top five Things I Miss About Steve 5. Cracking up together over old SNL reruns of Mr. Bill. 4. When we’d double with Nicole and Danny to see bands at The Elbow Room. 3. The way he’d surprise me by finding out where movies were being filmed around our neighborhood in Greenwich Village. And then we’d go watch. 2. He always remembered that I like extra sprinkles when we went out for ice cream. 1. How it felt to be loved. “Hey!” James yells at Keith, who almost dumped his beer all over my shirt. “Watch it!” “Sorry, man,” Keith grumbles, not looking sorry about any thing. James turns back to me and goes, “Freak.” Which is what I usually think every time I see Keith. So I’m trying to pretend that even though we’re at Keith’s house, I won’t have to see him again. Because he’s totally obnoxious. But he lives in this huge loft in SoHo, which is, like, this ultra-ritzy


neighborhood one over from the Village, and he throws these incredible parties. So of course everyone goes. And if you just avoid him while you’re there, it’s a total blast. We drool over the enormous living room, the balcony, the high ceilings. My house is nothing compared to this. This is ridiculous. “Did you see the flat-screen TV?” James pants. “It’s gotta be a fifty-inch. I’d never leave the house.” “Sign me up.” The music is so loud my bones are shaking with the beat. “So,” James says. “So,” I say. “Are you okay?” “No.” “Maybe after, we’ll do Magnolia?” The Magnolia Bakery is this place in our neighborhood that has the most amazing cupcakes ever. The thing about these cupcakes is they have icing in all these sweet pastel colors and old-school sprinkles. My favorite combination is pink icing with blue flower sprinkles. Serendipity determines if you’ll get the icing-sprinkle combo you want. “I think this party is enough excitement for one night,” I tell him. Another thing about Magnolia is that it’s open really late on weekends. The line at midnight is outrageous. “How about tomorrow?” “You’re on.” “You guys having a good time?” Keith butts in. He holds out a beer for me. As if I’m interested in drinking something that tastes like Drano. “I don’t drink.” “Oh.” Keith nods, acting all serious. “And doesn’t that make you thirsty?” Then he laughs like that was the funniest thing anyone’s ever said in the entire history of the world.


“I mean I don’t ingest toxic substances.” “Well, then I guess I didn’t have to hide the rat poison after all.” Keith laughs hysterically again. “Yo!” he gasps. “I crack myself up!” We stare at him. “Anyway,” Keith continues smoothly, as if we all have a sense of humor in common. “That sucks about you and Steve, but . . . if you ever feel like hanging out . . .” “Um.” I can’t believe he’s actually asking me out like this. I glance at James. “Oh,” Keith goes. “Are you two . . . ?” “No!” I say. “We’re just friends.” “That’s what I thought.” Keith inspects me. He actually does that sleazy guy thing where they slowly rake their eyes up and down your body. Gross. Then Keith’s like, “Well . . . you know where to find me.” And he slithers away like the snake that he is. James mumbles something. “What?” “Nothing.” He looks bothered. “I’m getting a Coke.” Standing there with the party swirling all around me, I get this really intense alone feeling. Even with James here and Nicole coming later, being at a party with friends instead of a boyfriend is always sort of sad. Especially when you thought you’d have a boyfriend to do couple things with for the rest of junior year. And maybe even longer if Steve came back from college to take me to the prom and stuff. Before The Incident, this year felt like it was going by really fast. Now it’s taking forever, even though we only have four more weeks left. I’m itching to check my voice mail, but James made me leave my cell at home. He knew that if I brought it with me, I’d be checking to see if Steve called like every three seconds.


“Hey, Ree,” Nicole says, suddenly here. She hugs me. I hug her back, clinging to her like Velcro. Nicole is the type of person that’s great in a crisis. She can figure out your problem before you’re even done explaining it. And she always knows exactly what to say to make you feel better. “Are you okay?” Nicole is worried about me. She knows it’s too soon to be over it. She knows I think about him all the time. “Yeah,” I say. “I mean . . . no. You know.” She knows. She’s been here. Nicole bites her lip. “If it makes you feel better, we can go over it again.” That’s another thing about Nicole. She comes off all wild like with how she dresses, but she’s not really like that. She’s actually super sensitive and sweet. But still. It must take an enormous amount of strength for her to say that. We’ve analyzed the whole thing to the point of exhaustion, until there’s nothing left to say. But why he dumped me is the most annoying unsolved mystery ever. So of course I want to go over everything he said for the millionth time. I’m like, “Only if it’s truly okay with you and you’re not just saying that because you feel sorry for me because—” “It’s okay.” “So . . . well, at first he seemed the same as always . . .” The whole thing was so strange. The entire four months we were going out, I thought we had this amazing connection, right from the start. No, I knew we did. But then. “I, um . . . I don’t think we should go out anymore.” “What?” He couldn’t be serious. There was no way. “What are you talking about?” “I just don’t feel it anymore,” Steve said. All casual. As if he


was saying, “I don’t feel like going to the park.” “Why not?” “I don’t know.” “How can you not know?” I kept expecting the joke to be over. Steve just shook his head, looking at the floor. “What happened?” I said. My eyes filled with tears. “Nothing. I just . . . I’m leaving for college anyway, so—” “But that’s not until August!” “Yeah, but . . .” “So that’s why?” I wiped my cheek. “I thought you said you wanted to try a long-distance relationship.” “Look. I know this is hard to hear, but . . . I just don’t think it’s a good idea.” I watched Steve. He didn’t even look sad. How was that possible? This is a boy who said he loved me. Who stayed in my room all day when I was sick, playing cards and making me smoothies in the blender, even though he didn’t know how and the blender got jammed. The same boy who put his hands all over my body, kissed me for hours . . . And then suddenly it was over. It was the worst feeling I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I cried harder. Steve got up. “Where are you going?” You could hear how scared I was. I was like, This is it. He’s leaving already. He can’t even stand to be in the same room with me. I’m that repulsive. Steve sat back down on the couch with the tissue box. He held one out. “Here,” he said.


I wiped my nose. “Do you still love me?” “Yeah, but—” “Then why are you doing this?” “It’s not you. It’s me. I’m . . .” “You’re what?” “I just have to do this, is all.” “But I still love you.” Steve cracked his knuckles. I always hated when he did that, but now I would give anything to be back together with him. If he would just take it all back, he could crack his knuckles all he wanted and I wouldn’t care. I sniffed. “I was wondering,” he said, “if . . . we could maybe . . . like, be friends?” Was he serious? In what twisted universe would a girl who’s just been dumped still want to be friends with the boy who dumped her? “I don’t get this,” I said. “I thought you were happy with me.” “I was.” “So why are you doing this?” Steve got up. “Don’t go!” I yelled. I was crying so hard. “I’m sorry. . . .” “Please don’t go!” I wanted him to sit next to me and hug me and say that he was still mine. That I’m the only girl in the world who could make him happy. That we belong together. But Steve just walked away. He walked right out of my house. And then I was completely alone.


“I want him back,” I reveal to Nicole. “Huh?” “I’m getting him back.” “How?” “I was hoping you’d know.” Nicole stares. “I can’t do this,” I say. “I’m not this strong. I still think about him all the time. It’s driving me insane.” “You’ll get through this. And I know it’s impossible to believe right now, but it gets better. Trust me.” It’s so weird how Nicole and I always go through the same things at the same time. So of course both of our relationships just ended. Nicole and Danny broke up three weeks ago. And Steve dumped me last week. Or seven days, nine hours, and twenty-three minutes ago. Not that I’m counting. Before Danny, she was seeing this guy Jared. And Jared dumped her so hard she wouldn’t get out of bed. So I would go over to her place after school with all her favorite snacks. Butterscotch Krimpets (which you can only get at this one deli nowhere near either of our neighborhoods). Lemonheads (candy section, middle shelf, Rite Aid). Entenmann’s Ultimate Crumb Cake (available everywhere). Chocolate-covered cherries (strictly Godiva, no discount type allowed). Nicole was totally destroyed. And then one day she decided that she was completely over Jared. And she started dating Danny the next day. Nicole thinks the same thing will happen to me. That once I start liking someone else, this will all go away. But I’m still in love with Steve. And I’ll never feel this way about anyone else. He just needs me to remind him of what he had. Has. “Don’t you think I can get him back?” I panic. “No, it’s just . . . why would you want to after what he did?”


“Because I still love him. You can’t just turn love off. You still feel it.” “But that’ll go away and—” “But I don’t want it to go away,” I interrupt. “I want to be with him.” “Hello, sexy ladies,” Sheila says. “Hey,” I go. Nicole’s like, “Where’s Brad?” “He’s coming later. I’m going up to see the pool. Want to come with?” “Sure,” I tell her. I assume Nicole will also come, but then I notice her watching Danny. Who’s walking over here. “Let’s go.” Sheila’s talking about Brad and this problem they’re having, but I’m not being a good friend. I manage to steer the conversation back to me and Steve by doing one of those sorry-ass moves where you take something the other person just said and go, “Oh, yeah! That’s just like what happened with me when . . .” When, really, the two things aren’t even related. You’re just using it as an excuse to talk about yourself more. I want to get Sheila’s advice. So I’m about to tell her about the whole Steve dilemma when I notice Joni. She’s standing really close to our lounge chairs. Too close. All pretending not to listen. When it’s totally obvious that she’s majorly listening. The conversation shifts back to Sheila’s stuff. I don’t say anything else about Steve. I don’t really need the whole school knowing my business. The first thing I do when I get home is zoom to my room to check my messages and e-mail. Snick-Snick follows me in. I close my door and peek at the answering machine. The red light stares back at me defiantly. Not blinking. There’s nothing on my cell, either. I press the start button on my iBook and go to the closet. I take out a soft white tank top and pink pajama bottoms from my dresser. I watch my screen saver of Topher Grace come on while I change. James always teases me about it whenever he


comes over. He’s all like, “Where’s the screen saver of me?” I click my Gmail widget and see that I have five new messages. I get this adrenaline rush of anticipation. But none of them are from Steve. I can’t wait anymore. If I wait around for him to realize how lame he’s being, I’ll probably be waiting forever. I click on “Compose Mail.” Here’s what I write: To: steve <richthecopyguy> Subject: us Steve, I just have to tell you that I don’t know how to do this. I still have feelings for you and I think I click the discard button. I start again. Steve, I’ve written this e-mail a thousand times in my head, all different versions, trying to think of the right words that will make you come back to me. I never stopped loving you I click discard. I start again. Steve, How’s it going? I thought I would see you at Keith’s party tonight, but no. Were you there? It was fun times, as usual. So, I was wondering if discard. Again. Steve, Can you just tell me why you did this? I don’t send that one, either.


So here’s what happened. Danny was my boyfriend. He was sweet and funny and cute and he totally adored me. And that’s why I had to break up with him. I’m the kind of girl who gets noticed all the time. Which you’d realize is so ironic if you knew me, because I’d rather be the one watching than the one being watched. But the reason I get noticed is because supposedly I have this in-your-face wild-style thing going on, even though I don’t think there’s anything wild about it. Just your average graphic tanks and spiked belts and cropped vintage tees and funky jewelry and fishnets with combat boots, that sort of thing. Oh, and I have a nose ring, but technically it’s just this small diamond stud that you can hardly see unless you get really close to me. Which I don’t exactly invite a lot of people to do. So most people assume I’m wild like my style, which isn’t even that wild in the first place (like, hello, it’s called the East Village, you might want to check it out sometime), but I’m really not. Just because a person chooses to express themselves in an extreme way doesn’t mean they have an extreme personality. I’m just making a statement. It’s not some rage against the machine, down with the man type deal. Plus, it’s this whole new thing with me. I just put my wardrobe together last September and came back to school all different. I guess you could say I needed a change.


Anyway. Danny was my first real boyfriend. The thing with Jared doesn’t count because he was only trying to score. So when Danny not only noticed me but also asked me out, I was like, “What’s wrong with you?” Because normally people look at me but they don’t exactly talk to me. They just kind of sneak looks like I can’t tell they’re gawking, or they get shocked into silence, depending on the person. But Danny was like, “Nothing.” And I believed him because he was Danny. He just came right up to me with his cute smile and customized Vans, which is the ultimate skater-boy sneaker that gets me every time, and his yellow rubber bracelet that says moment of zen and his radical attitude and picked me to be with out of everyone else. Maybe he thought my clothes matched his political fanaticism. And it was great at first. But then there was that night. So I had to break up with him. I couldn’t deal with it then and I still can’t deal with it now and that’s just the way it is. Yeah. You know what? The whole thing is way too complicated to even get into here. So I’m in my room listening to X & Y and ignoring Mom yelling how if I don’t clean my closet I can’t go out tonight and consulting the latest entries in my spy notebook. I’ve had one of these since fourth grade when I fell in love with Harriet the Spy and wanted to be her more than anyone else in the whole entire world. And I still have spy notebooks, because it’s this thing I do to get plot ideas for the screenplay I’m writing. I spy on random strangers and kids at school all the time for ideas, and they don’t even know it. No one knows about my notebook except for Rhiannon. Well yeah okay and I told Danny, but I’m sure he probably forgot by now. Who remembers everything about somebody? My ultimate goal is to be a film director, but writing screenplays is an excellent way to get noticed in the indie world. I love being in control of everything that happens, like being the one to decide who gets a happy ending. It would be so kickass if I turned out to be like Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) or Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Election), who are, like, the ultimate mega gurus of film. And not to toot my own horn, but I have an amazing eye for detail, which is critical in this business. Like with Mike White? I totally noticed that he wrote The Good Girl (which is one of my all-time faves and if you haven’t seen it, there is just no excuse for that kind of behavior) and that he was also a writer for season one of Dawson’s Creek. But that’s not the detail. The detail is that he had this almost identical line in both of them.


Something about “going to the grave with unlived lives in your veins.” I’m sure there was me and like two other people in the world who noticed that. So I’m consulting my spy notebook and now Mom is yelling that dinner’s ready and I so don’t want to go down there I can’t even. But like I have a choice. So I slog down to the dining room. Or the part of the living room we call the dining room because we put a dining-room table there. It’s from our old house and it doesn’t even fit into this pocket-sized apartment, but somehow Mom crammed it in anyway. When we lived upstate in Water Mill, there was room for everything. Out in the country with a whole backyard and a stream. You could fit like ten of our apartments in that house, which was my grandparents’ and where my mom grew up. Here it’s a mega challenge to just get room to breathe. It’s been three weeks. Let’s just say Danny’s still not over me. But I like him and I want to be friends with him and he said that’s cool, but you can tell it’s not. Because how can you be just friends with someone when what you really want is so much more? But he said he’d rather be friends with me than not know me at all. So now we’re both at this party at Keith’s place, and I heard that Danny might ask me to the Last Blast dance next Friday and I don’t know what to say if he does. I drink my 7-Up and watch Heather fake-sip her beer. I totally get that she’s fake-sipping it because she knows Carl is watching and she has a major crush on him, but still. That’s no excuse to act like someone you’re not. It’s like, if you don’t want to drink then don’t drink. It’s so tragic. That’s one thing I love about Rhiannon. She’s straight-edge and doesn’t care who knows, because she’s proud of it. Scanning the crowd for Rhiannon, I find her standing near the wall looking sad. I try to remember the last time she didn’t look sad and I can’t. And I can’t believe Steve dumped her like that and didn’t even tell her why. Who does that? But unfortunately for Ree, you can’t argue your way into someone liking you again when they just announced that they don’t anymore. It’s over for them, so it has to be over for you, even though it’s so not. I never used to get this, but after I broke up with Danny, everything was crystal. I walk over to Ree and think about what I can say to make her feel better. Not to be shallow at a time like this, but her outfit rocks. She has the coolest sense of style anywhere. It’s like she doesn’t have “good clothes” and “bad clothes” categories, because all


her clothes are hot. She has these retro orange-and-brown-striped pants and about three hundred jelly bracelets and an orange shirt that says California Dreamin’. Her bag has three pins—the fox from The Little Prince, John Lennon in his New York City tee, and one that says Look Closer. It’s a whole different look from the party outfit I am currently working, which is my black knee-high biker boots (the ones with all the buckles and three-inch heels), shiny red vinyl micro-mini, and Hello Kitty tee. But you know. They both work for different reasons. So I ask Ree where James is and he’s getting a drink. And she looks so sad and lonely, and I hug her. And then she asks me if her eyes look red, and they’re totally bloodshot but I tell her they’re fine and that she looks gorgeous as always. Which is true. She’s like, “Can you believe this place? What do Keith’s parents do again?” And I’m like, “I think his dad works with Donald Trump.” Ree says how that’s so typical. And then I’m preparing for another rant about Steve and how lacking he is, but Ree’s not like that. Ree’s like how she wants to get Steve back. Danny passes by but doesn’t come over, and I can feel him watching me from all the way over there. Ree notices and goes, “How’s the let’s-just-be-friends thing going?” I go, “Nowhere. It’s impossible for a boy and a girl to just be friends.” Ree smirks so I add, “Okay, except for you and James.” And she’s all, “So it is possible.” But I’ve never believed that Rhiannon and James are just friends. They have to like each other more than that. Even if they don’t want to admit it. So I say, “Are you seriously telling me that you’ve never . . .” “What?” “Didn’t you ever want to get with him?” And she’s like, “James? No way! He’s like my brother or something.” And then she does this shudder thing, but I’m not entirely convinced. Plus James is her type—she goes for the smart boys with glasses. So I go, “But he’s mad cute.” And she’s like, “Yeah, but . . . no. See? You can be friends with a boy as long as you’re not attracted to him.”


“But you just said he’s cute.” “No, you said he’s cute.” “But you agreed.” Rhiannon just stands there scratching her arm. Then she says how Keith just asked her out and I’m like, “You waited this whole time to tell me?” And she’s all, “Yeah because it’s not like I’m ever going out with him.” And I’m like, “Are you crazy?” Because just look at this place. I have two words for you: rooftop pool. In downtown Manhattan. Some seriously sick stuff. Not that stuff is what’s important in life. But I definitely wouldn’t mind kickin’ it with this caliber of stuff for a while, if you know what I mean. Sheila comes over and goes, “I’m going up to see the pool. Want to come with?” And I’m about to say let’s go but then I see Danny coming over. It would be mega rude to walk away when he’s obviously coming over to talk to me and I’ve already seen him. So Ree leaves with Sheila, and Danny comes over and he’s trying to play the part of See Look How Fabulously We Can Just Be Friends, but it comes off more like I Really Really Miss You. And I’m trying to make him feel better by asking him how things are going and about the election and he’s trying to act all casual and relaxed, but it’s just not working and I should have gone up to the roof. So I say I’m going up and does he want to come? But he doesn’t, so I go up alone. The roof is amazing. You can see for miles up here, all the way to the end of Manhattan and across the water, and uptown to the Empire State Building, and it’s beyond overwhelming. I go over to where Ree and Sheila are sitting on lounge chairs at the other side of the pool. And Sheila’s like, “Did you guys hear about Eliezer?” We didn’t. So she fills us in on the latest gossip, which is that Eliezer blew up a condom and put it under Jackson’s chair in Web Design. Eliezer does things like this because he thinks they’re hilarious. When in fact it’s so sixth grade I can’t even. So then Ms. Zigman pitched a fit and totally called Eliezer out on how when he took a practice SAT he thought chicken coop was some type of co-op housing deal for upscale chickens. Which is a really sad commentary on how the SAT is totally unfair and favors suburban kids, but whatever. Ms. Zigman will do something extreme like that if you act like a child in her class, especially if you try to embarrass someone else.


So after a while Ree decides she’s leaving, which is totally disappointing but at least we got her out of the house for one night. So I hug her good-bye and tell her to call me if she needs anything. It’s just so nice, sitting up here on the roof all peaceful. But then Brad shows up and Sheila leaves with him and I notice that he’s kind of demanding about it. But of course I don’t say anything because it’s none of my business. So I go back downstairs and notice Danny talking to James and Carl and Evan. There’s something about the way they’re talking, all conspiratorially and laughing. I don’t even know why or what it is about the way Danny’s talking and laughing with them, but it’s kind of obvious they’re all discussing some girl, and I want to know who she is and what he’s saying. I kind of sneak up behind Danny so he doesn’t even know I’m there, and I position myself so it’s like I’m standing there listening to this other group instead of totally spying on Danny. If I could get away with recording the deets in my spy notebook, I definitely would. But when I hear her name, I wish I had never come over. They’re not just talking about a girl. They’re talking about the girl. Marion Cross. The school überbabe. I’ll bet there’s not one boy in our school who doesn’t use her for nightly masturbation material. Naturally, she only dates college guys. Anyway, I’m expecting to hear Danny laughing along with the others, like maybe one of them tried to ask Marion out or something equally ridiculous. But that’s not what’s going on. It sounds like they’re encouraging Danny to ask her out. But it’s hard to hear exactly. Evan goes, “A score for you would be a score for the entire junior class.” And Carl’s like, “Hell yeah!” Danny’s all, “Never say never, that’s my motto.” It’s like I can believe it but I can’t believe it. Why is he even interested in her? I mean, okay, duh, I get it, but already? It’s like he couldn’t wait to get away from me so he could hit on her. And Ree keeps insisting how it’s so obvious that he still wants to be with me, but I guess it’s not so obvious after all. I’m insanely jealous. Which is completely absurd since I’m the one who broke up with him. So I don’t exactly have a right to feel this way. But that’s the thing about feelings. They’re totally illogical, especially when it’s not fun for them to be.


So it’s totally illogical that I do this next thing, which is walk right into Danny’s group. He looks completely guilty, like I just caught him talking about something he didn’t want me to hear. He’s all like, “Hey, Nicole! I didn’t see you.” So I’m like, “What’s up?” And Carl’s like, “Nothing yet.” Then he nudges Evan and they do that snorting/laughing thing you do when there’s an inside joke. Evan goes, “Yeah. I’m not as lucky as some people,” and he looks right at Danny when he says this. Danny laughs uncomfortably, and it’s so obvious he’s dying right now because he’s afraid they’re going to say something about Marion in front of me and blow up his spot, and I hate the way this is making me feel. I don’t want to know but at the same time I want to know everything. But then Danny says later to the guys and asks if the roof is cool and I say it is, and he asks if I want to check it out again. I just stare at the window wall. And he’s like, “What’s wrong?” So of course I say, “Nothing.” When really it’s everything. He goes, “Sure you don’t want to go up?” I say I’m sure. So he leaves and I immediately start having those thoughts. They’re the same thoughts I’ve been having for months anytime I’m alone and unoccupied. Or even when I’m occupied, like with doing homework or shaving my legs or trying to decide if I want cereal or waffles for breakfast. But the thoughts are interrupted by Joni barging over and going, “It’s so terrible about Rhiannon and Steve. I heard her talking about it with Sheila before? Yeah. I thought they were a serious item, but I guess I was wrong. Is she still devastated?” She can’t seriously be asking this question. Is she really that dense? But apparently she is, because she’s still waiting for a response. So I say, “Yeah, she’s still . . . devastated.”


And then she starts in on this whole thing about how there’s this trend at our school of boys dumping their girlfriends out of nowhere and getting away with it like it’s not even wrong and did I hear about Brad and Sheila? I didn’t. So then I have to stand there for like twenty minutes while Joni tells me every last detail of Brad and Sheila’s lives and how tragic it was that he threatened to break up just because she had to take care of her little brother after school and didn’t have time to see him as much. And how it traumatized her so bad that she failed a French test and it wasn’t even that hard. But they ended up staying together because Sheila told her mother that she can’t babysit every day because it was affecting her grades. And how can any remotely involved parent argue when you play the grade card? And then Joni goes, “I just can’t get over it about Steve, though. And to go out with Gloria? I really thought he was above all that.” I’m like, “What?” So Joni explains how Gloria’s been after Steve since he was still with Rhiannon. Ever since Joni’s party where she totally watched Steve string Gloria along like he might actually break up with Rhiannon (not that Joni could believe it, but she does have eyes and they don’t lie). And how Steve is out with Gloria right now, which is why they didn’t come to the party because Steve didn’t want to cause a scene because he knew Rhiannon was going to be here and he’s trying to keep it on the DL. Of course Gloria wanted to come and rub it in Rhiannon’s face, but Steve said no. I’m like, “How do you know all this?” So Joni gives me this complicated story about someone who heard from someone who heard from someone else, and it all sounds like a big fat rumor, obviously, but I just tell her that I have to go. Because there’s no way that load of bull is even remotely true. Which is why I’m not even going to dignify this freak show of a rumor by bothering Ree with it. She’s depressed enough already. All I want to do is be in my room listening to music and clearing everything out of my head until it’s all about him. He’s the only thing I want to think about. And he doesn’t even know it. But it’s hopeless, because Mom is in one of her chatty moods and I can’t get rid of her. When she gets all let’s sit around and share about our lives


because we have such a good relationship about it, the whole thing comes off as kind of desperate. We’re supposed to talk for fifteen minutes every day as part of our family-therapy homework, and if we don’t our shrink can totally tell. There’s no way to avoid it. I guess it’s good for when I’m actually in the mood to talk about my problems, but that’s hardly ever. Especially now. So it’s partly what we have to do for therapy. But it’s also partly Mom being suspicious about where I just was and who was there and what I did. Not that she would actually come out and ask all this. She’s just checking in her own sneaky way that I’m not drunk or doing drugs or pregnant and it’s totally annoying that she doesn’t trust me, and I don’t want her in my room. I’ve told her a thousand times that I’m not going to mess up my life, but she doesn’t believe me. So every time I come home from a party, she attacks me to make sure I haven’t suddenly decided to throw my life away. It’s infuriating. She’s like, “How was the party?” And I’m all, “Fine.” And she goes, “Who was there?” So annoying. I’m like, “Mom. You know who was there. I told you who was going before I left.” Then she just stands in my doorway leaning against the wall while I try to find my iPod. This could take a while. It’s not that I’m morally opposed to cleaning my room or anything. I just don’t see the point. Like, you clean it but then it gets messed up again, so why bother with something that’s just going to disintegrate anyway? Mom offers up the brilliant idea to check the closet. So then I have to explain to her that my iPod wouldn’t be in the closet because I would never put it there. And she’s like, “How do you know?” Here’s the thing. Questions like that? Irritate me. Because she’s basically saying that I have no clue about where I put things. So I ignore her and keep searching around, and why does she have to keep standing there if she’s not even talking? According to my shrink, my need for lots of alone time has to do with being an only child. It’s supposed to be normal, but sometimes


I feel like a freak when I’d rather be alone than hang out with my friends. I don’t know how people deal with brothers and sisters. It must be so weird to live with another person your age like that, someone sharing the bathroom and listening to their music all loud so you can’t hear yours and all of the drama that comes with having another kid in the house. I just can’t imagine having someone in your face all the time like that. I can never relax completely when I’m with someone else, even if it’s just one person hanging out in the same room. It’s like I can’t be myself unless I’m by myself. I know. I have issues.

It’s absurd to walk by a thirteen-million-dollar brownstone with some homeless guy sleeping on the sidewalk right outside. Something like that really makes you think about how the world works. I live in this really upscale neighborhood. Which is a joke, because if you saw my crappy rent-stabilized apartment, you would never assume this. Especially with the roaches in the kitchen we can never seem to get rid of and the noise that never ends. Incessant noise. Like right now. I’m trying to get this Industrial Design report done,


but the beeping is driving me crazy. And it’s not going to stop until I make it stop. Our insane neighbor who blasts the TV at three in the morning doesn’t help things, either. It’s not like our apartment has other features to make up for the constant noise. Highlights of our “living room,” which is technically a converted space where Ma strategically placed screens


JAMES 117 to create a separate living room and dining room, include a pool of candle wax on the ancient radiator, a lamp from 1964 with a broken shade, and a dusty philodendron hanging in the window. The window, of course, overlooks an alley, in which the classier guys pee when they get too drunk at the bar next door. And that would be why we keep the window closed. Whenever the smoke detector goes off like this, it’s the same story. Ma wildly smacks at it and swings a towel around in a frenzied fit, knowing the whole time that both methods are entirely ineffective. The smoke detector goes off when it’s having a bad day and/or the oven’s been on for at least twenty minutes. And since Ma is currently baking bread, the alarm naturally decides to go off. I pull on some jeans and yank a T-shirt over my head, pulling it down as I walk to the kitchen. The alarm sounds like an air-raid alert. “Sheesh!” Ma’s towel frantically jabs at the air. “James! Can you—?” “I’m on it.” I drag a chair across the floor so it’s under the smoke detector. Then I stand on it and snag the detector’s cover so hard I crack the plastic. I guess you could say I have some repressed anger. Or maybe not so repressed. I grab the batteries and throw them on the floor. Silence. Finally. “Thanks, hon,” Ma says. “Anytime.” Except, really, it’s more like all the time. I don’t know how much longer I can take it. Sharing a room with my little brother. Never more than three consecutive seconds of quiet. The neighbors with the music playing all night. The other neighbors with the loud sex. In fact, the only redeeming neighbor around here is Mrs. Schaffer. My parents mean well. Ma nags because she cares about me. I get it. But that doesn’t make it any easier to live here. It’s just too suffocating when all I want is some time to myself, to do what I want without everyone on top of me all the time.


I’m sick of never being able to do homework without being interrupted. Or work on my computer projects. Or even think clearly. This is why I’m going to be a software designer. So I can do something I love, and make tons of money at the same time. So I can get the fuck out of here. Buy a huge house with so much space I can’t even use it all. And then I can send money home. My parents have had a hard life. It’s not easy when you do what you love but it doesn’t pay. And you have four kids. My two older sisters moved out, but it’s not like my parents can afford to help them much with college. So I’ll send my parents money, and maybe they can get a bigger place, too. They can relax when they’re older, the way they deserve to. Without having to worry about how they’re going to survive. But for now, I’m the one who has to survive. Which sounds a lot easier than it actually is. I have to walk way over to the East Side to get the 6 train. And then I have to go uptown to the Citicorp Building. It’s my favorite skyscraper, with that cool slanted top. It’s Rhiannon’s favorite, too, but we like it for different reasons. She just has a thing for buildings with slanted tops. I like what it symbolizes. You can smell the money all the way down the street. And I know how obnoxious that sounds, but to me it means freedom. When I was thirteen, I wanted to be a finance guy like Rhiannon’s dad. I used to ask him tons of questions about his job. And I found out that going into finance is a guaranteed way to get rich. The only problem is that I’m not a shark. You have to be ruthless to be an extremely successful stockbroker. I’m too much of a nice guy to make that possible. I also got the impression that having a lot of money can turn a decent person into an asshole. So when I’m successful, I’ll have to make sure that doesn’t happen to me. Schlepping it to the East Side isn’t exactly my idea of fun times. But I have to do it. Rhiannon is bumming hard-core. We have this thing where we help each other out. I already have a girlfriend— it’s not like that, we just go way back is all. We’re solid. When I get to her place, Brooke answers the door. “Hey!” She immediately zeroes in on the Cinnabon box. “Aww! For me? You shouldn’t have.”


“Yeah, I guess that’s why I didn’t.” The biting sarcasm is our thing. It’s this game we play where we pretend to hate each other. It never gets old. “Oh, well. There are worse things.” “Speaking of . . .” “She’s not up yet. I’m afraid she’s never getting out of bed again. But!” Brooke snatches the box from me. “This will most definitely help.” “So . . . can you just . . . ?” “No prob. Isn’t there that party tonight?” “Yeah.” “Because I don’t think she’s going.” “Don’t worry,” I say. “She’s going.” Although the prospect of returning to my decrepit apartment is highly appealing, I decide to go over to Thompson Street for a game of chess with the NYU geeks. I’m not doing Mrs. Schaffer’s thing until four, anyway. Max is already sitting in the window seat. He’s working out strategies. He’s waiting for a decent opponent. And then I walk in. He’s like, “Dude. You’re late.” “Sorry,” I go. “Emergency intervention.” “Shit happens.” “Big-time.” Max and I have been playing chess all year. He was asking about his brother Brad last week. Which was weird because we don’t hang out or anything, we just go to school together. So there wasn’t much to tell. Twenty minutes later, he’s got me. “Checkmate.” “Fuck.” I study the board. I go over my last five moves. “How did


that happen?” “Um . . . maybe because I’m a genius and you suck?” “Maybe not.” I’m off my game. All unfocused. Story of my life. I’m too stressed all the time. Not sleeping enough. There’s always too much work that never seems to get done. And when it does, there’s tons more. I’m pressurized, ready to explode any second. Something has to change. I don’t know what. But something. It’s righteous that I convinced Rhiannon to go to the party. But now I have to call the one person I’m dreading the most. Because I already know how she’s going to react. “Hello?” “Hey. It’s—” “Hi, James! I know your voice by now.” “Oh. Well . . . how’s it going?” “Great! What about you?” “Great. Except . . . there’s something I have to ask you.” Nothing from Jessica’s end. “You still there?” I say. “Yeah. But I’m not sure I want to hear this.” “I know we’re supposed to go to the party as a date, but—” “What are you telling me?” She does this every time. I don’t get why she goes ballistic if I even mention Rhiannon’s name. It’s like I’m not allowed to have friends who are girls or something. Which is absurd, considering all the straight guy friends Jessica has. “Just that . . . would you mind if Rhiannon came with us?” “Would I mind?” “Yeah.” “What do you think?”


“That you might.” “Ya think?” See? I knew this would happen. This is exactly what I wanted to avoid. Why can’t there be an easy way to do this? It’s not like I’m saying I don’t want to go with her at all. “You know what I think?” Jessica has this bitchy, sarcastic tone. Which I’ve never heard from her before. “Um . . . not really.” “I think you’d rather be with her.” “With who? Rhiannon?” “Duh.” “Come on, Jess, that’s crazy.” “Oh, really?” “You know it is.” “No, what I know is how it makes me feel when you never talk to me about your problems but you always talk to her!” “When did I do that?” “Oh my god! Like, I don’t know, all the time?” “I talk to you.” “Not like you talk to her.” “How would you know?” “Let’s just say I’ve overheard some of your conversations.” “Like what?” “Please. The point. Is that I always ask you what’s wrong and if everything’s okay, and you never tell me anything. And I want you to come to me, but no. You always have to go running to her.”


“I don’t—” “And those walks you guys take? What’s that about?” “They’re just walks.” “Well, did it ever occur to you that I might want to go?” “We’ve walked before.” “Oh, yeah, like what, twice? And we never go to the pier. Like that’s your secret place or something. Did you ever think that maybe I’d want to go, too?” This blows. Big-time. I was only calling to see if Rhiannon could come with us, and now I have to deal with this crap. Jessica seriously needs to get her jealousy issues under control. “Look, Jess. I’m sorry I asked about the party. Just forget it, okay?” “No! I can’t forget it! You obviously want to go with her instead, so why don’t you just admit it?” “Because it’s not true.” “Whatever.” “It’s not!” “Do you even realize how much time you spend with her compared to me?” “Why are you acting like she’s my girlfriend? We never even went out!” “Why would I be acting like that? I’m your girlfriend, remember?” I don’t know how to get out of this. It’s like no matter what I say, she’s determined to think what she wants. “I guess not,” Jessica decides. “Yeah, I remember, but . . .” “But what?” “Why are you getting so crazy about this?”


“Oh, so now I’m crazy?” “Come on, Jess. You know what I mean.” “You know what? It’s funny. Because I thought you were different.” I have no idea what to say to that. Different from what? “But,” she says, “I guess I was wrong.” I check the time. “Look, let me just call her and—” “Go be with her then! She’s the one you want!” “I was—” “Forget it. I really don’t care anymore.” And then she hangs up. I’m pretty sure I’ve just been dumped. I should feel all tragic right now. But I don’t. I feel . . . empty. And I don’t even know why. “Is that you, James?” “It’s me, Mrs. Schaffer.” Three locks click open. The chain lock rattles. Mrs. Schaffer peeks out. She examines the bags of groceries I’m holding. “An angel, this one.” She opens the door all the way. “Come in, come in.” I go over to her kitchen counter and put the bags down. Then I start unpacking. Mrs. Schaffer shuffles over in her slippers. “Now, you leave those, James.” “That’s okay.” I pull out a gallon of water. “I don’t mind.” It’s this thing we do. I start unpacking. She protests. I keep unpacking. She orders me to sit down at the kitchen table, where she has a plate of cookies out for me. They’re really good cookies. She always has these green and pink ones shaped like leaves with chocolate in the middle. And then later, after we’ve talked for a while and I’ve eaten


all the cookies, I unpack the rest while she’s dusting in the living room. She pretends she doesn’t know what’s going down, and I pretend the same thing doesn’t go down every week. This way I can help her out and she doesn’t have to be embarrassed. Which she would be if she ever admitted that her arthritis makes it really hard for her to unpack the heavy stuff. “I’m an old lady. Haven’t you ever heard of respecting your elders? Get over to that table and sit.” “Yes, ma’am.” “I put your cookies out nice, the way you like.” “Thank you.” We sit. I eat. She watches me eat. “So and?” “Yes?” “What’s happening with the girl?” “Nothing so far.” “How can this be?” Mrs. Schaffer gets up to pour me a glass of milk. “How can it still be like this?” “I told you. She has a boyfriend. Well, had.” “Oh? So, a new development?” This would be referring to the potential development Mrs. Schaffer keeps hoping for. She met Rhiannon once outside my apartment and hasn’t stopped talking about her. Old people tend to get treated like crud in this city by teens, like almost getting knocked down by kids running past them on the sidewalk and stuff. So she couldn’t get over how sweet Rhiannon was to her. And now she thinks we should be together. At first I tried to explain that we’re just friends, but Mrs. Schaffer wasn’t hearing that. She only wants to hear that we’re together. So now I go along with her. To keep her happy and all. “Sort of. I mean, yeah. Her boyfriend just broke up with her.” “And why was this?” “We don’t know.”


“What?” “He didn’t really explain it.” “What? Who does such things?” “That’s what I’m saying.” “These kids nowadays. Such frivolity.” I eat another cookie. “Well? This is good news for you, yes?” “Uh . . . maybe . . .” “Why the uncertainty?” I smile at her. I don’t want her thinking I’m a total loser. “I’ll let you know if anything changes.” “Good, good.” She gets up. “Now, what am I doing up?” She presses her hand against her forehead. “Mrs. Schaffer?” “What did I get up for?” She stands there, holding on to the back of the chair. “Are you okay?” “Fine, fine. Just some old mishegoss running around in my head.” I eat another cookie. Mrs. Schaffer looks at me adoringly. “You and those cookies.” “I love these cookies.” “I don’t know this?” “Where do you get them from?” “From the nice Jewish bakery around the corner. You know the one.” “They all come from there?” Sometimes she’ll mix it up. Like sometimes there’s these rainbow sponge cake ones with chocolate on


the outside. Or these flaky thin ones that are round with chocolate along the rim. Somehow, chocolate is always involved with these cookies. Rhiannon would think that’s cool. “All of them from there. Nice man, that baker.” I’ve been shopping for Mrs. Schaffer since fifth grade. I wasn’t so into it at first, but Ma made me do it. Now I do her grocery shopping every week and I like it. We have this thing. She gives me money and a grocery list and coupons every week. Then I bring over her groceries and we check in with each other. Not that there’s a lot to check in with on her end. I feel bad for her. Mr. Schaffer died of cancer six years ago. She has like no other family, because she never had any kids. A couple of Bingo friends stop by now and then, but for the most part it’s just Mrs. Schaffer, here in her apartment all alone. I’m probably the only teenager who’s worried about dying the scary New York City death. The one where you die old and alone with no one to even notice that you’re gone. Until someone smells your dead rotting body three days later from all the way out in the hall. Or just this fear of being eighty and alone, crying at the bottom of the stairs because no one’s there to help you up.

“Is that you, James?” “Yeah, Ma.” I try to escape to my room without her coming out of the kitchen. I need a shower and a nap. And maybe I can finally get that report done. She comes out of the kitchen. “James, do you think you can give me a hand?” She’s got the tall broom. That means she wants me to sweep the muck out from behind the refrigerator and in between the stove and the counter because she can’t reach. “Where’s Dad?” “Out interviewing someone important.” Dad’s a journalist for The New York Star, which is like a bootleg version of The New York Times. But it’s supposedly gaining more of an audience.


“Who?” “Don’t know. It’s top secret.” I take my glasses off and rub my eyes. It feels like I haven’t slept in about a year. “All right.” I reach for the broom. “Were you next door?” “Yeah.” “How is she?” I shrug. “What’s that mean?” I’m all bent over, trying to stretch the broom handle to the corner where the nastiest gunk is. For added fun, it feels like I’m in the process of pulling a key muscle. Or an entire muscle group. “James?” “What?” “What’s with the tone?” “I just . . . Look, can you give me a minute here, Ma? I’m trying to get this.” “So what, you can’t do that and answer a question at the same time?” It’s like this constantly. Constantly. She comes over and stares at my face. “What?” “Are you eating?” “Yes, Ma, I’m eating.” “Enough?” It never ends. She’s always bugging me to eat more. As if I can help being skinny. It’s like, dude. If eating more actually worked, I wouldn’t


be such a joke. I’m like one of those walking stick insects all the time. Highly appealing. But at least they don’t call me Noodle Arms anymore when we play basketball. Finally in my room, I take inventory of my clothes situation. Not to be a girl about it, but I have nothing to wear. And it would be nice to appear at least remotely attractive. Now that I’m officially single again. “Can we read now?” Brian says from his area. One of the myriad amenities of these refined living conditions is the need to share a room with my little brother. I call it his area, but really it’s two inches away from my area. Ma’s brilliant solution was to put up a screen between our beds. Which is supposed to look like a wall and provide the illusion that we have some privacy. Which of course we don’t. “Not now,” I tell him. “Why?” “Because I have to do something.” “What?” “Just something.” “Can I help?” “No.” “Why?” “Because you just can’t.” “Why?” I sigh this really big sigh. The sigh is like, I have to pick out a shirt that’s not entirely repulsive and then endure dinner with its endless questions and nagging and try to get some work done on this new computer program and it never ever ends. Even if everyone just left me alone, it’s too loud to work anyway. Trying to block out the noise with my iPod only works if I blast it, which totally prevents me from concentrating. What I would give for an hour of peace and quiet. Or even five


minutes. It was even worse when my sisters lived here. When it was us and my parents, with my sisters sharing the room Brian and I share now, and me scrunched into a walk-in closet that posed as a room, it was bad. My sisters would fight constantly. I tried to keep out of it by being quiet, but that only works for so long. It’s amazing how you can be surrounded by so many people every day who care about you and still feel alone.

Keith did not just ask Rhiannon out. I don’t like the way he’s looking at her. And I definitely don’t like the way he said, “If you ever feel like hanging out . . .” Whatever. It’s her life. She can do what she wants. But Keith? He bothers me, man. He shouldn’t be anywhere near her. I don’t know why, but it’s like I go into this hyper-protective-bodyguard mode whenever some dude tries to hit on Rhiannon. Especially when I think he’s not worth her time. “Oh,” Keith goes. “Are you two . . . ?” “No!” Rhiannon yells. “We’re just friends.” Dude. Why’d she have to yell like that? Is the thought of us together so horrendous? I mean, it’s not like I want to be with her, but jeez. Keith’s clearly not leaving until Rhiannon agrees to have his children. “Can I get back to you?” she asks him. “Sure,” Keith says. “Take your time.” Then he looks me over. “I don’t doubt your answer will be yes.” He laughs. “Egomaniac,” I mumble. “What?” Rhiannon says. “Nothing.” I hope she’s not seriously interested in that moron. “I’m getting a Coke.” Danny’s over by the window. Well, over by the entire wall that’s one huge window looking out over the city would be more accurate. There’s a telescope over there. So of course a pack of guys are


shoving each other, trying to be next. Seeing if there’s anyone having sex in the other buildings. Danny’s maneuvering the lens, trying to find some action. Apparently, he’s been hogging the telescope. He’s getting called out for it. “Dog! You’ve been on that for, like, ever.” “Type rude to bogart the view, yo!” “Get off the fucking scope, Trager!” Danny reluctantly pries himself away. He sees me and comes over. “That thing is sick! There’s some chick taking a bath in the next building.” One of the most excellent things about Manhattan is that no one has curtains. Or they do, but hardly anyone uses them. “Nice,” I say. “So,” he goes. “What’s good?” “Same old.” Evan and Carl come over. They’re mainly Danny’s friends. Radical leftist types. Carl’s dad owns a printing shop and gave Danny a discount on his election posters. I roll with them sometimes. We pound fists. Evan goes, “You guys hear about Marion?” Which immediately gets Danny’s attention. He’s been sweating her since the thing with Nicole ended. I’ll admit that Marion Cross is gorgeous and easily the bestlooking girl in our class, probably in the whole school, but she’s not my type. Too shallow. “What?” Danny says. “Son.” Evan pauses for dramatic effect. “Word on the street is that Marion might actually like . . . Carl.” Carl looks like he just won the lottery. And not the cheap discount game where you have to split it with a thousand other people. We’re talking Mega Millions. Exclusively. “Word?” Danny goes.


“Word up, yo.” “How do we know this?”

Evan clarifies. “Well . . . allegedly.” I’m like, “Allegedly?” “Yeah,” Carl says. “Supposedly.” “And where did this information come from?” Danny presses. “Jared says she was asking him about me,” Carl insists. “She never does that,” Evan adds. “This is true,” I confirm. I heard that Marion only dates college guys. I’ve never heard that she was asking about one of us. The news would have been legendary. Danny goes, “Sweet!” “Oh, man,” Carl says. “If she wants me . . . fuck. The things I’d do to her.” “He’s only been choreographing them for two years,” Evan informs us. “Way before that, dude. Maybe I didn’t know she existed, but she was still the ultimate babe.” “A score for you would be a score for the entire junior class.” “Hell, yeah!” “Never say never,” Danny says. “That’s my motto.” And then Nicole walks over. Danny’s smile immediately dissolves. He’s like, “Hey, Nicole! I didn’t see you.” Using his Girlfriend Voice. I recognize the voice. It’s the same strained voice I use when a girl I like catches me saying something stupid. Danny has to do some serious damage control right now, so he says later to us and breaks out with Nicole.


I look around for Rhiannon. I don’t see her anywhere, so I hang with Carl and Evan some more. And then someone touches my arm, and I’m expecting it to be Rhiannon. But it’s Nicole. “Hey,” she says. “Ree wanted me to tell you that she left.” “What? Why?” “She was tired and just . . . she just wanted to leave. But she knew if she told you, you’d go with her, and she wanted you to stay and have a good time.” “She should have told me.” “But then you would have left.” “Yeah, but . . .” “So, yeah.” I smile at her. “Thanks for telling me.” I watch this kid Tony do his professional Mr. Pearlman imitation. It distracts me from thinking about why Keith is getting on my nerves.

© 2008 Take Me There by Susane Colasanti


“So.” “Yeah?” I say. But I already know what she’s going to say. She’s asked me the same exact question every day this summer. And the answer is always no. Maggie’s like, “Did he call?” “You need to get over yourself,” I say, “because it’s not happening.” The prospect of starting senior year next week without a real boyfriend is the worst. Not some math dork or physics geek I end up liking just because he’s there. I mean a boyfriend who’s everything I want. The whole package. “Sara,” Maggie says. “Do you realize what this means?” I decide to ignore her. Maggie has this idealistic image of romance that I don’t think exists in real life. I mean, I’ve been trying to believe it does all summer. But Dave never called. “This can only mean that he’s planning something huge,” Maggie says. “Colossal,” Laila says.


“So huge it’s gonna blow your mind,” Maggie says. Dave’s this new guy who transferred to our school from Colorado at the end of last year. This gorgeous Greek-god type on the basketball team. Ever since he sat next to me at the junior meeting—out of all the prettier, more popular girls he could have sat next to— I’ve been waiting for him to make a move. We talked a few times after that, but nothing major happened. So when he asked for my number on the last day of school, of course I wrote it in his yearbook, thinking he was going to call me like the next day. But then . . . nothing. Maggie keeps insisting that he likes me, but if he’s so interested, why didn’t he call? I hate that a boy is making me feel this way. And I hate that I’m letting it happen. I go, “Next topic!” Maggie turns to Laila. “How long do you think it’ll take him to ask her out?” “He’ll do it the first day,” Laila says. “Second, tops.” “Can we get back to the game?” I say. “Can’t Fight This Feeling” plays through the Putt-Putt Mini Golf speaker system. Laila goes, “Fine. Favorite scary-movie scene.” “Oooh!” Maggie says. “That’s a good one!” “I try,” Laila says. I smack my hot-pink golf ball way too hard. “I know mine,” Maggie says. “It’s from that one Freddy movie where he’s under the girl’s bed? And he slices through it and . . . like she falls underground or something. I forget how it went. But I woke up with scratches all down my neck.” “Hey!” Laila says. “I remember that! Wasn’t that, like, in eighth grade?” “I think so.” “Wild,” I say. My golf ball bounces off a plastic pink flamingo and, confused, rolls back to me. Even though we’re all best friends, we basically only know each other about eighty-five percent. That’s why we made up the Game of Favorites. Once we got past our standard favorites, we moved on to


asking the most random questions. Where you find out the meat-and potatoes stuff you usually never get to know about another person. I would go next, except the only scary-movie scene I can think of is the one where Dave dies of laughter over my even considering the remote possibility that he might like me. So I tap Laila’s golf club with mine and say, “I pass. Your turn.” Laila has to think about this one. Her golf ball glides past the flamingo and stops right next to the hole. She plays mini golf perfectly. Just like she does everything else perfectly. She even had the perfect summer, interning at Overlook Hospital. She’s going to be a pediatrician. Every single person in her family is a doctor. Except her brother. But that would be because he’s eight. “Okay,” Laila says. “Remember how we rented An American Werewolf in London last Halloween?” “Yeah?” “And remember when they realize they’re walking on the moors when they’re not supposed to?” “Um . . .” I glance at Maggie. She makes a face like, I have no idea what this girl is talking about. “So scary,” Laila says. Maggie looks me over. “So how much weight did you lose?” she asks. “Like five pounds.” “And what did you eat again?” Laila says. “Just . . . you know. Less.” All I wanted to do was fit into my jeans from tenth grade. And now I’m there. “Don’t do that again.” “Why not?” “If you had any idea how much starving yourself damages your metabolism—” “Hey, Laila?” “Yeah?”


“But I look good, right?” “Yeah.” “So there you go,” I say. “And I didn’t starve myself. I ate stuff.” “Like what?” Maggie says. “Two rice cakes and a carrot?” “For your information I also had some lettuce.” The truth is, I imposed a personal embargo against my daily Dunkin’ Donuts fix. But Laila and Maggie don’t know how bad my addiction to icing was, and I’m embarrassed to admit it. It’s shocking what cutting out junk food can do for you. We walk over to the next course that has this impossible windmill. “Okay,” Maggie says. “Goals for senior year.” “Simple,” Laila says. “I’m going to be valedictorian.” “Oh, what, salutatorian isn’t good enough?” “No. It’s not.” Laila’s always had this problem with being second at anything. Her dad is this total control freak. Laila can’t do anything after school and she’s only allowed to go out on weekends and she can’t even date anyone. I don’t know how she survives. “Actually?” I say. “You’re supposed to state your affirmations in the present tense. As in, I am valedictorian.” I’ve been reading this book called Creative Visualization. It’s all about creating the life you want by imagining that it already exists. Since my second goal this year is to achieve inner peace, I’m focusing on what I want my life to be. Laila’s like, “Wait. Is that more of your Zen enlightenment hoo-ha?” “Yeah,” I tell her. “It is. And it works.” “Well, good luck overcoming the legacy of Michelle,” Maggie tells Laila. “Seriously, it’s like she has this special-order brain that comes preprogrammed with every piece of useless information you need to ace high school.” I rub my golf club on the plastic grass. “But if anyone can beat her, it’s you. You go.” “Thank you, I think I will. Next?”


“I’ll go,” Maggie says. “I want to be smart.” “You’re already smart!” I insist. “No, I’m not. Not like you guys.” I concentrate on examining the waterfall at the end of the course. Because what she’s saying is kind of true. Not that we would ever tell her. It doesn’t even matter, though. I’d trade my brain for Maggie’s body in a second. Not only is she a drop-dead gorgeous blonde, but she’s had a string of drop-dead gorgeous boyfriends since seventh grade. Maggie also has more clothes than anyone I know, including the popular crowd. She was even friends with them until junior high. As long as you meet their two requirements of being beautiful and rich, you’re considered privileged enough to hang out with the inner circle. But Maggie’s also sweet and loyal and will fiercely defend me to anyone who looks at me the way they did. They even told her to stop being friends with me because it was damaging her reputation. Good thing Maggie iced them. And I’m embarrassed to admit it, but their rejection still hurts. “I’ll prove it,” Maggie says. “Who’d you get for history?” “Mr. Sumner,” I say. “See? I got Mr. Martin. They even have smart and stupid history!” “You’re not stupid!” we both yell together. “Whatever.” “So,” I say. “How—not that you aren’t already smart because you are—but how are you going to do that?” “You’ll see,” Maggie says. “Okay, Sara. What’s your goal?” Here’s the thing: I want to reinvent myself this year. I’ve been a nerd since forever. My life for the past three years has been the same tired routine. Same honors classes with the same set of ten kids, same endless piles of homework, same waking up the next day to do it all over again. I’m tired of waiting for my life to begin. Something has to happen. Like an amazing boy. I know he’s out there. I just have to find him. And it would be awesome if that boy was Dave. “I’m going to find a real boyfriend,” I say. “Someone who’s the whole package.”


They both look at me. I’m like, “What?” “Nothing,” Laila says. “What?” “Nothing. It’s just . . .” “What?” “I’m just wondering where you intend to find this perfect male specimen. Haven’t you already gone out with all the halfway acceptable guys we know?” “She’s only had two boyfriends,” Maggie says. “Exactly. She’s exhausted the supply.” “Yeah, well . . . that’s why I’m thinking about getting to know guys in other classes,” I say. “How random was it that Dave sat next to me at the meeting? It just proves that I could sit next to anyone I want. Like in assemblies and pep rallies and stuff.” “You don’t go to pep rallies,” Laila says. “But I could! That’s the point!” “Those guys aren’t smart enough for you,” Laila says. “Love isn’t based on intelligence,” Maggie huffs. “It can happen with anyone.” “Like who?” Laila demands. “Hello!” Maggie yells. “Like Dave!” I go, “Whose turn is it?” Because I don’t want to jinx the Dave thing. “It’s yours,” Maggie says. For this one, you have to time your swing so your ball goes in between the windmill slats. If you don’t, it’s all over. Suddenly it feels really important for me to get this. Like it’s a sign. If my ball gets past the windmill, it means that Dave likes me. If it doesn’t . . . I position my golf ball.


I examine the windmill. I think to the universe, Please make it real. Please make it happen. I move my golf ball to the right. And I swing. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a hole in one.


Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life. I finish the first set of curls with my thirty-pound free weights. I examine my biceps for signs of bulk. I decide theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re huge. At least, compared to how they used to be. I started lifting on the last day of school in an attempt to improve the situation of my toothpick arms. I need to look good onstage when my band starts playing serious gigs this year. Everyone knows girls want a guy to be cut, with pumped arms and veins popping out, arms that will flex as he lifts himself on top of her. . . . But I digress. I do three more sets of fifteen reps and examine my arms again. Definite improvement. I do a hundred sit-ups and fifty pushups and saunter into the bathroom like Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m the biggest stud ever. But this facade shatters when I catch an accidental flash of my reflection in the mirror. I usually avoid the mirror as much as possible. I somehow developed an insane hope that working out would also improve the condition of my face. I always get zits in the most conspicuous locations, and the fluorescent bulbs in here make me look burnt out like I smoke ten packs a day. Attractive.


Furious, I get into the shower. I should have called her over the summer. Yeah, right. To hear how loudly she would have laughed at the prospect of such a slacker asking her out? No, the way to go with this is to be friends with her first. Be charming and notice details and give her tons of attention. Girls love that. Then she won’t be able to resist me when we take it to the next level. I turn off the water and grab a towel. I’ll finally see her tomorrow. Should I try talking to her right away? Or would that look desperate? I need to mellow out. Back in my room, I chuck the towel on the floor and pull on boxers. I wonder if she’s into boxers or briefs. Or boxer briefs. Cynthia was a fan of the boxer briefs, but the other girls I’ve hooked up with didn’t seem to have an opinion. Then again, Cynthia was the only one I had sex with. So maybe boxer briefs are a safe bet. I peer into my dresser drawer at my ancient underwear. If I were seeing my underwear for the first time, what would I think? It all looks kind of damaged. Do I need to get new underwear? I hate having to ask my mom to buy it for me. Everyone wears underwear, but it’s humiliating to admit this fact to your mother. Even if she does do my laundry. Suddenly I have a profound idea. I can buy my own underwear! She doesn’t have to know anything! Why haven’t I thought of this before? I haven’t had my car long enough to realize that I can go around and do this kind of stuff. Are relationships always this complicated? Technically, Cynthia wasn’t my girlfriend. So I don’t exactly consider what we had a relationship. It was all about sex. We didn’t have much in common except for our mutual lust for each other. Which was fine with me, until I got sick of the emotional void. My friends don’t get it. How I’m a complete anomaly when it comes to girls. I mean, I’ve hooked up with random airhead groupie types. But nothing ever lasted more than a couple months. They were too lacking. I know what I’m looking for. Something that feels right. Something real. I dig through the pile of Converse in my closet, old guitar equipment that I got at garage sales, and stacks of magazines until I reach the shoe box. The shoe box has all of my most personal stuff in it. I lean


back against the wall and open the box. It’s a total rush. I take out my first guitar pick, remembering how it felt to finally know how to use it. There’s an E-string that broke during our first rehearsal in ninth grade. I keep all of my lyrics about girls and sex in here, in a smaller notebook separate from my main notebook. Because my mom has no problem with going through my backpack and looking through my stuff. Even though I’ve told her a million times that an admirable quality of parenthood is the ability to respect your kid’s privacy. I turn to a page with the song I wrote for Her. It’s like she’s renting all the real estate in the girl department of my brain. I don’t even know her that well, even though we’ve always gone to school together. After they segregated us in seventh grade based on how smart they thought we all were, I didn’t see her again until we had art together last year. I didn’t have the balls to talk to her until the year was almost over. And then I heard she was going out with Scott, who is a total dweeb, but still. So I never asked her out. There’s something about her that’s different from other girls. She’s crazy smart. I dig that. And she’s kind of shy. Not like the other girls I’ve dated who came right up to me and asked me to go home with them when I hardly even knew their name. Talking to those girls is cake. But talking to Sara is impossible. Not only is she smart, but she’s hot. Girls with the beauty-and-brains thing going on are the most intimidating girls in the world. What if I get this song ready for Battle of the Bands? I could dedicate it to her. She’ll be so turned on. Then I’ll smile and dazzle her with my eyes. Girls always tell me I have great eyes. But Battle of the Bands isn’t until November. I can’t wait that long. I put the notebook back in the shoe box and stash it way back in my closet. I toss some magazines on top of it and cram random shoes against it. I get this surge of adrenaline, like I could play for hours. I call this feeling my hot zone. When I’m in the hot zone, I know I can do phenomenal stuff. I pick up my guitar and turn the amp down. My parents are probably already asleep. I guess that’s what life is for most people. Marrying someone who seems decent enough, buying a house, having kids, and turning in at ten every night. They consider bridge games with the neighbors and the all-you-can-eat buffet at Sizzler entertaining ways to spend a Saturday night. Why does life have to be that way? I assume my parents were madly in love at some point, but now they just look tired all the time. I don’t want to settle for that.


I jam on my guitar. The way I feel about Sara right now is the way I always want to feel. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m making it happen. Tomorrow.


When Caitlin slams into my backpack running past me and screaming about Aruba, she doesn’t even stop to say sorry. This is the way it’s been between the princesses and the brains since forever. I tell myself it’ll all be over in nine months. Nine months, thirteen days, and approximately eight hours. Not that I’m counting. Those of us who got here early are penned up in the cafeteria until homeroom. Trying to sit like I could so not be any less concerned that I’m sitting by myself on the first day of senior year is just not working. I lean forward with my elbows on the table. Then I shift back and try to sit straight on the uncomfortable bench. I don’t know where to put my hands to make them appear unconcerned. Laila’s not here yet, and Maggie went to the bathroom. At least I have my sketchbook with me to partially calm me down. My sketchbook is actually a combination archive of my artwork and designs, scrapbook of important events, and collection of journal entries. But its main purpose is for me to practice my architectural sketches, so I can make a portfolio of my work for college applications. I want to be an urban planner, which means double-majoring in architecture and environmental science next year. This will hopefully occur at New York University. Which is not exactly easy to get into.


Which is why I’ve been working like a maniac for the past three years. My motivation for kicking academic butt is to escape this middle-ofnowhere New Jersey small town, this realm of nothingness. Living in New York City will be the ultimate existence. Anyway, I take my sketchbook everywhere I go. I sketch whatever inspires me. You never know when it will happen. I decide that it’s important enough to document my first-day-back thoughts. I turn to the next blank page. I sneak glances at everyone around me. They’re all running around frantically, acting like they care what everyone else did over the summer. I hate myself for caring that no one comes over to my table. Not like I expect them to suddenly realize I’m alive. I’m used to being invisible. Why does it still bother me? Why does it even matter if Caitlin & Co. treat me like I don’t exist? I have real friends—two of them—which is more than most people get to have. I’ve been telling myself to get over it for years. And I’ll never achieve inner peace if I don’t. So I need to move on. But I can’t. Plus, how can I survive another year of the same expectations and stress? And if I see Joe Zedepski drop his calculator one more time I swear I will lose it. Just put your calculator in the middle of your desk instead of right at the edge where you know it’ll fall off. How hard is that? I try to visualize my future life. The place where everything feels right and good things always happen and I can be the person I want to be. I imagine my ideal, completely confident self in a pink bubble, floating into space, letting the universe make it happen.

But my visualization skills are working at less than maximum efficiency today. Because it’s time for homeroom. And first impressions are everything. I’m a nervous wreck. I peek into the room, pretending to be waiting for someone. At least Dave’s not in here. But a lot of his friends are, like Caitlin and Alex. If I manage to come off as cool, or at least as someone with a sense of style, it’ll get back to him. Then maybe he’ll ask me out. But if I act like a dork in any way, he’ll know about it by third period. This is a


small school, and word gets around fast. This school is way too small for anyone to even think they can keep anything to themselves. I walk in with shaky legs. I find a seat. I pretend to look for something in my bag. “Okay, people!” Ms. Picoult yells. “Your schedules are ready! Come on up!” Ten seconds later, her desk is completely surrounded by kidscomplaining that their schedules are messed up and demanding to see a guidance counselor. Ms. Picoult yells that no one is to enter the guidance office until their lunch period. Chaos ensues. Snarly seniors rant that the people who program classes have no skills. I move to the front of the room. My schedule is the only one left on her desk. I pick it up, expecting the worse. Miraculously, it looks okay.

But of course there’s a problem. It’s the curse of first-period gym. I’ve had gym first period every year. I’ve tried to get out of it before, and there’s no way. They just tell you that all the other classes are full and


this is the way it is and there’s nothing you can do about it. So now I get to experience the thrilling sensation of sitting around in my sweaty underwear all day for a whole other year. Fun times. I sit down to fill out the seventy-three forms we have to do. Caitlin’s sitting next to me, filling out her forms and talking to her posse. After a few minutes, she suddenly turns around and stares at my kneesocks. I only tried on a million outfits last night before I decided on these retro kneesocks and my new denim skirt and my favorite sky-blue T-shirt. I go, “Hey.” Caitlin looks right through me like I’m not even there. Then she turns back to her friends. One of them laughs. I raise my hand to go to the bathroom. In the hall, some seniors are huddled together, clearly too cool for the mundane intricacies of homeroom. I’m about to walk right by them. But then I notice Dave is one of them. I freeze. Should I go up to him and say hi? Or just walk by and wave? If I don’t do something now, I probably won’t see him for the rest of the day. And I can’t stand not knowing if he likes me. But look at what just happened with Caitlin. She obviously thinks I’m lacking. Now if I go up to Dave, it could be catastrophic. I’m still debating what to do when Dave and his group walk down the hall, away from me. He never even saw me standing there. My life is over, and it’s not even first period yet.

© 2006 When It Happens by Susane Colasanti

Susane Colasanti Sampler  

Read excerpts from Susane Colasanti's novels including her newest book, Now and Forever! Sterling is crazy in love with Ethan. Not only is...

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