The Half-Life of Planetsby Emily Franklin, Brendan Halpin
Lianna is an aspiring planetary scientist and also a kissing addict. This summer, though, she plans to spend every kiss-worthy hour in the lab, studying stars.
Hank has never been kissed. He's smart and funny and very socially awkward, because he's got Asperger's syndrome. Hank's plan for the summer is to work at a music store and save enough to buy his beloved… See more details below
Lianna is an aspiring planetary scientist and also a kissing addict. This summer, though, she plans to spend every kiss-worthy hour in the lab, studying stars.
Hank has never been kissed. He's smart and funny and very socially awkward, because he's got Asperger's syndrome. Hank's plan for the summer is to work at a music store and save enough to buy his beloved Fender Jazzmaster.
What neither Liana nor Hank plan for is their fateful meeting...in the women's bathroom at the hospital. But their star-crossed encounter could be the very best kind.
Two veteran YA authors tell, from alternating perspecitives, the story of two kids who discover that the best parts of people can't be summed up easily.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
- Age Range:
- 12 - 17 Years
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The Half-Life of Planets
By Emily Franklin, Brendan Halpin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2010 Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin
All rights reserved.
I am not a slut.
Evidence exists that is contrary to this statement, but this is what I'm thinking in the hospital bathroom. In movies, actors are always splashing water on their faces in times of crisis as if this will somehow explain to them what they should do. How they should feel. What comes next. I put my hands under the running water, chuck some of the tepid liquid up so it hits my cheeks and my forehead. All I feel is drenched.
I am not a slut. Even though I have a note in my pocket that suggests otherwise.
Even though James Frenti, Pren Stevens, Mitchell Palmer and Jett Alterman would beg to differ. Even though I could give a guided tour of all the different places I've kissed different boys in this semi-small town: the sand-gritty sidewalk near the fishing rocks, outside Sweet Nothings candy shop, under the stereotypical bleachers at school, in my own basement amidst my parent's old records and my own ancient kid drawings. Suffice to say I am not an artist. I am also not a slut. Even though I could give this tour.
The littered kisses tour I say to myself as though I'm a rock band. I look at my damp face, think about those kisses, about what it feels like to have someone's face that close to your own, how you can feel the warmth emanating from their skin. What it feels like to be that close to another person. I tug my t-shirt down so it covers my waist, effectively hiding waist. This is more a nervous tic than a teenage-girl-hiding-her-body move, and definitely a habit I haven't been able to shake since I branded myself with a tattoo last summer. I run my thumb over the small circles, tug again at my shirt and feel the note crumpled in my pocket, the four-letter word written on it tucked away.
I want to look at it now; to study it as I would a scientific document, weigh the possibilities (Is it true? What does it mean?), the mysteries (Who sent it? When? And why?). I want to evaluate it like I did in APS. Science is easy to understand. Even if it's complicated, I've always found it comforting. People get nervous about math, but the truth is the math is simple—there's correct and incorrect. And with science, you always know what you're trying to prove, you know your predictions. The order of science is a lullaby. Even the names—Celestial mechanics, Icy Moons, Star systems, Brown Dwarfs—provide everything you need, poetry to humor.
But Advanced Planetary Science, while it will dominate my summer and keep me trapped in the lab if I let it, has nothing to do with finding this note in my locker eight hours ago. Life is like that though; one minute you're de-junking your locker—removing the old papers, stained t-shirt, AP Physics texts, Worlds Apart: Black Holes and Space, math tests, stray flip-flop and CDs to get ready for summer—and the next minute you're holding in your hands a tiny slip of paper that changes everything. Or nothing. It depends how you look at it, which of course I haven't decided yet because I hardly had a chance to shove it in my pocket it before coming here. I left the rest of my locker's contents outside in my beat up brown Saab but the lined piece of paper with exactly one word written on it is with me now. It's impossible to erase the looping script, the perfect 'l' as though the word was 'love' or something pleasant. This scientist I heard lecture last summer at the university basically said that it's possible to approach everything—food shopping, dancing—with a scientific mind. For example, you could understand the physics of dancing—like some geeky girl in a movie who then figures it out on paper and then suddenly can win some competition—or, presumably, science can just help you analyze anything. Even slut notes. Way back in basic bio we were taught that before you question what you have, you have to investigate how it got there. So I spend a few seconds wondering—Katie from homeroom who glared at me when I came to class with a scarf around my neck in early June? Celeste who is not celestial as her name implies but just bitchy and who liked Pren before I got to him? Who sends notes and why and did she—assuming it was a she—plan it out or just rip off a corner from an old Sound and the Fury pop quiz and slip it in my locker on a whim? And then the truth, cold and plain as the metal bathroom shelf in front of me: it doesn't really matter who or why. Just that it exists.
So I know that geomorphology studies features on the planetary surface and reconstructs formational processes, and when this is applied to the note in my backpocket, I can deduce the following: the person who sent it wouldn't confront me directly, that the word itself is meant to hurt me, and that, if I didn't think it was at all true, I wouldn't be standing here in the hospital bathroom, nervously thumbing the blue and purple tattoo on my hip. Saturn, turned on its side, a marbled moon in the distance behind it. As many mouths on mine as there have been, as many hands around my waist or tangled in my hair, no one has touched those circles. Maybe an accidental brushing, but no study of it, no examination of that surface. Slut.
I want to grab the note, but not with my wet hands. Instead I splash a little more water on my cheeks, press my dark bangs flat on my forehead, and wait for some giant revelation like on-screen.
But unlike in the movies, I don't look placid and calm after this face-swim, I don't appear ready to take on the world. I just look the same.
I am not a slut. I swear I have proof. Proof I could provide if I get out of this hospital bathroom and back to the reality waiting outside the door.
Only the door opens and in bursts—
"It's all over me!" The guy's about my age, maybe a little older, who can tell really because he's flustered and jumping around a little. It takes me only a few seconds to realize why: his pants are soaking. And not just in any area. His crotch.
I look at him in the mirror, my green eyes focused on his—are they brown?—but he doesn't look back at me. He just stands there, flailing, unaware somehow that paper towels by the bushel are right in front of him.
"Here," I say when I can't take it any longer. I hate seeing people in need. Watching desperation spread like the liquid on his jeans makes my skin crawl—like those people who watch accidents or standby as a fight breaks out. So I help with what I can—in this case, paper towels. "There's more," I tell him and tug my shirt over my tattoo, "Over by the door? See there's ..."
But he doesn't see. He's caught up in the moment of blotting himself, and then suddenly, very suddenly, getting his bearings. "Oh—wait. Wait a second."
I nod, my arms crossed, the edges of my bangs still wet and plastered on my forehead. I blush for him. He must just have realized where he is. But he takes it well. He must be centered. Sure of himself. "It's okay," I tell him and gesture to the bathroom. "It's the women's, but you know what?"
He doesn't answer. He doesn't even look at me even though my eyes are glued to his face so I don't focus on his pants. "Squeeze!"
Now I'm confused until I see him looking at my chest and remember I'm wearing a concert shirt I took from one of those boxes in the basement. Next to the records are old stickers, programs, ticket stubs. "Gotta love Squeeze—45s and under," I say and he cracks up. "It's not that funny." He's got a deep laugh, calm, too, which goes against his flailing jumpy persona. Maybe he's not really an anxious person. Probably just surprised is all. But definitely able to hold his own in the least likely of places.
I could bolt now, run out of here as though it, too, is stop on my tour—minus the kiss—but I don't. It seems right somehow that I should be stuck having some weird, random interaction in here while everything else is happening out there. Planets are spinning, diagnoses are being made, notes are being dropped into unsuspecting lockers. I chew on my lower lip.
"It's just, Squeeze, right? Famous song: black coffee in bed." He mumbles a little here, his mouth stretched in a wide grin. He's older than I am, definitely. Only by a year or so, but how else to explain the fact that he's not particularly flustered by the lack of urinals? "The stain on my notebook ... you know it, of course." I nod, because I do. I've memorized that whole album. "But now ..." he laughs. "It's so stupid. I've got a stain on my pants and it's black."
Now I laugh, allow a quick glance, and shrug. "It is black. Why, is it coffee?" I can't think of any other stain that color. He takes his coffee black. Intense. I'm all about the milk and sugar. Not Splenda. Not skim milk. Creamy and truly sweet. But black coffee drinkers who are under the age of twenty are all about intensity. Then I think of something besides coffee. "Is it ink?"
That's it. He's a writer. A writer who knows cool music. So maybe a musician. Which would be bad. At least for me, since drummers (Pren Stevens), guitarists (Mitchell Palmer), lead singers (Jett Alterman, James Frenti), even base players get my heart racing. "So is it ink?" I ask again, wanting, not wanting.
He shakes his head, his wide shoulders back, his long-sleeved t-shirt pushed up to the elbows, a grin stretched across his mouth. "This is not black coffee in bed. It is not ink. It is Dark n' Daring."
I wrinkle my nose. A flaw in my thinking. "The energy drink?"
He shrugs and goes to the sink. "DnD," he says and splashes water onto his pants which doesn't help. In fact it's only making it worse and I show this with my face, my eyebrows raised but he still won't look at me. He's got that cool reserve. Not exactly aloof, but not all here either. "I don't even drink the stuff. But Chase does. All the time. I mean, like he might have an addiction. Like Jimmy Paige. Or Steven Tyler before rehab. Chase will probably have to be weaned from the substance. Or no—go cold turkey and just one day go to the fridge and find that there are no more DandDs."
"I don't drink them either," I tell him but the truth is I've never tried them. I don't want to ask who Chase is because I don't like to pry and maybe it's some well-respected musician I'm supposed to know but don't. "I doubt I'd like Dark and Darings, anyway." I like root beer, preferably in a glass bottle, and that's it. At least, in terms of soda. If I can't have that, I won't have any. I can get pretty stuck in my ways.
"But, you know, he dared me."
"Who?" I try and get him to look at me by checking out his reflection in the long rectangle of mirror but he's on his own time, blotting, splashing, thinking.
He turns to me now, the stain dark on his jeans, but the rest of him looking regular, like a guy I could see at school. Who I should see at school instead of in the bathroom at Westwood-Cranston General at the tail-end of June, on what was the last day of classes. "Chase. Chase is always daring everyone to do everything. He's home from college for the summer which would be fine—it was fine last year when we went to see Proverbial Nuance at the beach stage. But now he's back and—"
I hear footsteps outside and recognize them as my mother's. I have to go, I think and then realize I need to say this aloud. I poke though my jeans at the planets on my hip and chew my lip. "I have to go."
He nods and shrugs, eyes me but at arm's length. Intense. I think that he'll ask where or why or thank me for the paper towels, or tell me why he's here, at the hospital, too, but he doesn't. So I don't say anything else—not goodbye or anything—because really, is it necessary?CHAPTER 2
The girl in the Squeeze shirt leaves me in the bathroom with a stain on my crotch. The stain on my notebook from "Black Coffee in Bed" was actually the second thing that popped into my mind when I saw her t-shirt.
When you see a girl with the word Squeeze written across her breasts, well, the band that gave us "Tempted", and, more importantly, "In Quintessence" is not the first thing that comes to mind. Even for me.
But I did not blurt out "is that the band or just instructions?" because I paid attention to my surroundings and I tried to listen. I paused for a moment and realized that my surroundings were the ladies' room where I wasn't supposed to be, which is actually just a men's room with a menstrual supply dispenser on the wall and no urinals.
I've been trying to think about how other people might react to what I say. In this case, the other person was the girl with the breasts—well, they all have breasts, but few have breasts like this girl's breasts—might think that my barging into the ladies room and making a breast joke meant that I was a weirdo.
I have some experience with people thinking I'm a weirdo. One day in seventh grade, a bunch of kids who used to threaten me for no reason that I could ever figure out decided to chant "Freak! Freak! Freak! Freak!" while pointing at me.
"The dance is called Le Freak, if you ever listened to the song, and while I appreciate the offer, I'm not going to dance for you!"
They did not laugh at my joke, but neither did they continue their taunts. So, overall, I counted it as a successful interaction.
Of course, I wanted to explain to somebody how Chic, who recorded "Le Freak", also provided the music behind the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," though of course it was "Good Times" and not "Le Freak" that they were rapping over. But this would be pearls before swine as far as the middle school lunchroom taunters went.
I have had similar experiences with girls. Well, when I say I've had experiences with girls, I should make it clear that what I'm talking about are conversations. Or maybe not even that—I'm not sure what you call it when one person starts talking about a topic of interest only to find out the other person has no interest in that topic and walks away from the conversation. This is how most of my interactions with girls go.
Except for this one. She had a t-shirt, and, despite the fact that she kept tugging on it, which stretched the word "Squeeze" even tighter across her breasts and also drew my eyes to her womanly hips, where her tugging hands were taking up residence, I managed to follow one of Allie's recommendations: find a common interest. Make a connection. We had a conversation that, despite the location, felt fairly normal, or what I imagine normal to be.
Back to the bathroom where I'm not supposed to be. I splash some water on my crotch and blot it with paper towels until at least the stain on my pants is just wet and not wet and black. I decide that the hand dryer might help me with the remaining wetness so I hit the button and angle my hips toward the stream of hot air, trying to get it directly on my crotch.
This is when my mother walks in.
"Oh, Jesus Christ," she says. She puts her hand up to her forehead, and her Black Flag tattoo peeks out of the short-sleeved blouse she's wearing. "This is it, you know, this is really it. I mean, it's not like I'm having a good day already, and I walk into the women's bathroom—you do know you're in the women's bathroom?"
"Yes, I met a really nice girl in here who—"
"Humping the wall! Like you're a Jack Russell Terrier or something! Honestly! I think you're making so much progress and then I find you here doing that!"
Later my mom will cry and call me her sweet boy and tell me how much she loves me and how sorry she is to have lost her patience with me. I know this at the time because it's what always happens when she yells at me. She doesn't usually yell at me like that, but whenever she does, it's followed by a) tears b) hugs c) "sweet boy" and d) apology. It's a predictable pattern, so I don't really mind it that much.
"Mother—" A few years ago, I started calling her Mother instead of Mom because of the John Lennon song "Mother", which is a better song than the Genesis song "Mama". I do not know of any songs called "Mom," though there is "Stacey's Mom," but that doesn't count. "I ran into this bathroom by mistake after spilling an energy drink while you were talking to Dr. Sloane, and I mopped it up with paper towels as best I could, but I thought I should use the hand dryer before I go outside with a wet crotch. See?"
Excerpted from The Half-Life of Planets by Emily Franklin, Brendan Halpin. Copyright © 2010 Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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