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By Lorie Ann Grover
ZONDERVAN Copyright © 2014 Lorie Ann Grover
All rights reserved.
In our pristine, beige kitchen, I slap my palm on the cover of the Mills College catalog. Pieces of sky still shine brightly between my fingers. I shove the booklet under the pile of bills Dad sets down.
"I wish you'd put the mail where it belongs, Mark," says Mom.
Choosing a cereal bowl, he doesn't answer. She sighs and nudges her way around him to the granite counter and slots each envelope into the stand inside the glass-paned cupboard.
"And let's put this right here." She props the Mills catalog in her cookbook stand.
"Really, Mom?" I protest.
"What?" she asks, all innocent, and I refuse to answer. The catalog's on full display, awash in a heavenly glow from the recessed light above; one more effort to wear me down.
Mom picks up her phone from the charger. "No riding the bus this morning, Sarah," she says, disappearing down the carpeted hall.
"I'm taking the bus," I mutter.
Out the dark, rain-tapped window, a crow caws fiercely, but leaning forward, I can't spot the threat. The February chill rustles the empty birch branches, making them scrabble like worried, bony fingers. Our Space Needle-shaped thermometer says it's forty-five degrees out there. Not too bad.
In the reflection, I smooth my eyebrow, then push my poem for Mr. Haddings deeper inside the back pocket of my jeans. As far as I can jam it.
"Mom, it's not like riding the bus is going to kill me." I tug my messenger bag on. Reaching around my dad, I stash the Cheerios in the lower cupboard and brush past the Mills scholarship letter Mom hung on the fridge. I turn back and stick the University of Washington magnet right smack in the middle of the paper. "Heading to the bus stop," I call out to Mom.
She peeks into the kitchen, her mascara wand balanced in her fingertips. "But, Sarah, it's raining, and you already have that postnasal drip." She heads to the bathroom, raising her voice. "I know you like to ride in with Cydni, but you need to take care of yourself, first and foremost. That said, there's no time for me to take you with the early estate showing I have this morning. It's that property on the edge of town I was telling you about. Anyway, it means you'll have to ride in with Luke."
"But Cydni needs to look over my homework on the bus, and Luke will get me there too late for some stuff I have to do."
At the kitchen island, my brother scoots the stool closer and looks up from his Chex, a milk droplet suspended on his lower lip. "Yeah, I'm not near ready to go," he answers. "Go ahead and ride the bus, Sares, even though it's totally lame for seniors."
I sneer at him.
"Even as a junior, I wouldn't. Because"—he wipes his lip on his sleeve—"I bought my own truck."
"Yeah, well, your truck is lame."
"Is not. It's a decent truck, you moron."
"Luke, don't call your sister a moron," Mom calls out.
He huffs. "Why don't you buy your own car, Sares?"
"Because I'm saving for tuition," I retort.
"And ignoring the free ride to that all-girl's school," he singsongs. "Right, Mom?"
"I'm going to UW and won't need a car on campus," I explain for the thousandth time.
"Mills is the better choice for you, Sarah!" Mom pipes in.
I throw my head back and close my eyes. Breathe.
Luke gets up and leaves his bowl behind. Loping past me, he leans close and smiles. "I'm not taking you, Sares, 'cause I don't like to advertise that we're related."
I go to smack him on the back of his head, but he ducks. Leaving the kitchen, he laughs and thumps down the split-level stairs to his room.
"Sarah ..." Mom nags.
I step into the hall, tugging my hair out from under the strap of my bag.
Mom rushes past me into the living room, checking a text. "Sarah, you are beautiful no matter what you wear, but the new blue shirt I picked up for you really fits better than that one you have on under your hoodie, sweetie."
Ugh! Did I ask her?
Straightening the issues of Elle and Golf Digest on the coffee table, she calls to Dad. "Mark, can you drive her?"
Still at the kitchen counter, he's peeling his daily banana and reading from his Bible. "Mark?"
No answer. For once, thanks for being checked out, Dad.
"Mom, I'm taking the bus already. I won't melt!" I zip up my hoodie and rush down the stairs. The red front door slams shut behind me, but I stop short. A web stretches from the eave to the rhododendron. The porch light makes the rain droplets glow on the taut strands around the spider hunkered in a ball. I duck under it and hurry into the drizzle.
Gliding on some lip balm, I look back. No one's following me, but I pick up my pace. At the end of our road, I breathe in moist hope and duck into the greenbelt, the wild growth buffering our houses from the street. I push my way through the damp ferns in the predawn darkness. Wiping my hands dry on the back of my jeans, I feel my note for Haddings has worked its way up a bit in my pocket. I shove it down again.
I smile, thinking of how he caught my eye that first day in September when he showed up in study hall. "Don't think of me as your teacher. I'm your poet-in-residence, a grad student on loan from UW," he said.
I closed my copy of The Bell Jar and focused on his dark, wavy hair, stubbled jaw, and untucked button-up over a white tee. And then there were his perfect jeans and worn Doc Martens.
With his deep, raspy voice, he dove straight into John Clare's words:
"I hid my love when young till I
Couldn't bear the buzzing of a fly;
I hid my love to my despite
Till I could not bear to look at light;
I dare not gaze upon her face
But left her memory in each place;
Where'er I saw a wild flower lie
I kissed and bade my love good-bye."
At the last word, I got tingles like I was floating in a bubbling hot spring.
"Bro, those words could work on the ladies," said Eric in the back.
"Thank you, PTA, for ponying up for the grad student." Marita smiled, beside me.
Was my ponytail a mess after gym? I tugged out my elastic and let my hair fall in front of my shoulders.
As Haddings' gaze swept the class, I looked down, smoothing the cover of my novel.
"He's so cute," said Marita.
"Whatever." Cydni crossed her arms.
I wrote a note and slid it to her: Every guy is not your cheater dad.
"I'm not saying he is," she whispered back. "And enough with the leftover trust issues. I don't have them, okay?"
I raised my brow.
She gave me her most patronizing look. "I'm just saying he's no Luke."
"Are you blind? Besides, anyone outshines my brother." I held up my hand, cutting off her argument. "No matter what you've moaned on about for years."
While Haddings wrote his name on the board, George yawned. "This sucks."
"I know, dude. I can't believe we have to do poetry stuff," said Clayton.
Haddings turned around, and for just a second, he looked straight at me. Blushing, I pulled out my journal. I doodled University of Washington as a possibility for application, right beside Mills.CHAPTER 2
I tilt two sugar packets into my Americano and stir. The Starbucks machine hisses behind me, and I jolt, the steam dissipating my memory of Sarah reading my favorite Byron love poem, "She Walks in Beauty," in front of the class.
After that very first poetry session in September, I had to scramble to reset boundaries when I idiotically told the seniors not to think of me as their teacher. Hearing about it, my professor slayed me. I did know better, and it was arrogant to think I could pull off peer and teacher simultaneously.
I pop a lid on my black coffee. At least my motive to get them to hear poetry was right, and everyone eventually adjusted their view of me ... except for Sarah.
Beside me, a mother in yoga pants and a sweatshirt sets a hot chocolate on the table. "Don't touch," she tells her small son, then turns to answer the barista about her coffee order. When her athletic bag bumps the cup, I lunge and upright it before the hot drink spills on her kid. "Thank you," the woman gushes.
"No problem," I answer. The little boy smiles up at me. "Is Batman your favorite super hero?" I ask, pointing at his hat.
He grins and nods once.
The mother gets her order. Gripping the two drinks, she scoots her son outside, and even though he's hustled along, he turns and waves. I wave back.
After a sip of coffee, I push out the glass door, too, and run to my car through the rain. The consistency of Seattle winter weather—or Covington, in the suburb—can definitely be counted on. Everyone says I'll get used to it, maybe eventually prefer it to Boulder. Yeah, right. At least rain in town means snow at Crystal Mountain for skiing. Maybe Warren would be up for hitting the slopes over the weekend? Or one of my other friends would go with me? I'm knocked into the present as I dodge a black Mini with pink stripes backing out of the parking slot.
Inside my Mustang, I wipe the rain from my brow and prop my coffee between my legs. Sarah's journal pokes up from among the rest of the students' books in the sack on the floorboard. Her own poetry is amazing. I hesitate but push the journal out of sight. With her talent that distracting, Warren was right to remind me to get my act together. When he stopped by my flat a few weeks ago, he'd said it sounded like the lines were blurred.
"You have to keep her at arm's length," he said.
"No, I know. Of course. Stay professional."
"Always," he emphasized.
"So, offering a tour of UW to anyone interested was not a good idea."
I dropped my head into my palm.
"Huge mistake," Warren said, sipping his IPA.
"Yeah. It was just an eager group of seniors who really wanted an inside look at the campus to see—"
"Everything," he finished for me. "And this girl stayed at your side the entire time and joined you for lunch. Teaching as a sub, I've seen it before. The tour was a bad choice, Jake."
With those words scurrying in my brain, I start my car. Yes, Warren was right, but I've taken care of it now. I'm sure.
Pulling out into traffic, listening to some Pink Floyd, I drive down the dark road toward the school. My headlights illuminate the steady shower skimming the tall firs.
In our last class, I read the poem I intentionally wrote to make the truth clear to Sarah. It hit home so well, she wouldn't meet my eyes afterward. I glance in the rearview. "There can't be anything between us." Gripping the steering wheel, I practice the words in case, by some minute chance, I still need them.
As I shift into third and coast down the hill, I reach for my vibrating phone to check an incoming text. My mom: Have a nice day. Ahead, someone exits the upcoming crosswalk, leaving the road clear. I go to tuck my cell into my inside jacket pocket, but I can't find the opening. I look down, letting go of the wheel for just a second.CHAPTER 3
I step out of the greenbelt and wave to Cydni, whose hair is going enormous in the rain. She twists the mass into a messy knot. "Hi," I say, waiting under the streetlight for a truck to pass. It rolls slowly between us then speeds off. I take the moment to flip up my hood against the rain's chill.
"Did you finish Calc, Sarah?" Cydni calls. "Did you, like, get what it was even about? I mean especially the last problems, and oh, that second one was crazy, too."
"Yeah, I got it." I step into the crosswalk. My messenger bag bops against my hip. Down the road, headlights tip over the hill as a car approaches.
"I couldn't figure out most of it," she admits. "Why did I take the class? Why did I let my advisor push me into it?"
"Don't worry. We can go over it." I glance at the car getting closer. "It's not that hard."
"Sure," she says, doubtfully. "Maybe for you it isn't, but I don't have the stupid math gene; you know what I'm saying?"
"You'll get it." Beyond the centerline, I splash into a puddle, soaking my black Chucks. Sarah, wearing wet socks is the first step to pneumonia ... Um, no, Mom. Wet socks just feel gross. They're not life threatening. I squish over to the curb.
Cydni pats my arm and points. "You dropped something, Sares. I'll get it for you."
Shoot! "No!" I nudge her back.
"Somebody's touchy," she says, pulling out her phone, protecting it from the drizzle, and checking it.
"No, I mean, it's okay. I got it." Haddings' note teeters on the far edge of the muddy puddle. Holding up my hand, I signal for the car to wait up a sec and dart back into the road, before the note gets ruined.
"Ha! You should see what Kara posted," says Cydni. "Unbelievable."
My fingers curl around the damp folded paper. I shove it into my other back pocket, the one with the closure, and quickly fiddle the snap closed. Why didn't I put it in this one to begin with?
Cydni suddenly shouts, "Sares, the car!"
I straighten, tugging my eyes from her to the rumbling Mustang; my sopping shoes suction the wet street inches from the brilliant headlight. I lurch, flailing my arms and screaming from my gut, "No!"
The impact scoops me onto the sizzling hood. I'm sprawled like a broken loose-leaf binder, then shot off the side of the car. I'm flung through the air.
In the dark, through the tiny, stinging raindrops, I jangle apart. The Mustang's red taillights squint smaller and smaller. The wet fir trees' uplifted arms stretch toward me, their pungent needles pricking the air, but I fall, fall, fall. The black asphalt bites my scalp and cracks against my skull.
Excerpted from Hit by Lorie Ann Grover. Copyright © 2014 Lorie Ann Grover. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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