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When I get home from school, the dog is scratching at the back door, demanding to go out and pee. She may look like a sweet, furry marshmallow, but really she’s a bully. A ten-pound, purebred, bichon frisé bully.
"Camille," I say, "it’s snowing outside and I’m in my uniform. Can I please change first?"
Camille cocks her head and gives me a meaningful stare, one that says, You know it’s your job to walk me right after school. I’ve been home alone all day. My bladder hurts.
"But it’s cold outside," I tell her. "Can’t you go in the toilet like a normal person?"
No, because I’m not a person. I’m a dog. And I will pee on the living room rug and make you clean it up if you don’t walk me right now! She gives the back door another scratch for emphasis.
I glance outside at the flurries, debating whether to change out of my loafers and school jumper. By now Camille is yowling as well as scratching, so I just zip up my jacket and grab her leash. "Fine, mutt. Let’s go."
As we navigate down the slippery driveway, my mom pulls up in her car and lowers the window. "Hello, chickies!" she calls. "How goes it?"
"Great," I reply halfheartedly.
"Did Mommy’s little girl have a good day?"
I don’t answer because this is directed at the dog. Camille puts on her biggest smile and hops around on her back feet to let Mom know she’s happy to see her, too.
"Take her all the way to the stop sign, Taryn," Mom says. "They’ll salt the roads soon and she won’t be able to walk around."
I swear my mom thinks I’m an idiot. Like I don’t know Camille will lick the salt off her paws and get sick.
"And you really should put her parka on," Mom continues. "It’s too cold out for her."
"Mom, she’s fine. We’ll back in a few minutes, okay?"
She shakes her head at me and waves at Camille before raising the window and coasting up the driveway.
Small, hard flakes are coming down and a thin layer is dusting the road and trees. The sky is somewhere between pale pink and gray. Everything is quiet and still and peaceful, like Camille and I are the only two people on earth. I don’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing I’m enjoying being outside, so I tell her to hurry up and pee.
She obliges and we both pause to admire the yellow stain on the snow. For some reason, even though it’s dog pee, it seems special because it’s on the first snow of the year.
It’s so beautiful out I decide we might as well walk past the stop sign and go a little farther down the road. My school loafers have no traction and I slip and slide as we walk, snow seeping through my soles. No cars have driven down this way yet, so I can’t see where the road ends and the grass begins.
I’m leaning my head back to catch a snowflake on my tongue, when out of the corner of my eye I see someone walking toward us. It’s a he, and as he gets closer, snowflakes swirl around him, sticking to his hair and jacket.
When the guy is right in front of us, he stops. We’re the only ones out in this beautiful, snowy white world and I hold my breath, feeling like something very special is happening but I don’t know what it is.
The guy has dark hair and dark eyes and he stands there in the snow staring at Camille and me. He’s really good looking, but not in a model or actor way. More like a guy that might be the lifeguard at your pool.
"Hey," he says. "That’s some dog."
I glance at Camille, who is groomed to look like an oversized white powder puff. "Yeah," I say. My voice comes out thin, like watery spaghetti sauce.
"You should be careful—you might lose her in the snow." He smiles.
This guy is smiling at me. I don’t know what to do, so I laugh loudly, even though his joke wasn’t that funny.
"So," he says. He’s still smiling. It’s amazing. His smile radiates some kind of megawatt energy. I can almost feel it hitting me in the face. "I’m Epp."
"John Epplin. But everybody calls me Epp."
Epp. Possibly the coolest nickname I’ve ever heard. "I’m—I’m Taryn," I stammer. "Greenleaf. But nobody calls me Green."
It’s not the funniest thing anyone’s ever said, but it’s not bad, considering. Epp laughs and I feel taller. Cooler. Prettier.
"You live around here, Green?" he asks.
I try to come up with a witty reply but I don’t think there is one for such a simple question. So I say, "Yeah, down the street."
"And who’s your little friend?"
I look at my dog. I’ve certainly never thought of her as my friend. "This is Camille. My mom calls her my sister, but I haven’t found any evidence of a blood relationship."
"She’s . . . fluffy," he says. "What kind of dog is she?"
I can’t believe we’re discussing Camille. I’m standing two feet from this unbelievable guy and we’re talking about Camille. "She’s a bichon frisé. They were originally bred as pets for royalty, but this one was bred just to irritate me."
Epp laughs again but this time he also gives me a look. A look like he’s looking at me, like he’s actually considering me. Me, in my knit hat with the pink pompom on top, and my blue polyester uniform and sweater tights.
I have to keep talking to him. "Do you live around here?"
"No—my girlfriend does. She’s skiing with her family this week and I’m taking care of their dog."
He says the g-word casually, like it’s nothing. Meanwhile, my insides freeze like I swallowed a snowball. I finally meet a guy and he’s talking to me and looking at me and it’s snowing, and he has a girlfriend. "Your girlfriend?"
"Yeah, Isabelle Graham. You know her?"
I nod, a smile stuck to my face. Sure, I know Isabelle. We’ve gone to Eastley Prep together since kindergarten. She’s the kind of girl who floats around on a big, pink, fluffy cloud of perfect. She’s never had a frizzy hair day or a D in Biology or even a sore throat, probably. She’s one of the most popular girls at school, and we’re only sophomores.
"I’m walking her dachshund after school all week," Epp says. "I’m on my way there now."
"Oh." I stuff my hands in my pockets and pray silently. Please, please let him ask me to join him. Please, please, pretty please.
"Do you . . . " His voice trails off as Camille abruptly pulls away from me, tugging hard at her leash, and nearly yanking my arm out of its socket.
I’m five feet four, and Camille barely clears fifteen inches, but her willpower could move a school bus. I plant my feet but my loafers won’t stay put on the slick layer of snow. A second later, I’m flat on my butt, icy slush soaking through my jumper.
"No, thanks, Camille," I say, trying to sound casual while sprawled across the road, "I don’t want to make snow angels right now."
Camille ignores me and continues tugging for home. I try to stand up but every time I put a loafer down, it shoots out in front of me. Finally, Epp offers me his hand and pulls me to my feet. For five seconds, we’re glove to glove. I look into his eyes, which aren’t just ordinary dark brown. They have a lighter hazel ring around the outside, like some kind of fancy dark chocolate with caramel icing.
"Th-thanks," I say, in my watery-spaghetti-sauce voice. Camille jerks my arm backward as I talk. "I guess Camille wants to go home."
"Too bad. Well, Green, I’m sure I’ll see you around." He gives me one last smile, then turns and strolls toward Isabelle’s house, kicking up snow as he walks.
"See you," I call weakly.
Camille gives the leash another tug and I let her pull me down the street. My butt is soaked and freezing, but I barely feel it.
"We’re back," I yell when we get in the house. I carry Camille to the kitchen sink to rinse her paws. She fights with me while I pick off the tiny snowballs clinging to her fur.
"Taryn, make sure you wash her feet," Mom calls from the den. "They’ll be salt—"
"I’m doing it, Mom." Honestly, you’d think the dog was the Queen of England.
I towel dry Camille, dump her on the floor, and run up to my room. My feet and butt are numb from the snow, so I peel off my wet uniform and throw on jeans, a sweatshirt, and some woolly socks.
Then I hit speed dial one on my phone.
"Helllllooo?" Lila likes to stretch out her hellos. She thinks it makes her sound sophisticated. It doesn’t.
"You’re never going to guess what happened," I say.
She thinks a minute. "Umm, you got an A in Trig?"
"You talked your mom into letting you go to a coed school?"
"C’mon." She knows my mom adores Eastley. And single-sex education. "You’re not even trying to guess."
"You’ve decided to join the circus?"
"Nooo," I say impatiently. "I met a guy. A really cool, funny, hot guy."
"Taryn liiikes a boooy," she sings. "That’s great! When are you going out?"
"Going out? I just met him." Lila somehow believes that relationships happen as easily as they do on television, even though neither of us has ever had one. "Anyway, don’t get too excited—he has a girlfriend."
Lila groans. "Ugh. That’s lame."
"Yeah. And guess who the girlfriend is? No, don’t guess, your guesses are annoying. I’ll just tell you—Isabelle Graham."
I hear a gasp. "Eww! No!"
"Eww, yes. Isabelle Graham with her perfect skin and perfect B-cups."
"She’s not that perfect," Lila lies, cracking her gum and chewing. "I want to hear about him. What’s his name?"
"His name’s Epp, John Epplin, and he’s got dark hair and eyes and this intense smile. I met him walking Camille. He’s walking Isabelle’s dog after school all week. The Grahams are skiing."
"I know," says Lila. "She was talking about it in American Studies last week. They’re up at Blue Knob."
"Ooooh," I sneer. "Blue Knob." Only really annoying people take a week off to go skiing in late November when school is in session. People like Isabelle Graham.
"Gross," Lila agrees. "Tell me more about Epp. What’d you guys talk about?"
I try to recall our conversation, but mostly I just remember his smile. "Our names, and Camille. And Isabelle—barf. I think he liked me, though. He called me ‘Green’ and he kept smiling at me, this huge smile. And he helped me up when I slipped . . . "
Lila oohs and ahhs. "Sounds romantic. What were you wearing?"
"My uniform," I say. "Camille had to pee and she wouldn’t let me change first."
"Are you serious? You’ve got to stop letting that dog boss you around. She’s affecting your personal life."
"TARYN!" my mom yells from downstairs. "Come set the table!"
"Speaking of bossing me around, my mom’s yelling at me," I say. "Gotta go. See you tomorrow."
I float downstairs, still thinking about Epp, and set the table. Since it’s just Mom and me, it takes about five seconds. I don’t know why she has to make such a big deal about me doing it before dinner’s ready. Especially since we’re having leftover lasagna for the third day in a row.
"We’re supposed to get a few more inches tonight," Mom says, placing a dinner plate with fresh boiled hamburger and peas on the floor for Camille. The plate is fancy blue china and it’s not part of a set we own. She bought it just for the dog. "Snow this early means we’ll have a cold winter."
I fork some lasagna and splatter sauce on my sweatshirt. "I hope they don’t close school tomorrow."
"Pardon me?" Mom asks. "Are you my daughter?"
"Lila and I are starting Driver’s Ed tomorrow night," I remind her. "And I don’t want it to be canceled." I pat my sweatshirt with a napkin but the sauce stays put.
"Just make sure it doesn’t interfere with your home-work—you have exams coming up."
I give up on the stain and go back to eating. "Not until after Christmas break. And I’m only worried about Latin and Trig."
"Latin will help you on your SATs next year."
"That’s just a myth adults invented to make us study a dead language. A dead, hard, impossible language."
Mom frowns so deeply her eyebrows touch. "Maybe you shouldn’t have gone to see your father over Thanksgiving. You should have stayed here and started studying."
The mention of my visit to my dad’s hangs in the air for a second, and I concentrate on chewing and swallowing. "It’s not like I chose to go, Mom. I visit every other holiday. You guys came up with the arrangement, not me."
"Don’t be snappy, Taryn," Mom says mildly.
"I’m not snappy. I’m just saying."
"Well, say more nicely."
"Sorry," I say, but I’m not. I don’t particularly like having to take a train all the way to northern New Jersey to see my dad. I wish he’d stayed in Baltimore with us. But he didn’t, and I hate that my mother makes me feel bad every time I go see him.
Camille licks her plate clean and starts jumping on my mom’s legs, begging for more food. It’s amazing she only weighs ten pounds.
"Push her off you, Mom. We’ve got to teach her not to beg."
"Now, now. Don’t pick on our baby. Camille missed Mommy today, that’s all." Mom pulls Camille up into her lap and plants a big kiss on her snout. Camille ogles Mom’s plate of lasagna.
I roll my eyes and start clearing the table. My mother’s a smart woman, with seemingly normal brain chemistry, but Camille has a way of turning her into mush and making me feel like a third wheel in my own house.
Excerpted from Isabelle’s Boyfriend. by Caroline Hickey.
Copyright © 2008 by Caroline Hickey.
Published in 2010 by Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.