Read an Excerpt
Call me bored.
As in -- terminally.
I'm a hundred pages into the Longest Book I've Ever Read -- Moby-Dick -- Bard Academy's summer reading requirement. If you ask my opinion, Herman Melville could've shortened this tome by about five hundred pages if he wasn't so long-winded (I mean, twenty pages alone on the color white? Yeah, I got it -- okay? The whale is WHITE. Sheesh. Get on with it!).
I glance out the grungy window of my Chicago Transit Authority bus seat and see jet skiers and windsurfers dotting the horizon on Lake Michigan. I have to take the bus to work because my driving privileges are still revoked (see: Dad still holding a grudge about his totaled BMW from a year ago). Looking at the long stretch of water, I find myself wondering what it would be like if that whale came to life. I can almost imagine a wave becoming a giant whale, rising up, and swallowing three jet skiers whole.
A bike darts in front of the bus and the driver slams on the brakes, throwing me forward and nearly making me drop my book. For an instant, I feel adrenaline running through my veins and my muscles tense up, ready for a fight. I half expect Moby Dick or some other menacing fictional character to appear out of nowhere. I have to remind myself that those things don't happen out here in the real world. My heart rate slows down and I take a few deep breaths. I'm not at Bard. Not where ghosts walk the halls and fictional characters come to life. That was just another posttraumatic Bard moment.
But some of you probably never heard of Bard.
Let me recap.
My dad sent me away to delinquent boarding school (Bard Academy) for my sophomore year after wrecking his Beemer. But what he doesn't know is that Bard is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill boarding school for delinquents. It's staffed with the ghosts of famous writers, and fictional characters sometimes come to life and wander the campus. This is Bard's big secret, but few people know it. Just me and a few of my friends. And by the way, we managed to save the school (oh yeah, and the world) twice from total annihilation. You see, not all the ghosts there are good ghosts. I found that out the hard way.
I close the book on my lap and take a deep breath. At Bard, some books hold special powers. But out here, away from school, the book is just ordinary, I remind myself. Nothing to worry about.
Still, just in case, I tuck the book snugly into my backpack. You never know.
I glance out the window and recognize the strip shopping mall where I work. I'm about to miss my stop. I grab my bag and push open the back door, then step out into a humid August day. There, glaring at me in hot pink, is the sign I've come to hate. It reads "In the Pink" and it hangs above the store that belongs to my Dad's third wife, Carmen. I've been forced to work here all summer without pay to help "offset my Bard tuition," which is how Dad puts it. I never thought I'd see something scarier than some of the ghosts I'd come face-to-face with at Bard Academy, but Carmen's shop is one big horror show. There are pink plush toys, pink garters, pink toothbrushes -- and (serious ew here) pink edible underwear. It's nice to know that instead of saving for my college education, Dad has opted to fritter my tuition away on inflatable flamingos and posters of pigs in ballet tutus. Clearly, In the Pink (or, as I like to call it, In the Puke) is of so much more social significance than, say, me becoming a doctor and one day curing cancer. Not that I would, but In the Pink definitely isn't going to.
"You're late," Carmen says to me the minute I walk through the door. She's snapping pink bubble gum at me as she tosses a pink, furry boa over my head. This is what she forces employees (i.e., me) to wear. I glance up at the clock.
"Technically, I'm an hour early," I tell her, nodding at the giant neon pink clock in the shape of lips on the wall.
"You know that clock doesn't work," Carmen snaps.
"Like half of the stuff in here," I mumble, but she doesn't hear me.
"Honestly, Miranda. If you were mine, I would seriously think about disowning you," she says. This is Carmen's idea of being warm. My "stepmom," who hasn't been able to keep a goldfish alive and has the mothering instincts of a brick, is twenty-six. That's not even a decade older than I am. This is why I sometimes call Dad a pedophile just to see him get mad. It works every time.
I ignore her and take up my place behind the cash register. I plunk down my bag and open up Moby-Dick. There aren't exactly dozens of people clamoring to buy broken lip clocks.
"Reading? Again?" Carmen scoffs. "I don't know what's gotten into you since you've been back from Bard Academy, but you're reading way too much. You know reading causes you to have to wear glasses. And that would just spoil your whole face."
I want to tell her that never having read a book in her life has probably spoiled her whole brain, but I managed to bite my tongue. Comments like that just make their way straight back to Dad, and then he threatens to send me off to juvenile detention. As it is, I'm just three days away from heading back to Bard Academy for my junior year. Normally, I'd be dreading it. But, recently, I've found myself actually wanting to get back to Bard.
In some ways, the real world just seems so, well, boring. Besides, at Bard, I'm someone special. Turns out I'm part fiction, distantly related to Catherine of Wuthering Heights fame. At Bard, I'm more than just my dad's child support payment or Carmen's surly employee. I really am someone. Someone who saved the school. Twice. Here, I'm just one more underappreciated adolescent taking the bus and working a grunt job.
"Anyway, I've told you a million times that you can't read while we have customers," Carmen scolds as she wraps a long piece of her newly highlighted hair around one finger.
I glance up and around the store. There are no customers. Not unless you count the eighty-year-old woman who's been nosing around the fifty-percent-off bin. As I look up, she picks up a pack of edible underwear, sniffs it, and then drops it back in the bin.
"No reading while we have customers," Carmen says. "We have an image to uphold."
I can think of a million smart things to say here. Like the fact that I'm sorry to be reading when we've got such a stampede of customers lining around the block to buy pink Post-it notes that say "Queen of Pink" on them. Or the fact that I can't see how Moby-Dick would do anything but improve the image of a store in a strip shopping mall stuffed between a dry cleaner's and a Dunkin Donuts.
Instead, I settle for, "Oh yes, we're the model of sophistication," while I hold up a pink roll of condoms in a package shaped like a lollypop.
"Shut up," she snaps, because Carmen never can think of anything smart to say back to me. Dad certainly didn't marry her for her sparkling personality, that's for sure. She grabs the neon condoms out of my hand and puts them on a nearby shelf.
Three more days. Only three more days. And then I am out of here and back to Bard, and to...my complicated love life. In one corner, there's my ex, Ryan Kent, state championship basketball player. Gorgeous. Smart. Sweet. And totally uninterested in dating me anymore. In the other corner, there's Heathcliff. Brooding. Mysterious. Serious bad-boy mojo. And completely off-limits because he's a) a fictional character, and b) did I mention he's fiction? He is the original bad boy from Wuthering Heights and the Bard faculty told me explicitly that I couldn't date him because he doesn't belong in this world.
Most girls my age have to worry about whether or not the boy of their dreams knows they exist. I have to worry whether or not my boy actually does exist. It's a strange, strange world.
I put my hand to the locket I wear around my neck, the one that contains a bit of a page from Wuthering Heights. It's the one thing that's keeping Heathcliff in this world. If it were destroyed, he'd be sent straight back to his fictional universe. That he gave it to me speaks volumes about how much he trusts me -- especially since Heathcliff normally doesn't trust anyone.
The shop bell dings and my dad walks through. Reflexively, I frown. Dad and I do not get along. That's because Dad has the emotional maturity of a fourth-grader. And I like to point this out. Often.
"There's my baby!" he says in his exaggerated enthusiasm reserved only for Carmen. He gives her a leer, which makes him look like a lecherous old man. His bald head gleams in the pink fluorescent lights of the store.
"Honey bear!" she cries, and she runs over to give him a sloppy kiss. Tongue is involved, and I feel like I'm going to vomit. I long for the days when Dad and Carmen fought. That was before Dad dropped a hundred Gs on In the Puke. That's paid for probably a lot more than French kisses. The thought makes me want to wretch. There's only one thing worse than imagining your own parents having sex, and that's imagining them having sex with someone else.
He doesn't acknowledge my presence at all for a full five minutes while he and Carmen exchange sickeningly sweet baby talk. Just when I feel like I'm very close to putting my own eye out with one of Carmen's pink fuzzy disco ball pens, Dad looks up and sees me.
"How's my little worker today?" Even Dad can't manage to keep the sarcasm from his voice. "She hasn't caused you any trouble today, has she, Carmen?"
I haven't caused trouble the whole freakin' summer. Not that Dad would notice. Even now, he's already distracted by the edible underwear display. He doesn't even have the attention span to listen to Carmen's answer. Not that I want his attention. If he's not ignoring me, that means he's threatening to send me off to juvie.
"She's been fine, although you know she's reading too much," Carmen says. "It's a distraction for the customers."
"Oh yeah, and that isn't?" I mumble, glancing over at the bachelorette section with the giant blow-up pink penis. You know, because little old ladies who are shopping for pink stationery and pink ballpoint pens are also in the market for a giant pink pecker. Only Carmen would think those two go together. And maybe for her they do. She was the one, after all, who would have sex with my dad on the office copier back when he was married to his second wife. Maybe she just associates sex with office products.
"Um-hmmmm," Dad says, clearly not listening, as he picks up a packet of edible strawberry thongs. Serious ew factor. "By the way, where's my other daughter?"
"You mean Lindsay?" I say. I wonder if he's temporarily forgotten my sister's name. I wouldn't put it past him. He's always forgetting our birthdays. Our names wouldn't be much of a stretch.
"I thought she was with you," Carmen says.
Dad shrugs. "She's not with me...."
I sigh. "I don't suppose either of you remembered to pick her up from tennis camp? It ended this morning."
Lindsay had insisted on going to some tennis camp this summer. Lindsay had never hit a tennis ball in her life, but that didn't stop her from signing up. Apparently, all the cool kids from her school went, because the most popular girl in her class also happened to be on the varsity team. Lindsay was always chasing after the popular kids. It was so sad and pathetic, really. She never really fit in, but that didn't stop her from sucking up to them all the same. And that's why they kept her around, as far as I could see. She was their personal slave -- doing their homework, running their errands, at their beck and call night or day.
"Camp?" Dad echoes, memory starting to dawn. "Was I supposed to pick her up? Or was your mother?"
"Mom said it was your turn," I say. I glance at my watch. If nobody remembered to pick her up, she'd been staring at empty tennis courts at Northwestern for close to five hours. Poor Lindsay. "Didn't she call you?" I ask Dad.
"I haven't had my phone on," he says, shrugging.
Great. Am I the only adult here? If Dad hadn't confiscated my phone as punishment for talking back to Carmen in June, Lindsay could've called me.
"I told you you were supposed to go," Carmen tells Dad, who frowns.
"Why couldn't you pick her up, then, if you remembered?" he snaps at her, his good mood suddenly gone. "How am I supposed to remember everything?"
"I've got a business to run, in case you haven't noticed," Carmen spits.
And then, while Dad and Carmen are arguing about who's responsible for this latest child-rearing debacle (I swear, neither one of them is responsible enough to raise gerbils), I hear a tap on the glass at the front window.
I look up to see Lindsay standing there, looking peeved, her hands on her hips and her hair a bit of a mess. I don't know how she got here, but chances are none of those popular kids gave her a ride. They usually just ask for favors, they don't grant them. Maybe she took the el? In any case, I guess she got tired of waiting.
She sticks her tongue out at me, like she's always done since she was five. Lindsay doesn't like the fact that I don't approve of her desperate attempts to be popular. That is so not my scene. I'm the artsy, thrift-store girl, not the buy-anything-with-a-designer-label kind of girl. Still, I keep trying to tell Lindsay she's better off not being a popular drone, but she won't listen to me. Even now she looks like she's trying too hard in her head-to-toe Lacoste tennis ensemble. I don't know how she ever convinced Mom to buy it. But Lindsay always gets whatever she wants, including a one-hundred-and-twenty-five-dollar tennis skirt that she'll only wear once. Lindsay typically always tries to play the "good kid" card by pointing out how bad I am, and she usually gets the parentals to buy her whatever she wants.
She jangles keys in the window. They're Dad's spare car keys that he keeps in a magnetized tin box underneath his bumper. I'd recognize the key chain anywhere. It's one of Carmen's. It's a pink furry slipper.
"Um, guys...?" I say, trying to interrupt Carmen and Dad, who are still going at it. Those two argue as crassly as they make out. It's really kind of gross.
As I watch, Lindsay flips Dad off (although Dad can't see) and then climbs into the driver's seat of his brand-new shiny Land Rover. I don't know what she thinks she's doing. She's fourteen. The most driving experience she's ever had is playing Mario Kart.
"Dad," I say, starting to worry now. She looks like she's turning over the engine. I hear his Land Rover rev. "Lindsay's over there. She's in your car."
"She's what!" Dad shouts, just as Lindsay sticks out her tongue at the three of us, and then turns around as if she has the car in reverse. But she doesn't. She's got the car in drive, and faster than you can say "The Fast and the Furious," she's run straight into the window of In the Puke, shattering glass everywhere and nearly running over the little old lady by the sales bin. The front bumper of the Land Rover comes to a screeching halt about a foot from the counter where we're standing. Lindsay has a look of surprise on her face, too. I'm guessing she didn't quite mean to actually run through the store. She meant to steal Dad's car, only she didn't know which gear was which.
I'm the first to recover from my shock, and I glance over at Carmen, who looks like Macaulay Culkin from the original Home Alone movies. She's got both her hands on her face and her mouth in a big, round O. Dad is turning various shades of red and purple. He can't even form words he's so mad.
This can't be good.
"Uh, Dad, this is like totally Miranda's fault," Lindsay sputters, pointing to me. "She's a bad influence!"
Copyright © 2008 by Cara Lockwood