Read an Excerpt
88 days before
My life is puke.
I’m staring at a bunch of puke that used to be one chocolate French silk pie, one blueberry muffin, and two peanut butter cookies, all from Perkins.
My sister, Danielle, bangs on the bathroom door. One fourteen-year-old sister, one seventeen-year-old brother, and one “cooperatively-shared” bathroom.
“I’m almost done,” I call out as casually as possible.
Danielle, grumbling, goes away.
I have to flush twice to get rid of all the puke.
I carefully check my reflection in the mirror. My eyes are red and watery. I meticulously wash my hands and face in the sink, brush and floss my teeth twice, and gargle four times with extra-strength, cinnamon-flavored mouthwash. Then I shove three wintergreen breath mints into my mouth. My pockets hold the world’s record for wintergreen breath mints.
My sister, still grumbling, comes back. “You’re worse than a girl. It’s time to come out and face your public now.”
I check my reflection again. The eyes are blue-green; the hair’s the color of “orange-blossom honey,” says Mom, “like they make in Vermont.”
It all fits the name Mom and Dad gave me—except for the dead giveaway of Rabinowitz being my last name.
I open the bathroom door.
“At last,” Danielle sighs. “Time to make hearts break!”
I ignore this comment, shoot past her, duck into my room, and sweep my car keys off my desk. It happened today because I’d hardly eaten anything. I tried, but I just couldn’t resist. When I saw the Perkins, I jammed on my brakes so hard the UPS truck behind me nearly ended up in my back seat. I hated myself for it.
But everything’s okay now. I undid the damage. I flushed it all away.
My big brother’s a breaker-of-hearts.
It’s his talent and hobby.
Ask any girl at Livingstone High School.
Sometimes I wonder, if that’s it or if it’s something else completely.
I also wonder if the reason people like me is because it’s the quickest way to get to him.
I go downstairs. The house is dark and quiet, not a single Jerusalem of Gold sculpture or painting of the Dome of the Rock out of place. Mom and Dad are at the Jewish National Fund’s Tree of Life Gala.
I walk to our four-car garage and get into my black Audi. My parents don’t do Mercedes because of that lingering Jewish stand against the Nazis, but they make an exception for Audi.
I drive the few miles to Foxy’s house. I guess he’s been watching for me, because as soon as I pull into his drive-way, he pops out of the front door.
“Yo,” he grunts, sliding into the front seat, the whiff of his cologne making my nostrils flare. I crack my win-dow even though it’s February outside, pull off the drive-way, and head to the party.
Jarod Fox and I have been friends since we shared a bar mitzvah date when we were thirteen. We’re the same height (six foot one), our families belong to the same synagogue (Temple Shalom), and we take the same classes at school (AP Physics, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP Span-ish, AP Calculus, AP Statistics).
Foxy plays trumpet in Jazz Ensemble, and is student representative to the Livingstone School Board, vice president of our temple youth group, treasurer of Key Club, and managing editor of The Cellar (the school literary magazine). He’s in Livingstone Chorale, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
We’re different in one way. Foxy has had girlfriends.
And the other thing.
Foxy starts messing around with the controls in the car, which I can’t stand, but I let him do it anyway.
“Dude, when are you gonna let me drive this baby?” he asks, without expecting a reply, because he continues, “I’m asking out Tina Taylor the hot shiksa tonight.”
“Mazel tov,” I mutter; “congratulations” in Hebrew. Shiksa means “non-Jewish girl” in Yiddish.
“Now that Spaz’s committed,” Foxy goes on.
I frown. “I know.”
Pete Spazzarini isn’t Jewish. He’s vice president of National Honor Society, vice president of Key Club, vice president of Student Council, and on the forensics team. He’s in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Make-A-Wish Founda-tion, and Model UN, and he doesn’t have a problem with being called Spaz.
How are Spaz and I different? He likes building his college resume.
We arrive at the party. It’s at the end of a dirt road, more a compound than a house, with outbuildings and sheds. I guess it’s an old farm of some kind, one of the last remaining pieces of open space in New Jersey. The actual party seems to be in a barn.
I park on the front lawn between two trees, and Foxy and I nonchalantly make our way to the barn. Once inside, we stand around trying to look cool, mostly wondering what we should be doing. I slide three more wintergreen breath mints into my mouth. It takes a lot of energy to look cool.
Spaz suddenly materializes with Amber Weinstein, one of the hottest girls in school, who’s clinging to his left arm as if her life depends on it.
“Ready to hoe down?” he asks.
“Yee-hah,” Foxy replies dully.
“I’d pay real money to see you dance, Parker,” Spaz says.
I wish I could think of something brilliant to say in response to him in the three seconds I have before he and Amber walk away, but all I can manage is a grunt.
Spaz and Amber go off to a hay-strewn area that’s doubling as a dance floor.
They start kissing, Amber enveloping Spaz’s mouth with such passion I feel like I should look away.
“That girl thinks the sun rises and sets in his pants,” Foxy observes.
I wonder what it would be like to be with a girl who liked me as much as Amber likes Spaz.
The real me.
“Wanna dance?” It’s Julianne Jennings, a shiksa and vision of hotness.
“I don’t dance,” I answer.
Julianne takes my hand and leads me to a set of rickety stairs. I have no idea where we’re going. We climb to a loft of some kind. A hay loft, I guess. It’s pretty dark up here, and lots of other couples have the same idea.
This is our routine. Julianne and I have hooked up at every party since our senior year started last September.
Julianne finds a free spot literally in the hay, pulls me down, and soon we’re making out furiously. I don’t want to stop, and we don’t come up for air for a long time. But, when we do, Julianne isn’t happy.
“When are you gonna actually ask me out, Parker?”
I can feel her long eyelashes against my face. I can also hear the hurt in her voice. I think of Amber and Spaz—the way she kissed him, clung to his arm. I want that.
“Is it because of your family?” she asks.
It would be easy to use this as an excuse. “No … It’s just … ” I start to say.
Julianne sits up and picks hay out of her hair. “I give up,” she sighs.
I watch her leave. I feel sick.
But there’s nothing left inside me to throw up.
They call Parker
Like the brain surgeon on that hospital show.
He’s been hearing since first grade that he “doesn’t look Jewish.”
Whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Parker doesn’t watch that show or any TV at all.
He’s got three hours of extracurricular activities and three hours of homework every night.
I know he wants to get into
Because that’s where Dad went.
And Harvard and Yale are too Jewish.
People think I’m cool, but I’m really not. I just pretend, so they’ll like me.
Julianne is in this category. She thinks I’m the coolest guy around.
I get up and look for her, but the place has gotten a lot more crowded. I can’t find her anywhere.
The sick feeling inside me gets worse until it feels like panic. And, all of a sudden, I’m thinking about chocolate French silk pie.
I walk out of the barn, trudge across the front lawn, and make my way to the house. The front door’s locked, but the sliding doors in the back are open. I slip through the doors, find my way to the kitchen, and rummage around as quietly as possible. I seem to be the only one here. There’s got to be people upstairs, but the first floor’s dark and empty. I don’t see or hear anyone.
I open a walk-in pantry and hit pay dirt. There isn’t a pie, but there are cereal boxes and bags of potato chips and jars of peanut butter.
I devour an entire jar of peanut butter, a whole box of cereal, a bag of potato chips, and four glasses of milk.
I’m stealing this food. I can’t believe I’m stealing this food.
I focus on the food, only the food, eating the food as fast as possible, not Julianne storming off, not stealing, not anything except eating the food.
But it doesn’t last.
I know what I need to do. The mere thought disgusts me, but it’s better than the alternative.
Vomiting is vile, but for all its revolting effects, it’s all that stands between me and regaining control.
I find a bathroom, gag myself with my finger, and hurl into the toilet bowl. Everything comes up in a hot, disgusting rush.
I’m ashamed of myself, but when you think about it, there aren’t any other choices.
I won’t be fat. I won’t be a failure.
My mouth is sore. I can’t go back out there without brushing my teeth. I start rummaging like crazy, looking for someone’s toothbrush, and I find one, and I use it.
My throat burns and I feel itchy all over. But I accept the pain. It’s worth it.
I’m tough. I can endure this.
I hesitate just before opening the door. What if someone has noticed the missing food? What if someone’s wait-ing to use the bathroom?
I promise myself I will never do it again.
When I return to the party—after thoroughly dousing myself with mouthwash and wintergreen breath mints—I still can’t find Julianne.
I end up in the hay loft anyway, for the second time that night, with a hot girl, whose name I don’t know, from the Teen Tzedakah Project.