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"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
Science has figured out how far a single beam of light can travel in one year, and yet, how long a single letter takes to get from Washington, D.C., to Greenview, New Jersey, is still a mystery. I am trying to forget the fact that my entire summer will be decided by a letter that may or may not be waiting in my mailbox when I get home from school today. It would be so amazing if Dixie and I both get in. I don't know what I'll do if he gets in and I don't or vice versa. I take a bite of my turkey sandwich, hoping it will distract me.
Dixie and I are eating lunch at our usual spot in the library. I've actually learned to enjoy eating lunch behind the circulation desk. I started meeting Dixie here at the beginning of school last year when I developed my experiment to infiltrate the Holly Trinity. Dixie shelves books during part of his lunch period so that he can avoid getting teased by the meatheads in the lunchroom. At first I was terrified of getting crumbs on some important piece of library material, but Dixie taught me to not worry so much about that, among other important lessons. I guess that's what a best friend is for.
I look over at Dixie. He is staring at me and nibbling on a mini-sushi roll, which he delicately holds with a pair of chopsticks. Dixie can tell I am still preoccupied.
"Dorie, the application said the letter would arrive on or about the first of June," he says.
"Well, today is May thirty-first, so in my book that is on or about the first of June," I tell him. "How can you be so calm?"
"Dorie, dearie, I'm as nervous as you are, but we both promised that if either of us didn't get in, we would not get upset. As Doris Day sang in Please Don't Eat the Daisies, 'Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.'"
We found out about the National Academy for Gifted Youth months ago, during one of Principal Wabash's morning announcements. She'd said that students interested in applying for the nation's most prestigious summer youth enrichment program could pick up applications in the main office. Dixie and I each picked up a brochure and application mine for the Science Academy and his for the Arts Academy. The brochure said that each summer the nation's top middle-grade students spend eight weeks studying the field of their choice with college faculty from around the country.
"Oh my God," I said, gasping out loud as I clutched my brochure.
"What's wrong?" Dixie asked.
"It says here that last year the science students worked on co-vinyl acetates."
"Well, I've only been interested in acetates since I was, like, ten!"
Dixie just looked at me. "I might have more of a reaction if I actually knew what an acetate was."
"Oh, an acetate is just a chemical compound that " I started to explain, but Dixie put his finger to my lips.
"Shh. Let it remain in my little treasure chest of scientific mysteries for which you alone hold the key." I laughed out loud. Dixie always cracks me up.
"Anyway, listen to this. Last year the Arts Academy did a full production of Gypsy that they presented on one of the stages at the Kennedy Center."
"Wow." I sighed. "Gypsy and acetates, an embarrassment of riches."
Then I read the paragraph that changed my entire life.
According to the brochure a select group of students would be chosen to present their work at the Capitol to members of Congress and this year's distinguished guest of honor at Academy Day, Jane Goodall. Jane Goodall! I have basically worshipped Jane Goodall since I discovered her research on chimpanzees when I was eight. I believe she has done more for the advancement of women in science than any other person on the planet. Of course, Dixie is well aware of my obsession with Jane Goodall and when I shared this paragraph with him, he was almost as excited as I was.
"Dorie, dearie, it's destiny. You and I are meant to be in Washington, D.C., this summer."
That night Dixie and I began working on our applications. We had to submit grades, letters of recommendation, and an essay explaining a project we would work on that summer. Dixie's project involved a radical restaging of Pygmalion, while my project was a rather complex investigation of particle scattering as a way of combating global warming. Every day during lunch in the library we would read over our applications with each other and fantasize about having our projects selected for Academy Day. After we mailed our applications off we did our best to forget about them until about a few weeks ago, when I realized the decision letters were due to be mailed out.
The bell signaling the end of lunch rings and snaps me out of my daydream. We grab our backpacks. As we leave the library I instruct Dixie, "Now if you get a letter when you get home from school, call me."
"I call you every day after school anyway." Dixie takes a pair of large vintage sunglasses out of his bag and places them on top of his head.
"Aren't those supposed to go over your eyes?" I ask.
"If you put them on your eyes, they're glasses. If you put them on the top of your head, they're an accessory." Dixie walks across the hall. His head turns from side to side. I can tell that he's checking to see if there is anyone around who might harass him. Dixie gets teased with an unpleasant regularity at school. He says the other kids are simply too immature to appreciate his sensational level of style. When he's sure the coast is clear, he gives me a small wave and continues down the hall for his next class.
I'm heading toward English when I hear a voice coming at me from down the hall. "Hey, Dorie!" When I turn around, Grant is smiling and waving at me. His blond hair flops in his face as his slim body makes its way though the crowd of kids in the hall. The thought of having to say good-bye to Grant for the whole summer is the only thing that makes the possibility of getting accepted bittersweet.
Dixie insists that Grant is my boyfriend although Grant has never actually called himself my boyfriend and I have never called myself his girlfriend. We kissed at his brother's wedding way back in December, but then he went away with his family to some mountain resort in the Alps for the holidays and didn't come back until the middle of January. We e-mailed each other a few times and when he got back to school we were definitely more than friends but I was not exactly sure if we were officially going out.
"Have you heard anything?" Grant asks, falling in step next to me. I wonder if the fact that he doesn't offer to carry my books is a sign that he doesn't consider himself my boyfriend. On the other hand he knows I would take that as an overtly sexist gesture, so maybe there are too many variables to make sense of the equation.
"Grant," I say. "It's not the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. They don't show up in a van with balloons. It's just a letter. No big deal." I shrug my shoulders.
"Nice try, Dorie. I know how much you want to get into that Science Academy. I wish they had one for basketball or cooking," Grant says, naming his two favorite activities.
"Me too." At the end of the hall, he turns to go to his gym class and I head toward Mrs. Cobrin's classroom.
"Call me if you hear anything. See you later, babe," he says. I watch him as he walks toward the gym.
Grant started calling me babe after the second time we kissed. We have officially kissed four distinct times. The first time was at his brother's wedding in December. In February we went to see a movie at the Parsippany Hills Multiplex, four towns over. At the end of the movie, while the credits were rolling, Grant leaned over and kissed me on the lips. Almost as soon as our lips met, the lights in the theater started to fade up and our lip-lock unlocked.
The third time we kissed was after the state basketball semifinals. Grant made an amazing basket from outside the three-point line just as the buzzer signaled the end of the fourth quarter. Everyone charged onto the court, and in the excitement Grant picked me up, hugged me, and gave me a kiss on the lips.
Our last kiss happened almost a month ago. Grant walked me home after school, since he was going to watch some extreme sports thing at his friend Matt's house, which is only a few houses away from where I live. All three of us actually walked home together that day, but when we got near my house Grant told Matt to go on ahead. Grant said he had something he wanted to tell me. I immediately got very nervous. At first I thought he was going to break up with me but quickly realized you have to actually be together before you can break up. Even nuclear fission needs a fusion of protons and neutrons.
"What did you want to tell me?" I asked Grant.
Grant looked down the street, to make sure Matt was out of view, I guess. Then he said, "I wanted to tell you this." But he didn't say anything. Instead, he kissed me.
My instinct was to pull back and say, "This is not telling me something. This is doing something." But instead, I kissed him back until I considered the fact that my mother could be watching from behind some half-drawn curtain. I realized I would have to wear a paper bag over my head during dinner for the next two years in order to save myself from death by mortification. Just as I thought this, Grant opened his eyes, pulled back, and said, "See you later, babe."
It's been almost a month since our last kiss, but here I am headed into Mrs. Cobrin's English class, watching Grant walk away, and I still don't know if we are boyfriend and girlfriend or just friends who kiss on a monthly basis.
By the afternoon, I am so caught up trying to figure out my relationship with Grant that I barely think about the possibility of getting my NAGY acceptance letter until I am walking home. As I turn the corner I see the white postal truck crawling down my street. It's already a few houses down the block from mine. I run to the mailbox in front of our house and check for the letter.
The mailbox is empty. How is this possible? We always get something in the mail. At the very least my mom gets some catalog or a coupon for a free bikini wax or something.
I shut the mailbox door and chase after the postal truck.
"Mr. Vernhart, excuse me, but is there a chance that you skipped our house today? Because there was no mail in our mailbox and I'm expecting "
"You're expecting a very important letter." Mr. Vernhart, with whom I have developed a close if not stalkerlike relationship since mailing out my NAGY application, finishes my sentence for me. "I know, so I hand-delivered your mail right to your front door today."
"Oh my God. Thank you. Thank you." I run as fast as I can back to my house. By the time I open the back door, I'm panting. My mother is standing in front of me with a very official-looking envelope in her hands addressed to me, Dorie Dilts.
Copyright © 2008 by P. G. Kain