The Truth About Forever

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The Truth About Forever

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Overview

A New York Times bestseller
 
Expect the unexpected.
 
Macy’s got her whole summer carefully planned.
 
But her plans didn’t include a job at Wish Catering. And they certainly didn’t include Wes.
 
But Macy soon discovers that the things you expect least are sometimes the things you need most.
 
“Dessen gracefully balances comedy with tragedy and introduces a complex heroine worth getting to know.” —Publishers Weekly
 
Also by Sarah Dessen:
Along for the Ride
Dreamland
Just Listen
Keeping the Moon
Lock and Key
The Moon and More
Someone Like You
That Summer
This Lullaby
What Happened to Goodbye

The summer following her father's death, Macy plans to work at the library and wait for her brainy boyfriend to return from camp, but instead she goes to work at a catering business where she makes new friends and finally faces her grief.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Sarah Dessen, author of That Summer and Someone Like You -- the two books that inspired the film How to Deal -- brings audiences a stirring tale of girl-meets-cool-boy, featuring structured Macy, whose new summer job helps her turn the page to a happier chapter in life. With familiar romantic themes, and the smooth character and plot development that have made the previous novels successes, Dessen weaves a solid story, beginning with our introduction to a girl who witnessed her father's death a year prior and has a less than affectionate boyfriend. But when Macy gets hit with relationship change and a no-excitement library job, she suddenly takes a job at Wish Catering, soon realizing that her welcoming co-workers and the business's disorderly atmosphere -- not to mention dreamy, artistic Wes -- are helping her come to terms with the past. In the end, Macy breaks free of her shell and rediscovers her forward-thinking self, finishing with a bang that will have any Dessen diehard cheering long after the last chapter. So far, the author has made a name for herself at writing down-to-earth novels of self-empowerment and romance, and this read will sit well alongside This Lullaby in particular. Although not necessarily original at its core, Dessen's sixth novel pulses with marvelous energy in her signature voice, sure to garner ample praise and keep her growing fan base eager for more. Shana Taylor
Publishers Weekly
When her boyfriend goes away for the summer, Macy, still grieving for her recently deceased father, must make it on her own. "Dessen gracefully balances comedy with tragedy and introduces a complex heroine worth getting to know," according to PW. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Macy begins her summer by telling her boyfriend, Jason, "goodbye" as he leaves to spend the next two months at Brain Camp. Jason is perfect in every way and makes Macy feel she has to be perfect too. She knows he challenges her, but she feels she needs this to avoid dealing with the death of her father. Her mother believes that the stress of her job keeps her from mourning his death. After receiving an e-mail from Macy ending in "I love you" Jason considers their relationship a distraction for him. He replies, explaining that they should take a break. When Macy decides to take a catering job, everything changes. She meets a fearless girl who informs her that it is impossible to be perfect. She also meets a guy who shows her how to remember her dad. Her mom observes these changes but does not see how much happier Macy is. If only Macy could get through to her mom, she would see that facing up to their loss is hard but necessary. I feel that Dessen does an incredible job of identifying the difficulties that come with losing someone. She points out how a person can react to a tragedy in many ways and how not reacting to the past can damage one's future. This book suggests that hope can follow loss. This novel captivates its readers by allowing them to get involved by placing themselves in the story. Although it will appeal most strongly to females, everyone can enjoy the entertaining elements throughout the narrative. 2004, Viking, Ages 12 up.
—Sarah Tuten
VOYA
Dessen does a good job of making the characters seem real by the way they talk and the way they react to things. This book starts out slowly but then picks up speed. Dessen stresses an important theme in the book: Forever is always changing and you have to keep moving forward in life. I think that many teenage girls will be able to relate to it. VOYA Codes 3Q 4P M J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Viking/Penguin Putnam, 320p., Ages 11 to 18.
—Kristen Moreland, Teen Reviewer
KLIATT
Each one of Dessen's previous YA novels has been named an ALA Best Book for YAs, and this one probably will be as well. I reviewed This Lullaby, Dessen's last novel, and loved it—The Truth About Forever shares some of the strengths of that book. Macy, the narrator, is smart and sensitive. Since the death of her beloved father a few years ago, her life and even her personality have changed: she has given up running (she was a champion) and has retreated into a rigid personality, trying to please her equally distraught mother who is a driven businesswoman. Macy has chosen a boyfriend, Jason, who can do no wrong—a genius with a lot of ambition. But now, this summer, Jason is going away for a few months and Macy is poised for change again. The change comes with a group of caterers hired for one of Macy's mother's events, and this group of people becomes the core of the story (this is a long story, with plenty of room for numerous characters.) The catering company is called Wish, and each member of the crew helps Macy relax and come alive, especially Wes, a sculptor who moonlights with his aunt, who owns Wish. Wes takes care of his younger brother, and everyone is still mourning the death of Wes's mother who was co-owner of Wish. Wes and Macy are friends throughout most of this story, confidants who understand something essential about each other. Certainly both know how devastating the death of a parent is. At almost 400 pages, readers have a chance to really live with these characters, enjoying many details of their daily lives—the wacky stresses of catering, the psychology of grief, complicated mother-daughter relationships, and evolving love between two intelligent, capableyoung people. The truth about forever? "It was always changing, it was what everything was really all about. It was twenty minutes, or a hundred years, or just this instant, or any instant I wished would last, and last." KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, Random House, Viking, 382p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Macy, 16, witnessed her father's death, but has never figured out how to mourn. Instead, she stays in control-good grades, perfect boyfriend, always neat and tidy-and tries to fake her way to normal. Then she gets a job at Wish Catering. It is run by pregnant, forgetful Delia and staffed by her nephews, Bert and Wes, and her neighbors Kristy and Monica. "Wish" was named for Delia's late sister, the boys' mother. Working and eventually hanging out with her new friends, Macy sees what it's like to live an unprescripted lifestyle, from dealing with kitchen fires to sneaking out at night, and slowly realizes it's not so bad to be human. Wes and Macy play an ongoing game of Truth and share everything from gross-outs to what it feels like to watch someone you love die. They fall in love by talking, and the author sculpts them to full dimension this way. All of Dessen's characters, from Macy, who narrates to the bone, to Kristy, whose every word has life and attitude, to Monica, who says almost nothing but oozes nuance, are fully and beautifully drawn. Their dialogue is natural and believable, and their care for one another is palpable. The prose is fueled with humor-the descriptions of Macy's dad's home-shopping addiction are priceless, as is the goofy bedlam of catering gigs gone bad-and as many good comedians do, Dessen uses it to throw light onto darker subjects. Grief, fear, and love set the novel's pace, and Macy's crescendo from time-bomb perfection to fallible, emotional humanity is, for the right readers, as gripping as any action adventure.-Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Macy declined Dad's early-morning invitation to jog, changed her mind, and ran out to catch him, only to see him die of a heart attack before her eyes. Overwhelmed by grief and guilt, she sets about guaranteeing that every aspect of her life is controlled, perfect, safe-from her academically ambitious but unaffectionate boyfriend, to her tidiness, to her boring summer job at the library information desk. When Macy's cautious self-discipline collides with Wish Catering, its offbeat staff, and its wacky crisis management, readers can pretty much predict the outcome. Macy will be teased out of her cocoon and grief by a new job with the caterer and new friends (including romantic hunk Wes) into their messy, lively, creative world. The plot is too conventional, some secondary characters are stock, the storm that brings everyone together at the end is too handy, but the Wish team is lovable, the romance clicks, and readers will be entertained. (Fiction. 12-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142406250
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 4/6/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 38,929
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen is one of the most popular writers for young adults. She is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of many novels, which have received numerous awards and rave reviews, and have sold more than seven million copies. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband, Jay, and their daughter, Sasha Clementine. Visit her online at www.sarahdessen.com.

Biography

Although she was born in Illinois, YA novelist Sarah Dessen has spent most of her life in Chapel Hill, NC. Both of her parents were professors at the University of North Carolina, where Sarah studied creative writing and graduated with a degree in English.

As far back as she can remember, Dessen has always wanted to write. She remembers churning out wildly imaginative stories on an old manual typewriter her parents gave her when she was eight or nine years old. So it was only natural that after college she would forego a "real job," choosing instead to support herself by waiting tables at a local eatery while trying to publish a novel. In 1996, just three years after graduation, she sold her first book, the witty, wry coming-of-age story That Summer. A second novel, Someone Like You, followed two years later. (In 2003, these two books were loosely adapted into the movie How to Deal, starring teen sensation Mandy Moore.)

Dessen claims she never set out to be a YA writer, but somehow her memories always bring her back to high school, a time and place that resonates strongly for her. Living in her hometown where she is still in contact with many childhood friends, she finds it pretty easy to get in touch with her "inner teenager." In addition, the books she read from that time have a special, magical staying power. She explains it this way on her website:

"[W]hile I couldn't tell you complete plots of novels I read even six months ago, I do remember even the smallest descriptive details from Lois Lowry's A Summer to Die or Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. I think it was because back then books were still somewhat new to me, and when I found an author who seemed to say just what I was feeling, it really struck me and resonated. I hope that my books do that for the people who read them."
If one can judge from her growing fan base and continued presence on the bestseller lists, Dessen can safely say "mission accomplished."

Good To Know

Here are some fun facts about Sarah Dessen:

  • Most of Dessen's books are set in the fictional town of Lakeview and feature recurring locales and characters.

  • Dessen also teaches creative writing at her alma mater, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  • Among her confessed addictions, Dessen counts the Gap clearance rack, Starbucks mochas, multiple magazine subscriptions, and a penchant for black pants.

  • Dessen sometimes waxes nostalgic about her days as a waitress. "It was a great job for a writer, " she says. "Endless conversations to eavesdrop, tons of material, and fast money without ever taking work home."

  • In Just Listen, the character of Owen Armstrong was named for the young protagonist in John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, as well as for Lance Armstrong, one of Dessen's proclaimed crushes.

  • Concerning her "tendency to embellish," Dessen says: "I think it's just a weakness of fiction writers. Once you learn how to make a story better, it's hard not to do it all the time."

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      1. Hometown:
        Chapel Hill, NC
      1. Date of Birth:
        June 6, 1970
      2. Place of Birth:
        Evanston, Illinois
      1. Education:
        University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, degree in English.

    Read an Excerpt

    Chapter One

    Jason was going to Brain Camp. It had another name, a real name, but that’s what everyone called it.

    “Okay,” he said, wedging a final pair of socks along the edge of his suitcase. “The list. One more time.”

    I picked up the piece of paper beside me. “Pens,” I said. “Notebooks. Phone card. Camera battery. Vitamins.”

    His fingers moved across the contents of the bag, finding and identifying each item. Check and double-check. With Jason, it was always about being sure.

    “Calculator.” I continued, “Laptop. . . .”

    “Stop,” he said, putting up his hand. He walked over to his desk, unzipping the slim black bag there, then nodded at me. “Skip down to list number two.”

    I scanned down the page, found the words LAPTOP (CASE), and cleared my throat. “Blank CDs,” I said. “Surge protector. Headphones. . . .”

    By the time we’d covered that, then finished the main list—stopping to cover two other sub-headings, TOILETRIES and MISCELLANEOUS—Jason seemed pretty much convinced he had everything. Which did not, however, stop him from continuing to circle the room, mumbling to himself. It took a lot of work to be perfect. If you didn’t want to break a sweat, there was no point in even bothering.

    Jason knew perfect. Unlike most people, for him it wasn’t some distant horizon. For Jason, perfect was just over the next hill, close enough to make out the landscape. And it wasn’t a place he would just visit. He was going to live there.

    He was the all-state math champ, head of the debate team, holder of the highest GPA in the history of our high school (he’d been taking AP classes since seventh grade, college sections since tenth), student council president two years running, responsible for an innovative school recycling program now implemented in districts around the country, fluent in Spanish and French. But it wasn’t just about academics. Jason was also a vegan and had spent the past summer building houses for Habitat for Humanity. He practiced yoga, visited his grandmother in her rest home every other Sunday, and had a pen pal from Nigeria he’d been corresponding with since he was eight years old. Anything he did, he did well.

    A lot of people might find this annoying, even loathsome. But not me. He was just what I needed.

    I had known this from the first day we met, in English class sophomore year. We’d been put into groups to do an assignment on Macbeth, me and Jason and a girl named Amy Richmond who, after we pulled our desks together, promptly announced she was “no good at this Shakespeare crap” and put her head down on her backpack. A second later, she was sound asleep.

    Jason just looked at her. “Well,” he said, opening his textbook, “I guess we should get started.”

    This was right after everything happened, and I was in a silent phase. Words weren’t coming to me well; in fact I had trouble even recognizing them sometimes, entire sentences seeming like they were another language, or backwards, as my eyes moved across them. Just printing my own name on the top of a page a few days previously, I’d second-guessed the letters and their order, not even sure of that anymore.

    So of course Macbeth had totally mystified me. I’d spent the entire weekend struggling with the antiquated language and weird names of the characters, unable to even figure out the most basic aspects of the story. I opened my book, staring down at the lines of dialogue: Had I but died an hour before this chance/I had liv’d a blessed time; for, from this instant,/ there’s nothing serious in mortality:/all is but toys.

    Nope, I thought. Nothing.

    Lucky for me, Jason, who was not about to leave his grade in someone else’s hands, was used to taking control of group work. So he opened his notebook to a clean page, pulled out a pen, and uncapped it. “First,” he said to me, “let’s just get down the basic themes of the play. Then we can figure out what to write about.”

    I nodded. All around us I could hear our classmates chattering, the tired voice of our English teacher, Mr. Sonnenberg, telling us again to please settle down.

    Jason skipped down a few lines on his page. Murder, I watched him write. His handwriting was clean, block-style, and he moved across the page quickly. Power. Marriage. Revenge. Prophecy. Politics. It seemed like he could go on forever, but then he stopped and looked at me. “What else?” he asked.

    I glanced back down at my book, as if somehow, the words there would suddenly form together into something coherent. I could feel Jason looking at me, not unkindly, just waiting for me to contribute.

    “I don’t . . .” I said finally, then stopped, the words sticking. I swallowed, then started over. “I don’t understand it. Actually.”

    I was sure, hearing this, he’d shoot me the same look he’d given Amy Richmond. But Jason surprised me, putting down his pen. “Which part?”

    “Any of it,” I said, and when he didn’t roll his eyes as I’d been expecting, I added, “I mean, I know there’s a murder plot and I know there’s an invasion but the rest . . . I don’t know. It’s totally confusing.”

    “Look,” he said, picking up his pen again. “It’s not as complicated as you think. The key to really understanding is to start with the prophecy about what’s going to happen . . . see, here. . . .” He started flipping pages in his book, still talking, and pointed out a passage to me. Then he read it aloud, and as his finger moved across the words it was like he changed them, magic, and suddenly they made sense.

    And I felt comfort. Finally. All I’d wanted for so long was for someone to explain everything that had happened to me in this same way. To label it neatly on a page: this leads to this leads to this. I knew, deep down, it was more complicated than that, but watching Jason, I was hopeful. He took the mess that was Macbeth and fixed it, and I had to wonder if he might, in some small way, be able to do the same for me. So I moved myself closer to him, and I’d been there ever since.

    Now, he zipped up his laptop case and put it on the bed with the rest of his stuff. “Okay,” he said, taking one last glance around the room. “Let’s go.”

    His mom and dad were already in their Volvo when we came outside. Mr. Talbot got out, opened the trunk, and he and Jason took a few minutes getting everything situated. As I got in the backseat and put on my seatbelt, Mrs. Talbot turned around and smiled at me. She was a botanist, her husband a chemist, both of them professors. They were so scholarly that every time I saw either of them without a book in their hands they looked weird to me, as if they were missing their noses, or their elbows.

    I tried not to think about this as she said, “So, Macy. What are you going to do until August without Jason?”

    “I don’t know,” I said. I was working at the library, taking over Jason’s job at the information desk, but other than that, the next eight weeks were just looming ahead, empty. While I had a few friends from student council, most had gone away for the summer themselves, to Europe or camp. To be honest, Jason’s and my relationship was pretty time consuming: between yoga classes and student government stuff, not to mention all the causes we dealt with, there just hadn’t been much time for anyone else. Besides, Jason got easily frustrated with people, so I’d been hesitant to invite new people out with us. If they were slow, or lazy in any way, he lost patience fast, and it was just easier to hang out with him, or with his friends, who could keep up with him. I’d never really thought about this as a bad thing, actually. It was just how we were.

    On the way to the airport, Jason and his dad discussed some elections that had just happened in Europe; his mom fretted about construction traffic; and I sat there, looking at the inch between Jason’s knee and mine and wondering why I didn’t try to move closer to him. This wasn’t new. He hadn’t even kissed me until our third date, and now, after a year and a half, we still hadn’t discussed going all the way. At the time we met, someone just hugging me still felt like too much to bear. I didn’t want anyone to get too close. So this had been all I wanted, a boy who understood how I felt. Now, though, I sometimes wished for more.

    At the airport, we said good-bye at the gate. His parents hugged him, then discreetly walked across the waiting room to stand at the window there, looking out at the runway and the big stretch of blue sky that hung over it. I put my arms around Jason, breathing in his smell—sport stick deodorant and acne cleanser—deeply, so I’d get enough to last me awhile.

    “I’m going to miss you,” I told him. “So much.”

    “It’s only eight weeks,” he said.

    He kissed me on the forehead. Then, quickly, so quickly I didn’t even have time to react, on the lips. He leaned back and looked at me, tightening his arms around my waist.

    “I’ll email you,” he said, and kissed me on the forehead again. As they called his flight and he disappeared down the hallway to the plane, I stood with the Talbots and watched him go, feeling a tug in my chest. It was going to be a long summer. I’d wanted a real kiss, something to remember, but I’d long ago learned not to be picky in farewells. They weren’t guaranteed or promised. You were lucky, more than blessed, if you got a good-bye at all.

    My dad died. And I was there.

    This was how people knew me. Not as Macy Queen, daughter of Deborah, who built pretty houses in brand new cul-de-sacs. Or as sister of Caroline, who’d had just about the most beautiful wedding anyone had ever seen at the Lakeview Inn the previous summer. Not even as the one-time holder of the record for the fifty-yard dash, middle school division. Nope. I was Macy Queen, who’d woken up the day after Christmas and gone outside to see her father splayed out at the end of the road, a stranger pumping away at his broad chest. I saw my dad die. That was who I was now.

    When people first heard this, or saw me and remembered it, they always made that face. The one with the sad look, accompanied by the cock of the head to the side and the softening of the chin—oh my goodness, you poor thing. While it was usually well intentioned, to me it was just a reaction of muscles and tendons that meant nothing. Nothing at all. I hated that face. I saw it everywhere.

    The first time was at the hospital. I was sitting in a plastic chair by the drink machine when my mother walked out of the small waiting room, the one off the main one. I already knew this was where they took people to tell them the really bad news: that their wait was over, their person was dead. In fact, I’d just watched another family make this progression, the ten or so steps and the turn of a corner, crossing over from hopeful to hopeless. As my mother—now the latter—came toward me, I knew. And behind her there was this plump nurse holding a chart, and she saw me standing there in my track pants and baggy sweatshirt, my old smelly running shoes, and she made the face. Oh, poor dear. Then though, I had no idea how it would follow me.

    I saw The Face at the funeral, everywhere. It was the common mask on the people clumped on the steps, sitting quietly murmuring in the pews, shooting me sideways looks that I could feel, even as I kept my head down, my eyes on the solid black of my tights, the scuffs on my shoe. Beside me, my sister Caroline sobbed: through the service, as we walked down the aisle, in the limo, at the cemetery, at the reception afterward. She cried so much it seemed wrong for me to, even if I could have. For anyone else to join in was just overkill.

    I hated that I was in this situation, I hated that my dad was gone, I hated that I’d been lazy and sleepy and had waved him off when he’d come into my room that morning, wearing his smelly Waccamaw 5K shirt, leaning down to my ear to whisper, Macy, wake up. I’ll give you a head start. Come on, you know the first few steps are the hardest part. I hated that it had been not two or three but five minutes later that I changed my mind, getting up to dig out my track pants and lace my shoes. I hated that I wasn’t faster on those three-tenths of a mile, that by the time I got to him he was already gone, unable to hear my voice, see my face, so that I could say all the things I wanted to. I might have been the girl whose dad died, the girl who was there, and everyone might have known it. Like so much else, I could not control that. But the fact that I was angry and scared, that was my secret to keep. They didn’t get to have that, too. It was all mine.

    When I got home from the Talbots’, there was a box on the porch. As soon as I leaned over and saw the return address, I knew what it was.

    “Mom?” My voice bounced down the empty front hall as I came inside, bumping the door shut behind me. In the dining room, I could see fliers stacked around several floral arrangements, everything all set for the cocktail reception my mother was hosting that night. The newest phase of her neighborhood, luxury townhouses, was just starting construction, and she had sales to make. Which meant she was in full-out schmooze mode, a fact made clear by the sign over the mantel featuring her smiling face and her slogan: Queen Homes—Let Us Build Your Castle.

    I put the box on the kitchen island, right in the center, then walked to the fridge and poured myself a glass of orange juice. I drank all of it down, rinsed the cup, and put it in the dishwasher. But it didn’t matter how I busied myself. The entire time, I was aware of the box perched there waiting for me. There was nothing to do but just get it over with.

    I pulled a pair of scissors out of the island drawer, then drew them across the top of the box, splitting the line of tight brown packing tape. The return address, like all the others, was Waterville, Maine.

    Dear Mr. Queen,

    As one of our most valued EZ Products customers, please find enclosed our latest innovation for your perusal. We feel assured that you’ll find it will become as important and time-saving a part of your daily life as the many other products you’ve purchased from us over the years. If, however, for some reason you’re not completely satisfied, return it within thirty days and your account will not be charged.

    Thank you again for your patronage. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our friendly customer service staff at the number below. It’s for people like you that we work to make daily life better, more productive, and most of all, easy. It’s not just a name: it’s a promise.

    Most cordially,

    Walter F. Tempest

    President, EZ Products

    I scooped out Styrofoam peanuts, piling them neatly next to the box, until I found the package inside. It had two pictures on the front. In the first one, a woman was standing at a kitchen counter with about twenty rolls of tinfoil and waxed paper stacked up in front of her. She had a frustrated expression on her face, like she was about two breaths away from some sort of breakdown. In the picture beside it, the woman was at the same counter. Gone were the boxes, replaced instead by a plastic console that was attached to the wall. From it, she was pulling some plastic wrap, now sporting the beatific look usually associated with madonnas or people on heavy medication.

    Are you tired of dealing with the mess of so many kinds of foil and wrap? Sick of fumbling through messy drawers or cabinets? Get the Neat Wrap and you’ll have what you need within easy reach. With convenient slots for sandwich and freezer bags, tinfoil and waxed paper, you’ll never have to dig through a drawer again. It’s all there, right at your fingertips!

    I put the box down, running my finger over the edge. It’s funny what it takes to miss someone. A packed funeral, endless sympathy cards, a reception full of murmuring voices, I could handle. But every time a box came from Maine, it broke my heart.

    My dad loved this stuff: he was a sucker for anything that claimed to make life simpler. This, mixed with a tendency to insomnia, was a lethal combination. He’d be downstairs, going over contracts or firing off emails late into the night, with the TV on in the background, and then an infomercial would come on. He’d be sucked in immediately, first by the happy, forced banter between the host and the gadget designer, then by the demonstration, followed by the bonus gifts, just for ordering Right Now, by which point he was already digging out his credit card with one hand as he dialed with the other.

    “I’m telling you,” he’d say to me, all jazzed up with that prepurchase enthusiasm, “that’s what I call an innovation!”

    And to him, it was: the Jumbo Holiday Greeting Card Pack he bought for my mother (which covered every holiday from Kwanzaa to Solstice, with not a single Christmas card), and the plastic contraption that looked like a small bear trap and promised the perfect French Twist, which we later had to cut out of my hair. Never mind that the rest of us had long ago soured on EZ Products: my father was not dissuaded by our cynicism. He loved the potential, the possibility that there, in his eager hands, was the answer to one of life’s questions. Not “Why are we here?” or “Is there a God?” These were queries people had been circling for eons. But if the question was, “Does there exist a toothbrush that also functions as a mouthwash dispenser?” the answer was clear: Yes. Oh, yes.

    “Come look at this!” he’d say, with an enthusiasm that, while not exactly contagious, was totally endearing. That was the thing about my dad. He could make anything seem like a good time. “See,” he’d explain, putting the coasters cut from sponges/talking pocket memo recorder/coffeemaker with remote-control on-off switch in front of you, “this is a great idea. I mean, most people wouldn’t even think you could come up with something like this!”

    Out of necessity, if nothing else, I’d perfected my reaction—a wow-look-at-that face, paired with an enthusiastic nod—at a young age. My sister, the drama queen, could not even work up a good fake smile, instead just shaking her head and saying, “Oh, Dad, why do you buy all that crap, anyway?” As for my mother, she tried to be a good sport, putting away her top-end coffeemaker for the new remote-controlled one, at least until we realized—after waking up to the smell of coffee at three A.M.—that it was getting interference from the baby monitor next door and brewing spontaneously. She even tolerated the tissue dispenser he installed on the visor of her BMW (Never risk an accident reaching for a Kleenex again!), even when it dislodged while she was on the highway, bonking her on the forehead and almost hurling her into oncoming traffic.

    When my dad died, we all reacted in different ways. My sister seemed to take on our cumulative emotional reaction: she cried so much she seemed to be shriveling right in front of our eyes. I sat quiet, silent, angry, refusing to grieve, because it seemed like to do so would be giving everyone what they wanted. My mother began to organize.

    Two days after the funeral, she was moving through the house with a buzzing intensity, the energy coming off of her palpable enough to set your teeth chattering. I stood in my bedroom door, watching as she ripped through our linen closet, tossing out all the nubby washcloths and old twin sheets that fit beds we’d long ago given away. In the kitchen, anything that didn’t have a match—the lone jelly jar glass, one freebie plate commemorating Christmas at Cracker Barrel—was tossed, clanking and breaking its way into the trash bag she dragged behind her from room to room, until it was too full to budge. Nothing was safe. I came home from school one day to find that my closet had been organized, rifled through, clothes I hadn’t worn in a while just gone. It was becoming clear to me that I shouldn’t bother to get too attached to anything. Turn your back and you lose it. Just like that.

    The EZ stuff was among the last to go. On a Saturday morning, about a week after the funeral, she was up at six A.M., piling things in the driveway for Goodwill. By nine, she’d emptied out most of the garage: the old treadmill, lawn chairs, and boxes of never-used Christmas ornaments. As much as I’d been worried about her as she went on this tear, I was even more concerned about what would happen when she was all done, and the only mess left was us.

    I walked across the grass to the driveway, sidestepping a stack of unopened paint cans. “All of this is going?” I asked, as she bent down over a box of stuffed animals.

    “Yes,” she said. “If you want to claim anything, better do it now.”

    I looked across these various artifacts of my childhood. A pink bike with a white seat, a broken plastic sled, some life jackets from the boat we’d sold years ago. None of it meant anything, and all of it was important. I had no idea what to take.

    Then I saw the EZ box. At the top, balled up and stuffed in the corner, was the self-heating hand towel my dad had considered a Miracle of Science only a few weeks earlier. I picked it up carefully, squeezing the thin fabric between my fingers.

    “Oh, Macy.” My mother, the stuffed animal box in her arms, frowned at me. A giraffe I vaguely remembered as belonging to my sister was poking out the top. “You don’t want that stuff, honey. It’s junk.”

    “I know,” I said, looking down at the towel.

    The Goodwill guys showed up then, beeping the horn as they pulled into the driveway. My mother waved them in, then walked over to point out the various piles. As they conferred, I wondered how many times a day they went to people’s houses to take things away—if it was different when it was after a death, or if junk was junk, and they couldn’t even tell.

    “Make sure you get it all,” my mother called over her shoulder as she started across the grass. The two guys went over to the treadmill, each of them picking up an end. “I have a donation . . . just let me get my checkbook.”

    As she went inside I stood there for a second, the guys loading up things from all around me. They were making a last trip for the Christmas tree when one of them, a shorter guy with red hair, nodded toward the box at my feet.

    “That, too?” he asked.

    I was about to tell him yes. Then I looked down at the towel and the box with all the other crap in it, and remembered how excited my dad was when each of them arrived, how I could always hear him coming down the hallway, pausing by the dining room, the den, the kitchen, just looking for someone to share his new discovery with. I was always so happy when it was me.

    “No,” I said as I leaned over and picked up the box. “This one’s mine.”

    I took it up to my room, then dragged the desk chair over to my closet and climbed up. There was a panel above the top shelf that opened up into the attic, and I slid it open and pushed the box into the darkness.

    With my dad gone, we had assumed our relationship with EZ Products was over. But then, about a month after the funeral, another package showed up, a combination pen/pocket stapler. We figured he’d ordered it right before the heart attack, his final purchase—until the next month, when a decorative rock/ sprinkler arrived. When my mother called to complain, the customer service person apologized profusely. Because of my father’s high buying volume, she explained, he had been bumped up to Gold Circle level, which meant that he received a new product every month to peruse, no obligation to buy. They’d take him off the list, absolutely, no problem.

    But still the stuff kept coming, every month, just like clockwork, even after we canceled the credit card they had on file. I had my own theory on this, one I shared, like so much else, with no one. My dad had died the day after Christmas, when all the gifts had already been put into use or away. He’d given my mom a diamond bracelet, my sister a mountain bike, but when it was my turn, he’d given me a sweater, a couple of CDs, and an I.O.U. written on gold paper in his messy scrawl. More to come, it had said, and he’d nodded as I read the words, reassuring me. Soon. “It’s late, but it’s special,” he’d said to me. “You’ll love it.”

    I knew this was true. I would love it, because my dad just knew me, knew what made me happy. My mother claimed that when I was little I cried anytime my dad was out of my sight, that I was often inconsolable if anyone but he made my favorite meal, the bright orange macaroni-and-cheese mix they sold at the grocery store three for a dollar. But it was more than just emotional stuff. Sometimes, I swear, it was like we were on the same wavelength. Even that last day, when he’d given up trying to rouse me from bed, I’d sat up those five minutes later as if something had summoned me. Maybe, by then, his chest was already hurting. I’d never know.

    In those first few days after he was gone, I kept thinking back to that I.O.U., wondering what it was he’d picked out for me. And even though I was pretty sure it wasn’t an EZ Product, it felt strangely soothing when the things from Waterville, Maine, kept arriving, as though some part of him was still reaching out to me, keeping his promise.

    So each time my mother tossed the boxes, I’d fish them out and bring them upstairs to add to my collection. I never used any of the products, choosing instead to just believe the breathless claims on the boxes. There were a lot of ways to remember my dad. But I thought he would have especially liked that.

    Chapter Two

    My mother had called me once (“Macy, honey, people are starting to arrive”) and then twice (“Macy? Honey?”) but still I was in front of the mirror, parting and reparting my hair. No matter how many times I swiped at it with my comb, it still didn’t look right.

    Once, I didn’t care so much about appearances. I knew the basics: that I was somewhat short for my age, with a round face, brown eyes, and faint freckles across my nose that had been prominent, but now you had to lean in close to see. I had blonde hair that got lighter in the summer time, slightly green if I swam too much, which didn’t bother me since I was a total track rat, the kind of girl to whom the word hairstyle was defined as always having a ponytail elastic on her wrist. I’d never cared about how my body or I looked—what mattered was what it could do and how fast it could go. But part of my new perfect act was my appearance. If I wanted people to see me as calm and collected, together, I had to look the part.

    It took work. Now, my hair had to be just right, lying flat in all the right places. If my skin was not cooperating, I bargained with it, applying concealer and a slight layer of foundation, smoothing out all the red marks and dark circles. I could spend a full half hour getting the shadowing just right on my eyes, curling and recurling my eyelashes, making sure each was lifted and separated as the mascara wand moved over them, darkening, thickening. I moisturized. I flossed. I stood up straight. I was fine.

    “Macy?” My mother’s voice, firm and cheery, floated up the stairs. I pulled the comb through my hair, then stepped back from the mirror, letting it fall into the part again. Finally: perfect. And just in time.

    When I came downstairs, my mother was standing by the door, greeting a couple who was just coming in with her selling smile: confident but not off-putting, welcoming but not kiss-ass. Like me, my mother put great stock in her appearance. In real estate, as in high school, it could make or break you.

    “There you are,” she said, turning around as I came down the stairs. “I was getting worried.”

    “Hair issues,” I told her, as another couple came up the front walk. “What can I do?”

    She glanced into the living room, where a group of people were peering at a design of the new townhouses that was tacked up on the wall. My mother always had these cocktail parties when she needed to sell, believing the best way to assure people she could build their dream house was to show off her own. It was a good gimmick, even if it did mean having strangers traipsing through our downstairs.

    “If you make sure the caterers have what they need,” she said to me now, “that would be great. And if it looks like we’re running low on brochures, go out and get another box from the garage.” She paused to smile at a couple as they crossed the foyer. “Oh,” she said, “and if anyone looks like they’re looking for a bathroom—”

    “Point them toward it graciously and with the utmost subtlety,” I finished. Bathroom detail/directions were, in fact, my specialty.

    “Good girl,” she said, as a woman in a pantsuit came up the walk. “Welcome!” my mother called out, pushing the door open wider. “I’m Deborah Queen. Please come in. I’m so glad you could make it!”

    My mother didn’t know this person, of course. But part of selling was treating everyone like a familiar face.

    “Well, I just love the neighborhood,” the woman said as she stepped over the threshold. “I noticed you were putting up some new townhouses, so I thought I’d . . .”

    “Let me show you a floor plan. Did you see that all the units come with two-car garages? You know, a lot of people don’t even realize how much difference a heated garage can make.”

    And with that, my mother was off and running. Hard to believe that once schmoozing was as painful to her as multiple root canals. But when you had to do something, you had to do it. And eventually, if you were lucky, you did it well.

    Queen Homes, which my dad had started right out of college as a one-man trim carpenter operation, already had a good business reputation when he met my mother. Actually, he hired her. She was fresh out of college with an accounting degree, and his finances were a shambles. She’d come in, waded through his paperwork and receipts (many of which were on bar napkins and matchbooks), handled a close call with the IRS (he’d “forgotten” about his taxes a few years earlier), and gotten him into the black again. Somewhere in the midst of all of it, they fell in love. They were the perfect business team: he was all charm and fun and everyone’s favorite guy to buy a beer. My mother was happy busying herself with file folders and The Bigger Picture. Together, they were unstoppable.

    Wildflower Ridge, our neighborhood, had been my mother’s vision. They’d done small subdivisions and spec houses, but this would be an entire neighborhood, with houses and townhouses and apartments, a little business district, everything all enclosed and fitted around a common green space. A return to communities, my mother had said. The wave of the future.

    My dad wasn’t sold at first. But he was getting older, and his body was tired. This way he could move into a supervisory position and let someone else swing the hammers. So he agreed. Two months later, they were breaking ground on the first house: ours.

    They worked in tandem, my parents, meeting potential clients at the model home. My dad would run through the basic spiel, tweaking it depending on what sort of people they were: he played up his Southern charm for Northerners, talked NASCAR and barbeque with locals. He was knowledgeable, trustworthy. Of course you wanted him to build your house. Hell, you wanted him to be your best friend. Then, the hard selling done, my mom would move in with the technical stuff like covenants, specifications, and prices. The houses sold like crazy. It was everything my mother said it would be. Until it wasn’t.

    I knew she blamed herself for his death, thought that maybe it was the added stress of Wildflower Ridge that taxed my dad’s heart, and if she hadn’t pushed him to expand so much everything would have been different. This was our common ground, the secret we shared but never spoke aloud. I should have been with him; she should have left him alone. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. It’s so easy in the past tense.

    But here in the present, my mother and I had no choice but to move ahead. We worked hard, me at school, her at outselling all the other builders. We parted our hair cleanly and stood up straight, greeting company—and the world—with the smiles we practiced in the quiet of our now-too-big dream house full of mirrors that showed the smiles back. But under it all, our grief remained. Sometimes she took more of it, sometimes I did. But always, it was there.

    I’d just finished directing an irate woman with a red-wine stain on her shirt to the powder room—one of the catering staff had apparently bumped into her, splashing her cabernet across her outfit—when I noticed the stack of fliers on the foyer table was looking a bit low. Grateful for any excuse to escape, I slipped outside.

    I went down the front walk, cutting around the caterer’s van in the driveway. The sun had just gone down, the sky pink and orange behind the line of trees that separated us from the apartments one phase over. Summer was just starting. Once that had meant early track practice and long afternoons at the pool perfecting my backflip. This summer, though, I was working.

    Jason had been at the library information desk since he was fifteen, long enough to secure a reputation as the Guy Who Knew Everything. Patrons of the Lakeview Branch had gotten accustomed to him doing everything from finding that obscure book on Catherine the Great to fixing the library computers when they crashed. They loved him for the same reason I did: he had all the answers. He also had a cult following, particularly among his co-workers, who were both girls and both brilliant. They’d never taken kindly to me as Jason’s girlfriend, seeing as how, in their eyes, I wasn’t even close to their intellectual level, much less his. I’d had a feeling that their acceptance of me as a sudden co-worker wouldn’t be much warmer, and I was right.

    During my training, they snickered as he taught me the intricate ins and outs of the library search system, rolled their eyes in tandem when I asked a question about the card catalog. Jason had hardly noticed, and when I pointed it out to him, he got impatient, as if I was wasting his time. That’s not what you should be worrying about, he said. Not knowing how to reference the tri-county library database quickly in the event of a system crash: now that would be a problem.

    He was right, of course. He was always right. But I still wasn’t looking forward to it.

    Once I got to the garage, I went to the shelves where my mom kept her work stuff, moving a stack of FOR SALE and MODEL OPEN signs aside to pull out another box of fliers. The front door of the house was open, and I could hear voices drifting over, party sounds, laughing, and glasses clinking. I hoisted up the box and cut off the overhead light. Then I headed back to the party and bathroom duty.

    I was passing the garbage cans when someone jumped out at me from the bushes.

    “Gotcha!”

    I shrieked and dropped the box, which hit the ground with a thunk, spilling fliers sideways down the driveway. Say what you will, but you’re never prepared for the surprise attack. It defines the very meaning of taking your breath away: I was gasping.

    For a second, it was very quiet. A car drove by.

    “Bert?” A voice came from down the driveway, by the catering van. “What are you doing?”

    Beside me, a bush rustled. “I’m . . .” a voice said hesitantly—and much more quietly—from somewhere within it. “I’m scaring you. Aren’t I?”

    I heard footsteps, and a second later could make out a guy in a white shirt and black pants walking toward me up the driveway. He had a serving platter tucked under his arm. As he got closer he squinted, making me out in the semi-dark.

    “Nope. Not me,” he said. Now that he was right in front of me, I could see that he was tall and had brown hair that was a little bit too long. He was also strikingly handsome, with the sort of sculpted cheekbones and angular features that you couldn’t help but notice, even if you did have a boyfriend. To me he said, “You okay?”

    I nodded. My heart was still racing, but I was recovering.

    He stood there, studying the bush, then stuck his hand right into its center. A second later, he pulled another guy, this one shorter and chunkier but dressed identically, out through the foliage. He had the same dark eyes and hair, but looked younger. His face was bright red.

    “Bert,” the older guy said, sighing, as he let his hand drop. “Honestly.”

    “You have to understand,” this Bert said to me, solemnly, “I’m down in a big way.”

    “Just apologize,” the older guy said.

    “I’m very sorry,” Bert said. He reached up and picked a pine needle out of his hair. “I, um, thought you were someone else.”

    “It’s okay,” I told him.

    The older guy nudged him, then nodded toward the fliers. “Oh, right,” Bert said, dropping down to his knees. He started to pick them up, his fingers scratching the pavement, as the other guy walked a bit down the driveway, picking up the ones that had slid there.

    “That was a good one, too,” Bert was muttering as I squatted down beside him to help. “Almost had him. Almost.”

    The light outside the kitchen door popped on, and suddenly it was very bright. A second later the door swung open.

    “What in the world is going on out here?” I turned to see a woman in a red apron, with black curly hair piled on top of her head, standing at the top of the stairs. She was pregnant, and was squinting out into the dark with a curious, although somewhat impatient, expression. “Where is that platter I asked for?”

    “Right here,” the older guy called out as he came back up the driveway, a bunch of my fliers now stacked neatly upon the platter. He handed them to me.

    “Thanks,” I said.

    “No problem.” Then he took the stairs two at a time, handing the platter to the woman, as Bert crawled under the deck for the last few fliers that had landed there.

    “Marvelous,” she said. “Now, Wes, get back to the bar, will you? The more they drink, the less they’ll notice how long the food is taking.”

    “Sure thing,” the guy said, ducking through the doorway and disappearing into the kitchen.

    The woman ran her hand over her belly, distracted, then looked back out into the dark. “Bert?” she called out loudly. “Where—”

    “Right here,” Bert said, from under the deck.

    She turned around, then stuck her head over the side of the rail. “Are you on the ground?”

    “Yes.”

    “What are you doing?”

    “Nothing,” Bert mumbled.

    “Well,” the woman said, “when you’re done with that, I’ve got crab cakes cooling with your name on them. So get your butt in here, please, okay?”

    “Okay,” he said. “I’m coming.”

    The woman went back inside, and a second later I heard her yelling something about mini-biscuits. Bert came out from under the deck, organizing the fliers he was holding into a stack, then handed them to me.

    “I’m really sorry,” he said. “It’s just this stupid thing.”

    “It’s fine,” I told him, as he picked another leaf out of his hair. “It was an accident.”

    He looked at me, his expression serious. “There are,” he said, “no accidents.”

    For a second I just stared at him. He had a chubby face and a wide nose, and his hair was thick and too short, like it had been cut at home. He was watching me so intently, as if he wanted to be sure I understood, that it took me a second to look away.

    “Bert!” the woman yelled from inside. “Crab cakes!”

    “Right,” he said, snapping out of it. Then he backed up to the stairs and started up them quickly. When he got to the top, he glanced back down at me. “But I am sorry,” he said, saying the words that I’d heard so much in the last year and a half that they hardly carried meaning anymore. Although I had a feeling he meant it. Weird. “I’m sorry,” he said again. And then he was gone.

    ——

    When I got inside, my mother was deep in some conversation about zoning with a couple of contractors. I refreshed the fliers, then directed a man who was a bit stumbly and holding a glass of wine he probably didn’t need to the bathroom. I was scanning the living room for stray empty glasses when there was a loud crash from the kitchen.

    Everything in the front of the house stopped. Conversation. Motion. The very air. Or so it felt.

    “It’s fine!” a voice called out, upbeat and cheerful, from the other side of the door. “Carry on as you were!”

    There was a slight surprised murmur from the assembled crowd, some laughter, and then slowly the conversation built again. My mother smiled her way across the room, then put a hand on the small of my back, easing me toward the foyer.

    “That’s a spill on a client, not enough appetizers, and a crash,” she said, her voice level. “I’m not happy. Could you go and convey that, please?”

    “Right,” I said. “I’m on it.”

    When I came through the kitchen door, the first thing I did was step on something that mushed, in a wet sort of way, under my foot. Then I noticed that the floor was littered with small round objects, some at a standstill, some rolling slowly to the four corners of the room. A little girl in pigtails, who looked to be about two or three, was standing by the sink, fingers in her mouth and wide eyed as several of the marblelike objects moved past her.

    “Well.” I looked over to see the pregnant woman standing by the stove, an empty cookie sheet in her hands. She sighed. “I guess that’s it for the meatballs.”

    I picked up my foot to examine it, stepping aside just in time to keep from getting hit by the door as it swung open. Bert, now leafless and looking somewhat composed, breezed in carrying a tray filled with wadded-up napkins and empty glasses. “Delia,” he said to the woman, “we need more crab cakes.”

    “And I need a sedative,” she replied in a tired voice, stretching her back, “but you can’t have everything. Take the cheese puffs and tell them we’re traying the crab cakes up right now.”

    “Are we?” Bert asked, passing the toddler, who smiled widely, reaching out for him with her spitty fingers. He sidestepped her, heading for the counter, and, unhappy, she plopped down into a sitting position and promptly started wailing.

    “Not exactly at this moment, no,” Delia said, crossing the room. “I’m speaking futuristically.”

    “Is that a word?” Bert asked her.

    “Just take the cheese puffs,” she said as she picked up the little girl. “Oh, Lucy, please God okay, just hold back the hysterics for another hour, I’m begging you.” She looked down at her shoe. “Oh no, I just stepped in a meatball. Where’s Monica?”

    “Here,” a girl’s voice said from the other side of the side door.

    Delia made an exasperated face. “Put out that cigarette and get in here, now. Find a broom and get up these meatballs . . . and we need to get some more of these cheese puffs in, and Bert needs . . . what else did you need?”

    “Crab cakes,” Bert said. “Futuristically speaking. And Wes needs ice.”

    “In the oven, ready any second,” she said, shooting him a look as she walked over to the broom closet, toddler on her hip, and rummaged around for a second before pulling out a dustpan. “The crab cakes, not the ice. Lucy, please, don’t slobber on Mommy. . . . And the ice is . . . oh, shit, I don’t know where the ice is. Where did we put the bags we bought?”

    “Cooler,” a tall girl said as she came inside, letting the door slam behind her. She had long honey-blonde hair and was slouching as she ambled over to the oven. She pulled it open, a couple of inches at a time, then glanced inside before shutting it again and making her way over to the island, still moving at a snail’s pace. “Done,” she announced.

    “Then please take them out and put them on a tray, Monica,” Delia snapped, shifting the toddler to her other hip. She started scooping up the meatballs into the dustpan as Monica made her way back to the oven, pausing entirely too long to pick up a pot holder on her way.

    “I’ll just wait for the crab cakes,” Bert said. “It’s only—”

    Delia stood up and glared at him. It was quiet for a second, but something told me this was not my opening. I stayed put, scraping meatball off my shoe.

    “Right,” he said quickly. “Cheese puffs. Here I go. We need more servers, by the way. People are grabbing at me like you wouldn’t believe.”

    “Monica, get back out there,” Delia said as the tall girl ambled back over, a tray of sizzling crab cakes in her hand. Putting down the dustpan, Delia moved to the island, grabbing a spatula, and began, with one hand, to load crab cakes onto the plate at lightning speed. “Now.”

    “But—”

    “I know what I said,” Delia shot back, slapping a stack of napkins onto the edge of the tray, “but this is an emergency situation, and I have to put you back in, even if it is against my better judgment. Just walk slowly and look where you’re going, and be careful with liquids, please God I’m begging you, okay?”

    This last part, I was already beginning to recognize, was a mantra of sorts for her, as if by stringing all these words together, one of them might stick.

    “Okay,” Monica said, tucking her hair behind her ear. She picked up the tray, adjusted it on her hand, and headed off around the corner, taking her time. Delia watched her go, shaking her head, then turned her attention back to the meatballs, scooping the few remaining into the dustpan and chucking them into the garbage can. Her daughter was still sniffling, and she was talking to her, softly, as she walked to a metal cart by the side door, pulling out a tray covered with Saran Wrap. As she crossed the room she balanced it precariously on her free hand, her walk becoming a slight waddle. I had never seen anyone so in need of help in my life.

    “What else, what else,” she said as she reached the island, sliding the tray there. “What else did we need?” She pressed a hand to her forehead, closing her eyes.

    “Ice,” I said, and she turned around and looked at me.

    “Ice,” she repeated. Then she smiled. “Thanks. Who are you?”

    “Macy. This is my mom’s house.”

    Her expression changed, but only slightly. I had a feeling she knew what was coming.

    I took a breath. “She wanted me to come and check that everything’s all right. And to convey that she’s—”

    “Incredibly pissed,” she finished for me, nodding.

    “Well, not pissed.”

    Just then, there was a splashing crash from the next room, followed by another short silence. Delia glanced over at the door, just as the toddler started wailing again.

    “Now?” she said to me.

    “Well . . . yes,” I said. Actually, I was betting this was an understatement. “Now, she’s probably pissed.”

    “Oh, dear.” She put a hand on her face, shaking her head. “This is a disaster.”

    I wasn’t sure what to say. I felt nervous enough just watching all this: I couldn’t imagine being responsible for it.

    “Well,” she said, after a second, “in a way, it’s good. We know where we stand. Now things can only get better. Right?”

    I didn’t say anything, which probably didn’t inspire much confidence. Just then, the oven timer went off with a cheerful bing! noise. “Okay,” she said suddenly, as if this had signaled a call to action. “Macy. Can you answer a question?”

    “Sure,” I said.

    “How are you with a spatula?”

    This hadn’t been what I was expecting. “Pretty good,” I said finally.

    “Wonderful,” she said. “Come here.”

    Fifteen minutes later, I’d figured out the rhythm. It was like baking cookies, but accelerated: lay out cheese puffs/crab cakes on cookie sheet in neat rows, put in oven, remove other pan from oven, pile onto tray, send out. And repeat.

    “Perfect,” Delia said, watching me as she laid out mini-toasts at twice my speed and more neatly. “You could have a bright future in catering, my dear, if such a thing even exists.”

    I smiled at this as Monica, the slothlike girl, eased through the door, carrying a tray laden with napkins. After her second spill she’d been restricted to carrying only solids, a status further amended to just trash and empty glasses once she’d bumped into the banister and sent half a tray of cheese puffs down the front of some man’s shirt. You’d think moving slowly would make someone less accident prone. Clearly, Monica was bucking this logic.

    “How’s it going out there?” Delia asked her, glancing over at her daughter, Lucy, who was now asleep in her car seat on the kitchen table. Frankly, Delia had astounded me. After acknowledging the hopelessness of her situation, she had immediately righted it, putting in two more trays of canapés, getting the ice from the cooler, and soothing her daughter to sleep, all in about three minutes. Like her mantra of Oh-please-God-I’m-begging-you-okay; she just did all she could, and eventually something just worked. It was impressive.

    “Fine,” Monica reported flatly, shuffling over to the garbage can, where, after pausing for a second, she began to clear off her tray, one item at a time.

    Delia rolled her eyes as I slid another tray into the oven. “We’re not always like this,” she told me, opening another package of cheese puffs. “I swear. We are usually the model of professionalism and efficiency.”

    Monica, hearing this, snorted. Delia shot her a look.

    “But,” she continued, “my babysitter flaked on me tonight, and then one of my servers had other plans, and then, well, then the world just turned on me. You know that feeling?”

    I nodded. You have no idea, I thought. Out loud I said, “Yeah. I do.”

    “Macy! There you are!” I looked up to see my mother standing by the kitchen doorway. “Is everything okay back here?”

    This question, while posed to me, was really for Delia, and I could tell she knew it: she busied herself laying out cheese puffs, now at triple speed. Behind her, Monica had finally cleared her tray and was dragging herself across the room, the tray bumping against her knee.

    “Yes,” I said. “I was just asking Delia about how to make crab cakes.”

    As she came toward us, my mother was running a hand through her hair, which meant she was preparing herself for some sort of confrontation. Delia must have sensed this, too, as she picked up a dish towel, wiping her hands, and turned to face my mother, a calm expression on her face.

    “The food is getting rave reviews,” my mother began in a voice that made it clear a but was to follow, “but—”

    “Mrs. Queen.” Delia took a deep breath, which she then let out, placing her hand on her chest. “Please. You don’t have to say anything more.”

    I opened up another tray of crab cakes, keeping my head down.

    “I am so deeply sorry for our disorganized beginning tonight,” Delia continued. “I found out I was understaffed at the last minute, but that’s no excuse. I’d like to forgo your remaining balance in the hopes that you might consider us again for another one of your events.”

    The meaningful silence that followed this speech held for a full five seconds, until it was broken by Bert bursting back through the door. “Need more biscuits!” he said. “They’re going like hotcakes!”

    “Bert,” Delia said, forcing a smile for my mother’s sake, “you don’t have to bellow. We’re right here.”

    “Sorry,” Bert said.

    “Here.” I handed him the tray I’d just finished and took his empty one. “There should be crab cakes in the next few minutes, too.”

    “Thanks,” he said. Then he recognized me. “Hey,” he said. “You work here now?”

    “Um, no.” I put the empty tray down in front of me. “Not really.”

    I glanced over at my mother. Between Delia’s heartfelt “sorry” and my exchange with Bert, I could see she was struggling to keep up. “Well,” she said finally, turning her attention back to Delia, “I appreciate your apology, and that seems like fair compensation. The food is wonderful.”

    “Thank you so much,” Delia said. “I really appreciate it.”

    Just then there was a burst of laughter from the living room, happy party noise, and my mother glanced toward it, as if reassured. “Well,” she said, “I suppose I should get back to my guests.” She started out of the room, then paused by the fridge. “Macy?” she said.

    “Yes?”

    “When you’re done in here, I could use you. Okay?”

    “Sure,” I said, grabbing a pot holder and heading over to the oven to check on the crab cakes. “I’ll be there in a sec.”

    “She’s been wonderful, by the way,” Delia told her. “I told her if she needs work, I’ll hire her in a second.”

    “That’s so nice of you,” my mother said. “Macy’s actually working at the library this summer.”

    “Wow,” Delia said. “That’s great.”

    “It’s just at the information desk,” I told her, opening the oven door. “Answering questions and stuff.”

    “Ah,” Delia said. “A girl with all the answers.”

    “That’s Macy.” My mother smiled. “She’s a very bright girl.”

    I didn’t know what to say to this—what could you say to this?—so I just reached in for the crab cakes, focusing on that. When my mother left the kitchen, Delia came over, pot holder in hand, and took the tray as I slid it out of the oven. “You’ve been a great help,” she said, “really. But you’d better go out there with your mom.”

    “No, it’s fine,” I said. “She won’t even notice I’m not there.”

    Delia smiled. “Maybe not. But you should go anyway.”

    I stepped back, out of the way, as she carried the tray over to the island. In her car seat, Lucy shifted slightly, mumbling to herself, then fell quiet again.

    “So the library, huh?” she said, picking up her spatula. “That’s cool.”

    “It’s just for the summer,” I told her. “I’m filling in for someone.”

    She started lifting crab cakes off the cookie sheet, arranging them on a tray. “Well, if it doesn’t work out, I’m in the book. I could always use someone who can take directions and walk in a straight line.”

    As if to punctuate this, Monica slunk back in, blowing her bangs out of her face.

    “Catering is an insane job, though,” Delia said. “I don’t know why you’d want to do it, when you have a peaceful, normal job. But if for some reason you’re craving chaos, call me. Okay?”

    Bert came back in, breezing between us, his tray now empty. “Crab cakes!” he bellowed. “Keep ’em coming!”

    “Bert,” Delia said, wincing, “I’m right here.”

    I walked back to the door, stepping aside as Monica ambled past me, yawning widely. Bert stood by impatiently, waiting for his tray, while Delia asked Monica to God, please, try and pick up the pace a little, I’m begging you. They’d forgotten about me already, it seemed. But for some reason, I wanted to answer her anyway. “Yeah,” I said, out loud, hoping she could hear me. “Okay.”

    The last person at the party, a slightly tipsy, very loud man in a golf sweater, left around nine-thirty. My mother locked the door behind him, took off her shoes, and, after kissing my forehead and thanking me, headed off to her office to assemble packets for people who had signed the YES! I WANT MORE INFO sheet she’d had on the front hall table. Contacts were everything, I’d learned. You had to get to people fast, or they’d slip away.

    Thinking this, I went up to my room and checked my email. Jason had written me, as promised, but it was mostly about things that he wanted to remind me of concerning the info desk (make sure to keep track of all copier keys, they are very expensive to replace) or other things I was handling for him while he was away (remember, on Saturday, to send out the email to the Foreign Culture group about the featured speaker who is coming in to give that talk in August). At the very end, he said he was too tired to write more and he’d be in touch in a couple of days. Then just his name, no “love.” Not that I’d been expecting it. Jason wasn’t the type for displays of affection, either verbal or not. He was disgusted by couples that made out in the hallways between classes, and got annoyed at even the slightest sappy moments in movies. But I knew that he cared about me: he just conveyed it more subtly, as concise with expressing this emotion as he was with everything else. It was in the way he’d put his hand on the small of my back, for instance, or how he’d smile at me when I said something that surprised him. Once I might have wanted more, but I’d come around to his way of thinking in the time we’d been together. And we were together, all the time. So he didn’t have to do anything to prove how he felt about me. Like so much else, I should just know.

    But this was the first time we were going to be apart for more than a weekend since we’d gotten together, and I was beginning to realize that the small reassurances I got in person would not transfer over to email. But he loved me, and I knew that. I’d just have to remember it now.

    After I logged off, I opened my window and crawled out onto the roof, sitting against one of the shutters with my knees pulled up to my chest. I’d been out there for a little while, looking at the stars, when I heard voices coming up from the driveway. A car door shut, then another. Peering over the edge, I saw a few people moving around the Wish Catering van as they packed up the last of their things.

    “. . . this other planet, that’s moving within the same trajectory as Earth. It’s only a matter of time before it hits us. I mean, they don’t talk about these things on the news. But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

    It was Bert talking. I recognized his voice, a bit high-pitched and anxious, before I made him out, standing by the back of the van. He was talking to someone who was sitting on the bumper smoking a cigarette, the tip of which was bright and red in the murky dark.

    “Ummm-hmmm,” the person said slowly. Had to be Monica. “Really.”

    “Bert, give it a rest,” another voice said, and Wes, the older guy, walked up, sliding something into the back of the van. I’d hardly seen him that night, as he’d worked the bar in the den.

    “I’m just trying to help her be informed!” Bert said indignantly. “This is serious stuff, Wes. Just because you prefer to stay in the dark—”

    “Are we ready to go?” Delia came down the driveway, her voice uneven, Lucy on her hip. She had the car seat dangling from one hand, and Wes walked up and took it from her. From where I was sitting, I could make out clearly the top of his head, the white of his shirt. Then, as if sensing this, he leaned his head back, glancing up. I slid back against the wall.

    “Did we get paid?” Bert asked.

    “Had to comp half,” she said. “The price of chaos. Probably should bother me, but frankly, I’m too pregnant and exhausted to care. Who has the keys?”

    “I do,” Bert said. “I’ll drive.”

    The silence that followed was long enough to make me want to peer over the edge of the roof again, but I stopped myself.

    “I don’t think so,” Delia said finally.

    “Don’t even,” Monica added.

    “What?” Bert said. “Come on! I’ve had my permit for a year! I’m taking the test in a week! And I have to have some more practice before I get the Bertmobile.”

    “You have,” Wes said, his voice low, “to stop calling it that.”

    “Bert,” Delia said, sighing, “normally, I would love for you to drive. But it’s been a long night and right now I just want to get home, okay? Next time, it’s all you. But for now, just let your brother drive. Okay?”

    Another silence. Someone coughed.

    “Fine,” Bert said. “Just fine.”

    I heard a car door slam, then another. I leaned back over to see Wes and Bert still standing at the back of the van. Bert was kicking at the ground, clearly sulking, while Wes stood by impassively.

    “It’s not a big deal,” he said to Bert after a minute, pulling a hand through his hair. Now I knew for sure that they were brothers. They looked even more alike to me, although the similarities—skin tone, dark hair, dark eyes—were distributed on starkly different builds.

    “I never get to drive,” Bert told him. “Never. Even lazy Monotone got to last week, but never me. Never.”

    “You will,” Wes said. “Next week you’ll have your own car, and you can drive whenever you want. But don’t push this issue now, man. It’s late.”

    Bert stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Whatever,” he said, and started around the van, shuffling his feet. Wes followed him, clapping a hand on his back. “You know that girl who was in the kitchen tonight, helping Delia?” Bert asked.

    I froze.

    “Yeah,” Wes answered. “The one you leaped out at?”

    “Anyway,” Bert said loudly, “don’t you know who she is?”

    “No.”

    Bert pulled open the back door. “Yeah, you do. Her dad—”

    I waited. I knew what was coming, but still, I had to hear the words that would follow. The ones that defined me, set me apart.

    “—was the coach when we used to run in that kids’ league, back in elementary school,” Bert finished. “The Lakeview Zips. Remember?”

    Wes opened the back door for Bert. “Oh yeah,” he said. “Coach Joe, right?”

    Right, I thought, and felt a pang in my chest.

    “Coach Joe,” Bert repeated, as he shut his door. “He was a nice guy.”

    I watched Wes walk to the driver’s door and pull it open. He stood there for a second, taking a final look around, before climbing in and shutting the door behind him. I had to admit, I was surprised. I’d gotten so used to being known as the girl whose dad died, I sometimes forgot that I’d had a life before that.

    I moved back into the shadows by my window as the engine started up and the van bumped down the driveway, brake lights flashing as it turned out onto the street. There was a big wishbone painted on the side, thick black paint strokes, and from a distance it looked like a Chinese character, striking even if you didn’t know, really, what it meant. I kept my eye on it, following it down through the neighborhood, over the hill, down to the stop sign, until it was gone.

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    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 4.5
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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 1810 Customer Reviews
    • Posted June 23, 2011

      I Also Recommend:

      Enjoyable

      The perfect read for hot summer days!

      23 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted September 22, 2009

      I Also Recommend:

      The Truth about Forever

      Sarah Dessen is a good writer, creating believable and relatable characters that very adequately reflect what teens are like. My favorite part of the books I've read by her is the dialogue, which, if you examine carefully, is unique to whichever character she's writing about. Sarah creates well-rounded characters. And it's probably her biggest skill.
      Macy Queen is quite a confused young woman. Her father died, and grief-stricken Macy keeps blaming herself. Worse, she comes to think that if she can just keep things at a constant, that is, perfectly still, she can control her life. And that's her biggest flaw: this unfailing faith in perfection that she simply won't snap out of.
      Enter Wes and the whole Wish Catering crew. They help Macy come to life-altering realizations about the controlled forever she keeps thinking she can attain. Wes, especially, helps her see that the future--the eventual forever--is about changes and imperfections and learning from your mistakes, not a present that moves forward with time, never changing.
      The story had a nice message. It was well written. The characters--Wes, in particular--were for the most part great. I don't know how else to elaborate on it, because, to me, this book speaks for itself.

      19 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted January 26, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      I Also Recommend:

      Mrs. Dessen..... YOU ROCK!

      What an amazing author this women clearly know what teens want to read, the world that we want to escape for just a little while. She creates very believable charecters, it actually seems that while you're reading you pretty much know them. The Truth About Forever is my favorite novel from Sarah Dessen it's such a sweet loving book, i could read it over and over again.

      15 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted July 14, 2010

      more from this reviewer

      Favorite Book in the World

      When I was first told to read this book I kind of hesitated. But when I actually started to read it I couldn't put it down. I absolutely love it. I re-read it every time I have a chance. It is honestly my favorite book in the world. I recommend it to everyone. Sarah Dessen is truly an inspiration to me. It has an endless friendships, a growing relationship that turns into love,the truest friends that anyone can ask for. It is just a great book over-all.

      11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted March 31, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      I Also Recommend:

      This is a coming of age tale

      This is a coming of age tale about a girl who lost her father, whom she was very close to and feels as if she lost a piece of herself too. It was very touching how she met and befriended the lovely Wes and the rest of the catering crew. She learns through experiences with them that she has know who she is the whole time and should always remember that!
      This was one of the best books i've ever read and have re-read about 3 times. it's touching and you learn so much about yourself when reading it.

      10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted March 4, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      I Also Recommend:

      Unbelievably Amazing

      This is my all-time favorite book by Sarah Dessen. I am absolutely amazed by her writing skills. The plot is really good! It was really emotional, but an excellent love story for those of you seeking one. It really helps you learn how to follow your heart and make decisions you'll never regret. The characters, very interesting. I loved all of them. Two thumbs up! Looking for other amazing love stories? Check my recommended choices.

      10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted September 17, 2010

      more from this reviewer

      Loved it!!!

      I don't think I have ever read a book that is so simple and yet so good... This one gets added to the re-read pile.

      6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted January 3, 2010

      I Also Recommend:

      The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

      I think that every girl should read this book. It changed the books that I read, and how I think about things. It is truly as essential to a girl as a purse and credit card. ;)

      6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted November 26, 2008

      more from this reviewer

      Makes You Think.

      I think all of Sarah Dessen's books are amazing. They all make you think, this one included. When you are finished, it makes you want to be a better person, and makes you reflect on how to live your life. A very girly book, but recommended to read during the teen years, to keep you going when it gets tough.

      6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted June 24, 2010

      I Also Recommend:

      i fell in love (:

      from the first chapter in, i fell in love with this book. i thought it was going to be another book with an overused plot, but i was happily surprised. macy was so relatable, i felt like i actually knew her. and as she fell in love with wes, so did i. i would reccomend this book to anyone and everyone!

      5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted October 18, 2008

      amazing book!

      the truth about forever is definitely one of my all-time favorite books. I highly encourage anyone to read it. sarah dessen writes so many good books and this one was unforgetable!

      4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted September 3, 2012

      This story was so life like. It wasn't one of those books you re

      This story was so life like. It wasn't one of those books you read and think "this never happens in really life." I had such a connection to the characters. I love Wes, I would date a boy like him in a heart beat. The bad artist that is trying to turn his life around. Macy is a good girl that is just begging for an adventure. The Truth About Forever was the first book I read by sarah and now I'm hooked. If you love a good love story, like me you should try this book out.

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 21, 2012

      Best Book Ever!!!!!

      This is by far the best book from Sarah Dessen! I love all her books but this one is just.... (hmmm... looking for a word).. well, let's just say it was the best book ever ;) It's so funny how whenever Wes is mentioned in the book I squeal. It's sooo cute! I've re- read this book a million times! Never gets old... and never will ;D

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted January 15, 2012

      You get to see the two worlds she walks through...

      This book was a good read. You read as Macy goes through her grief and gets a new bond with her mother. She opens a whole new side of her life that is different, but she's somehow completely comfortable with it. She learns so much. This book is a must read.

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted October 2, 2010

      Highly Recomend it to young readers

      everyone 18 and under should read this book i loved it adn i usually dont read i think you should read it

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted September 7, 2010

      Slow to get into but good overall

      This book was surprisingly a slow read to me, which was shocking especially because of its many fans. The story is about a girl named Macy who is affected by her father's death that she witnessed a few years back. She stopped running and pushed many of her friends away, all while attaining her perfect boyfriend, Jason. He went away to a summer camp and soon realized they weren't right together and sent her a breakup email. Macy ended up quitting her job at the library, which was mainly a placeholder for Jason while he was away, and picked up the job with the WISH Catering company that catered her mother's party. While working with WISH she formed friendships with the workers and formed an even stronger bond with Wes. They invented a game called Truth where they would tell each other deep truth's about themselves that no one else knew. Despite the intriguing plotline, I just though it was somewhat poorly written. I liked the ending though where the message about forever was revealed by Dessen. It became powerful and it's something that I can take with me throughout the rest of my life.

      3 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted September 6, 2010

      An interesting story

      The Truth About Forever has an interesting plot. The protagonist, a girl named Macy, strives for perfection in many ways such as, a perfect boyfriend, perfect family and a perfect job. But after her father's unexpected death Macy turned emotionally unstable. She gave up running, her passion, isolated herself from her friends, and devoted herself to what she thought was her perfect boyfriend. By making herself perfect, she could make things right again, long time after her father's demise. Macy's life comes to a juncture when she meets the Wish Catering crew from whom she learned that life isn't all about being perfect but about living to the fullest. She joins the catering business; her new co-workers are hesitant at first, but grow to love Macy. She starts to grow fond of this guy named Wes but she doesn't know what to do since she's kind of in a relationship with this perfect guy from school named Jason. However, when she sees Wes with his girlfriend, she loses hope that they could ever work out. Her mom has a breakdown, and she tells Wes that she doesn't want to be with him, even though she does. She finally realizes that she doesn't want to lose a good thing, especially when she learns Wes broke up with his girlfriend that night, and after playing another round of Truth, they get together, and she runs again for the first time in years. The story portrays how someone gets back on track to live an ordinary life from the darkest hours of one's life.

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted August 27, 2010

      An Amazing Book

      This book was amazing. I read it all in like 3 days. This book brings you into the life of Macy, who with the help of new friends, finds herself. This book will make your cry and laugh. I will defiantly re-read this book again. :)

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted August 17, 2010

      aha

      AMAZING! i hope to have a Wes someday...

      3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted August 27, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      One of My Favorite Books

      The Truth about Forever is definately a great book. I recommend it to everybody. All my friends have read it and loved it. Once I started reading it I couldn't put it down. It is very well written and I could really relate to the characters. Like all of Sarah Dessen's books, it has a good story line and the main character grows throughout the book. And of course it has a happy ending. If you like Sara Dessen's other books, then this one wont dissapoint you. Its great to read again and again.

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 1810 Customer Reviews

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