"POSITIVELY DELIGHTFUL-all caps-from beginning to end." - NPR
Sophie wants one thing for Christmas-a little freedom from her overprotective parents. So when they decide to spend Christmas in South Louisiana with her very pregnant older sister, Sophie is looking forward to some much needed private (read: make-out) time with her long-term boyfriend, Griffin. Except it turns out that Griffin wants a little freedom from their relationship.
Heartbroken, Sophie flees to her grandparents' house, where the rest of her boisterous extended family is gathered for the holiday. That's when her nonna devises a (not so) brilliant plan: Over the next ten days, Sophie will be set up on ten different blind dates by different family members. Like her sweet cousin Sara, who sets her up with a hot guy at an exclusive underground party. Or her crazy aunt Patrice, who signs Sophie up for a lead role in a living nativity. With a boy who barely reaches her shoulder. And a screaming baby.
When Griffin turns up unexpectedly and begs for a second chance, Sophie feels more confused than ever. Because maybe, just maybe, she's started to have feelings for someone else . . . Someone who is definitely not available.
This is going to be the worst Christmas break ever . . . or is it?
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Friday, December 18th
"Are you sure you won't come with us?"
Mom hangs out of the passenger window and wraps me in a fierce hug for the tenth time in the last ten minutes. The pleading tone in her voice is doing its job. I'm an inch away from the first bit of freedom I've ever known, yet I'm only seconds from caving and jumping into the backseat. I hug her back, tighter than usual.
Dad leans forward, his face washed in the soft blue light from the dash. "Sophie, we really hate leaving you here for Christmas. Who's going to make sure I get those fork marks in the peanut butter cookies just right? Not sure if I can be trusted to do it alone."
I laugh and duck my head. "I'm sure," I say. And I am. This saying good-bye part is hard, but there's no way I can suffer through the next week and a half at Margot's house, staring at bloated appendages.
My parents are driving to Breaux Bridge, a small town in south Louisiana a little less than four hours away, to be with my sister and her husband. Margot is six weeks away from having her first baby, and she's developed superimposed preeclampsia, whatever that means. All I know is that it's made her feet swell to ridiculous sizes. And I know this because Margot is so bored out of her mind while she's been stuck in her bed that she's sent me pics of them from every conceivable angle.
"It's not like I'm going to be by myself," I continue. "I'll have Nonna and Papa and the other twenty-five members of our family to keep me company."
Dad rolls his eyes and mutters, "Don't know why they all have to hang out in one house all the time."
Mom pokes him in the ribs. The size of our extended family is no joke. Mom is one of eight, and pretty much all of her siblings have several kids of their own. My grandparents' house is always full of people, but around the holidays it turns into Grand Central Station. Beds and spots at the table are awarded based on age, so when my cousins and I were younger we always spent Christmas Eve stuffed into one big pallet on the floor of the den like sardines and every meal was a balancing act between your plate, your red Solo cup and your lap.
"Are you sure you don't want to stay with Lisa? It'll be quieter at her house," Mom asks.
"I'm sure. I'll be fine at Nonna and Papa's."
It would be a lot quieter at my Aunt Lisa's. She's Mom's twin, older by three minutes, but because of that she watches me as closely as Mom does. And that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for a little freedom. And some alone time with Griffin. Both are in short supply when you live in a small town and your dad is the chief of police.
"Okay. Dad and I should be back the afternoon of Nonna's birthday party. We'll open presents then." Mom fidgets around in the front seat, clearly not ready to leave. "I mean, if Brad's parents weren't already going to be there, we wouldn't have to go. You know how his mom always tries to rearrange Margot's kitchen and move her furniture around. I don't want Margot all worked up, wondering what that woman is doing while she's stuck in bed."
"And God forbid, his parents take care of your daughter," I tease. Mom is overly protective of her children. All Margot had to do was mention that her husband's parents were coming in and Mom started packing her bags.
"We could wait and go in the morning," Mom suggests to Dad.
Dad's shaking his head before she finishes. "We'll make better time if we drive tonight. Tomorrow is the Saturday before Christmas. The roads will be a nightmare." He leans forward once more, meeting my gaze. "Get your stuff and head straight to your grandparents'. Call them to let them know you're on the way."
That's my dad — all business. This is the first time in years Dad will be away from the station for more than a few days.
"I will." One more hug from Mom, and I blow a kiss to Dad. Then they're gone.
The glowing red taillights of my parents' SUV disappears down the road, and a flood of emotions roll through me — thrilling anticipation, but also an ache that settles deep in my belly. I do my best to shake it off. It's not that I don't want to be with them — just thinking about waking up on Christmas morning without my parents has my stomach twisting in knots — but I just can't spend my entire break trapped in Margot and Brad's tiny apartment.
Once I'm back in my room, the first thing I do is I call Nonna to tell her I'll be there in a few hours. She's distracted; I can hear the customers at the flower shop she owns talking loudly in the background, and can guess she's only hearing about every third word I say.
"Drive carefully, sweetheart," she says. As she's hanging up, I can hear her shouting poinsettia prices at Randy in the greenhouse, and I smother a grin.
It's six o'clock, and it's just a short drive from Minden to Shreveport, where my grandparents and the rest of my family live. Nonna won't look for me until around ten.
Four glorious hours to myself.
I fall back on my bed and stare at my slowly turning ceiling fan. Even though I'm seventeen, my parents don't like for me to stay home alone. And when I do manage to pull it off, there's usually a parade of deputies doing drive-bys — just to check on things. It's all sorts of ridiculous.
Feeling around on the bed for my phone, I call Griffin to let him know I'll be staying, but after eight rings it goes to voice mail. I send him a text, then wait for those three little dots to appear. I hadn't told him I was trying to convince my parents to let me stay — no reason for both of us to be disappointed if it didn't work out.
I stare at the blank screen for another few seconds then throw it down on the bed and move to my desk. There's a clutter of makeup and colored pencils and nail polish bottles scattered across the surface. Almost every inch of the bulletin board hanging on the wall in front of me showcases crisp, white index cards for each college I'm considering. There's a color-coded list of pros (green) and cons (red) on each card, plus all of the application requirements per school. A few sport a big green checkmark, meaning I've already met every requirement and been accepted, but most I'm still waiting to hear from. I call this my Inspiration Board, but Mom calls it my Obsession Board.
My eyes move to the first card I tacked up at the beginning of freshman year — LSU. Once upon a time, I thought it was the only school that would make the board. But then I realized I needed to keep my options open.
My phone dings and I glance back toward the bed. It's just a notification that someone liked my last post — not Griffin texting me back.
I glance at the blank cards stacked on my desk and, for half a second, consider making a Griffin list. We've been together for over a year and school is usually our biggest focus, but with the two-week break ahead and no midterms or papers to worry about, the idea of being here alone with him is exciting. Even though we've been taking things slow, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about taking our relationship to the next level.
Green: Together almost a year We're seniors and almost eighteen
Red: Haven't said "I love you" yet Not sure if I'm ready to say "I love you" yet
Mom would definitely have a problem if she sees that list hanging there so I resist the urge.
My phone chimes again. I feel my heart lurch when I see the text icon, but when I check the screen, I see another pic from Margot.
I open the image and stare at it for a few minutes. Someone needs to take the phone away from her.
ME: ????? What is that???
MARGOT: That was a close-up of my toes. There is zero space between them. I can't wiggle them or separate them. They're like little sausages.
ME: What if they never go back to normal?? What if you're stuck with sausage toes forever? What if you can never wear flip-flops again because you can't get that little plastic piece between your first two toes? You're going to humiliate your kid with those feet.
MARGOT: I guess sausage toes are better than sausage fingers. Maybe I'll have to wear those really ugly orthopedic shoes like Aunt Toby used to wear.
ME: You could bedazzle them. And maybe write your name in puff paint along each side. They would be adorable sausage toe shoes.
MARGOT: Now you made me hungry for sausage.
ME: You're disgusting. And you've scarred me for life. I'm never getting pregnant for fear of sausage toes and bedazzled orthopedic shoes.
It's a few minutes before she texts me back.
MARGOT: Mom just texted me that you're not coming!!! What in the hell, Soph??? You were going to save me from the tug-of-war between mom and Gwen. You know how those two are together!!
ME: You're on your own. I really hope they fight over who gets to clean out the lint between those sausage toes. Maybe they'll have to use dental floss.
MARGOT: You've given me a mental picture I'll never be able to get rid of. I curse you with sausage toes for the rest of your life!
ME: I'll come when the baby's born.
MARGOT: So has Griffin gotten there yet?
ME: None of your business.
MARGOT: Give it up. No, wait ... don't give it up.
ME: Ha. Ha.
I scroll through all the social media sites, wasting time waiting for Griffin to call me. My phone finally rings, and his name flashes across the screen. I don't even try to stop the smile that breaks out across my face.
"Hey!" he screams over the loud music and noise in the background.
"Hey! Where are you?" I ask.
I've already seen several posts from people hanging out in his backyard and pool house, including Addie, my best friend since the third grade.
"Are you on the way to Margot's?" he asks.
"Change of plans. I'm staying with Nonna and Papa. But I don't have to be there for a few hours."
"What? I can hardly hear you," he says in a loud voice.
"Change of plans!" I scream. "I'm staying here."
I can hear the steady beat from the bass but can't make out which song is playing.
"I can't believe your dad didn't make you go," he says.
"I know, right? Want to come here? Or I can come to Matt's."
He's quiet a second before saying, "Come to Matt's.
I feel a pang of disappointment. "Okay, see you in a few," I reply, then end the call.
* * *
The crowd at Matt's is bigger than I expected. Today was the last day of school before the holiday break, and it looks like everyone is ready to celebrate. There must be a million lights strung over his house and the bushes and trees. Really, there are lights covering anything that stayed still too long.
Most people are in T-shirts and shorts, and even with all of the decorations it's hard to feel festive. Doesn't really feel like winter break when you're swatting mosquitoes. Stupid Louisiana weather.
I park my car four houses down, the closest spot I can find. Even from this far away, I can still hear the deep thump of bass coming from Matt's backyard. It wouldn't surprise me if the neighbors call the cops within the hour. Hopefully, we'll be gone by then; it would be hard to explain why I was here instead of halfway to my grandparents' house when one of the deputies inevitably calls my dad.
When I get to Matt's, I spot a guy and a girl sitting in the grass near the driveway, and they seem to be arguing. The drama doesn't usually get started this early. They get quiet when they notice me and I pick up the pace, trying to give them their privacy. Following the music, I head to the backyard toward the pool house. Just as I'm about to round the house, I feel a tug on my arm.
And then I'm swallowed in a breath-crushing hug.
"I thought you weren't coming!" Addie squeals loud enough that several people turn our direction.
"Can you believe I talked my parents into going without me?"
"I can't! Are you staying at Nonna's?" She sticks out her bottom lip in a pout. "I'm still barely going to see you!" I laugh. "Yes, you will. I have a plan. Nonna will be so busy during the day, she won't even miss me. I'll head back here and we can hang out."
"Your parents will flip if they find out. We'll have to hide your car." Addie jumps up and down. "Oh! And bring Olivia. I haven't seen her in forever."
I nod, even though I doubt she'll want to come back with me. Olivia is one of my many cousins and the daughter of Mom's twin sister, Lisa. We're only two months apart in age and used to be super close when we were younger, but we've seen less and less of each other over the last couple of years. "Olivia is helping Nonna at the shop. I'm not sure she can get away."
Her eyes brighten, then she starts dragging me to the pool house. "We'll just have to find a way to break her out of there." "Have you seen Griffin?" I ask, changing the subject away from Olivia.
"Not yet, but Danny and I just got here. Maybe he's inside." She nods toward the pool house. "Want a beer?"
"Nah, I have to drive to Nonna's soon. I'll find a bottle of water somewhere," I say as we part ways. Addie heads to the keg hidden in the shrubbery and I push through the crowd. The music is so loud once I get inside that the first few people I talk to can't hear me at all.
I finally make it through the room and find a few of Griffin's friends.
"Sophie! What's up!" Chris yells then tries to hug me. He's already down to his white undershirt and boxer shorts. I hold my arm out to keep him at a safe distance. Chris is the guy that always manages to get one step from naked at parties. At the school Halloween dance, he came dressed as a cowboy, but by the end of the night all that was left of his costume was the pair of chaps over his boxer briefs. He got a week's worth of detentions for indecent exposure.
"Not much. Where's Griffin?" I ask then turn around to scope out the room.
Chris waves his hand behind him. "Somewhere back there. Went looking for a beer."
I nod then scoot around him. It's hard to make any progress through the crowd, but I finally spot Griffin just as he turns into the small kitchen in the back of the pool house. It takes me a few minutes to catch up since I stumbled into the middle of a dance circle and Josh Peters won't let me leave without spinning me around a few times. As I'm just about to round the corner into the kitchen, where the music is actually somewhat muted, I hear Griffin say, "Sophie's on her way."
It's not the words that make me stop. It's the way he says them. Full of disappointment.
Parker, one of Griffin's best friends, is pulling two beers out of the refrigerator. Neither one of them notice me just outside the door.
"I thought she was going to her sister's house or something?" Parker asks.
Griffin's head hangs. "She was. But not anymore."
He's so bummed I'm staying, like I've ruined his break. I can hear it in his voice, that horrible feeling — the one where you were so looking forward to something, like you were about to bust out of your skin because you were so happy, only to have it snatched away. That's how I felt when I thought I wouldn't be here for the break.
And that's how he sounds after hearing I will be here.
What is happening?
Griffin starts to turn, and I duck around the corner. Why am I hiding? I should be storming in there, demanding answers. But I'm frozen. I count to five and then slowly look back into the kitchen.
"She'll be here any minute," he says but stays rooted in his spot.
Parker pops open one of the beers then hands it to Griffin.
Griffin takes a long drink.
"So what's the problem?" Parker asks. Obviously he can hear the disappointment, too.
Griffin shrugs. "This is going to make me sound like an asshole, but I was kind of glad she was going to be gone. You know, like a trial run of what it would be like if we broke up."
My heart is pounding.
"Do you want to break up with her?" Parker asks, then takes another swig of his beer.
Griffin shrugs again. My desire to scream is almost overwhelming.
"I think so."
I gasp. Parker and Griffin both turn toward the door. Parker's eyes get big, and he looks from me to Griffin and back to me.
There's a split second where Griffin tries to figure out if I heard what was said. But the expression on my face makes it obvious that I did.
I stumble back, hitting the wall before fleeing.
I have to get out of here. I can't look at him. I can't be here. "Sophie!" Griffin follows behind me, but I duck and dodge my way toward the door. I'm afraid I won't make it outside before the tears start to fall. Then Addie sees my face and barrels through the people dancing, pulling me out of the pool house.
"What happened?" she asks once we're on the other side of the pool.
I crumple to the ground and tell her everything.
"That asshole," she says. Addie turns, like she's going to hunt him down.
"Please help me get out of here," I plead.
She moves back toward me. "Of course. Let's go."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "10 Blind Dates"
Copyright © 2019 Ashley Elston.
Excerpted by permission of Disney Book Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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