Read an Excerpt
Charlie refuses to answer my texts. Or she has her phone set on silent. Or she forgot to charge it. Or she had a rare fit of temper and tossed it into a toilet, thereby rendering it unusable. Whatever the case, this lack of communication between us is decidedly not normal. I stare at my phone for a few more seconds, analyzing my last text to her. It’s a simple question—Will you be at the Empower meeting next week?so I don’t understand why she won’t answer it. Yes or no. How hard is that? Then again, Charlie’s never missed an Empower meeting, so she probably sees right through my desperate attempt at indifference. Groaning at the still-blank screen, I toss the phone onto my bed and slide my window open. An early autumn breeze ghosts over my skin and hair, bringing with it the smell of burning leaves and cedar from the rocking chairs on our front porch. Throwing a leg over the sill, I twist my body through the window and onto the porch’s flat roof. In the distance, the setting sun drizzles the last bit of color through the sky, lavender fading to darker violet. The first stars are blinking into view and I lie down on the gritty shingles, my eyes already peeling through the almost-dark for Gemini. You can’t really see the constellation this time of year, but I know those twins are hiding somewhere in the west. “There they are,” Owen says as he climbs through the window and settles next to me. He waves his hand off toward the east. “You’re so full of shit.” “What, they’re right there.” “That’s Cancer . . . or something.” “I know my twins, woman.” I laugh and relax into the familiarity of the scene. Owen, messy-haired and clad in flannel and slim-fit jeans, full of astrological pomp and circumstance. We lie quietly for a bit, night sounds growing thicker with the dark. “Once upon a time . . .” Owen whispers, and I smile. This is familiar too, all of his bravado softening into this: my twin brother spinning stories under a domed sky. “. . . a brother and a sister lived with the stars. They were happy and had wild adventures exploring the sky,” I continue, filling in the beginning of our story the way we always have since we were kids. “One day, they went out searching for true love,” Owen says. “Oh my god, you’re such a sap.” “Shut upmy twin does what I want.” “Fine.” I stare at a spot of darkening sky, hoping to catch a shooting star. “But Sister Twin didn’t care about true love, so—” “Oh, I’m full of shit?” “she decided to seek her fortune in a nearby galaxy.” “But on her way, she caught a glimpse of Andromeda and thought, Screw fortune, give me that ass!” “You are a vile human being.” “I’m not a human at all. I’m a constellation.” “Half of a constellation.” “The better half.” I groan dramatically and try to shove Owen’s shoulder, but he dodges me and hooks his arm around my neck, blowing a raspberry into my hair. “Speaking of better halves,” he says when he releases me, “why isn’t Charlie attached to your person right now? Wait, is she in your pocket?” He leans into me as if he’s trying to look into my literal pocket and I push him away. “These leggings don’t have any pockets, and you know why she’s not here right now.” His mouth forms a little circle. “Right.” He squints at me, then shakes his head. “No, sorry. I can’t imagine one of you without the other.” My smile fades and I sit up, wrapping a lock of hair around my forefinger. Charlie’s always loved playing with my hair and plaiting the ends into little braids. It’s a years-old habit, born freshman year when I sat in front of her in American Lit and my nearly waist-length waves spilled over the back of my chair. Starting school that year had me tied into a million little knots, but Charlie’s long fingers weaving through my hair relaxed me, helped me focus and feel like me again. Right now, with my best-friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-ex-girlfriend bricking a wall of silence between us, I feel everything but. “Which is exactly why I broke up with her now,” I say. “Before it’s too late.” Owen coughs “bullshit” into his hand, an intimation I decide to ignore. “We’ll be okay,” I say. “Remember two years ago when I convinced her I could give her an awesome haircut?” “Mara, you butchered her hair. It was like a faux hawk on meth.” “Which led to her getting it fixed by a professional the next day, giving rise to her beloved swoop. So really, she should’ve thanked me.” “Pretty sure she didn’t talk to you for a week.” “And we got through it. You’re only proving my point.” He tilts his head toward me. “This is a bit different from a haircut, Mar.” I swallow through the sudden ballooning in my throat. My fingers itch for my phone, my mind already forming another text, just to check on her. Maybe I should tell her I’m going to the party at the lake with Owen and Alex. Surely she’d at least grace me with a craughing emoji. Instead, I make myself stay put, literally pressing my butt into the roof. “We’ll be fine,” I say. Because we will. We have to be. Wheels crunch over gravel, pulling our attention to the driveway and Alexander Tan’s sunshine-yellow Volkswagen Bug pulling to a stop in front of our house. “I’m never going to get over his car,” I say, getting to my feet and brushing roof grit off my tunic dress. “He’s lucky he’s not driving around on a Huffy beach bike. Besides, he loves that thing. Even keeps little flowers in the vase by the steering wheel.” “Only when you put them there. Are you two courting?” Owen feigns shock as his best friend steps out of his car. Alex’s hair is so dark, it blends in with the rest of the night and nearly disappears. The rest of him is very, very visible. Checkered button-up under a snug gray sweater. Slim dark jeans and boots. He’s the definition of dapper as hell. “You ready for this?” Owen asks me, standing and stretching like a cat. “Oh yeah,” I deadpan. “A night of dodging guys with beer breath and perpetual boners. Can’t wait.” “Maybe they’ll leave you alone if they think you’re still with Charlie. I don’t think the breakup is common knowledge yet.” I snort a laugh. Thinking I’m not single is the last thing that will keep some of the cretins masquerading as teenage boys at our school from harassing me. It was bad enough when I came out as bisexual last year, but to date a girl? It’s nothing but threesome jokes and passive-aggressive slut shaming every time I venture into the hallway. Lucky for me, Empower’s monthly newspaper is pretty widely read this year, so I get to eviscerate every last one of those jerks on a regular basis. At least on paper. “Why are you on the roof?” Alex calls, hooking his thumbs into his jean pockets and peering up at us. “Thought we’d catapult ourselves into the car tonight,” I say. “Sound good to you?” “Blood and I aren’t exactly friends.” “Pansy ass,” Owen mutters as he curls his body back through the window. He and Alex have one of those annoying bro-hate-love relationships. The three of us have known one another since the first grade, when we all sat at the same table in Mr. Froman’s class and shared a box of crayons and safety scissors. They constantly berate and nag each other but can barely go a few hours without texting. They’re like Charlie and me . . . without all the queerness. And recent and extreme awkwardness. Let’s not forget that. “Um . . . want me to catch you or something?” Alex asks, and I realize I’ve been staring down at him for a good minute. I inch toward the ledge, dangling one foot into empty space. “Maybe . . .” “Mara McHale, don’t you dare.” He stumbles toward me and holds up his hands, his long violin-playing fingers splayed wide as if he could really break my fall if I took a dive. “Don’t tell me what to do,” I say, letting my foot continue to hang over the edge. “Don’t be stupid.” My lip curls involuntarily. “Don’t be a brute.” “Don’t be so . . . mean.” The tension leaves my body and I can’t help but laugh. Alex never could execute a good comeback. It’s sort of adorable. “Good god, Mar, stop antagonizing the entire human population,” Owen calls as he bursts out of the front door below me. He claps Alex on the back and peers up at me. “Let’s go. We all need a drink.” I don’t know about a drink, but I sure as hell need something. Climbing back through the window, I force myself to leave my phone pillowed in my blue down comforter. Two can play the ignoring game.