“You’ll fall in love with this genuine young heroine.” — Best Health
After two drama-filled weeks in Manhattan, Pippa Greene is back. Despite a romantic reunion with boyfriend Dylan, she can’t seem to shake the emotional aftermath of New York. As she navigates parental drama at home and her charged dynamic with Ben Baxter at school, Pippa finds that Dylan is more wrapped up in his post-high-school life of bands, shows, and new friends than in their relationship. Will it survive?
Written with the same humour and heart that made Chantel Guertin’s first two Pippa Greene novels instant favourites, Leading Lines offers a fresh and charming perspective on friendships, family, and first love.
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A Pippa Greene Novel
By Chantel Guertin
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2015 Chantel Guertin
All rights reserved.
"Pippa Greene, please report to the office. Pippa Greene, to the office, please."
Less than five minutes into the first day back after winter break and my name's called over the PA system. I stand, and so does the hair on my arms. In my time at Spalding High, I've only been called to the office twice. There's a bunch of oohs around the room.
"The rules! You're breaking the rules!" Dace quotes. We had to read Lord of the Flies over the break for English Lit and Dace actually read it. Then we watched the movie. That Balthazar Getty may be ancient now, but he was super cute in the movie.
"Hurry back. You don't want to miss all the fun," Mr. Alderman says a little overzealously. Mr. Alderman is new. All I know about him is that he's filling in for Mrs. Murphy, who was my homeroom and English Lit teacher, while she's on mat leave. And now, all he knows about me is that I got called down to the office within minutes of a new term. Not exactly the impression I was going for. I grab my white ski jacket off the back of my chair — the trek between the portable and the school is too frosty without it — and pull it on. My heart picks up speed as I yank open the door to the portable, a gust of cold air hitting me in the face. I pull my hood over my head and hurry down the three steps to the snow-covered pavement to the back door of the school, burying my chin beneath the stand-up collar.
The main office is bustling with students bringing down attendance forms and latecomers signing in. And there's Ben Baxter, standing in front of a tall gray filing cabinet, holding a colorful stack of file folders. He smiles when he sees me. He got a haircut over the break: it's shorter on the sides and back and a bit longer on top. He's wearing a navy mock-neck sweater, making his blue eyes pop. My stomach flip-flops.
"In trouble already?" he teases.
I give him a look. "I'm sure it's nothing." My face heats up and I look away. Mrs. Pinkrose is shuffling papers at the front desk. She's the main office admin lady, the one who called me down to the office. "I probably forgot a mitten or something over the break."
"Yeah, I heard Forsythe has a New Year's resolution to run a very personal lost and found system." He grins.
I roll my eyes, then shuffle toward the row of green vinyl chairs that line the glass windows of the office. Ben comes over and sits beside me, placing the folders on his lap.
"Maybe you're getting an award for putting up with me in New York." He leans over, knocking my shoulder with his.
I glance his way, quickly, then focus on the large white clock on the wall. "What are you doing here, anyway?" I ask him, to change the subject.
"Detention," he says, as though I should know. "No spares for the wicked."
I raise my eyebrows.
"You're still doing detention for stealing everyone's stuff?"
"Hey, you were the number one casualty. If you think it's been too long, maybe you could put in a good word when you're in there." He raises his eyebrows.
"Not likely." I smirk at him, so he knows there's no hard feelings. But detention? He totally earned it. "How much longer do you have?" "Rest of the year. Every day. First period."
"So there really is justice in the world."
"Can we move on?" He tosses the folders on the table at the end of the row of chairs. I look up to see if Mrs. Pinkrose is taking any of this in, but she's oblivious. "So how was your break?" We haven't seen each other since we got back from our two weeks in New York before the Christmas break. Which was kind of an intense two weeks, especially since at the end of it he wasn't going to finish his year at Spalding, but I asked him to come back. And he did.
"Great, fine," I say, wiping my palms on my jeans. How much longer am I going to have to wait out here?
"What you'd do?"
"Christmas family stuff." I press my lips together. "And um, just hung out with Dylan."
"Huh." He nods. His phone buzzes and he pulls it out. I look away but a second later, he nudges me. "Remember this?" On his phone is a familiar photo of two round shapes.
On the bus ride home from New York, Ben and I sat together, but it was awkward, at least to start. I don't know what Ben was thinking, but I was all over the place. Which was making me act weird. So our conversation was stilted and confusing. Until Ben pointed out the two guys in front of us. Their heads were exactly the same. Shaved in that way that men do when they're prematurely balding, because you could see stubble in some spots and not in others. Ben thought it was odd, that they were friends with the same male-pattern baldness, until I told Ben about how girls get their periods at the same time if they hang out all the time and he told me that was TMI, though he actually looked fascinated with this fact, and it sort of broke the ice. And then we started really analyzing the two guys, trying to figure out their story, but whispering so they wouldn't overhear us. Ben got up to go to the front of the bus, as though he were asking the driver a question, and on his way back he snapped a pic of the pair on his phone, then slid back into the seat beside me and showed me the craziest thing of all. They were man-twins. Like, they had to be our moms' age and dressed exactly the same: same jeans, same golf shirt — one in red, the other in blue. Same rectangular rimless glasses. Ben wondered if their underwear matched too.
After the novelty of the man-twins wore off, Ben suggested we watch a movie on his iPad. I figured he'd have nothing outside the Marvel universe and was about to say no and just sleep, but he suggested Before Sunrise.
The movie was about this guy and girl — Jesse and Céline — who meet on a train from Budapest and end up sitting together and talking about random stuff. They get off the train in Vienna and have this set of adventures overnight and there's totally chemistry between the two of them. In that way it wasn't really like Ben and me on the bus, because I was still really thinking about how much I missed Dylan and wanting to see him, but the beginning of the movie was pretty oddly similar to us, and I joked that this was an Art Imitating Life moment, and Ben sort of nodded and I realized he must've known that's what the movie was about and that's why he picked it and I felt sort of silly and naïve, but he didn't say so.
After the movie ended we sat in that sleepy silence, tired but also sort of feeling like we were having an adventure ourselves — even though we were just sitting on a bus. At least, that's how I was feeling. Maybe it was that it was the conclusion of a two-week adventure, and we'd been on it — or through it — together, which was the last thing I'd ever expected. I didn't want to fall asleep because I knew if I did, I'd wake up groggy in Spalding and it would all be over. And even though I didn't know what it meant, I didn't want this part with Ben to be over.
As the sleepiness faded, Ben brought up the subject of his dad, who was the whole reason he'd gone to New York. And then he asked what happened with David, my Tisch mentor, who turned out to be my dad. Which was already just this huge shock to digest, but then on the final night I caught David making out with Savida, one of the other Tisch campers, which completely messed with my already messy emotions.
Once we finally got past all the father drama, we settled into just talking. About music, about books, about Ben's friends back in Cheektowaga, about how much we'd miss Ramona and the rest of the Tisch crew, and about life and everything else.
And then the bus pulled into the depot in Spalding, and it was over. I got off first, and Ben followed me and we picked up our bags from beside the bus, and then Ben carried mine over to the curb. He looked at me and did this funny riff on Before Sunrise, where they plan to meet at the same spot in six months: "See you in two weeks?" he said. "Right here." And I laughed, and then he leaned in and then we had this hug that lasted just a bit longer than necessary. Like, totally innocent but also ... charged.
"Hey, where's that from?" Ben says now. I follow his gaze, down to the pocket of my ski jacket where I still have a lift ticket looped through my zipper pull.
"Oh, Holiday Valley. In Ellicottville?"
"You went skiing?"
"Yeah. Dace's mom and stepdad have a condo there. Dace invited Dylan and me up."
Mrs. Pinkrose clears her throat and gives Ben a set of raised eyebrows. He stands and grabs his stack of folders.
"I didn't know you ski." He opens the filing cabinet, but is looking at me.
"I don't. It was my first time. I was pretty terrible." I pull one of my legs up under me and turn to face him.
"It takes a few tries to really get it." He closes one drawer, walks his fingers along the file tabs and slides the folder in.
"We only went overnight." There were adjoining rooms at the condo — so Dace and I shared and Dylan got his own room, and it was super easy to sneak over there in the middle of the night. And even though my three-month rule was basically up when we were there, we didn't do it, but we definitely made some progress. Let's just say we may have been at a ski resort, but we covered a lot of baseball bases. I don't know what taking off your long underwear under the covers possibly counts as — shortstop?! Third?
"You should join ski club," Ben says.
"We don't have a ski club," I point out.
"We do. Or we will, if my club request goes through."
"It's 9:15. You're already organizing a ski club?"
"There are benefits to having office-duty detention." He pops a file in place and opens another drawer. "It's 20 bucks a week, and you get the bus there and back and the lift ticket. We leave at 3 on Fridays and get back to the school parking lot at midnight." He files the final folder and shuts the top drawer of the cabinet, giving it two taps on top just as Principal Forsythe sticks his head out his door and calls my name.
I stand and hurry into his office.
"Don't look so worried," Forsythe says, closing the door as I sink into one of the two black fabric chairs in front of his desk. He makes his way to the swivel chair on the other side of his desk. His office looks like it got the 24-hour flu: papers are scattered over his desk and floor, there's an empty box upended in the corner, a pen by my feet, and his recycling bin is overflowing. His appearance is kind of the same — his white-and-gray striped shirt is wrinkled, the top button is MIA and his glasses are crooked.
Catching my expression, he says, "My new year's resolution is to get organized. But that old adage is true — before things can get better they must get worse. Just don't let Mrs. Pinkrose see the place. Anyway, let's get to it." He rubs his hands together, and I shrug out of my ski jacket since I'm starting to sweat.
"This year marks the 50th anniversary of Spalding High, if you can even believe it. Fifty years! I'd like to say I don't remember when the school opened, but I was in first grade and it was a big deal in town. Anyway, point is, we're having an alumni reunion dance on Valentine's Day." He looks at me like I should know why he's telling me this. I nod encouragingly.
"What I'd like from you and the photo club is to coordinate some sort of photo display for the dance that celebrates our 50 years and our students."
"What did you have in mind?" I ask.
"No idea!" Principal Forsythe pushes his glasses up his nose. "I've got a ton of other details to work out. So I leave this in your capable hands. Talk to your fellow photographers and get back to me."
"OK, sounds great," I tell him.
"Excellent." He claps his hands together and ushers me out.
I head through the office to the hall; Ben follows me. "Everything good?"
I nod. "Oh, yeah, just something for photo club."
"I'll tell everyone at the meeting. Today after school — new time, same second-rate room. I should get back to class."
"Ski club. Think about it, Pippa Greene!" he says dramatically.
"Can't. Fridays are date night."
He shakes his head. "How are you going to get better at skiing sitting on a couch watching movies?"
I laugh, roll my eyes and then turn and head off down the hall. "Later, Ben Baxter."CHAPTER 2
I wait until we're wrapping up photo club that afternoon to mention the reunion dance project.
"Is this optional?" Jeffrey grumbles, looking up from his laptop.
"Well, I think Principal Forsythe thought it would be fun for us. An opportunity."
"Don't need it. Too much with my independent study." He closes his laptop and slips it into his backpack, then stands.
"Me too," says Arlan, getting up. "Sorry, Pippa." He pulls on his coat.
"I don't mind helping out," Gemma says.
I look around the room. Brooke shakes her head. "Can't. I've got a heavy schedule this term." That's everyone. Except Ben.
"I'm in," he says, leaning back in his chair.
"OK, so ... three of us?" I'm grateful that Gemma's in, because otherwise: no Ben buffer.
As everyone packs up, I check my phone again to see if Dylan's texted, but my screen's blank. I shove it in my back pocket and put my camera and laptop into my bag, then sling it across my body and grab my coat off the desk beside me. Maybe he's just waiting in the parking lot.
I make a beeline for the door so I don't have to walk out with Ben. I don't want Dylan to think we're all chummy or anything.
"Pip, wait up," Gemma calls, her tight black curls bouncing as she rushes to catch up. I pause as she falls into step with me. "This'll be fun," she says.
"We just have to come up with an idea," I say.
"You'll think of something, you always do." She laughs as we push through the front doors. "Oh, there's Emma," she says and waves at her twin who's just pulling into the lot. "See you tomorrow."
"'Kay," I say, giving her a wave, then looking around the parking lot for Dylan's dad's car. He's not here. We didn't exactly text to confirm, but he's been picking me up after school ever since, well, ever since he became my boyfriend. I call, but it goes straight to voicemail. I hang up and slip my phone in my coat pocket then pull my camera out of my bag. The afternoon sun is reflecting in the icicles hanging from the gutters, and I tilt my head back, holding my camera steady to capture the light reflection — this week's photo club theme.
"Need a ride?" a familiar voice says behind me, but I don't move. I pull the camera away from my face and check the screen. Not enough zoom. I sigh and turn around. Ben's throwing his book bag over his shoulder. I scan the parking lot for Dylan's car again.
"Waiting for a better offer?" he teases.
"Ha ha. Dylan's supposed to pick me up. I should probably just wait." I check my phone for the millionth time but there's only the pic of Dylan and me skating. I feel nostalgic for winter break, when Dylan and I hung out every day, even though it just ended yesterday. Dylan planned that romantic skating date for us: he'd read online about this continuous path you could skate on. We packed a backpack with snacks and hot chocolate and made the hour drive. There was a parking lot at the start of the path where we left the car and bundled up — hats, mitts, scarves and extra pairs of socks — then headed out on the route. We planned to make it as far as our toes could last the cold, stop for a hot chocolate and snack break, then skate back. We figured it would take hours. At first we could only see a small section of the path in front of us. We were holding hands and chatting, when, just two minutes later, we rounded some reeds and trees and realized we were back at the start of the trail again. The rink was a figure eight. We looked at each other and started laughing — and couldn't stop. For some reason we thought it was the funniest thing. That's when we took the pic. We did another couple loops, then got back in the car and caught an early matinee movie instead. It was one of our best dates yet.
Of course, in some ways, this Christmas was the worst one yet — Mom and my first Christmas without Dad, and being upset with Mom about the whole David secret — but being with Dylan made it one of my favorites. Which felt wrong, but I guess that's how things go. Sometimes bad things open your eyes to how good other things can be.
I shove my phone in my pocket and pull up the collar on my coat as a gust of wind whips by.
"All right, see you tomorrow," Ben calls, already a few steps into the parking lot.
"Wait!" I say, hurrying to catch up. "I'm too cold to wait any longer."
He clicks the key fob. The lights on his black BMW SUV flash twice.
Excerpted from Leading Lines by Chantel Guertin. Copyright © 2015 Chantel Guertin. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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