|Publisher:||Little, Brown Books for Young Readers|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
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There were thirty-six steps between Emory's bedroom window and mine.
The first time we counted, we were six years old (forty-two steps). The second time, we were twelve (thirty-nine). The last time, we were fifteen. We pressed our backs against the side of her house, interlocked our arms, and heel-toe-heel-toed to mine, laughing and stumbling, starting over until we got it right.
That patch of grass knew everything about us. That was where we learned to walk, where we ran through the sprinklers on hot summer days, and where we held tea parties for our stuffed animals.
When we got older, a single text with the word GRASS! would send the two of us darting out our back doors, bound for our spot smack in the middle. We'd stay out there for hours — staring up at the stars, talking about music and books and boys, practicing our kissing skills on our own upper arms — until we couldn't keep our eyes open or until our moms made us come inside, whichever happened first. Once we started high school, when we had bigger news and even more delicious secrets, we'd say things like, "You know you can tell me anything, right?" and we meant it deep in our souls.
But no matter how long two people have known each other, or how many times they've said those words, there are still some things you think but should never say to your best friend.
I know, because one day, I said those things.
And then Emory said those things.
And that was the last time either one of us crossed those thirty-six steps.
Mom was alone. I could tell by her shoulder. When David stayed over, it was bare, with a thin strip of pink or black silk peeking out from between the covers. When he wasn't there, she slept in one of Dad's old concert tees like she always used to.
I tiptoed across the room and sat on the edge of her bed, but she didn't move until I rested my hand on her back and gave her a little shake. "Hey, Mom," I whispered, "I'm home."
She let out a groan and strained to open one eye. "Hi, sweetie. How was the party?"
A chunk of my dark hair fell over my shoulder, and she reached up and pushed it back. "Did Luke drive home?"
"Yeah." I felt a pang of guilt, but I ignored it.
"I like him," she mumbled. "He's a good guy."
Her head sank back into the pillow, and her eyes fell shut. "Yeah, he is." I pulled the covers up to her chin and kissed her forehead.
She was snoring again by the time I shut her door behind me. As I walked back down the hallway, I pulled my phone from the back pocket of my jeans and texted Luke:
We came up with the code word when we started dating eight months earlier, and we both thought it was kind of brilliant. If Mom happened to read my texts — which she did at random, ever since David convinced her that's what "good parents" did — I imagined she'd let out a happy sigh and tell me she thought it was adorable that Luke and I texted each other before we fell asleep at night.
I closed my bedroom door, turned the lock, flicked the light switch on and off, and then walked to my closet and dug deep in the back, feeling for the metal stepladder. I carried it to the window.
Luke was already in position, pressed against the side of Hannah's house, right between her mother's perfectly manicured rosebush and some giant flowering shrub. When I had the ladder in place, he poked his head out and checked to be sure the coast was clear, and then he stepped into a sliver of light coming from the streetlamp.
He took off running across the lawn, his green-and-white scarf trailing behind him and his matching Foothill Falcons jacket catching the wind like a pair of wings. He played it up, throwing his arms to each side, flapping them like a bird. Or a bat. Or an insane person.
I covered my mouth to stifle my laugh as he climbed up the stepladder. "God, you're a dork."
He swung his leg over the sill and landed on the floor with a soft thud. Then he hooked his thumb toward Hannah's house. "She doesn't think I'm a dork. She thinks I'm dead sexy."
The smile slipped from my lips. Across the lawn, I could see Hannah's face, low in the bottom corner of her window between her curtain and the white-painted frame.
I started to say, "Ignore her," like I always did, but then I changed my mind. If she insisted on watching us, we might as well give her something to see.
I unwrapped his scarf and slid his jacket off, letting it drop to the floor. I pulled his T-shirt over his head. "What are you doing?" he asked. I brushed my fingertips down his bare arms and over his chest, and then I pressed my body against his, kissing him as I eased him backward toward the window. I pressed his shoulders against the glass and kissed him even harder. He made a show of running his fingers through my hair.
Hannah was dying. I could feel her scorn and disgust all the way across the grass. I imagined her grasping that cross pendant of hers so tightly it left four little indentations in her fingers, as she prayed for my soul and prayed even harder for God to strike down my evil boyfriend, sneaking in my bedroom after curfew. But to be fair, the image was over-the-top.
I started giggling. I couldn't help it.
Luke flipped me around, pressed my back against the glass, and lifted my hands above my head. I laughed even harder. "You're going full soap opera," I said.
"Hey, you started it."
I hitched one leg over his hip and pulled him closer.
"She's totally watching," he said. "Keep going."
But I didn't want to keep going. I wanted to kiss Luke for real, not for show, and certainly not for Hannah.
"I think she's seen enough." I looked over my shoulder, blew a kiss in her direction, and pulled down hard on the shade.
"Are you ever going to tell me what happened with you two?" Luke asked.
"Nope." I didn't see the point. Hannah and I hadn't said a word to each other in over three months. She didn't go to school with us, and between my play rehearsals and her church choir practices, our paths rarely crossed.
It wasn't the way I wanted it, but it was the way it was.
I led him over to my bed, and when he sat on the edge and parted his legs, I stepped in between them. I let my fingers get lost in his dark brown curls and tried not to think about Hannah.
"Well, when you two start talking again, remind me to thank her."
"I'm going to fall asleep tonight thinking about that kiss."
That made me smile. Two seventy-three, I thought to myself. Only I didn't think it to myself. I said it out loud. Luke pulled back and looked at me.
"What did you just say?"
I felt the flush heat my cheeks. I hoped it was dark enough in the room to keep Luke from noticing.
"Why did you say 'two seventy-three'?"
"I didn't, I said ..." I tried to think of something that rhymed with seventy-three, but I was coming up blank.
Luke wasn't about to let it drop. He brought his hands to my hips and pulled me toward him. "Come on. Tell me."
"I can't. It's embarrassing."
"It's me," he said as he undid the first button on my blouse. "What is it? You have two hundred and seventy-three freckles?" He kissed my chest.
"Maybe." I giggled. "You want to count them?"
"I can't." He kissed another spot. "It's too dark in here.
"I can't tell you. You'll think it's weird."
"Of course I will. You're weird. In a good way." And then, without taking his eyes off mine, he popped another button open.
"Ooh, I like that one even better." I reached into the back pocket of my jeans for my phone, opened my Notes app, scrolled down to Day 273, and typed:
"You're weird. In a good way."
"Okay, fine. Here." I handed him my phone.
Luke ran his fingertip over the glass, scrolling down slowly, scanning the entries. "Wait, who said the stuff in the quotes?"
"Yeah. I started on the night we met. You said this thing that made me laugh."
"What did I say?"
I reached over his shoulder and scrolled to the top so he could read the first entry.
Day 1: "I think I'm in big trouble, Emory Kern."
He laughed quietly. "I was right. I knew you were fun."
"Sure." I grinned. "But after all those boring girls you'd been dating, it wasn't like it was a high bar or anything."
Luke pointed at the last entry, Day 437. "Why does it end here?"
I shrugged like it was no big deal. "That's August twentieth."
The day Luke was leaving for University of Denver, moving into the dorms, and I was hopefully doing the same at UCLA.
"Oh," he said. And then it got quiet. And awkward.
I cracked a joke to lighten the mood. "So, no pressure, but that last one better be damn good. You should probably start thinking about what you're going to say right now."
Luke returned his attention to my collection of quotes.
"What? No way!" Luke started laughing so hard, I had to cover his mouth to muffle the sound.
"Shh ... You're going to wake my mom up."
He pulled my hand away. "How did you not laugh in my face when I said, and I quote, 'These songs make me feel like you're in my arms.' I did not say that."
"You did. You made me a playlist, remember? Because you're adorable." I kissed his nose.
"I thought you meant this was embarrassing for you, not for me." He looked up at me from under his long eyelashes, a mischievous smile playing on his lips. And then he swiped left. The little red delete button appeared on the side of the screen next to 273 days of carefully collected Luke-isms.
"Luke!" I panicked and tried to grab my phone from his hands, but he was too quick. He held it in the air, out of my reach, threatening to wipe the whole thing out with a single tap.
"Kidding. I wouldn't do that." He swiped right and the red button disappeared. Then he dropped the phone on my comforter and kissed me.
It was the kind of kiss I wanted when we were back at the window: long and slow, patient and teasing, soft and eager, all at the same time. God, I loved kissing him. I loved doing everything with him, but I might have loved kissing him most.
He flipped me onto the bed, straddled my hips, and pinned my shoulders to the mattress. "You're the coolest girl I've ever known."
I smacked his arm. "I already have my line for today. I don't want more choices."
"You surprise me. I've never dated anyone who surprised me." He undid another button.
"See, now you're just showing off."
"Also, you have this insanely amazing body and I want you, like, all the time." He popped the last button.
I rolled my eyes. "You're going the wrong way with this. Now you just sound like every other guy." Luke-isms were never basic.
"Hey." He came down on his elbows so we were face-toface. "Seriously. I love you. And you're my best friend. You know that, right?"
I sucked in a breath. Not because of the love part — we'd said that practically every day now — but because of the best friend part. An unexpected and overwhelming wave of sadness rippled through my whole body. Without thinking, I turned my head toward Hannah's house.
Even though she broke my heart, and pissed me off, and I wasn't sure we'd ever find our way back to each other, Hannah had been my best friend for seventeen years. I wasn't about to give her title to anyone else, not even Luke.
"You okay?" he asked.
I looked back at him. "Yeah."
"You sure? You look sad."
"I'm fine." I took a long breath and smiled. "I love you, too."
That one was easy to say.
I stripped off my church clothes as fast as I could and changed into my running gear. I could feel angry tears building up behind my eyes, but I pushed them down when I heard a knock on my door.
Mom opened it and poked her head inside. She took one look at my feet and said, "You're going for a run? Now?"
"But we're in the middle of a conversation."
"No, we're not. You and Dad can talk all you want. I'm done."
I jammed my foot into my running shoe and sat on the edge of my bed. I still couldn't get my head around what they'd told me. Graduation was only three months away. Of all the things I'd had to worry about, I hadn't thought college was one of them. Suddenly, everything was up in the air. I tried to tie my laces, but my fingers were shaking too much.
"I know you're upset, Hannah. You have every right to be." Mom sat next to me. She started to put her hand on my leg but thought better of it, so it kind of lingered awkwardly in the air before she rested it on the comforter between us. "Your dad was doing what he thought was best for —"
I cut her off. "You'd better not say for me. You'd better say for the school. He was doing what he thought was best for the school, like always."
"That's not fair, Hannah. And it's not true. Your dad has made a lot of sacrifices for the school, but he's made a lot for you, too. More than you'll ever know."
I grabbed my other shoe off the floor, slid it on my foot, and laced it as fast as I could. I couldn't wait to get out of there. All I wanted to do was feel my feet slapping hard on the pavement and fill my lungs with air until they burned.
I didn't say anything else, so Mom kept talking. "It was an investment. Dad thought it would have paid off by now. It will, soon, and when it does, it will benefit everyone. The school. Our family. Your future. It might not look like it on the surface, but he did this for you, Hannah."
It was all I could do not to laugh in her face. "He spent all my college savings, Mom. I might not be able to go to Boston University. How is that for me?"
"That's not what we said. You're going to BU, no question. All we're saying is that you might have to defer for a year and go to one of the community colleges first. Lots of kids do that."
"I worked hard in every class for four years to get into my top school. I've spent every second of my free time on extracurriculars and volunteering, not to mention all those hours practicing and touring with SonRise, all because you told me that a cappella choir would look good on my college applications."
"Oh, come on ... That's not fair, Hannah. You love performing with SonRise. And I encouraged you to do it because you have a beautiful voice, not to get you into college."
She continued. "You got into a great school. Defer for a year, give us a chance to let the investment do what we know it will do, and then transfer. Your diploma will still come from BU."
Mom must have noticed that her words were making this sound like a done deal, when they hadn't pitched it to me like that in the living room ten minutes earlier.
"Listen," she said with a new, more positive lilt in her voice. "We're not saying it's definite. Not at all. We just thought we'd better give you a heads-up."
I couldn't even look at her. And I knew that wasn't entirely fair. She wasn't in this alone. And the whole thing had to have been his idea, not hers.
"Now I'm wishing we hadn't told you." She punctuated the thought with an exaggerated sigh. That set me off again.
"No, you should have told me months ago! You should have told me back in December, when I got my early admissions letter. We went out to dinner to celebrate. And you and Dad knew we couldn't afford it the entire time. How could you have done that?"
Mom had a strange look on her face. She bit down hard on her lip and looked out my window. Something was off. 14 I thought back to that night. Mom and Dad looked like they were about to burst with pride the entire time. They couldn't have been faking it.
I started mentally piecing together the timeline, trying to figure out what had changed since then, if the money hadn't been a problem back in December. It hit me like a slap. "It's Aaron, isn't it?"
The music director spot had been open for more than a year. In January, when Dad finally lured Aaron Donohue away from a huge mega-church in Houston, he'd said his prayers had been answered. His "dream team" was complete.
"Aaron has been a huge asset to the school, but he was an expensive hire."
Aaron. The irony wasn't lost on me. It would have been hilarious if it wasn't so horrible. I moved for the door, more eager to get out of this room and this house and this town than I'd ever been before.
"Hannah." I stopped. I looked over my shoulder, biting my tongue. "Everything will be okay. All we need is faith."
Yeah, I thought, that's all we need. Maybe I could just show up at the BU admissions office on the first day of school and say, "Hi, my name is Hannah Jacquard. I have no money, but here, take this. It's a ton of faith."
"God will provide, Hannah. You know that. He always does."
Excerpted from "Little Do We Know"
Copyright © 2018 Tamara Ireland Stone.
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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