|Publisher:||Kids Can Press, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
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Day 1: early
My stomach hurts, and my eyes ache. I haven't slept. I sit on the front step, holding my coffee cup tightly. Tangled branches overhang our yard. It's not even nine in the morning, but the heat is rising already. I'm listening to St. Vincent while I watch Dad pick tomatoes. Even from here, their leaves smell rich and dense, almost spicy. Because he's a mechanic, he has grease on his shirt from work, but it hasn't stopped him wearing it again.
Alec's truck arrives. I remove one earbud and watch him get out. He's wearing his usual outdoorsy clothes, and he's holding three red roses. Roses again. I think of the orange ones that I left in his truck yesterday. I wonder if he threw them out after what happened. Alec steps through our gate, seeming giant in our nineteenth-century English garden — style yard, his shoes crunching on the gravel path, and he holds out the bouquet to me. My eyes travel over him. The neat stitches are stark against the skin of his temple. His shirt is pale green, and his hoodie is emblazoned with the slogan hit the woods. His sleeves are pushed back, revealing his strong, tanned arms. The air stills, and a bird calls a warning overhead. I chose him, I chose him, I chose him. I left a little girl facedown in the water. The bird calls again, and it sounds to me like a judgment. I swallow my nausea, seeking Alec's gaze to reassure me I made the right choice. I catch his eye. Something between us quickens, intensifies, becomes solid.
"You look ..." He pauses, as if he's finding the right word, his tongue resting on the right of his bottom lip, close to his piercing. "Lovely."
"I look tired." I smile wanly. I take the roses. "Thanks." "I didn't sleep either." He turns to my dad, who has emerged from the bushes. "Mr. Hardy? A pleasure to meet you." He even reaches out to shake Dad's hand. "I mean, I know we saw each other yesterday."
He means at the hospital, where Dad had to come and get me. Where Alec had to be checked over. Where little Annabelle is in a coma.
Suzanne asked us not to visit her. "Family only, please," she said. Not unkindly, but with a quiet firmness.
Alec continues. "But that feels like months ago ..."
"Call me 'Vince.' 'Mr. Hardy' makes me feel old."
"Will do. Thank you, Vince." Alec turns to me. "I just wanted to check you were okay."
I tremble. I can still hear that desperate cry: Lark! DO SOMETHING!
Day 3: period three
Alec's thumb circles my palm, and shivers spread through me. I could write about this feeling, put it in a song. I think about the last time I wrote a song and push away the lyrics that are trying to come. Instead I peek at his hand, his silver thumb ring, his bitten nails. He's wearing one of those checkered shirts that make him look like he's on his way to hike up a mountain. His jeans have that rugged look, too — not skinny or trendy. The "man outside" look works for me. Yep. Works for me. The piercing in the middle of his bottom lip doesn't quite fit the look, but I like it, too. I look everywhere but at the stitches on his temple. They only remind me of what I did. His clothes contrast totally with what I'm wearing: a black shirt, short black skirt and knee-high low-heeled boots.
It's the first day back at school after the summer break, and it's already the period before lunch. The day has gone by without me really being a part of it. Mr. Hidlebaugh, tall, bald and enthusiastic, stands at the front of the class emphatically talking about The Road by Cormac McCarthy. His hands make huge gestures, and then he writes Who is anyone really? on the smartboard.
But I hardly pay attention. The world has tilted on its axis. My mind clutters with images of Annabelle in the water. She was dusky blue. My heart pounds. I have to get out of here. Suzanne's shriek echoes in my head. Alec's thumb tracks another slow circle, and I take a breath. Cool it. I hear my cell, but no message appears. I silence it.
"The boy is asking who the footprints belong to," Hidlebaugh cries. He raises his right arm and brings it down in a chopping motion. "Who? I ask you."
We're sitting at desks in a U shape. Alec is on one side of me, Lucy the other. I lean my shoulder against hers. She smells of the horrible clove cigarettes she always smokes, and of incense. The incense gets in her strawberry-blond hair at her mom's store. Her mom, Dolphin — her actual name — was my mom's best friend. Lucy pushes her shoulder against mine.
Finally, finally, the bell rings. We only have a half day the first day, so school is over.
Alec is still holding my hand as we file out into the crowded hallway of Edenville High. Lucy asks if we want to go for lunch.
I glance at Alec, who is staring into space, not really listening. "You know what, Luce?" I say. "Why don't I call you later."
She flashes me a smile. "Sure."
We've known each other since we were babies, so I know she means Go for it, Lark. Have fun with the new guy.
"See ya later, lovebirds."
Alec slips his hand from mine and rests it around my waist. My whole body feels his heat.
We walk across the parking lot away from the school. The day is so soft, so luminously agreeable, that my skin becomes part of the weather. My mood suddenly brightens, and my thoughts float across my mind as lightly as the shining white clouds above. Alec tightens his grip around my waist, pulling me slightly toward him. I stumble. He catches hold of me, and we end up facing each other.
"You trying to make me fall?" I say. It's corny, but I don't care.
I glance at his mouth, the piercing there. If he kissed me, would I feel the metal in his lip? Electricity sparks between us.
"You hungry?" he says.
"Sure. What do you want?" I ask, then blush at my accidental innuendo. "I mean ... to eat. How about a burger?"
"Burger! Lark — the Chicken Shack is the way to go. I'll convert you."
"To greasy, triple-fried wings? I don't think so."
"I'm pretty persuasive. But first, sing me something." He tugs my hand and steps back from me.
"Sing?" I glance around the parking lot. "You don't mean here."
"I — I haven't really got anything new right now." "An old song, then."
"I don't have my guitar."
"Guitar? Do you need it with you to sing?"
"Honestly? No." I watch other kids get into their cars or wander to the usual lunch places. "Anyway, I don't use that guitar anymore."
"Uh, next question, please ..."
"Interesting." He taps his chin like he's pretending to be working something out. "Ms. Lark has a secret. I'll get it out of her. But not before I've heard her sing."
"I won't! You can't make me!" I say, dramatically stepping back.
He narrows his eyes. "So-o-o-o, what type of guitar is it? This one you don't use?"
"You won't get my secrets from me." I smile at him coyly. "But I will answer you that. The one I actually use belonged to Iona, but I also have a Takamine guitar. A Tak — that's what it's called in the business. It's an electric acoustic." I remember the feel of it. "It has a pickup built into it for amplification."
"A pickup? It's a small electronic device, set right into the body of the guitar, that picks up the sound."
"But you don't use it. And you don't have Iona's guitar here. So ... there's just you, me and your voice." He produces a pair of sunglasses from his shirt pocket. "You can pretend I'm not looking. Sing!"
"It's not that I'm worried about you looking." I'm not sure how such an innocent statement comes out sounding so dirty. "Okay." I hold up my hands. "Okay. I'll do it." I glance once more around the emptying parking lot and start to sing:
"We were this close to the water My hair in my eyes And the sun High above us When you told me it was done Since then I've been running Oh, you make me run To get back to the moment When you told me I'm the one."
A couple of kids stop walking and clap. I shut up. What am I doing? I just sang in the parking lot. "So yeah. It's been on my mind. I wrote it long before ... before. But it changes the whole meaning."
Alec takes two steps to be next to me again and pulls me close. He lifts his sunglasses, and the electricity between us surges again. He drops his mouth to mine. His kiss is quick and gentle, and his lips taste of sunshine and honey. My whole body turns molten. He pulls his mouth away to look at me, and in his dark eyes I see a glint of light. My mouth follows his, and we kiss again. He slides his hand into my hair, and hot sparks shoot down my neck and spine.
I hear Lucy yell, "Classy, Lark." I give her the finger while we keep kissing.
Alec surfaces first and tugs me toward the Chicken Shack, where we order a huge tub of wings. They smell greasy and delicious, and they are. We sit on bar stools in the window, time passing like there is no such thing as time at all. We listen to a singer I've just discovered — Tei Shi. One earbud each. We talk about music, about hiking, about a band I want to go and see, about climbing, about everything and nothing. He looks at me while I wipe chicken grease off my mouth. Sure, not the most romantic moment in history, but as his eyes meet mine, I have the feeling that I know Alec. I shudder in a good way. He feels familiar, like we've met before, like we're connected, like ... like he's my soul mate. Who knew I even believed in soul mates? But suddenly it seems blazingly obvious that of course we each have a soul mate, and there, with fried chicken on my lips, I find the person who might be mine.
Alec has to run an errand, so he can't drop me home. After we kiss goodbye, I float onto the bus, drift into my seat, yawn and check my cell. Alec has sent a photo of the climbing wall downtown.
Alec: Wanna join me there Saturday?
Lark: Am working — how about Sunday?
Alec: Blow off work.
Alec: Sunday then. See you tomorrow.
Lark: After band practice. We always practice on Sunday.
Alec: You playing hard to get? xxx
My heart quickens at the xxx sign-off. What is with me? Even superhot-and-heavy Jared didn't turn me to jelly like this. I daydream against the seat, watching as we cross over the main bridge but averting my eyes from the swift river below. It burns in my mind, and as I close my eyes, I see the lake, the water, Annabelle. I get out at the bus stop a few blocks from my house, deciding to walk in the sunshine to clear the images. Quickly the warmth of the day improves my mood, and I arrive home, humming the song I sang to Alec, to find my dad tending his flower garden. We live in a small clapboard house built in 1912, the year Edenville became a city.
"Someone's happier," Dad says, brushing his hands against his shirt.
"Yeah. Things with Alec are ... they're maybe ... good."
Dad plucks a dead flower head from the bush.
Suzanne: Thanks for your message, Lark. No change here. I'll let you know when you can visit.
In a heartbeat, the bright day dissipates. I can't believe I've been smiling while Annabelle is in the hospital. I remember her slack face, damp lashes, the shrill of the ambulance siren.
"At least no change means she's not worse," I say to Dad.
"Lark, you know you did everything you could, right?"
"If only I'd ... I took too long ..." Tears spring to my eyes, and though Dad tries to comfort me, I just want to forget about what happened, so I head into the house to start supper.
I cut onions and fry them in butter, then add a little flour, stock and milk to make gravy, which is how Mom used to do it. I place four sausages into a pan with a bit of maple syrup and water, cover the whole thing with foil and put it in the oven to bake. I watch some reality crap on TV and then boil water to make pasta. Then I prep a simple salad and lay two plates and cutlery on the table.
When everything's ready, I go outside to find Dad, who's talking to Cayson "Nifty" Nifteneger. Nifty is tall and insanely skinny. He and Iona used to compete to see who was going to be the tallest, but Nifty won by three inches. He's into clothes and music, and right now he's dressed like we're living in New York, with his hair spiked and a fashionably cut tee that falls loosely around his shoulders.
"Hey, wildcat," Nifty says, slipping his e-cig into his shirt pocket. "You coming to band practice?"
Dad nods at us before disappearing inside.
"How was your day?" I ask Nifty.
"Same old." He works at a music store full-time since he dropped out of high school last year. "Got anything new for us?"
I think about the song I sang to Alec. It's one the band has never heard. My stomach twists at the thought of sharing it or the other song I started on my birthday, so I reply, "Not today."
"Okay, soon, though. We gotta get ready for the show."
"Hell, yes. We're on at Lydia's. I'm pretty sure we are, anyway. Hey, I hear you're dating that sexy-hot ninja hunk," he says.
"The parkour guy — right? Alec Sandcross. Wild and crazy stuntman."
"I don't know that we're dating."
"Mmm-hmm." He swivels his hips. "That's my Lark, baby." He pauses. "How's the little girl?"
"Same." I flash back to Annabelle being lifted limply from the water.
"I'm okay if I don't think about it. Wanna join us for supper?"
Nifty shakes his head and gets on his bike. "Nah, I'm going for a ride. But I do need a little advice about something."
Alec: Just thinking about you.
"Bye, then, La-aa-aark," Nifty sings.
I glance up from my phone and smile. I can't stop smiling. "Sorry, you wanted some advice?"
"I gotta go now."
"See you later, at practice," I call.
He pretends to tip an imaginary cap before he pedals away.
Day 7: Sunday afternoon
Iona's parents are Ã1/4ber rich. Their garage alone is bigger than the main floor of my house. Every Wednesday and Sunday, our band meets here. Her parents have cleared out the back half of the garage, and Iona has her drum kit here and a bunch of equipment. My favorite spot is the old blue three-person couch, where I'm sitting this Sunday, playing with the jewel on my belly chain, which dangles out over my jeans. When Iona has parties in this garage, I people-watch from this spot. It's a great way to get ideas for songs. Suddenly I have an overpowering feeling of dÃ(c)jÃ vu. It makes me so dizzy I lean my head over my knees. The weird feeling quickly passes. I probably need something to eat.
Alec: Not long now.
Lark: Too long.
I look over at the rest of the band — Iona, Nifty, Reid. We've been playing together since we were fourteen — after my mom died — but we haven't got a name right now. We were the Specials Board for a while, and for at least five months before that, Nifty convinced us that Glass Returns was a good name, and before that I think we were Goodly Animals. On Wednesday after school we talked it over again, but Nifty, Iona and Reid all vetoed the name I suggested: Exploding Night of the Zesty Solitude. I told them I got it off an internet band-name generator. It was ironic cool. They weren't convinced.
Nifty is noodling on his guitar and chatting to Reid, who is sitting at his keyboard and trying out a melody that Nifty wants him to work on. Iona is tapping her bass drum with one foot and messaging on her cell. I remember fighting with Iona for the dress-up clothes at preschool and throwing sand at Nifty. Iona was a total princess as a little kid. Now she's just under six feet tall, with huge dark bangs, crazy wild makeup all the time. Today she's drawn a blue-and-yellow star over one eye, Roller Derby — style. She's been getting more into Roller Derby recently and often heads out after practice on Sundays for a couple of hours at the rink. She's wearing a black leather jacket with US flags sewn all over it and a corset underneath that shows off her super curves. She volunteers at the crisis nursery, and the little kids think she's the coolest girl in the world.
I wonder if we'd all have ended up friends if we hadn't been in preschool together. We're into different crowds now at school. Reid's a techie, loves reading HTML and is hell-bent on being some geek superstar. He has square glasses, green eyes — his eyes are vivid, a contrast against his dark hair and sideburns. His parents fled the Iraq War and came here to Edenville. He's never talked about it in all the years we've known each other. Iona's a third-wave girl, furiously fighting for women's rights. Nifty, who was the year above us, hung with the hipsters — although he hates the term — before he dropped out of school. Since meeting Cole, he's regretted dropping out.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Me and Me"
Copyright © 2018 Alice Kuipers.
Excerpted by permission of Kids Can Press Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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