So says 18-year-old Sebastian Montero, who is famous around town as a problem solver of the subtlest kind. Want a date with the girl of your dreams? Bastian can make it happen. Have a friend threatening suicide? Baz can talk him off the ledge. But as popular as Sebastian is, no one really knows him. Thanks to his intricate network of favors and debts Sebastian controls the world, manipulates it—and hides from it. It isn’t until his best friend asks him to track down his long-missing father that Sebastian is forced to face the most challenging problem of all, the solution to which will change his life forever.
|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
|Age Range:||12 Years|
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Playing It Cool
By Joaquin Dorfman
Random HouseJoaquin Dorfman
All right reserved.
1. Only If It's an Emergency
Cesar dropped us off at my house.
It was four in the afternoon, and spring was making its presence known. Sun at a flattering angle to the neighbor's lawns, single story houses laying low beneath clear, blue skies. Slight humidity, birds engaged in sweet-sounding conversations. Regenerated trees rustling with a little help from the southern breeze. Smells of a nearby cookout, kids reclaiming the streets with their bikes, music from an open window filling the gaps of activity.
Train whistle in the distance.
All the deceptive makings of a small town in North Carolina.
I got out of the car, shut the door to the passenger's side.
Jeremy got out of the back seat. Headed for the house.
Cesar kept the engine of his rust-red Pontiac idling. Earnest, seventeen-year-old face looking up at me through rolled-down windows. First generation Mexican-American, eyes still remembering where he came from. Genuine hope displayed in a smile of well-intentioned teeth.
"You really are something, Seba," he told me.
"You're the one who asked her," I replied.
"I didn't think Nicole would say yes."
"Waste of a good worry, Cesar."
"There's still tomorrow night."
"Come on, Bastian, let's go!" Jeremycalled out from behind me. Waiting by the curb, fidgeting impatiently. A long-established habit of his.
I ignored him. A long-established habit of mine.
"Tomorrow night's taken care of," I told Cesar. "I've made reservations for two at the Mezzanine."
"The Mezzanine?" Cesar was back to worrying. "I can't afford a place like that. Ten dollar soups, the catch of the day's the same price as the boat they used to catch it--"
"There are ways around money."
"I don't have anything to wear."
"I'll take care of it."
"My mother needs the car Fridays," Cesar mumbled.
"Just tell Nicole to meet you at the restaurant at eight sharp. I'll be by your house to pick you up at seven."
"And after the date, I'm just supposed to ask her for a ride?"
I shrugged. "It's the nineties."
"So were the eighties."
"Don't worry about it."
Cesar sighed. Nodded, put the car into first. "I hope you know what you're doing."
"I always know what I'm doing."
Cesar knew it, too. Drove off without another word.
I watched him go.
"I'm glad you know what you're doing," I heard Jeremy say. "Because I don't have a goddamn clue."
I turned and saw that Jeremy had sat himself on the curb. Brown sweater and khakis hanging uncomfortably off his scrawny frame. Sneakers tapping against the ground, body bouncing slightly. Blond hair stopping just short of blue eyes that were always thinking two disasters ahead of everyone else. Top set of teeth nervously working on his lower lip. Fingers toying with each other.
I walked past him.
Jeremy stood up and followed me. White aluminum siding accompanied us around the house, through the back yard. Sneakers cutting through tall grass, swishing sounds with each stride as he started in. "We leave the day after to- morrow."
"We're all the way prepared."
I opened the back door, and the two of us made our way through the small kitchen. Down a dark hallway, floorboards creaking.
"You may be all the way prepared," Jeremy words were starting to gain momentum. "But this is all happening very fast for me. I need to go over this at my own pace, I need details. Contingency plans. We leave the day after tomorrow, and this was supposed to be our day to work on things, get our stories straight. And so far, what . . . ? After school, we dropped Sara off at the clinic, paid Mr. Wallace a visit, fixed Cesar up with Nicole--"
"Your father's probably just as nervous as you."
Jeremy took a moment to find his breath, "Which one?"
"The one in Wilmington, what do you think?"
Another door open, and we were in my room. Nothing special to look at in there. I was never one for decoration. Typical posters and teenage paraphernalia replaced with my own view of the world, simple and clear-cut. Personal touch abandoned in favor of only that which was necessary . . . A bed, two chairs. Bookshelves and a wardrobe. Squat, second-hand desk.
"I think," Jeremy collapsed in a chair, "that what my . . . father thinks isn't for you to say."
"He's waiting for you with open arms," I assured him. Went back over familiar territory as I took off my jacket. Leaned against the desk with my arms crossed. "Waiting for both of us with open arms. That's got to count for something."
"Won't count for much when we get to Wilmington only to have your switch blow up in my face."
"It's our switch, Jeremy. And nothing's going to blow up."
"What are you doing?"
I stopped, my finger inches away from the answering machine. "Checking this message."
A miserable look crossed Jeremy's face.
"It's just one message," I told him.
"Doesn't make me feel better."
"I don't even need to hear that message." Jeremy was talking fast again, repeating himself. "Don't even need the details to know what's going to happen next. You promised me today's our day to get things done, smooth out the specifics, and now we're going to end up going off on some other--"
"Jeremy . . ." This conversation was a familiar one. "You asked for my help. You'll get it. But right now I need you to shut up and control yourself. Otherwise, I walk away and you can face your father on your own."
Jeremy stared up at me. "Not likely."
"Not likely, what?"
I returned Jeremy's stare. Trying not to let a lifetime of friendship interfere with what had to be done. Never letting a trace of struggle come to the surface, despite recurring doubts about whether it was Jeremy who couldn't live without me, or possibly the other way around . . .
"Just check the message," Jeremy conceded, leaning back and crossing his arms.
A moment later, and the tape was playing back Sara's voice for me:
"Bastian, it's Sara . . . I'm still at the clinic. Oh, God, you're not going to like this . . . My mother's outside, and she's got around twenty of her friends with her. They've all got signs protesting the place. They're not going anywhere, Bastian, and the clinic closes at six . . . Please think of something. I can't stay in here forever . . ."
End of message.
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