Morgan, an elite track athlete, is forced to transfer high schools late in her senior year after it turns out being queer is against her private Catholic school's code of conduct. There, she meets Ruby, who has two hobbies: tinkering with her baby blue 1970 Ford Torino and competing in local beauty pageants, the latter to live out the dreams of her overbearing mother. The two are drawn to each other and can't deny their growing feelings. But while Morgan—out and proud, and determined to have a fresh start—doesn't want to have to keep their budding relationship a secret, Ruby isn't ready to come out yet. With each girl on a different path toward living her truth, will they be able to go the distance together?
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|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
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There’s an art to the extraction. First, I take Tyler’s arm—heavy across my stomach—and slide my fingers beneath. I lift it slightly and move centimeter by centimeter to the right side of the bed. And when I’m mostly free, I grab one of his pillows—warmed by my own overthinking head—and slip it under his arm. If I’m lucky, he’ll snuffle softly in the moonlight streaming into his messy bedroom, hug the pillow, and stay sleeping. If I’m unlucky, he’ll wake up and ask me where I’m going: Ruby, just stay. Ruby, please. Ruby, it won’t kill you to cuddle. I don’t have the energy for that.
Tyler’s messy brown hair falls into his face as he smiles in his sleep and hugs my pillow replacement a little tighter. I got lucky tonight—in every sense of the word. I grab my boots, leftovers from one of the ten million Western-themed pageants I’ve smiled my way through over the years, and creep out the front door barefoot, careful not to let the screen door slam and wake his parents.
The motion-sensor light clicks on as I shove my feet into my boots and make a beeline for my car, my soul, my lifeline: my baby-blue 1970 Ford Torino. Yes, it’s old as hell, but it’s the one thing in this world that’s truly mine. I bought it, rusted and rotten, off my great-aunt Maeve’s estate for three hundred bucks. I painstakingly put it back together, scavenging pieces from junkyards and flea markets. I restored it to its current state of splendor. Me. I did that.
Okay, so maybe I had a little help from Billy Jackson, the town’s least-crooked mechanic, but still.
I climb inside and shift it into neutral, taking off the emergency brake and letting the car coast backward down Tyler’s long hill of a driveway and into the street, where I finally flick the ignition. It rumbles to life, the sound closer to a growl than a purr. I resist the urge to rev the engine—god, I love that sound—and point my car toward home, feeling loose and boneless, relaxed and happy, content in the way one only can during that tiny glint of freedom between chores and obligations.
Not that Tyler is an obligation—or a chore, for that matter. He’s nice enough, our time together fun and consensual. In another universe, we’d probably be dating. But we live in this one, and in this universe, I love exactly two things: sleep and my car.
Tyler is a great stress reliever, an itch to scratch, a good time had by all. Nothing else. We have an arrangement, a friends-with-benefits sort of thing. No strings. If he called me tomorrow and said he wanted to ask a girl out, I’d say Go for it as long as it isn’t me—and I’d mean it. I hope he’d say the same. Which is why I’m driving home from his house two hours after getting a text that simply said: big game tomorrow, you around?
Be still my heart.
But then, a couple weeks ago, I texted him: pageant in the AM, come distract me? And he was crawling through my window within minutes.
See, it’s not an all-the-time thing; it’s an as-needed thing. Some people get high; Tyler and I get twenty minutes of consensual, safe sex—always use a condom, people—and a subsequent awkward exchange about how my leaving right after makes him feel weird. Thus, the sneaking out once he falls asleep: the ideal compromise, at least on my end.
I pull into the dirt-patch driveway in front of my trailer. It might not seem like much to some, but it’s ours and it’s home. Just me and my mom. Well, some of the time, anyway. The better times.
But the lights are still on in the kitchen, the TV flickering in the living room, and my heart sinks. Mom works the overnight shift cleaning offices, and her car’s not here, which means this will not be one of those “better times.” Literally nothing could drag me down from a good mood faster than having to be around her boyfriend, Chuck Rathbone.
Chuck and my mom have been together off and on for the past few years—and unfortunately for me, lately they’ve been more on than off. “Getting more serious,” I heard her say to a friend. Which is why he has unrestricted house privileges. Along with eating our food and wasting our electricity even though we can’t afford it privileges.
I get why Chuck can’t help chasing my mom around—my mom is the kind of beautiful that even hard jobs and tough luck can’t dull, a beauty queen and Miss Teen USA hopeful right up until that second line showed up on her pregnancy test eighteen years ago. (Sorry, Mom.)
But I don’t really understand why my mom always takes him back. Chuck is, objectively, the worst.
I’d crash at my best friend Everly’s house if I wasn’t so sure Chuck had heard my car—my engine is less than stealthy, and normally I like it that way. But if I leave now, he’ll definitely tell Mom, and that’s one guilt trip I don’t need. On a scale of “needs an oil change” to “engine’s seized,” being rude to my mom’s boyfriend rates somewhere around “blown head gasket”—not a fatal blow, but like most things when it comes to my mother, expensive and difficult to fix.
I turn off my car, listening to the tick of the engine as it cools down in the spring air. The curtains in the living room move, no doubt Chuck stumbling around, trying to see what I’m doing and why I’m not inside. I reach into the back seat to grab the bag of stage makeup Mom made me pick up earlier and get out.
Our door creaks as I yank it open, and ignore the siding falling off next to it, then step over a particularly suspicious stain on the carpet. Five yapping Jack Russell terriers come tearing down the hallway. Mom’s other pride and joy. Please, god, do not have let them in my room; they’re barely house-trained—and by “barely,” I mean not at all.
“Shut those mutts up!” Chuck yells from the kitchen as he pulls open the fridge, as if I have any control over them. As if anyone has control over them. Mom likes them a little wild; she says it’s more natural that way. I’d personally prefer if their “wildness” could be limited to the rooms with vinyl flooring.
I crouch down and pet as many of them as I can, as fast as I can, while being tackled by the others. Tiny paws dig into my sides and legs as they fight for attention. “Shh, shh, shh,” I coax, calming them as much as it’s possible to calm five underexercised terriers that rarely see the outside of our home.
“Goddamn dogs,” Chuck says, carrying two cans of beer over to the recliner in front of the blaring TV. Fox News. As usual. He drops into the recliner, drips of beer falling onto his faded black T-shirt, which reads don’t tread on me. He looks like he hasn’t shaved in days, flecks of gray poking through his brown stubble. “You’re home late.”
“Yeah, sorry. I was studying with a friend,” I say, standing up once the dogs decide that sniffing one another is more interesting than tackling me. I wonder if they can smell Tyler’s cat.
Chuck raises his eyebrows, the last wisps of hair on his head flopping comically. “Your mom might fall for that garbage, but I know what girls like you do at night, and it’s not studying.”
“What would you know about studying?” I say, hating that he’s right but determined not to give him the satisfaction.
“I know you don’t get hickeys from math homework.” He laughs, and his eyes flick to the talking head on the TV.
Goddammit, Tyler, no marks means no marks. My hand reaches up to my neck as my cheeks flame.
“Hey, hey, it’s all right, I won’t tell your ma.”
I look at him, waiting for the catch.
“Come here, darlin’,” he says, but I stay where I am, poised for a quick escape. He leans forward, a conspiratorial look on his face. “So, what did you really get up to tonight?”
“What time is Mom coming home?” I change the subject with a smile that shows too many teeth.
He frowns slightly. “I don’t know. It’s slow this week, she said. They lost another client.”
“So anytime, then?” I ask, and he looks back at the TV. “I’m gonna head to bed. Night.”
“You sure you don’t want one?” he asks, gesturing toward the beer can beside his on the tray. And did he, what, think I’d get wasted and spend the night watching conservative shitheads spout lies on cable TV with him? No, thanks.
“It’s a school night.”
“Does that really matter to you?” On the TV behind me the host blabs on and on. I stare at the wall, taking a deep breath.
I won’t take the bait.
“This shit’ll rot your brain, Chuck,” I say, grabbing the remote and clicking it off.
Because I will not be intimidated in my own home. I will not take crap from any stupid man sitting on the recliner that I got Mom with my Little Miss Sun Bonnet winnings years ago. I will not be scared of the Chuck Rathbones of the world.
“Fuck off.” He laughs, chugging his beer and turning the TV back on.
I scamper to my room and lock the door behind me, praying to any god that will listen: Please don’t let this be my future too.
“Do you have everything?”
“Do you have lunch money?”
“Yes, I have lunch money.”
“Your track schedule? Practice goes until at least five thirty most days, they said.”
“Yes, and then I’m gonna jog or walk to the apartment after.”
“Okay, I’m usually at the shop until about six thirty, so if you beat me home, don’t worry.”
“Oh my god, I’m not worried. I can handle being home alone.”
“I just want this to be good for you. You deserve it after—”
“Can we not talk about that? Fresh start and all?”
“Okay, well, what would Mom say?”
“I don’t know. ‘I love you’? ‘Have a good day’?”
Dylan smiles, a serious look in his eyes. “I love you. Have a good day.”
“Holy crap, Dyl, (a) your impression of Mom needs work, and (b) you’re taking this ‘in loco parentis’ thing a little too seriously.”
“I just don’t want to screw anything up,” he says. “Mom and Dad will kill me if I break you or lose you or whatever you do with kids.”
“Dude, I’m seventeen.” I groan, pulling my long brown hair up into a ponytail.
The car behind us beeps, and someone shouts, “The drop-off lane is for drop-offs. Get out or get moving.”
“Yikes,” Dylan says, looking into the rearview mirror.
“Yeah, hell hath no fury like a suburban mom late for her latte,” I say. “But don’t worry, I’m going to be fine. And you need to go.” I give him a quick one-armed hug and then dart out of the car before he can stop me.
But despite what I told Dylan, I have no clue what I’m doing. A bunch of kids bustle past me, laughing with their friends, completely oblivious to the fact that I’m new. I shift my backpack higher on my shoulders—or at least I try to, which is exactly when I realize it’s missing. Crap.
“Dyl!” I call, but of course he can’t hear me on the other side of the parking lot with his windows up. So I do what I do best: I run, fast. I fly through the parking lot, weaving between rows, hoping to cut him off as he moves slowly through the traffic jam that’s formed in front of the school entrance. I’m just about there, one more row to go, when a loud horn and the screech of brakes makes me freeze in my tracks.
And there, a foot away from my hip, is the bumper of a very shiny blue car. Seriously? I look back to Dylan’s car just in time to see it pull out and disappear down the road.
“Dammit!” If it weren’t for this stupid car, I would have made it. I wouldn’t be standing in the middle of the parking lot of a new school without my schedule, a notebook, or even a friggin’ pencil. “What is wrong with you?!” I spin around, slapping my hands on the hood of the car. “Watch where you’re going!”
I look up to glare at the no doubt macho asshole driving this stupid muscle car and am struck with the brightest pair of blue eyes I’ve ever seen—which promptly narrow and glare back at me.
“You’re the one running through the middle of a parking lot,” she says, hopping out of her car and shoving me out of the way to inspect her car hood. “If you so much as put a scratch in this—”
“You could have killed me!”
“It would have been your fault if I did,” she says, straightening up so we’re nearly nose to nose. “Where were you even going? School’s the other way, if you haven’t noticed.”
And, oh no. Oh. No. She’s . . . very . . . cute. And before I know it, my brain is unhelpfully making a list of everything I should not be wondering about. Like how her perfectly tanned hand might look linked with my lighter, peachier one. And whether there are tan lines underneath her fitted gray hoodie and obscenely tight jeans. And, oh god, I am a creep.
It would be so much easier to stay angry with her if she really were some asshole dude, but this is a complication. One that will require a full system reboot if I want to get out of this without embarrassing myself. Step one: close my mouth, which is currently hanging open like I’m witnessing a miracle. Step two: pull it together with a quickness.
Like, the objective part of my brain recognizes that she still technically sucks. But the nonobjective part of my brain still really wants her name and number and to know if she’s single and how she would feel about dating a marginally disgraced track star of the female persuasion.