High school sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they’re moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she's devastated— he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona's mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she’s supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks... but no thanks.
In the vein of Anna and the French Kiss, Zona navigates a series of hilarious escapades, eye-opening revelations, and unexpected reunions in a foreign country—all while documenting the trip through one-of-a-kind commentary.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
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|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Just before the clock ticks over into a brand-new year, one that is going to be completely different from any I’ve experienced before, my dad and I get on a plane—my first overseas flight—heading to Greece. I look out the window, take a deep breath . . . and then we soar off into the sky.
Fourteen-Hour Trip Not Nearly As Awesome As Anticipated
During the course of the seemingly endless journey from New York to Athens today, Zona Lowell, 15, realized she was on the verge of jumping out the plane window.
“It was two different flights and both were delayed, my little TV was broken for one of them, and reading made me feel like I was going to throw up. The food was horrible, and my dad was snoring practically the entire time. Based on my TV commercial–focused research, I thought travel abroad would be fancy and exciting. As usual, field reporting reveals that real life is not as glamorous as anticipated.”
Zona’s father, well-known international journalist David Lowell, had this to say: “I love my daughter, but she seems to have trouble distinguishing between actual problems and slight inconveniences. Hopefully seeing a bit of the world will help. I will say, however, that the food was totally gross.”
Mr. Lowell then went back to sleep and was unavailable for further comment.
Filed, 9:23 p.m., somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.
By the time we land in Athens, I’m so keyed up and restless from endless cups of coffee and sitting in a deceptively uncomfortable chair for so many hours that I want to lie down in a nice soft bed and run laps around the airport at the same time.
My dad, on the other hand, is just plain cranky. He hates long flights, which makes his choice of career kind of ironic.
Well, he’ll get no sympathy from me—this was his idea, after all. I wanted to stay in New York where I belong.
We collect Tony, our exceptionally grumpy Scottish terrier, stumble through customs, get our passports stamped (my first stamp!), and retrieve our luggage. Frankly, I didn’t think it would all make it, but I suppose miracles happen every day.
Dad is riffling through a sheaf of papers, looking for the one that will tell us how to get to our sublet. It’s in a neighborhood called Kallithea that is supposedly not hard to get to, but suddenly I’m not even sure I can make it to a bench before collapsing. Does jet lag set in immediately?
As we head out of the airport arrivals area, the first thing I notice is the signs: they’re in English and Greek, those strange curly letters that look like hieroglyphics to me. I thumbed through an English-to-Greek dictionary back in New York, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, so seeing the English signs is a huge relief. Maybe I won’t be hopelessly lost after all . . . or at the very least, I can just hang out in the airport if I get desperate.
There’s a big glassed-in smoking area in the middle of the airport, which is weird to see—in New York City, smoking is banned everywhere. My dad, who smoked like a chimney before I was born (and sometimes has been known to sneak a cigarette when he thinks I’m not looking), gazes at it longingly. “Dad!” I scold him. “This is no time to revert to atrocious habits. Pull it together.”
We changed a bunch of money at JFK before we took off, so we plunk down eight euros apiece for train tickets. Eight euros is roughly eleven dollars, I believe, which I find to be completely insane: that much money for a subway ride? According to the not-very-friendly woman at the ticket window, a regular ride (not from the airport) is only €1.20, but still. I sort of thought things would be dirt cheap in Greece, what with the economic difficulties. Apparently not.
We roll our suitcases (and poor, miserable Tony) down a long tunnel until we get to the platform. The subway is really simple here, unlike the rat’s nest of colors and numbers I’m used to at home. In Athens there are three lines: blue, red, and green. It would be incredibly straightforward if not for the fact that I can’t pronounce—and therefore remember—any of the names of the stations. But it’s only my first hour here, so I’ll try to give myself a break.
We sit down to wait for the train, which arrives at the airport every half hour according to the electronic sign. I reach into Tony’s carrier to pet him; he’s still groggy and looks even grouchier than usual. Poor guy. At least in Greece pets don’t have to be quarantined after entering the country—then we might not have been able to bring him at all.
The train platform’s waiting area is bright white and has plants all around. With the sun shining in from overhead, it actually looks like an atrium in here, minus the birds. Definitely not like any subway platform I’ve ever waited on, that’s for sure. Maybe I’m hallucinating?
The train finally arrives. We lug our stuff through the doors, and right on cue, Tony starts howling. A nice lady offers me her seat so I can put him down, which is a surprise. My sleep-deprived brain wonders when more traditional passengers will put in an appearance, like the NYC subway staples “lady eating sunflower seeds and spitting the shells on the ground” or “guy with no pants screaming about the apocalypse.” Shockingly, their Greek counterparts don’t appear; only tidy, quiet passengers fill the train. The seats are covered with fabric and totally spotless, and there isn’t a single piece of litter on the floor. Even the poles look especially shiny. But, like I said, it’s possible I’m just delirious from exhaustion.
After twenty minutes or so, we switch trains at a stop called Monastiraki (once again, I’m relieved to see the station names spelled out in English letters) for the green line. Four more stops and we’ve reached our final destination. We walk out onto a sun-dappled platform filled with potted trees and drag our belongings up the escalator and out of the station.
So this is it: my first official view of Athens, and my new home.
If you want to know the truth . . . it kind of looks like Brooklyn.
There’s a cobbled platform with steps (and a ramp, thank the lord) leading from the station down to the sidewalk, and straight ahead is a store that looks like a typical deli. Past that and on the other side of the street are more shops and a restaurant, and what I’m guessing is a church, because it has a big lit-up green cross on a sign. It’s a neighborhood. Just like my neighborhood in New York, really.
I guess I was expecting some massive ruins or something. Or for everything to be white from a fine layer of ancient dust. People feeding one another grapes. Something more, well, Greek.
To our left is a ramp leading to a highway overpass. The cars look different—boxier—and they have strange-looking license plates. And everywhere I look, people are walking, riding scooters, talking, or picking up newspapers. Not a single person appears to be wearing a toga. If it weren’t for the fact that everyone’s speaking a language I don’t understand, we could be pretty much anywhere.
My dad has his stack of papers out again, and Tony is barking his head off at two dogs who are hanging out by the door to the station. They have collars and tags, but no leashes or obvious owners. Tony is losing his mind, scrabbling against the sides of his carrier.
“Anthony Oliver Lowell!” I reprimand him. He knows better than that.
He looks chastened and switches from barking to a low growl. I’m tempted to let him out of his carrier to stretch his legs—I’m sure he’s been miserable cooped up for almost an entire day—but the other dogs make me nervous. Instead I apologize to him profusely.
“Can we get a cab? Do we even know where we’re going?” I whine. This has been fun and all, but I think I’m ready to wrap it up. Dad is sitting on top of his big suitcase, looking like he’s about to fall over. One of the strange dogs comes over and sniffs his leg.
He starts, snorts, and looks back at the papers. He is holding them upside down. I sense I’m going to have to take charge.
I snap a piece of paper out of his hand and look it over. “Okay, Dad, this isn’t far at all.” I look up from the directions and point. “That way, I think. Let’s roll.”
I’m looking for street signs, which, after getting to the verge of bursting into exhausted tears, I eventually realize are cleverly hidden by being attached to (and camouflaged by) the buildings. No steel rods helpfully sticking out of the sidewalk here. We turn down the wrong street, which has almost the exact same name as the right street, and after correcting our mistake finally get to a building that looks like, well, a building. Where are the columns? Where are the decorative urns? Where are the goats?!
Wait—you know what? Hang on. It occurs to me that I may need to back up. After all, a good reporter should start a story at the beginning so that her readers have all the facts.
Let me try this again:
My name is Zona Lowell. I’m fifteen, from New York City, and a month ago my father decided to turn my entire world upside down in one fell swoop.
I’ve been kind of freaking out about it.
Dad Blindsides Innocent Daughter At Breakfast Table
In an unprecedented display of cruelty and sneakiness, internationally renowned newspaper journalist David Lowell announced today over a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats that he would be completely ruining his daughter’s entire life by forcing her to go live in Greece for six months, effective January 1. The aforementioned daughter, Zona, 15, could not believe it when her father (known for being somewhat eccentric but marginally cool nonetheless) told her she was being uprooted from her life and forced to live halfway across the world where she didn’t know a soul except for Lowell himself (a man to whom she would never be speaking again, thank you very much).
Zona’s plans to emancipate herself were thwarted by the realization that she had recently spent all her hard-earned babysitting/birthday money on an iPad mini and wouldn’t be able to pay rent or buy food. Her insistence on moving in with her best friend Hilary’s family was scoffed at by Evil Dictator Lowell.
Lowell’s paltry excuses that this story “could be his legacy” and that “any normal teenager would jump at the chance for such an exciting adventure” fell on deaf ears.
Filed, 10:37 a.m., Lower East Side, NYC.
“You’re kidding,” Hilary said, looking at me in disbelief over the round, sticky table in the Starbucks on 26th and Sixth. The Bauers live on the Upper West Side, which is kind of a pain to get to from my neighborhood (the Lower East Side), so in these kinds of dire circumstances—when a phone call will simply not suffice—a convenient meeting place is essential.
Anyway, I’d just told Hilary the horrible, unbelievable, unavoidable news. We were supposed to be making winter break plans, but instead were talking about my impending and total disappearance. Hil shifted in her seat. “Zo, you can’t move. It’s the middle of the school year. And, I mean, what about—”
“What about the fact that I’m going to be stuck for half a year—at least, by the way, he said ‘at least’—in a country where I have no friends, don’t like any of the food, and can’t even read the street signs? What about that? Has the man even considered the ramifications of his unilateral decision? This is an affront to—”
“Okay, Captain Vocab. Calm down,” Hilary chided sweetly. I tend to go into what she lovingly calls my SAT Prep Mode when I get upset; I just can’t help it. I’ve been reading the Sunday Times out loud with my dad (aka the enemy) since I was five. Everything distressing is better expressed in multisyllabic words, or at least my brain thinks so.
But I digress.
I took a hearty swig of my peppermint mocha latte and got whipped cream up my nose. Perfect, I thought as I attempted to regain my composure. “They probably don’t even have Starbucks there.” I was about to burst into tears . . . over Starbucks. In a Starbucks. How tragicomic was this going to get?
“Well, everywhere has Starbucks,” Hilary said helpfully. She looked down at her hot cider like, if she focused on it hard enough, she wouldn’t cry, either. Great. Hilary’s the more sensitive of the two of us (I try to be objective at all times, like a good journalist), so if she broke, I would, too. And I wasn’t even leaving for three more weeks.
“I just don’t understand why he’s doing this,” I fumed, trying to get away from sad and back to furious. “I mean, I get it: Greece, economy, political upheaval, crisis, whatever, huge story . . . but why do I have to go? Doesn’t he realize I have stuff to do? Like, doesn’t he get that being the only sophomore ever chosen to be features editor is kind of a huge deal? I’m trying to carry on the Lowell legacy, and this is his response? I’ve only gotten to work on two issues! And maybe, I dunno, I’ll actually manage to have some kind of social life this year.”
“Hey! No offense to me, I’m sure,” Hilary interjected.
“Come on, you know what I mean.” I poked her arm apologetically. She gave me a wry smile in return.
“Yeah, yeah, of course I know what you mean: guys.” She sighed. “Me too.”
“I have plans, Hil, is the point,” I continued. “Intentions. A life. A small life, but a life all the same. Doesn’t that count for anything?” I dropped my face into my hands in despair.
Okay . . . so maybe I should make something clear before I go on: I’m not actually this horrible. I mean, I knew that my dad writing his new magazine piece—which he thought could be the basis for an entire book—was a much bigger deal than my working on the school newspaper (and maybe, as a bonus, finally figuring out a way to make gorgeous editor-in-chief Ben Walker realize I was alive). But one measly hour after finding out I had to pick up and leave everything that mattered to me behind didn’t seem like the time to act like a mature adult.
Usually I do act like a mature adult, though. Some people would probably say I’ve never really acted any other way, even when I was a little kid. I guess it’s because of my dad and how it’s always been just the two of us. For one thing, Dad is old—not, like, Methuselah old, but he’s older than most of my friends’ dads by a lot. Before I was born, he was a freelance journalist and traveled all over the world for stories, including during the Vietnam War. He’s won two Pulitzer Prizes—one’s hanging in the bathroom of our apartment. The other Pulitzer was supposedly lost in a poker game with a famous dictator, but I think it was just lost, period. My dad’s a bit on the disorganized side, except when it comes to his writing. Then the mess is referred to as “organized chaos.” Our whole apartment is basically stacks of papers and discs and flash drives and other objects that are not to be touched by anyone except the person who put them there (and occasionally Tony, who doesn’t care much about personal space).
It’s precarious, but it’s home.
Anyway, Dad was forty-six when I was born—which was after he met my mom, obviously—and he agreed to stay put in NYC for a while. I personally don’t think he ever really intended to stay, and probably he wouldn’t have . . . if my mom hadn’t died right after giving birth to me.
So it’s been just me and my dad for the last fifteen years. And for the most part it’s been pretty cool, actually. Growing up with a dad who writes for newspapers and magazines is great. He’d take me on all kinds of trips when I was a baby and use my extreme cuteness to disarm tricky sources and interview subjects. I used to hang out at his office and play on the old typewriters. And of course I had a million crazy “aunts” and “uncles” all over the city—local informer types and other writer friends of my dad’s.
Oh, and his nickname for me is Ace—as in “ace reporter.” Sensing a theme yet?
World Totally Unsurprised To Learn Of Girl’s Predisposition To Writing, Journalism
In a truly unshocking turn of events, Zona Lowell, daughter of acclaimed writer David Lowell, wishes to pursue a career in journalism like her dad.
“You know that saying, ‘Like father, like daughter’? Turns out it’s a real thing,” said the owner of the deli near the Lowells’ apartment.
As the masses recover from this extraordinary revelation, we will continue our exclusive coverage of how the sky is blue and gravity is real.
Filed, 4:13 p.m., NYC.
Now that I’m older, we’re more like roommates in some ways than father and daughter: we take turns doing the grocery shopping and staking out a machine at the Laundromat down the street, share cooking and cleaning responsibilities, and fight over what makes it onto the DVR. We maintain our piles of important personal property with only a once-in-a-while argument over who stole whose copy of Newsweek. We treat each other like equals, really. My friends are totally jealous of me for having a dad who gets so involved with a project that he doesn’t mind if I do whatever I feel like doing as long as I check in. (Not that I’m running around town doing anything particularly nefarious, but still.) He trusts me. And I used to trust him.
Because I knew that this wasn’t just about researching his work. He could stash me somewhere for six months instead of interrupting my sophomore year of high school. I was supposed to be gathering up grades for AP classes and preparing for the SATs. How was I supposed to do that in Greece?!
No, this was a straight-up trick. Because I knew who else was in Greece: my mother’s family, whom I’d never met and, to be honest, never wanted to meet.
I never knew my mom, obviously. She lived her whole life in Crete (which, according to various accredited sources, is the largest and most populous island in Greece. Also, Zeus was born in a cave there. So, my mom . . . and also Zeus) until the day she ran off with my dad. She died just twenty hours after I was born, and I just don’t feel any connection to her. I mean, I love her, in that sort of vague way you’d love anyone who was related to you and gave you half your DNA. But that’s kind of it.
Don’t go thinking this is all sad or anything like that. It isn’t. You can’t miss what you’ve never had, and in my family there’s a dad and a daughter and a dog.
And I like it that way.
Here’s the thing, though: in the last couple of years, my dad had started tossing around random comments involving me meeting this slew of relatives. I would just laugh and change the subject, saying I was sure they’re fine people, but I didn’t know them. I have nothing in common with them. I don’t speak Greek. I pointed out that they’ve never come over to meet us, or even sent a card. I was fine with things the way they were.
And honestly, I was.
There’s another part to this story, as I guess there usually is when it comes to family stuff . . . but I don’t like to think about it. Not if I don’t have to.
Anyway, I put my journalism skills to good use and came up with a theory about why Dad had been pushing the Greece angle: he’s afraid of something happening to him and me being left alone.
I know, super morbid—but I’m not an idiot. I mean, why else would he be doing this? And of course I’ve thought about the possibility of him . . . dying. I can’t even imagine life without my dad, much less being an orphan. It’s just . . . too much. And maybe that’s an immature attitude, too, but I’m only fifteen, for God’s sake. This is the time to have an immature attitude, isn’t it? And besides, I don’t think fear of something that hasn’t happened is a reason to just pick up and move to another freaking country to hang out with people I happen to be related to.
So when he said we were moving to Greece—moving! Not even just taking a vacation!—I saw through the whole scheme right away.
Hilary knew all this stuff, of course. (Well, almost all of it—the part I don’t like to think about is the only secret I’ve ever kept from her. More on that later.) But I just knew that, somehow, I’d think of a way out of this mess. And then it’d all just . . . go away. And I wouldn’t have to talk about it at all. Right? Don’t things sometimes happen that way?
So. Back to Starbucks and me not taking the news very well at all.
“Maybe he’s just testing your level of loyalty to the Reflector. See how hard you’ll fight to stay here, you know? Like, a co-journalistic ethics and devotion test or something . . .?” Hil trailed off. I raised my eyebrows skeptically, and she wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, I guess that sounded better in my head. Ugh, this is so unfair! What am I going to do without you?!”
Hilary Bauer and I started hanging out at the beginning of fourth grade, when we got partnered up for a book report project involving hand puppets. (Seriously, where do teachers come up with this stuff?) Hil was new in school, and we bonded immediately over her notebook, which had pictures from the Narnia movie on it. Before we met I’d been really shy and mostly kept to myself; I was used to things being quiet at home, with just one parent and no siblings. Plus, I go to a pretty swanky private school with mostly well-off Manhattan- and Brooklynites. My dad and I are considered . . . eccentric, to put it nicely. Poor, to put it bluntly. The parents of my kindergarten classmates weren’t rushing to set me up with playdates once they found out we lived in a less-than-pristine two-bedroom rental apartment in a (gasp!) non-elevator building—at least, not until they figured out my dad is that David Lowell, the one who wrote the famous piece on 9/11. And by then I’d kind of learned to do my own thing, anyway. I never minded sitting by myself with a book, but meeting Hilary was just . . . serendipity.
(In case you’re wondering how I could afford to go to a Manhattan private school, the answer is: after my mom died from blood toxemia, the hospital settled out of court with my dad. He was pretty messed up, obviously, and didn’t want to touch the money. He had a lawyer put it in a trust for my schooling, and that’s the only thing it’s ever been used for. Again, pretty morbid . . . but like I said, it’s the only life I’ve ever known. No pity parties, please, okay?)
Anyway, my friendship with Hilary has not only been awesome and silly and necessary, but it survived the middle-school-to-high-school transition, mutual crushes on at least four guys, her parents almost getting divorced last year, a terrible text message misunderstanding in eighth grade involving one of the above-mentioned mutual crushes (too long and boring to explain), and one of us growing boobs and the other not (I’m the “not,” unfortunately). And now we’re going to be parted by a giant body of water?!
Hilary was drawing a sad face on the table with Splenda. “And what about Matty?” she continued. “He needs you as much as I do!”
Matt Klausner is the third member of our trio, who joined the ranks in seventh grade during a mind-blowingly boring school dance. He’s super smart, gay, spectacularly irritable about almost everything, and I love him to pieces. What would I do in Greece without him to make me laugh when I got sad about not having kissed anyone since someone’s visiting camp friend shoved his tongue down my throat at a party last spring? Who would let me copy their chemistry homework?!
My latte was gone and I felt worse than ever. Hilary blew away her Splenda portrait. She looked as glum as I felt.
“I don’t know, Hil. I mean, at least you guys will still have each other. What will I do without you?”
“Maybe your dad will change his mind and decide to write about something else,” she suggested quietly.
I didn’t bother replying. We both knew that’d never happen. When David Lowell decided to write something, he wrote it.
When I got home, Dad was in his study working with the door closed—probably looking up ways to further sabotage my high school career/life. I headed to my room and found a Post-it note stuck to my computer monitor. It said: Ornery Daughter Comes to Senses, Celebrates Impending Adventure.
This is a thing my dad and I have done since I could write: leaving headlines around the apartment instead of regular notes. Usually I think it’s pretty clever, but not this time.
I got out my own pad of paper and scribbled down: Despondent Daughter Ignores Father’s Annoying Note; Father Withers Away Unvisited in Bargain-Basement Nursing Home. Not the world’s most concise headline, but it’d do. I dashed down the hall and stuck it on the door to his study.
The next morning, there was a new Post-it plastered to my forehead when I woke up. It said: Come on, Ace. Look on the bright side. For me? . . . For you?
I crumpled it up, tossed it in the trash, and headed to school.
“You guys. Guess what?” Matty said, sliding in next to me at the lunch table later that day.
I eyed him warily. Despite the fact that I’d spent an hour on the phone with him the night before lamenting the unwelcome turn of events at Chez Lowell, he seemed to think that other topics were up for discussion. And when Matt Klausner leads with an open-ended question, you never know what path you might be lured down.
“If this has anything to do with that piercing place in the Village, the answer is still no,” Hilary said.
Matt grinned. “My cousin Paulette got her tongue pierced there, and when my uncle saw it, he helpfully removed it for her . . . with pliers. Then she watched the hole close in the mirror. She said it took two hours.”
“This is what you wanted to tell us?” Hilary asked, horrified.
“No, it is not, so if you’d just—”
I glanced up from my grilled cheese, which I’d been bitterly picking at instead of eating. “Your cousin stared at her tongue in the mirror for two hours? What’s wrong with her?”
“Well, she’s not that interesting.” Matt shrugged, stealing some tater tots from my plate. When I scowled at him, he opened his mouth to reveal the disgusting mess inside.
“You’re seriously the worst,” Hil said.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Were you two sitting here moaning about the fact that Zona gets to leave this cesspool and live in one of the most gorgeous places on the planet? Are we having a cry-athon in the caf?”
“Hey!” I snapped. “If you want to switch itineraries with me, feel free to—”
“Because if you’re done with sad-sack time, I have something of great import to share with you. But maybe . . . maybe you don’t even care.” Matt glared at us, folding his hands on the tabletop.
“Sorry, sorry,” Hilary said. “What’s up?”
“Well, now I’m not sure you deserve to know . . .” He sniffed petulantly.
I knew when a battle had been lost. “Pleaaaaaase, Matty, most handsome of men. Please, pretty please, tell us the exciting news. It’s all we want in the world.” Hilary and I batted our eyelashes at him dramatically.
We’re dorks, but it’s so fun.
“Okay, you’ve forced it out of me!” Matt exclaimed at last. “The news is: I. Like. Someone.”
“Hello? Anyone? This is a landmark event. I’d like a reaction.” Matt folded his arms across his chest. I looked at Hilary. She looked at me.
“Is this a joke?” Hil finally said.
“How dare you! I’ve never been so insulted in my—”
“It’s just that . . . you never like anyone. Ever,” I pointed out quickly. “I mean, is it someone at this school? The school filled with ‘horrible, hideous, juvenile, totally uninspired guys you could never in a million years imagine touching with a ten-foot pole’? Because I definitely remember that speech.”
“Ugh, of course it isn’t someone from this freak show. It’s”—Matt leaned in conspiratorially—“the counter guy at the Starbucks on 12th Street. I’m in love, I’m in lust, I don’t know what to do with myself!” He flung his arms in the air triumphantly.
Today’s Special Interest Story: Deluded Teen Professes Love For 30-Year-Old (Minimum) Barista
Matthew Klausner, a Manhattan resident, revealed today that he thinks he has a snowball’s chance in hell of going on a date of any kind with the much older and most likely not looking to be put in prison Scott NoIdeaLastName.
Klausner’s friends tried to say encouraging things after the young man’s revelation, including, “Well, it’s great that you figured out your type!” and “Have you completely lost your mind?!” but the subject of their best intentions remained unmoved.
For more information, please see “Mary-Kay Letourneau” and “Truly Terrible Ideas.”
Filed, 12:18 p.m., Manhattan.
“Should I say ‘Is this a joke’ again?” Hilary asked. “Because I totally will.”
“Scoff all you want, but we have a connection. He gave me a free package of those chocolate-covered graham crackers today,” Matt said smugly.
“Wow. Did he hand them to you through the window of his white van before asking you to climb in?” I said. Hilary laughed. Matt did not look amused. “Matty, come on. You can’t be serious. This guy is like . . . old. Too old.”
“Love knows no age restrictions. Weren’t your parents, like, twenty years apart or something?”
Twenty-five years, actually. So not the point.
“Besides,” Matty went on, “he’s not old, he’s mature. And I’m sixteen, not nine. He can get me into clubs. And maybe you guys, too, if you’re good.”
“Gee,” I said with wide eyes, “I can’t think of anything I’d enjoy more than hanging out with you and your new faux-boyfriend in a—”
“What do you call a cougar if he’s a guy?” Hilary interjected thoughtfully. “A lion?”
“—club, but I have to move to another continent instead. Thanks for the invite, though.”
“Oh, here we go. Back to Sadsville.” Matt slumped in his chair. “Can’t you take a minute to be encouraging? Should I ask him out or what?”
“NO!” Hilary and I said together.
Hil flung her sandwich crust at him. “Definitely not,” she added.
“You two just want everyone to be as miserable as you are.” Matt narrowed his eyes and flung the bread back.
“Matty, that’s not fair. Of course we want you to meet someone. Just not someone who is elderly and works at Starbucks,” I said, trying to be diplomatic. I knew Matt got bummed out because there were basically no other gay guys in our school—well, not many who’d admit it, anyway—and he wanted to hook up and have crushes like everybody else.
“He’s not elderly! He’s probably, like . . . twenty-four!”
Hilary and I gave him the exact same look. He scowled at us again. Then the bell rang and we all heaved a collective sigh. “Well, this was fun,” Matt said morosely. Then he brightened. “I’ve got a free period . . . Anyone want to go get coffee?”
“Seriously, though, you guys, what’s a male cougar?” Hilary asked again. “A tiger?”
“I have no idea, Hil. I’m gay, not an expert on gay terminology. Zona, why don’t you do a little undercover journalism and find out for us? I’ll ask Scott where you should look for leads.”
“I have History,” I said firmly, scooping up my tray and ignoring Matt’s suggestion. “Also, you’ve had enough coffee for today, sir. Hilary, I’m leaving you in charge.”
“Gee, thanks.” Hilary rolled her eyes resignedly and looked pointedly at Matt. “No coffee for you.” He sniffed haughtily and started doing something on his phone—probably tweeting about how no one understood him. I winked at Hil and headed to class.
Young Journalist Daydreams Through Entire Meeting
Instead of paying attention during what would likely be one of the last opportunities to contribute in her official capacity as features editor, Zona Lowell spent the entire weekly Reflector meeting wondering if she could somehow make her dad change his evil, stubborn mind. She also gave some thought to what the paper’s editor-in-chief, handsome senior Benjamin Walker, would look like with his shirt off.
When called on for her thoughts, Zona managed to say, “Oh, yeah—totally agree,” which made absolutely no sense, since the question was “What are you thinking for the features theme next month?”
Filed, 2:24 p.m., Manhattan.
It was hard to believe I was sitting in our usual Friday meeting like I hadn’t had my world upended a few days earlier. And yet, here I was, same as always.
“. . . and that pretty much covers it, I think,” Ben said. I was too busy focusing on how his deep, chocolaty-brown eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled to hear his full speech. (I’d been obsessed with him since last year.) Unfortunately, he A) had a girlfriend and B) didn’t care about me even before he had a girlfriend.
This reality was one I had to live with daily as I plodded through the sad desert that was my romantic life. The only bright spot to my Greece trip, really, was that maybe there’d be some cute guys there. Guys who liked reading biographies, and utilized correct punctuation, and didn’t have to try to be cool. Basically, exact replicas of Ben, only Greek. And single. And not oblivious to my love.
But I wasn’t putting money on it.
Hilary was on the other side of the room chatting about a new article with über-gorgeous staff writer Lexi Bradley (also a sophomore, but looks like she’s about twenty-five), and I was just about to go over and join them when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Hey, Zona—can I talk to you for a sec?” It was Ben. Touching me. On my actual body. My heart stopped beating for a second, but I made a quick recovery; I knew this wasn’t going to be a “Let me reveal my love for you” speech. It was going to be a “What the hell? I chose you to be features editor over all those juniors and seniors and now you’re leaving the country?!” speech. I’d sensed this was coming, but I’d kind of hoped it would be a few more days before I had to talk to him about it. Of course, news travels fast in high school.
I trudged behind him to the big desk where he did all the layouts. Why did he have to be EIC? I’d much rather disappoint last year’s chief, back when Ben was just a snarky junior with a camera wandering around school. For one thing, it was way easier to pretend he had a secret crush on me in those days, because you could never be sure who he was taking pictures of. But then again, that’s exactly how he ended up with his girlfriend, Kelsey, so . . . Ugh—why was I thinking about this? I had more important things to focus on, like—
“Zona? You in there?” he asked. Oh, terrific. He was doing the crinkly-eyed smile thing.
“Yeah, sorry, just spacing,” I said.
“Seems to be your thing today,” Ben replied.
I blushed furiously. “Yeah, sorry about that—I guess I’ve been a bit distracted.” By your chiseled good looks. Run away with me? “So, um,” I continued, “I guess you heard through the grapevine about my dad’s new story—”
“Don’t you mean the olive vine?”
Ben grinned and looked at me expectantly, but I was blank. Finally, after an endless moment, I got it. “Oh,” I mumbled, “is that a Greece joke?”
“Not a very good one,” he conceded, shrugging. He looked down at the desk and moved a few index cards around. Great. Now he hates me, I thought. Why didn’t I just laugh hysterically? He looked back up. “Anyway, it sounds amazing. I’d kill to be there with your dad while he’s researching—I mean, talk about the opportunity of a lifetime, right? You must be pretty psyched.”
“Yeah, I guess . . . but I’d honestly rather stay here.”
He looked genuinely shocked. “Seriously? Why?”
“Well, I have responsibilities, um, to the paper, and—”
“Oh, yeah—our beloved Reflector. Nice that you’re worried about her, but I promise we’ll soldier on while you’re living it up in freaking Greece. And working on actual news that isn’t about someone running a bra up the flagpole. Again.” Ben held up his iPad, which had a photo-editing program open with a picture of a bright blue bra flapping in the wind.
I laughed, but didn’t feel very funny. I started fiddling with the zipper on my Brooklyn Industries hoodie. Maybe I should’ve been more psyched . . . but all the kids who were excited on my behalf didn’t actually know the whole story.
Maybe Ben would offer to go with me. He could help carry my suitcase. Dad would probably be completely on board with that plan.
“Anyway, I guess you know we’re gonna have to replace you as features editor. It’s too bad—your work on the last two issues has been awesome. I was really excited about having you on my team this year.”
He was?! How excited, exactly?
“I kind of don’t have a precedent to follow for this sort of thing,” he continued. “If you want to recommend somebody . . . Or I could just go through the other applications from the end of last year and see if anyone is still interested in the job . . .” He trailed off, his attention suddenly distracted by his phone. Probably a romantic text from Kelsey. He cracked a smile and started typing a reply.
I was ready to get the hell out of there and go write some subpar, heartbroken poetry on the wall of the girls’ room.
“Yeah, so,” I began, scrambling for something to say before dashing away, “I’m honestly devastated about leaving you in the lurch like this, especially because I was elated about getting the position . . .”
He glanced up at me. (I continued fidgeting like a six-year-old.) “Sorry, Zona, that was totally rude. Um, yeah . . .” His eyes flicked back to his phone. ”But don’t feel bad. You’ll be back next year! Have an amazing time in Greece—seriously, I would love to be in your shoes.”
And . . . he was back to texting. ’Kay. Bye.
I slunk out of the room, waving to Hilary and Lexi on my way. Hil followed close behind me.
“Did he already know?” she asked.
“Yeah. He’s going to replace me. I mean, I knew he would. It’s just all happening in five seconds, you know? I don’t leave for another two-ish weeks!” I thought about the absurdly expensive spiral notebook with the hard metallic cover that I’d bought at Kate’s Paperie when I found out I’d been chosen for the job. I’d already filled up half its silver-lined pages with my ideas for features articles, interesting layouts, surveys, interviews . . .
“I’m sorry, Zo. This totally sucks.” Hilary scuffed the ugly linoleum tiles with her studded Converse high-top sneaker. “Want to come over later? My mom’s on call and my dad will be at some meeting, I think. We can order in Thai and hang out on the terrace and they won’t bother us.”
I love going to Hilary’s. She lives in a gorgeous penthouse with massive floor-to-ceiling windows, a view for days, and every gadget in the world. They have a fridge that’s about the size of my bedroom, and it’s always chock-full of fancy cheese and desserts that her parents never eat because they’re always at work or charity events. Oh, and did I mention the enclosed, heated terrace that’s bigger than my entire apartment? Don’t get me wrong—the Lower East Side is more my style, and I honestly wouldn’t trade . . . but the Bauers’ is a very nice place to visit.
I smiled. “Thanks, but I have to go home and try to convince my dad to reconsider. Again. And that could take all night . . .” I trailed off, feeling depressed.
She squeezed me in a quick hug. “If you change your mind, just text me. ’Kay?”