Rose is the wild girl nobody really knows. Chase is haunted by his past. Both are self-proclaimed “disappointments,” attracted to each other enough to let down their defenses. When Rose’s strict, adoptive parents forbid the relationship, it only makes things more intense. But Chase can’t hide from his own personal demons, and Rose has secrets of her own. After they’re wrenched apart, a cryptic email arrives in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, beginning a desperate pursuit and a look back over their tumultuous romance. Will they find each other before the night is over, or will they be torn apart forever?
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The Opposite of Love
By Sarah Lynn Scheerger
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2014 Sarah Lynn Scheerger
All rights reserved.
Chase's cell phone vibrates on his dresser. It sounds like a swarm of mosquitoes. He sits up straight in bed, slapping his hand down on the phone. Hard. The text message glows in the dark, and he squints while his eyes adjust.
Check your email ASAP. Then call me.—D.S.
Whatever Daniel Stein wants to tell him in the middle of the night had better be important. Bordering on earth shattering.
He groans. He considers ignoring it, but curiosity and goddamn loyalty get the best of him.
He drags himself out of bed, across his room, and down to the apartment's tiny kitchen/dining room/living room to flip on the computer. The computer warms up, humming to itself. Everything in his mother's apartment seems so much smaller than it was when he left nearly eight months ago. Still, it feels good to be home. Home for Christmas. In some ways it seems like he's never been gone, and in others it feels like a lifetime.
The cell phone vibrates again, muffled between his fingers. The cell is an early Christmas present from his dad, Walter. His first cell phone ever. Chase flips it open. Another text. Hurry, bro. Urgent.
Chase types in the user name and password for his email account. Three new messages. But when he opens his inbox, only one message jumps out at him. Untitled, but from his old girlfriend, Rose. He hasn't heard a word from her since he left. Maybe now that he's back in town, she'll want to reconnect. His heart catches.
He clicks on the message, opening it. Addressed to Daniel, Becca, and himself. Short and sweet.
I'm writing to say good-bye. Becca, you can have anything you want from my room. Chase, I saved you a bunch of sketches. Thanks for being my friends. Please don't hate me for doing this. Love, Rose.
His mouth dries. What does that mean? What the hell does that mean? He stares at Rose's artwork, tacked to his wall, especially his favorite—that black-and-white chalk drawing of two hands connecting. It looks like her hand is reaching for him, as though he can hold on to her or save her or something.
Chase dials Daniel's number before he can sort out his thoughts. Daniel picks it up after half a ring. "Did you see it?"
"What the hell does it mean?"
"She's gonna kill herself! That's what it means. She's giving away her things. She's saying good-bye. Becca's freaking out over here." "Freaking out" sounds about right for Daniel's sister.
Chase tries to breathe. "I know it sounds like that. But I don't think Rose is the killing-yourself kind of girl."
"We gotta call 911," Becca's voice breaks through on the phone, like she just grabbed it from her brother's hands.
"I'm going over there," Chase decides. "Maybe I can talk her out of it."
"Shit, Chase, it might be too late." Daniel's voice pops back on.
"Or we might be wrong. Maybe she's running away. If we call the cops, we'll give her up. We both know her parents have kept her a prisoner in that house. Maybe she's finally had enough."
"I don't know ..." Daniel breaks off. Chase can't remember another time he's ever heard Daniel speechless.
"Here, look. She sent the email ten minutes ago. There's time for me to get over there."
"Unless she has a gun."
"She doesn't have a gun." Chase sounds more confident than he feels. "I'll keep my cell phone on me. And I'll run."CHAPTER 2
Crashing at Daniel Stein's house had undeniable perks. The biggest perk was the sister factor. Younger sisters have hot friends, especially when they're only a year behind you in school and they just got their braces off. The second biggest perk, and the one that most often led him to stay over, was avoiding his own mom and the brewing of World War III on the home front.
Chase didn't bother to knock, just let himself right in like always. He found Daniel lounging in the living room, his earbuds tucked into his ears. Chase flicked a dangling blue-and-silver foil menorah and looked pointedly at Daniel. "Chanukah decorations?"
"It's been November for a whole freaking week, bro," Daniel said, taking the earbuds out. "Besides, you know my mom." He gestured to an overflowing box of Halloween skeletons and bats, decorations that had been up three days ago.
"I know your mom." Chase flopped onto the taupe suede couch—the kind of couch you could sink into. Everything about the Stein house felt like home. Well, not like his home. But the way he always imagined home should feel. "Is she cooking tonight?"
"Are you inviting yourself over again?"
"There a problem with that?" Chase grinned.
"Not as long as there's enough food for me." Daniel patted his belly. For such a compact guy, he sure could put away a lot of latkes and roast. "Besides, you're not the only one. Becca's got a friend staying over too."
"Seriously?" Chase had been hoping that.
"Yeah, that Rose girl. The one who looks like an exotic porn star."
Chase knew who she was right way. "She's hot," he agreed. Suddenly, he wished he'd taken the time to pull on a clean T-shirt or comb his hair. He leaned over to catch a look at himself in the long, oval hallway mirror. His brown hair hung all messy and half covering his eyes, like it always did, even when he had combed it.
Daniel grinned. "I thought that'd cheer you up."
"Cheer me up? I'm a goddamn pillar of sunshine. What're you talking about? I don't need cheering up!"
Daniel ignored this, leaping up and tackling Chase on the couch. He rubbed his knuckles in Chase's hair. "What, your mom bring home some guy again?"
"Don't want to talk about it." Chase grabbed on and held both of Daniel's wrists in one of his hands, keeping him an arm's distance away. Chase nearly doubled Daniel's size, so Daniel twisted and squirmed, trying to wrench a hand free.
How the hell did Daniel know, anyway? Was it written on his forehead in red ink? Chase didn't want to tell Daniel that he and his mom, Candy, had gotten into it again. Just a yelling match. But bad enough that his little sister, Daisy, had hid under her bed to cry. Chase found her there all red faced and puffy, her stuffed rabbit damp with tears. Daisy hadn't done that since their dad left three years ago.
Chase loosened his hold and Daniel scrambled away, back to a safe distance on the couch. "Your dad's not back, is he?"
"I don't want to talk about it," Chase repeated. For all Daniel's self-piercings and pen-doodled tattoos, he was a good kid with one of those normal cookie-cutter lives. Not like Chase.
"Okay, okay." Daniel grinned. "Go visit the girls. That'll cheer you up."
Chase ran his fingers through his curls and took a deep breath. "Right on, bro. I like the way you think. I'm gonna wander over there like I'm looking for you. Sound believable?" Chase didn't wait for an answer, just turned and headed that way.
Rose Parsimmon and Becca Stein sat so close to each other on the worn plaid couch that they were almost sitting on each other's laps. Only one thing was sexier than a hot girl in shorts. Two hot girls in shorts. Thank god he lived in Southern California, where shorts could be worn ten months out of the year.
Rose held a pencil between two fingers and appeared to be sketching something on a piece of white paper. Chase took a deep breath and walked over to the edge of the coffee table directly in front of the couch. He went to sit down, hoping the table wouldn't crumble under his weight. Rose leaned her pencil to the side, using the edge for shading.
Becca lifted her eyes from Cosmo, giving Chase a long, hard look. "Excuse us." Becca Stein and sarcasm were old friends.
Chase ignored her, studying Rose. She picked up her pencil for a moment and straightened, examining her drawing from a distance. Chase edged close enough that his knees nearly brushed hers. She was tanned, the color of a gingerbread cookie. Her skin seemed soft and clean.
Finally, Rose looked up. Bored brown eyes. He wanted to back out of the room immediately, but he held his ground. "Hey," he greeted the girls, trying to sound casual.
"Hey," Rose answered quietly. Politely. No indication that she would like to rest her gingerbread brown legs on his.
"Don't you have better things to do than sit here and drool over my friends?" Becca asked, chewing on the tie of her sweatshirt. That girl always had something in her mouth. A pen or pencil with the end gnawed off, a piece of gum, or when she could sneak it, a cigarette.
"You hungry?" Chase joked back. "Your mom doesn't feed you enough?"
Becca took the sweatshirt tie out of her mouth. "For your information, I'm trying to quit smoking. Daniel's been on my case, but mostly because my parents would flip if they found out." Becca pushed the sleeve up her arm, past the elbow. "They think I'm a good kid, you know. I can't ruin it for them."
Rose laughed through her nose. "Funny, isn't it?" She nudged Becca with her foot. "Your parents think you're an angel, so you pretend to be one. My parents think I'm a little shit, so I do my best to pretend they're right. Wouldn't want to disappoint them."
"Oh, so you're a little shit, huh?" Chase saw his opening and grabbed it.
"A shit and a half." Rose met his gaze head on. "They would've returned me ages ago if they didn't think it would make them look bad."
"I don't get it." Chase tried not to stare at her eyes. They were larger than average and the color of mud puddles—but not in a bad way. "You can't return your kid. What're you gonna do? Shove her back in?"
"They wish." Becca moved Rose's sketch aside, then lay her head in Rose's lap. Rose played with Becca's hair, sectioning off three strands of hair and preparing to braid. "Rose is adopted, you dork."
"Oh, come on, Chase," Rose said. His heart skipped a beat when she said his name. "You can't tell me you think I look anything like my parents."
Chase pictured Mr. and Mrs. Parsimmon. He'd seen them bringing Rose to and from school for years. At first he had noticed them because they didn't match Rose at all. And then he'd noticed them because their daughter was hotter than hot. The Parsimmons were old for parents—like more than halfway to grandparenthood, with skin as white as dough.
"Yep. I'm Satan's love child," Rose said nonchalantly, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a piece of sugar-free peppermint gum. "It is what it is. The trick is to have as much fun with it as possible."
"Yeah, but your fun always winds up with someone being grounded," Becca jumped in, complaining. "Although as long as it's not me, I don't really care." Becca reached her hand out for the gum, and Rose ripped the piece in half. "You are a true friend," Becca told her solemnly. "And you're an amazing artist." Becca pulled the sketch up from the coffee table and turned it so Chase could see.
It took him a second to realize what he was looking at. Two large eyes took up most of the space on the white page, but there were fingers too, near the edges of the eyes. It almost looked like someone had been hiding her eyes with her hands and had just peeked out from behind them. And then, as he looked closer, he saw a figure within the pupil of the eyes. A child's silhouette. All alone.
"You made that?" Chase asked, knowing he sounded stupid, since obviously she had. "That's, like, art."
Rose smiled then, a full smile, all the way up to her eyes, and her whole face changed. He felt suddenly too large for his body. His tongue was heavy too, with nothing intelligent to say. Luckily, Rose spoke for him. "Just one of the many things my parents don't seem to understand about me. Pop quiz," she said. "What's the opposite of love?"
"Wrong," Rose informed him. "The opposite of love is not giving a damn."
"Oh, come on." Chase challenged, his words still awkward. "I'm sure your parents care about you." How could they not?
Rose snorted. "They think they care. They care about molding me into something I'm not. They just don't care what I want. Or how I feel." She paused for a moment, her eyes far away. "Not that they even know what I want."
Chase couldn't help but ask, "What do you want?"
The question hung in the air unanswered for long enough to make him squirm. But then the faraway look melted from her eyes, and she turned to him, playful. "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."
Chase laughed, eyeing her petite frame. "I'd like to see you try."
Her eyes sparkled. "I bet you would. But I don't know you well enough. Not yet."CHAPTER 3
Rose turned her spoon upside down in her mouth, letting a bite of ice cream melt onto her tongue. And people-watched. Or rather, Stein-watched. The Steins were perfect candidates for one of those cheesy Disney Channel shows about an almost perfect but definitely quirky family.
All six of them—plus that Chase kid who couldn't stop staring at her—sat around an oval dinner table long after everyone finished eating. Mostly laughing with the Stein twins—who she had secretly nicknamed Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum because they still dressed alike and had identical little-kid pot bellies—as they spouted off stupid jokes. There was something about little kids giggling and sniggering that became contagious.
Rose scooted back her chair. "I'm doing the dishes," she announced.
"I think I'm supposed to argue with you," Mrs. Stein said, absentmindedly rubbing the green streak of paint under her chin, undoubtedly from the synagogue day-care she ran. "Say that you're our guest and all that. But I can't tell you how nice it will feel to keep my feet up." She stacked her plate on top of her husband's.
Becca snorted. "Maybe you could hire Rose to organize." Mrs. Stein's house always looked like a tornado had just spun through it.
"That's what we've got you for, Becca-loo!" Mr. Stein pointed out, all cheerful.
Rose balanced six plates and headed toward the kitchen. Halfway there, she swung around to face everyone. "You guys joke more than any family I know."
"Only when we have company," Mrs. Stein said with a smile. "When we're on our own, we're terribly boring. It's insufferable."
Chase stood up to help Rose carry the dinner glasses.
"I got this," Rose told Chase.
"Don't you want help carrying this over?" Chase looked like an oversized teddy bear—like Baloo from The Jungle Book. He seemed like the kind of guy you'd want to hold you till you fell asleep. Like the kind of guy who'd let you sleep there, even if his arms were getting numb and he really had to pee.
"No thanks. I got it." Rose knew what kind of help Chase might give. And she didn't need that right now. Just some alone time to think.
She stood at the kitchen sink with her arms in soapy water up to the elbow, scrubbing dishes like Cinderella, dipping her hands in and out of the warm soapy sink, and listening to the white noise of the running water. She let her thoughts slide by aimlessly until she heard two abrupt slams of car doors, one right after the other.
She knew right away that it was the cops. Cop car doors had different slams than doors to station wagons or Hondas. Even their slams meant business. And then the doorbell, two short, hard rings. Rose edged over to the door that led from the kitchen to the dining room and peeked in.
The cops were there for her. No doubt about it. From her position, Rose could see the rest of the dining room and the front entranceway. Becca stood behind the front door, almost barricading her body from the cops—as if they had noses like hounds and could sniff out the package of cigarettes she'd hidden under her mattress. Like that was enough to haul her off to Juvie.
"I'm sorry to bother your family during dinner," a bushy-haired cop began. "We've got a report of a missing teenager. Do you know the whereabouts of Rose Parsimmon?"
Mrs. Stein twisted her fingers in her skirt. "Can I ask why? What has she done? What do you want her for?" Rose liked the defensiveness in her voice. The ownership, even.
The second cop had a hard jawline. "Chronic runaway. This time she took off with her mother's credit card. Charges have been filed."
Mr. Stein stepped forward and spoke softly, then he and the cops stepped outside. As soon as the front door squeaked closed, Mrs. Stein swiveled around to face Rose's head, still poking out of the kitchen. At first she said nothing, just studied Rose's eyes.
"What is this about, Rose?" Rose sunk back into the kitchen, like she could hide. Then, as if trying to coax a cat down from a tree, Mrs. Stein held out her hand. "Come out here, Rose."
Trapped, Rose shuffled out to the entryway. Mrs. Stein held out both hands. "Look, Rose, we know you have problems at home, and we want you to feel like you can come to us with anything. But this ... this puts us in a bad position."
Excerpted from The Opposite of Love by Sarah Lynn Scheerger. Copyright © 2014 Sarah Lynn Scheerger. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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