On the outside, seventeen-year-old Madelyne Summers looks like your typical blond cheerleaderperky, popular, and dating the star quarterback. But inside, Maddie spends more time agonizing over what will happen in the next issue of her favorite comic book than planning pep rallies with her squad. That she's a nerd hiding in a popular girl's body isn't just unknown, it's anti-known. And she needs to keep it that way.Summer is the only time Maddie lets her real self out to play, but when she slips up and the adorkable guy behind the local comic shop's counter uncovers her secret, she's busted. Before she can shake a pom-pom, Maddie's whisked into Logan's world of comic conventions, live-action role-playing, and first-person-shooter video games. And she loves it. But the more she denies who she really is, the deeper her lies become…and the more she risks losing Logan forever.
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About the Author
Mother, wife, and YA author living on a windy hill in Natchitoches, Louisiana, Leah Rae Miller loves fuzzy socks, comic books, cherry coke, and brand new office supplies. The Summer I Became a Nerd is her first novel.
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The Summer I Became a Nerd
By Leah Rae Miller, Heather Howland, Sue Winegardner
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Leah Rae Miller
All rights reserved.
Louisiana summers are unforgiving. Or maybe I'm too freaking impatient to tolerate the usual ninety-six-degrees-in-the-shade heat. The final book in The Super Ones comic book series, which I've been obsessing over for years, comes out today, and I'm waiting for Randy Henderson from down the street to finish mowing our lawn so I can check the mailbox. Normally, I download my comics and read them on the computer so there's no physical proof of my secret life, but the author of this particular series has insisted the final book only be available in print.
Hurry up, Randy. Except, I think my impatience has made things worse. I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm checking him out. Every few minutes, he sends me a sideways glance from where he sits atop his riding mower and tries his best to do a crooked grin like he's Robert Pattinson or something. I bet he's practiced it in the mirror. I hope he doesn't hit on me tomorrow at school. Eric, my boyfriend, has never actually hurt someone for checking me out. He's usually too busy being a "dude-bro." It's all about football and chicks and "dude-bro, we should totally go mud riding this weekend." But catching Randy checking me out would be a chance to cause physical harm which, let's face it, is what football is mostly about. And Eric is good at football.
Finally, Randy rounds the large pecan tree in our front yard, cutting the final patch of grass, and heads down our driveway. As he turns right onto the street to go home, he waves back at me, revealing a thick mass of dark, curly underarm hair. Did you know smiling suppresses the gag reflex? I do, so I smile and wave back.
Once the sound of the lawn mower is barely audible, I jump up and run off the porch. Maybe it's more of a sprint. A dash? Either way, I manage to get to the mailbox and pull out the contents with near-inhuman speed. As soon as I spot the manila envelope, I swear angels sing. I super-run back to the house and dump all the mail on the kitchen counter, except for the manila envelope. I take the stairs to the second floor in leaps and bounds. Grabbing the frame of my door before I fly past it, I use my momentum to swing into my room. The door slams closed behind me.
I throw the envelope onto the bed, not wanting to look at it until I'm ready. This is too important to simply breeze through the moment. I dig out my comic journal from its hiding place in the closet — on the top shelf, stuck inside a stack of sweaters that won't be brought out until early December — and throw it on the bed, as well. It's just a notebook where I keep all my thoughts about the books I read, but to me it's a treasure trove of secret identities, quotes, and life lessons only superhumans can teach.
I kick off my flip-flops a little too hard and they hurtle through the room, almost knocking over my bedside lamp. Whoops. I twist my blond hair into a messy bun on the top of my head. Can't have any tendrils escaping while I'm reading and blocking my view.
This is it. Is Marcus, The Sonic One, strong enough to defeat Baron Gravity? Or will he be sucked into oblivion by one of Baron Gravity's randomly created black holes? Will Wendy realize she loves Marcus and fly to his rescue? Does Grayson, the lovable but oblivious sidekick also known as The Young One, die, thereby making me cry because he never found out the true identity of his parents?
I sink into my plush comforter and cross my legs under me. I pull off the purple pen that's been hanging onto the spiral wire binding of my comic journal, turn to a blank page, and write: The Super Ones #400.
I am ready.
Eyes closed, I pick up the envelope. I blindly feel for the flap, open it, and pull out the comic. It's thin, but oh-so-crisp. There's nothing better than the smell of fresh ink, so I take a deep breath to lock away the memory of this moment. After making sure I have it facing the correct way by fingering the pages with my right thumb and sliding the tip of my left index finger over the staples binding it, I take another deep breath, then open my eyes.
Your Organic Garden and You
I throw my comic journal off my lap and lean over the side of the bed to grab the discarded envelope. Nothing else in there. There are only regular envelopes on the kitchen counter. I couldn't have missed it.
I scramble to my desk and turn on my laptop, barely resisting the urge to call it a slow piece of junk and cursing myself further. I pull up my e-mail, which I haven't checked since I got home from school, because I had been too busy watching Randy do his Robert Pattinson impression. Sure enough, there's an e-mail.
Dear Madelyne Jean Summers,
Due to unprecedented demand, The Super Ones #400 is currently out of stock. Your copy will be shipped in 5-7 weeks. We apologize for the inconvenience.
They apologize? Are they kidding?! I can't wait five to seven weeks. I must know now! Can Wendy, a.k.a. The Bright Frenzy, man-up and tell her father to get a life so she can fly off to the war-ravaged planet of Zocore in order to sacrifice herself in the ensuing battle? Will Marcus make a dying attempt to block a severe radiation blast heading straight for Young One's face?
It's too much to deal with. I must get my hands on issue #400.
There's only one place in town that would have a copy. Is the risk of being seen and losing my place atop Natchitoches Central's elite worth it? No. Absolutely not. It's been a long, hard climb to the top of the popularity ladder. It took a lot of deceit and subterfuge to get people to forget The Costume Incident. And once something like that is started, there's no going back. I've been at it for five years now. Not having anyone to geek out with over the latest superhero movie (other than my brother, but he doesn't count), having to hold my tongue about all my fandoms, making a mad dash to hide all nerdy evidence every time a friend shows up at my house unannounced ... I'm in a constant state of "no one can know," and it sucks.
But ... can I go two months without knowing? Can I last two months without going on the comic book forums, Twitter, or Facebook for fear of spoilers?
Of course I can't.
Damn your awesomeness, Super Ones.
I grab a hoodie, my dad's green Boston Celtics cap, and I make double sure my shades are in my purse.
Drastic times call for drastic measures.CHAPTER 2
There it is. The Phoenix.
You know how some people say Paris is one of their favorite places even though they've never been there? The Phoenix is like that for me.
An image of a yellow and orange flaming bird hangs above the door, and through the windows I can see row upon row of comics in all their Mylar-encased glory. I don't know how many times I've driven by here and almost rear-ended someone because I was trying to ogle the newest life-size cardboard cutout of Wolverine or Captain America or whoever.
And now I'm here. Of course, I'm not actually parked in their parking lot. I'm technically in the Mes Amis lot next door. My friends and I love this restaurant but for different reasons. My best friend, Terra, loves the low-fat cheesecake. Eric loves the double bacon cheeseburger. I love the fact that I can see the display windows of The Phoenix from our usual booth.
I turn my car off since I don't have an air conditioner. It's just blowing hot air in my face, making me sweat like I'm about to do a toe-touch off the top of the pyramid at halftime. I put on my dad's cap, my big, retro sunglasses, and my sunshine-yellow hoodie. Satisfied with my incognito ensemble, I jump out of the car and duck between the other vehicles to sneak my way to the small, shaded alley separating Mes Amis and The Phoenix.
I set up camp and wait. If I peek around the edge of the building, I can see The Phoenix's front door, but no one is coming in or out. I wait some more, passing the time by doing a little positive visualization: me, sitting in my air-conditioned room with The Super Ones #400 in my hands.
Just then, I hear someone pull up.
Out of the small Toyota Corolla steps a guy, probably in his thirties. He's balding and has a stain on his red T-shirt. Before he can make it to the door, I let out a loud, "Psst!"
He stops and looks around, then notices me. I wave him over and duck back down the alley. After a second, his head appears around the corner, one eyebrow raised. "Yes?"
"Want to earn five bucks for two minutes of work?" I try to sound as unconcerned as possible.
"What do you want?"
"I give you money, you go in there" — I shove a thumb at the wall behind me — "and buy me a copy of The Super Ones #400. You get the change and five extra bucks. Deal?" I stare at him over the tops of my sunglasses.
"Why don't you buy it yourself?"
"I just can't, okay? So, do we have a deal?"
"Make it ten dollars, plus the change." He crosses his arms like he's haggling at a swap meet.
My mouth drops open. "But I don't have any more cash. Just ten dollars, three dollars for the book, leaving seven dollars for you. Come on!"
"Nothin' doin'." He shakes his head and walks away.
The bell rings as he goes inside, and I flop against the brick wall of the store. What a jerk!
"It's okay," I say out loud. "Someone else will be by any second."
After a few minutes, the bell rings again, and I hear, "Psst."
The guy is standing there with a thin paper bag. The Phoenix's emblem blazes across it. He slowly pulls out a comic, lifts the plastic flap, and presses his nose to the opening. He takes a deep whiff.
"Ahhhh," he says as he releases the breath. "Pictures and words. All that brand new ink. It's intoxicating."
"What is that?" I blurt out and take a deep breath, too, hoping somehow that beautiful smell will reach me.
"The Super Ones #400." He smiles and puts it back in the paper bag.
"Just show me the cover, please," I say as he unlocks his car door.
"Sorry. No time. I have reading to do." Before he leaves, though, he rolls down his window and yells, "You might want to man up and go in there. There's only one copy left."
My heartbeat speeds up, and my palms start to sweat even more. Is it worth the risk? I ask myself as I begin to pace.
It's not like any of my friends are going to come in, and I'm thoroughly disguised even if someone I knew did happen to be in there.
Only one copy left.
I have to take the chance.
I take a fortifying breath and square my shoulders before I stroll up to the glass door of The Phoenix.
I can't believe it. The Phoenix. I'm about to go into The Phoenix!
I pull the door open, and the twinkly bell I heard from the alley sounds above me. The store is set up like a book itself. I'm standing at the end of a long empty walkway. On both sides of me, metal, A-frame racks are lined up like pages waiting to reveal their awesomeness. Spinning racks are scattered throughout the store. Collectable action figures mint-in-the-box and key chains featuring superhero logos dangle from the racks' hooks. One spinning rack is covered top to bottom with slim foil packages containing Magic: The Gathering playing cards. If I wasn't trying to be sneaky about this whole thing, I'd give that rack of commons, uncommons, and rares a big ole whirl just to see the shimmery packets reflect the summer sunlight filtering through the windows.
"Welcome to The Phoenix, can I help you find anything?" a guy's voice asks from the end of the walkway.
Keeping my head down, I dart down one of the aisles on my left. "Just looking," I say and then snort at my own silly attempt to sound like a man.
"Let me know if you need any help."
There's a hint of suspicion is in his voice, but I stay hidden. Superspeed would be handy right now. I could find my book and leave the money on the counter without being seen. "Okay."
Then, I get lost. Lost in the bright colors of the covers, lost in the stacks and stacks of lovely, numerically organized issues. The comics are grouped by publisher and alphabetically by series. There's Marvel's Ant-Man next to The Avengers. Booster Gold and Blue Beetle from DC. By the time I come across Fables, my number three favorite Vertigo title, I've run out of shelves on this side. I zip across the empty aisle and try to focus on the task at hand. The Super Ones must be somewhere in the middle of these shelves. There's Sandman, Superman, ah ha, The Super Ones.
I slide out the last comic in the stack.
I search the surrounding stacks, thinking maybe that money-exploiting jerk hid it from me, but I can't find it.
Here's the part where any normal person trying not to be recognized would give up and leave. Actually, a normal person wouldn't have disguised themselves in the first place, but that's a whole other matter. I, being a very nonnormal person, am going to have to ask the cashier and hope he's some college kid that won't give me a second look.
I take another fortifying breath and walk up to the counter. The guy is bent so far over a comic I can only see the top of his head, which is covered with brown, messy hair. I make an "ahem" noise to get his attention, but he doesn't look up. I raise my sunglasses up a little to glance at the book he's reading. I see a full splash page of Marcus. His whole body is contorted in agony as he screams — and I know he's screaming because the speech bubble next to his head is all pointy — "NOOOOOO!!!!" I squeeze my eyes shut, not wanting the book to be spoiled for me, but the damage is already done. I'm at the end of my rope.
"Do you have a copy of The Super Ones #400?" I say, abandoning my faux-guy voice.
He finally looks up, and I recognize him. Not only do I recognize him, I know him. I could probably tell you what shoes he's wearing (black and white chucks with frayed laces) even though his lower half is hidden behind the counter. I know this because he's kind of been my geek idol for a while now and I've ... paid attention.
Last year, he got in trouble at school because he was wearing pornography. At least, that's what the students were told, when in reality, he was just wearing a T-shirt sporting an Adam Hughes drawing of Power Girl. Ridiculous, I know. I mean, Adam Hughes is one of the best purveyors of the female form in comics today, even if he has a tendency to overexaggerate certain body parts.
Ever since then, I've had a thing for Logan Scott. Not an actual thing since I have a boyfriend and that would be bad, but he's got these cute freckles on his nose and cheeks, probably from playing soccer — he's the Natchitoches Central High School's goalie — and he's always reading, comics mostly, but every once in a while, I'll catch him with a high fantasy book with dragons or elves on the cover. Not that I'm stalking him or anything.
He has really nice eyes, though.
His brow furrows when he looks at me. "Sorry, we're all out."
"Really? What's that?" I point at the book he's currently stuffing under the counter.
"It's ..." He trails off as he takes in the way I'm dressed. He tilts his head to the side like he's trying to see behind me. I whip around, thinking someone else is there, but the store is still empty. When I turn back, a knowing smile plays at the edges of his mouth. Sighing right now would be bad, but he has perfect boy-lips — not too full, not too thin.
He props his chin on his fist. "Do I know you?"
"Uh, no, I mean, I don't think so. I'm just passing through town. I mean, I don't live here or anything so how could you know me?" I say in a rush.
"Okay." He squints like he can pull a confession out of me with his eyes alone. "That's too bad, because this is the last copy."
He pulls #400 out and waves it around, which sends electricity shooting through me because: (1) it's right in front of my face, and I can see the amazing cover, and (2) the way he's flopping it around is breaking the spine, which breaks my heart. You'd think a guy who works at a comic shop would be a little more careful.
Instinct kicks in, and I throw out my hands like he has a gun pointed at a puppy. He stops and lays the book on the counter between us.
"Why is it too bad?" I ask. "I'm a paying customer. I give you money, you give me #400. That's how these things work." I tentatively reach for #400, but he slaps his hand down flat on top of it.
Excerpted from The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller, Heather Howland, Sue Winegardner. Copyright © 2013 Leah Rae Miller. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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