""Natasha Friend, I loved your book. I was hooked from the first page." Judy Blume
The first month of school, thirteen-year-old Anna Collette finds herself...
DUMPED by her best friend Dani, who suddenly wants to spend eighth grade "hanging out with different people."
DESERTED by her mom, who's in the hospital recovering from a suicide attempt.
TRAPPED in a house with her dad, a new baby sister, and a stepmother young enough to wear her Delta Delta Delta sweatshirt with pride.
STUCK at a lunch table with Shawna the Eyebrow Plucker and Sarabeth the Irish Stepper because she has no one else to sit with.
But what if all isn't lost? What if Anna's mom didn't exactly mean to leave her? What if Anna's stepmother is cooler than she thought? What if the misfit lunch table isn't such a bad fit after all? With help from some unlikely sources, including a crazy girl-band talent show act, Anna just may find herself on the road to okay.
About the Author
Natasha Friendwearer of silly hats, lover of press-on mustaches, admirer of Gloria Steinem, devotee of well-named nail polish shadesis also an author. When she is not writing books, you will find her playing Wiffle ball, turning cartwheels, making chocolate-chip pancakes, singing, dancing, and wishing she was in a talent show. Natasha lives in Connecticut with her husband, three kids, and dog. Where You'll Find Me is her sixth novel.
Read an Excerpt
Where You'll Find Me
By Natasha Friend
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2016 Natasha Friend
All rights reserved.
I USED TO THINK your friends were your friends no matter what, but that's not how it works. There is elementary school, and then there is middle school, where suddenly all the rules change and no one tells you how to play and the only thing you know for sure is that you are losing. Everything about you is wrong: your hair, your personality, your jeans.
Danielle Loomis's jeans, however, are perfect. When she gets up from her desk and struts across the room to spit out her gum, you can see this clear as day. Indigo, low-rise, frayed just right. I wish I could be happy for her. I wish I could be glad that this summer, when her braces came off and her boobs came in, the whole world noticed and made her popular. But I'm not glad. I just want everything back the way it was.
I'll always care about you, Anna. Those were Dani's words on September 3, outside Brickley's Ice Cream, right after she bought me a shake. Just because our lives are moving in opposite directions and we're hanging out with different people doesn't mean I don't care.
Seriously. Those were her words. And trust me, when your best friend since kindergarten tells you point-blank she doesn't want to be friends anymore, here is what you do: cry. It just happens, like when you get hit in the face with a ball in gym. Wah, wah, wah, like a baby. You can't help yourself, even when Ethan Zane and all of his low-shorts-wearing friends suddenly appear in front of Brickley's Ice Cream on their skateboards.
That was three weeks ago. This is now. English class, and we are getting a lesson on irony. The firehouse burned down. The police station got robbed. If Mr. Pfaff wants irony he should take a look at his seating chart, aimed to "maximize our learning potential." To my left: Loomis, Danielle, Ex-Best Friend. To my right: Zane, Ethan, King of Eighth Grade. They are stealth-texting each other under their desks. Every two seconds Dani glances over at Ethan, flips her coppery hair, and smiles. A month ago, she didn't even have a cell phone. A month ago, she would have been passing notes to me on a scrap of paper. Ironic much?
"Anna?" Mr. Pfaff is standing at my desk, petting his goatee. "Can you think of an example of irony?"
How much time do you have, Mr. Pfaff? I can give you a whole list. Things I find ironic:
1. An ex-best friend who used to be so bucktoothed that Ethan Zane called her the Beaver. Suddenly she can't stop smiling.
2. Teachers who think their students are learning when they are actually texting under their desks.
3. Teachers who wear goatees to look cool.
4. Facial hair in general.
Now I am remembering the mustache my father wore for his wedding and how ridiculous it looked. The whole event was ridiculous. Which brings me to:
7. Marriage vows.
"Anna?" Mr. Pfaff is waiting. "Any ideas?"
I shake my head like I'm drawing a blank. If there is one thing I've learned in middle school, it's this: keep your mouth shut. I am practically an expert.
For three days I have been staying in my father's guest room. I have been told that this room is "mine," but that's not how it feels. This is my father's new house, my father's new family. Every night, his baby wakes me up. Whimpering, crying, screeching, I hear it all. She sounds like the monkeys at the Roger Williams Park Zoo, only I don't feel sorry for her the way I do for the monkeys. The noise drives me crazy. I don't care that she is only a baby and half-related to me. I want to scream back. Instead, I jam a pillow over my head and wait for morning.
My stepmother, Marnie, is breast-feeding. She will strip off her shirt and bare all in front of you with no regard. My father thinks this is great. He also changes Jane's diapers like he's been doing it his whole life, which I know for a fact he hasn't because my mom told me. Your father never changed a single one of your diapers. Direct quote.
I am so glad she isn't here to see him. My mom is in the hospital, and I don't know when she's coming out. I have been told it's no one's fault, but I am the one who called 911, so do the math. Before the ambulance came, she was in bed for seventy-two hours. "Can't get up," she said every time I walked into her room. "Too tired." So I would pour my own cereal, pack my lunch, call her work and lie. She can't come in today. She has the flu. Even though I knew she wasn't sick — not with the flu, anyway. I'd been through this enough times, but I'd always been able to drag her out of bed before, help her into the shower.
That morning, my mom didn't even respond when I shook her. At first I thought she was asleep, but then I saw the empty Advil bottle in her hand. Her skin wasn't even a color. Her pulse was barely a pulse.
Finding my mother like that was the scariest moment of my life. But do I talk about it in my father's house? No. I sit in his kitchen, quiet as dust, while Marnie whips it out right here at the table. Sometimes when she is nursing I have to look away, I am so embarrassed. Other times I see her and Jane all snuggled up together and I want to cry. But I stay silent. Respectful. I imagine my father's house is a five-star hotel and I am only here on vacation, eating the complimentary waffles.
"How did you sleep, Anna?" The waitress smiles at me. "Were you warm enough?"
I nod my head yes.
"I hope Jane didn't wake you."
I shake my head no.
Marnie is so pretty, if she actually were a waitress she would get great tips. Long honey-colored hair. Curves in all the right places. If she were in eighth grade at Shelby Horner Middle School, she would put Danielle Loomis to shame. That is a fact. Dani would kill to be her friend.
My mother would not kill to be Marnie's friend. She does not speak to Marnie unless absolutely necessary. She barely speaks to my father. Last year at the wedding, while I was busy being a bridesmaid, my mom was on the couch in her sweatpants, staring at the TV. That is how I found her when I got home, staring at a television that wasn't even on.
My father is oblivious. This morning, he joins me at the bus stop — a first. There is a routine to his mornings. Number one, treadmill. Then shower, shave, read the Wall Street Journal. Marnie makes his coffee in a to-go cup, which my mother never did. Organic roast, almond milk. Normally he would be gone before I left, but today, there he is, standing at the end of the driveway with his hair slicked back, comb tracks still in it. Blue suit. Loafers so shiny you could see your face.
Here is the conversation:
"Got everything?" he says, eyeing my backpack.
He takes a sip of coffee, then another. "How's school?"
"Good." He juts his chin at me. "That's good." He looks away, sips his coffee. Straightens his tie.
The silence is so loud. "How are broom sales?" I say. It is a bold call, making the joke my mom used to make, about him selling brooms for a living like Hansel and Gretel's dad.
Well, that was a mistake. He does not smile.
"Anna," he says.
I look up at his face — dark brows, tan skin, handsome enough for pharmaceutical sales. "Yes?"
"I'm sorry about your mother."
And there it is. The punch in the stomach, the squeeze of the heart. "It's okay," I say.
His words buzz around in my ears. Best doctors. Psychiatric care. New drugs for depression.
I nod and nod.
Elevactin. Just came on the market. Free samples.
Thinking about it now, I almost laugh. Because here is the irony: My mother, Dr. Frances Collette, PhD, is the school counselor at North Kingston High School. She has an advanced degree in clinical psychology from Brown. She is a trained professional in the field of mental health. And three days ago, she tried to kill herself. The school counselor tried to kill herself. Mr. Pfaff ... ding, ding, ding ... we have a winner!
* * *
Dani is trying out for cheerleading, which says it all. On my way to the bus, there she is outside the gym, fixing her hair and bouncing on her toes. She is not standing with Jessa Bell or Whitney Anderson, so the line must be alphabetical. I watch her from the end of the hall for a few minutes, then walk by. Casual, like I don't see her.
"Hey, Anna." Dani tosses her ponytail and smiles.
"Oh, hi," I say.
She has on a tight white tank top, a magenta tennis skirt, and Nikes. Gold hoops in her ears. Eyeliner. I want to walk away, but I am frozen.
"I'm trying out for cheerleading! Can you believe it?"
"Lauren Goldfarb broke her leg, so there's only one spot and I probably won't get it, but ... hey —" Dani's voice drops and she takes a step toward me. "I'm really sorry."
I look at her, hoping. "You are?"
"I heard about your mom."
"My mom heard from Mrs. Rose ... at Big Y or something ... I wondered why you weren't on the bus. I guess you're staying at your dad's ..."
Dani keeps talking, but I am not listening. Regina Rose is my mother's best friend. I have known her my whole life and I have always liked her, but now I hate her. I hate her stinking guts.
"... my mom sent flowers to the hospital, from all of us. Tulips."
Tulips. Well, hallelujah.
"I'm sorry." Dani cringes, reading my face.
I say nothing.
"I really am, Anna. You know I love your mom."
"Remember that time I was sleeping over and she gave Mr. Bojangles a makeover?"
Of course I remember. Mr. Bojangles was my guinea pig. I got him for my eighth birthday. He was calico — orange, tan, and white — but, for whatever reason, my mother decided he wasn't quite colorful enough. So one night she brought out the markers and colored all of Mr. Bo's white spots green, purple, and red. He stayed that way for weeks.
"I remember," I say.
"And that time she took us to the movies and bought every kind of candy in the concession? My mother would never do that."
Fact. Mrs. Loomis is obsessed with calories.
"Your mom is so cool," Dani says.
I know, right? Fifty Advil in one sitting. Can your mom do that?
Sarcasm is rising in my throat like lava, but before I can say anything, the gym doors open and Mrs. Strand steps out with her clipboard. "Jensen, Joerger, Loomis, Lustig."
"Omigod!" Dani is smiling again, a big, happy cheerleader smile. "Wish me luck, okay?"
Flash of the teeth.
Swing of the skirt.
I'll always care about you, Anna.
THE DAY IT HAPPENED, I made two calls: 911 and Regina. I didn't call my father. That sounds weird, I know. A girl finds her mom half-dead and doesn't call her dad? But you have to know the history. You have to know that when it comes to my mother, David Collette is not exactly president of the Emotional Crisis Management Club. Even when they were married, he couldn't deal. Escape. Retreat. That was his M.O. When my mom got depressed he would suddenly have to go on a sales trip, which blows my mind when I think about it. Because he was the responsible adult and I was the kid. Okay, to be fair, my mom was never as bad as she is now. And it's not like he ever left me alone. He always called Regina, who isn't just my mother's best friend, she's also a nurse and an awesome cook and only too happy to swoop in and feed everyone meatballs and boss my mother around until she's okay again. Regina is great in a crisis.
When the ambulance came, she took over everything. She talked to the EMS guys. She signed forms. She didn't even make me ride to the hospital. She just told me to pack a bag, and by the time I came downstairs my father was waiting for me. Even though it wasn't Wednesday. Wednesday is his day. Wednesday and every other weekend. That was the deal. Until Monday, when my mother tried to kill herself and everything went haywire and now I'm staying in the wrong house on the wrong nights, which is basically breaking the custody agreement.
Not that I ever "agreed" in the first place. I didn't "agree" when my dad left. I didn't "agree" when he got married. I didn't "agree" to any of it, which is why, ever since he moved into his new house, I have refused to sleep over. Wednesday dinners: fine. Weekend activities: fine. But no sleepovers. Until now, when I have no choice.
I get off the bus, and there is Marnie, waving to me from the front porch. Her hair is French-braided and her Siamese twin is stuck to her hip. "Hey, Anna!" Three white satin triangles glimmer on her chest.
"Hey," I say.
She picks up Jane's hand, makes it wave. "Can you say Hey, Janie? Say, Hey, Anna! How was school?" The only thing worse than Marnie's baby talk is her Delta Delta Delta sweatshirt. She is twenty-four years old and she still thinks she's in college. She has photos of her sorority sisters taped to the mirror in her bathroom. She has yoga pants with paw prints on the butt, a big stuffed tiger on her marital bed. My father doesn't even care. "Clemson's a great school," he says. "Great football team."
Marnie opens the door for me, lets me go first. In the foyer, she takes my backpack and my jacket. I want to tell her she's not my maid, she doesn't have to do these things, but the words don't come. They pile up in my throat like rocks.
"Are you hungry?" Marnie says.
"I made cookies, if you want ... or there's fruit." She is fiddling with the chain around her neck. Instead of a charm, there is her name in gold script. Marnie. She used to be Marnie Staples, but then she married my father, so now she is Marnie Collette. Once I heard my mom say, "Marnie Collette. Do you know what that sounds like? A stripper."
She was on the phone with Regina when she said it, sneaking a cigarette. I could tell because I was listening on the other phone, and I could hear her inhale.
"Well, Fran," Regina said, "she probably is a stripper."
"Ha!" my mom snorted, exhaling. "She probably is!"
She was trying to quit. Before she went into the hospital she was trying really hard. Chewing the gum, wearing the patches. She even bought these hypnosis CDs she saw advertised on TV, and she listened to them constantly. Mind over matter, mind over matter. You have the power, you have the power.
"Anna?" Marnie is looking at me expectantly.
She holds out a plate. "Would you like a cookie?"
I would not like a cookie, but I take one anyway.
"They're carob chip." She smiles. "Your dad's favorite."
Since when? That is my question. Since when does he like carob?
"I want you to know," Marnie says out of nowhere, "that your friends are welcome here. Anytime. You don't even have to ask."
I nod, like I am considering this. A year ago, I actually had friends. Besides Dani, there was Keesha Soboleski. It was always the three of us: Dani, Keesha, and Anna, inseparable. Then last fall, after the divorce was final but before my dad married Marnie, Keesha's dad got a job coaching basketball in Pennsylvania and she had to move. Dani was my best friend, no question, but right now I miss Keesha more. She was so funny. She would do things like show up at your house wearing a mustache she'd made out of felt. "Who am I?" she would say. You'd guess and guess, but you would never be right because it was always someone you hadn't heard of. Burt Reynolds. Clark Gable. Keesha watched a lot of old movies. Sometimes she would make you put on a trench coat and sunglasses and walk around town with her, pretending to be Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Even if you didn't want to, you would do it, feeling like an idiot at first, but by the end you would be peeing-your-pants laughing.
I haven't laughed like that in weeks. Even now, in my father's kitchen, when Jane lets out a huge burp that Marnie thinks is hilarious, I don't laugh. I take a bite of cookie.
"Excuse my daughter," Marnie says. "She thinks she's a frat boy." She kisses Jane's cheek and coos. "Don't you, my angel? Don't you think you're a big, hairy Alpha Delta Phi?"
Jane burps again. Marnie cracks up. She snuggles Jane against her chest and kisses the top of her head.
Suddenly I am remembering this photo from my baby album. I am about Jane's age, with wild curls and a white eyelet dress. I am sitting in my mom's lap, craning my neck to look up at her, but she isn't looking at me. She is staring out the window. Her arms are hanging at her sides like dead wood. Once you see something like that, you can't unsee it. Every time you think about it your mouth tastes like pennies.
When Marnie isn't looking, I spit her cookie in the trash.
* * *
Here is what I know about my mother:
1. She is in Butler Hospital, the psychiatric hospital.
2. She is "under observation," which means the doctors are watching her every move to make sure she doesn't hurt herself. Which is what happens, I guess, when you swallow a bottle of pills. People read you loud and clear.
3. She can't have any visitors. She is too "emotionally fragile."
That is all my father will tell me except for Don't worry, Anna, your mother is going to be fine. Well, how does he know she's going to be fine? He's not a doctor. He's not even her husband anymore. What does he know about anything?
Excerpted from Where You'll Find Me by Natasha Friend. Copyright © 2016 Natasha Friend. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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