First 250 words of each of my finished manuscripts. More info on each here.
Choosing what to have for breakfast won’t change my life, but I’ve never been good at making decisions. I drum my fingers on the kitchen counter, staring at the fridge covered in family photos. Waffles or cereal? My stomach growls. Waffles. With strawberries. You only live once. I open the freezer as Drew honks outside. Damn. I don’t have time. Granola bar then.
I shut the freezer and my head swims, blurring the last photo of Grandma in her garden to a blob of blue and green. I blink and shake off the sleepiness, then grab the box of NatureOne bars from the cluttered pantry.
The toaster oven dings. What in the… I go to check. Two toasted waffles sit on the metal rack. Sliced strawberries on a plate.
Mom and Dad are both gone before seven on Wednesdays, and Elliot’s still upstairs. Did I put those in when I first came down? I must be losing my mind. Or somehow Mom? Whatever, they look delicious.
Two minutes, I text Drew. I slide the waffles onto the plate and slather them with butter.
I’m just lifting my fork when my ten-year-old brother walks in. His sun-bleached hair sticks up in the back and he’s wearing his standard outfit of baggy soccer shorts and a random player’s jersey.
“Mmm, waffles. Are there more?” Elliot asks.
I shift my eyes. “In the freezer.”
He glances at the microwave clock, then groans and reaches for the Fruity O's. He shakes the box. It's empty.
Ryan’s music is too loud—not exactly a problem, except that it’s louder than mine. I jack up my iPod. My tiny speakers can’t drown out the noise.
Especially since they aren’t just competing with music, but laughter, splashing, screams. Fun. That’s what’s on the other side of the fence.
My phone buzzes and skitters across the swing’s wide seat. Amber’s name flashes on the screen, followed almost immediately by Max’s. Their texts are identical. She’s headed to his house, his parents are headed out, I can come if I want.
Half an invitation from each that doesn’t add up to a whole.
Can’t make it, I text back. Family movie night.
Not a complete lie. The living room windows flicker with light from a DVD.
I give up the fight with the music and shut mine off. Despite the dark sky, the air is hot.
I could join my parents, but instead I stay outside, between my house and Ryan’s, pushing myself in the swing, digging my bare toes into the grass, listening to the party I’m definitely not invited to.
Until the soccer ball lands in my lap. I clutch it and blink into the darkness, trying to see if anyone’s there to claim it. A head pops over the back fence, followed by a body, which lands with a two-footed thump on my side.
“Nice one, man,” Ryan yells back over the fence, then turns and jogs toward me.
I could throw the ball back, but I wait for him to come to me.
I hated this part.
The bell rang exactly four minutes and forty-eight seconds ago. Which meant I had twelve seconds to get through the next door. I was a hundred yards away, the hall was too crowded for me to run like a normal person, and with AP calculus, I had little hope someone would show up later than me to slip in behind.
Perfect attendance record, gone. Not that they’d give the boy they couldn’t see a certificate.
I skidded toward the door. Closed, of course. Mrs. Harper always closed the door, like she worried someone would want to spy on her lesson. Not likely. Except, well, for me.
Eighteen days without a missed class. Not bad, but nowhere near last spring’s forty-seven-day stretch—lots of art classes and two P.E.s. That’s what I got for challenging myself this semester … and drinking two cokes at lunch. I knew better than that.
I couldn’t pick up Mrs. Harper’s monotone through the thick walls, but stuck around anyway, hoping for a straggler. No luck.
Of course it was this hour I got stuck. The worst hour. The last hour before the seventeen I had to spend alone. Maybe I’d go out tonight. I peeked out the nearest window. It didn’t look like rain. Probably safe.
Probably wasn’t good enough. Getting caught in the rain meant bigger problems than my discomfort level. Like the body-shaped hole I created when I stood in it.
I checked my watch. Still time to make it to the library.
I was halfway between the school and stadium, waiting for the crowd to thin, when I saw her. Somehow out of all the faces I never spoke to, I always noticed hers.
That familiar expression was there. The one I recognized because I felt it so often myself. Lonely, but resigned to the loneliness.
Tonight it was mixed with something else. Frustration, I thought.
It made her seem vulnerable, fragile in a way the subtle sadness didn’t.
I expected her to head into the stadium, walk within a few feet of where I stood. I braced for that. But she turned away, went back across the parking lot. Not to a car, not even into the school. She just kept walking, right out to the sidewalk.
I didn’t realize I’d moved too until I was halfway across the lot. Sometimes the pull was like that, out of my control.
But this wasn’t that, or not just that.
This was curiosity and concern. This was me being stupid, crossing lines.
I stopped, clenched my fists, reminded myself what carelessness could do. Then I followed her anyway.
I couldn’t talk to her, couldn’t know her, but I could make sure she got wherever she was going okay.
Sometimes it seemed like my life was one big dance, only the choreographer forgot to give me a part. That was how I felt that night, when I couldn’t find the pre-game barbecue, couldn’t find anyone – stuck on a stage, alone, with nothing to do.