Authors: Mary Crockett,Madelyn Rosenberg
Copyright © 2014 by Mary Crockett and Madelyn Rosenberg
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Cover art by Shane Rebenschied
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In memory of my mother,
Nedra May Wade Crockett,
an exceptional dreamer
For The Girls
I’ve always been a dreamer. Daydreams. Night dreams. Dreams of grandeur and dreams of escape. If I were an onion and you peeled back the papery outside, you’d find layer after layer of eye-watering dreams. And in the center, where there’s that little curlicue of onion heart? There’d be a puff of smoke from the dreams that burned away.
It was all just brain waves, I thought—disconnected, like the notebook that my friend Talon keeps. She draws a line down the middle of the page; on the right she writes everything she remembers about a dream, and on the left she puts notes about the stuff that’s happening in real life, things that might trigger her subconscious. Reality on one side, dreams on the other—a clear line between the two.
But it turns out there are no clear lines, just a jumble of what is and what might be. And all of it is real.
Will found me by the river.
It’s not like it took a rocket scientist to figure out where I’d be—though it wouldn’t surprise me if Will ended up
a rocket scientist. He’s that smart. And nothing about him surprised me anymore.
I’m guessing not much about me could surprise him, either. He knew all of my usual reasons for sitting on my usual mossy rock, the water rushing by like it had someplace better to be.
But this time I wasn’t on my rock for the usual reasons, which include but are not limited to Mom having one of her Marathon Bathrobe Days, my prepubescent brother Nick playing too much air guitar, and my great-aunt Caroline calling long-distance to see how Mom is faring since that no-good husband (meaning my dad) left her stranded with those kids (meaning my brother and me).
No, today I was here for Josh. I wanted to see him again. And for that, I needed the kind of noisy quiet that only the river can offer.
I watched the water and tried to remember. His face came to me in outline at first. So handsome it was almost embarrassing. A dash of golden brown hair across his forehead. High cheekbones. Full lips. Eyes that were the electric blue of windshield wiper fluid, which is something I’d never thought could be sexy until now.
I’d brought my sketchbook and box of charcoals, so when his face appeared in my mind, I was ready.
Sometimes drawing seemed to be almost another way of dreaming. Not that they’re exactly the same, of course. I’m awake when I draw, so there’s that. But with either—drawing or dreaming—anything might appear, no matter how random. And it’s not like I exactly get to choose what happens next.
Yeah, I can say “I will draw a house. I will draw a tree.” Or “I will dream about marshmallows.” But what actually occurs when I sit down to draw or I drift off to sleep has always seemed to me to be entirely out of my control. Like my art teacher says, sometimes the sketch has a mind of its own. For example, there was an intensity to Josh’s face that made me feel—even while I sat drawing it—as if I were made of the most delicate glass.
“That your latest masterpiece?”
I knew Will’s voice before I looked up.
He was wearing his holey jeans, the ones with last week’s chemistry homework scribbled in ballpoint pen on the left knee, and a too-big ash-gray T-shirt that read “I listen to bands that don’t exist yet.” His smile was, as always, lopsided, and his dark brown hair had that just-woke-up messiness that generally lasted all day.
Flipping the sketchbook closed, I scooted over and patted the moss beside me. “Pull up a rock.”
He gave me a dubious look. The rock was really only big enough for one, maybe one and a half. “Come on.” I took his hand to tug him down beside me. It was close, but we fit. With any other boy I might be a little weirded out by the contact, but with Will it felt comfortable.
“So do I get to see?” He gestured to the sketchbook.
“I’m not done yet,” I said, which was a total dodge. Will knew I didn’t like showing my pictures to anyone until I was finished, but I never intended to show him this. I felt way too awkward about the whole thing, though I’m not sure why. Will had been my best friend since preschool and he already knew the most awkward parts of me. He was the guy who taught me how to flip my eyelids backward, the guy who talked me through being dumped by Daniel Kowalski
my parents’ divorce. He’d seen me crying so hard I had snot bubbles in my nose, and laughing so uncontrollably I started to gag on my tongue. Not a pretty sight, either one. So why couldn’t I tell him about Josh?
“Anyway, it’s just a sketch,” I said. “I’ll probably never finish.”
As I started to put my charcoal back in its box, my hand wavered, and the stick slipped from my fingers. Just before the charcoal tumbled to the mud at the edge of the river, Will’s hand shot out and nabbed it.
He sat back up, examining the stick in his palm. “You know, people used to burn sticks and smear the charred part on cave walls—and forty thousand years later, here you are,” he tucked the charcoal back in my box and closed the lid, “doing pretty much the same thing.”
“I thought charcoal was just a charcoal-and-paper thing,” I said.
“Paper as we know it didn’t come around until around the second century in China.”
“So, what? People just drew on cave walls with burned sticks until the second century?”
Will looked at me as if he really couldn’t believe I’d actually said that. “Well…there were all sorts of other things in between. Like bone.”
“Bone?” I shuddered, thinking of etching Josh’s face on the femur of…what? A buffalo?
“Papyrus, bamboo, silk…”
“I’ll take the silk,” I said, dusting my smudged fingertips on the legs of my jeans. “Where do you even come up with this stuff?”
“Internet? I don’t know. I just sort of collect it.”
“I’m ignoring the Internet this week,” I said.
“I keep expecting to not get a note from my dad,” I said.
“So if you’re not on the Internet you can pretend that maybe you
get one?” he said. It seemed so simple, the way Will said it. And it was true: if I avoided getting online (which I was usually only able to do for about two hours at a time), I might have a dozen emails from my dad waiting for me, saying how much he missed us, that he was flying me and Nick to Alaska so we could see his new place, that skipping school for a week wasn’t a problem because Alaska itself was “educational.”
Except that even if I wasn’t online, I knew the truth.
I scowled. “Remind me to never get married.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because then you’d also be reminding me to never get divorced,” I said. “Or how about this?
marry me. Like in that movie, you know. If we haven’t married anyone else by the time we’re thirty—”
“Didn’t that movie end badly?”
“I don’t know. I never saw it.” But it had to end better than my parents’ marriage. “Okay, forget marriage; save me from the other stuff.”
“Like…homecoming,” I said, remembering last year when Daniel Kowalski spent half the night looking at other girls’ butts and half the next morning telling me I was delusional. “If neither one of us is seeing anybody by then, we go to homecoming.”
“That’s like, what…ten days from now? I think I’ll still be free.”
I tapped out G-O-O-D in Morse code on his knee.
A-N-Y-T-I-M-E he tapped back.
It was something we’d learned during our secret agent phase. I like to think of it as “pre-texting.”
Will grinned down at me. There were times his eyes seemed to say things without him saying them out loud. And right now was one of those times. But I wasn’t totally sure what he wasn’t saying. It was almost like in his mind, he was just saying my name.
“Anyway, I’m just asking you as, you know, as friends. Like this,” I said, feeling my mouth go dry.
“Of course,” he said.
It looked like poor Will was going to have to wear a tie instead of a T-shirt. Because the chances of me dating someone else by homecoming were less than slim.
There was Josh, of course. Only there wasn’t. Because he wasn’t just out of my league. He was out of my universe.
On paper—or papyrus or bone or whatever—it might seem like he was the perfect guy to whisk me away for a fairy-tale homecoming. But Will had one slight edge that made him the more viable candidate: Will was a real person. And Josh?
Josh was a dream.
I’m sailing on a lake the exact color of a blueberry jelly bean. Josh is on the other side of the little boat, singing something that sounds Gaelic, and while I don’t understand the words, I know in the way you know things in dreams that he’s telling me I’m beautiful.
water, even though it’s a lake and there wouldn’t be dolphins. Josh stands up and his eyes catch the light.
“Let’s go swimming,” he says.
underwear. Luckily I’m wearing my best bra, the one with little daisies, and my underwear is, if boring, clean. I’m not even feeling embarrassed about showing my body in the middle of the day to a near-stranger, because he’s not a stranger. It’s as if Josh were made just for me.
I’m about to follow when I feel someone watching. I can just make out on the bank the figure of a girl in a white tea-party dress. She’s like something from the Impressionistic paintings we studied in art, all exaggerated bows. Behind her is an old brick pump house, like the one by the river back home. Something about the girl creeps me out. It bothers me that she seems so alone. No, not just alone…abandoned. What is she doing out here by herself?
don’t want her to see me in my underwear, and I don’t want Josh to know she’s there, so I jump feetfirst into the water. Only the water doesn’t feel like water; it feels like cloth, not wet at all.
“This way.” Josh motions me after him, and starts swimming toward the shore, straight for the girl.
“You have to catch me first!” I swim in the opposite direction. When a dolphin passes, I clasp onto its fin and the dolphin pulls me to the opposite side of the lake, where he drops me off, like some kind of taxi.
I’m in the shallows now. I feel sandy grit and rocks beneath my feet. It’s real water again, and as I walk toward the empty shore, minnows swirl around my legs.
up, Josh is beside me. We’re only knee-deep now.
“You’re perfect,” he says. His eyes look sort of watery, but I don’t know if it’s from emotion or the fact that we’re soaking wet.
way, what he says makes me want to cry, because anyone who knows me knows I’m the furthest thing from perfect. Josh looks deep into my eyes and says it again, “Perfect.”
moment, I can believe nothing bad will ever happen, and no one will ever make me feel like that awkward little girl at the Halloween party where I knocked an entire cauldron of fake-intestine spaghetti onto the Beasleys’ living room carpet. Josh’s words wipe out every time I felt stupid or clumsy or ugly or wrong. It makes it somehow okay that my dad is on the other side of the earth and my brother is a pest and my mom works too hard and comes home late to eat ravioli cold out of the can.
It’s the most perfect kiss you can imagine, the kind of kiss poets write about and rock stars sing about, the kind with just the right amount of tongue and skyrockets when you close your eyes.
away, the look on his face is unlike any expression I’ve ever seen—a heartfelt pain and intense relief. He’s looking right at me with his impossibly blue eyes.
“You know what this means, Annabelle,” he starts to say, only he doesn’t move his lips; he’s in my head. “This means—”
• • •
Yo, yo, yo
My bedside radio honked to life, jerking me awake with the musical equivalent of a car wreck. A car wreck with a heavy bass line.
too, can’t find another synonym
it’s just a little pseudonym
I’m waiting for you; you know it’s time to be through with him
I hit the snooze, hard. It wasn’t just that Mac Z wrote bad songs—it was that he wrote bad songs about
, as if he knew anything about it. In his videos, he always has these superhot women plastered against him with their boobs popping out of black leather. I mean, no cow should have to sacrifice her life for that.
Still, I would’ve hated Mac Z this morning even if he wrote songs about rainbows and buttercups because this morning his rapping
. And okay, it was Friday, and I did need to get to school. But I also needed to be back in that lake.
I closed my eyes, trying to conjure the water, the dolphins, that look in Josh’s eyes. Wasn’t he trying to tell me something just as I was waking? I squeezed shut my eyes and willed myself back.
The radio alarm went off again. Not Mac Z, this time, though the sentiments were the same.
club, wearing that tight sweater
mind, girl, we got to be together
No go. Dream over. It was time to haul myself up and prepare to face another day in Chilton, Virginia, where there is no perfect guy, no perfect kiss, and nothing halfway resembling a dolphin. Where the town’s only lake (which was more like a pond to begin with) dried up completely about five years back, leaving behind fissured earth and, swear to God, the skeleton of some guy who fell out of a rowboat during the Great Depression.
I pulled my hair out of my face and sighed. Sometimes I don’t think I’ll ever get out of this place. I’ll end up stuck here like my mom, playing board games with old people all day.
Will says I just have to be patient, like the song. (He claims he doesn’t like Mac Z, either, only I caught him singing “Patient Love” by his locker once and he knew almost every word.) Two more years of high school, he says, might as well enjoy it. But two years is one eighth of my life so far.
And time goes slower in Chilton than anywhere else on earth. It should be the town motto
Two years in Chilton is eternity.
Because isn’t that what eternity is? It’s your own high school. Where the good girls are always good, the stupid boys are always stupid, the marching band always plays some lame tribute to whatever Broadway musical was big twenty-five years ago, and the hands of the hallway clock just keep plodding the same tired loop day after day. That sort of sameness has pretty much ruled my whole life so far. I keep waiting for eternity to be over, to wake up one day and suddenly I’m in control of my own life and everything is different. The sky isn’t gray, and my parents aren’t divorced, and my brother Nick is a rock star, and Will is at Harvard or someplace, and I’m majoring in art at VCU
in the middle of a passionate love affair at the very same time.
I’m not convinced it’ll ever happen, not in two years, not ever. Will says sometimes you don’t have to wait for two whole years; sometimes, if you’re patient, you could just open your eyes and see everything in a whole new way.
But so far I only see those things when I’m sleeping.