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Authors: Katy Atlas

Moving Neutral

BOOK: Moving Neutral
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Moving Neutral


Katy Atlas


For Chad,

the mouse with Dumbo’s feather.

Chapter One

When you think about it,
everything that happened was really because of Madison’s earring. If she had gone with a dangly necklace or some chain-link cuff, I would have had a completely boring summer, like every other summer I’d ever had.

Someday I’ll have to thank her for that.

They say that a butterfly flapping its wings, through some unpredictable chain of cause and effect, can cause a tornado in China or an avalanche in Antarctica. I used to think that couldn’t possibly be true -- that each link in the chain was too tiny to matter, each moment too insignificant, each butterfly wing too fragile to move that tiny burst of air that started the sequence.

But then my whole life changed, and I can trace it all back to Madison’s fake crystal earring, with the back that wouldn’t stay put. So now, I guess, I believe it.

It feels like all I ever did before meeting Blake was sit around and wait for something to happen. So it’s hard to complain when, finally, something did.


“Casey, if you don’t get out of bed this instant, I’m coming in there,” my mom called through the door, her voice sounding particularly shrill to my still half-asleep ears.

I groaned. She’d do it, too. My mom wasn’t into things like privacy or boundaries.

Pulling back my comforter, I called through the door that I was getting up. “Chill out,” I added, under my breath. It was summer, after all.

I checked the clock -- eight thirty a.m. She’d let me sleep a whole half hour past when I got up during the school year.

I stumbled out of my room without bothering to change out of my pajamas. My mom pursed her lips as I walked into the kitchen, pouring milk into a bowl of cereal for me. Not good cereal. The organic kind, with lots of fiber, that tastes like you’re chewing on tree bark.

I took a diet coke out of the fridge and cracked it open, chugging a big gulp without pouring it into a glass.

My mom ignored me, focusing on getting my little brother, Trevor, to eat the two soft-boiled eggs that were sitting in front of him.

“They’re too jiggly.” I tried not to grin as he made gagging noises. Trevor was only ten, he could still get away with that stuff. He changed tactics abruptly. “I can’t eat them -- they’re baby chickens.”

My mom cooed at him, smothering the eggs in a burst of ketchup. “They’re good for you, sweetheart,” she kissed the top of his head as she said it.

It wasn’t Trevor’s fault mom liked him more than me lately. I was a little angel when I was ten, too.

Frankly, I was still a pretty good kid, if you looked at the whole picture. I was a great student, finished with high school and heading to an Ivy League college in two and a half months. Really, that should have been more than enough -- my parents should have been kissing my feet this entire summer, thrilled at what a smart, hardworking daughter they’d raised.

But somehow it wasn’t turning out that way. It seemed like everything I said caused a fight lately -- so I’d stopped saying anything at all. Sometimes it felt like my parents and I were speaking two different dialects where the same word had different meanings -- I’d mean to say something nice and they’d mean to say something nice, but our signals would get crossed, and we’d all walk away mad.

I figured it would get better when I went away to college. Ten more weeks, I thought.

“Casey,” my mom picked up her car keys from the kitchen counter, dropping them into her leather purse. “What are you going to do today?”

My lack of a schedule was a near-constant point of contention. We were two weeks into summer and I hadn’t gotten a job yet -- and I didn’t plan to. Not even as a counselor at the day camp I’d worked at the previous summer, or as a waitress at the coffee shop I where I sometimes filled in during the school year.

I ignored the disapproval in her voice and grinned at her -- I was genuinely excited about my plans, even if she wouldn’t be. “Scream Four,” I said, and then as an afterthought, “and Scream One, Two and Three. Horror movie marathon -- Madison’s coming over.”

My mother sighed heavily, one of those breathy sighs that just sounds like disappointment. “Come on, Trevor,” she said, holding out an insulated lunchbox. “Don’t make me come home to dirty dishes, okay? You two are little piglets, and I have to work all day.”

Now it was my turn to sigh. “See you later,” I groaned, heading back to my room. I could still get a few more hours of sleep
before Madison got to my house.


It hadn’t been this bad for long. My parents had always been overprotective, and their rules had always been strict. But before I got into college, we didn’t clash over it -- I was just as focused on getting into Columbia as they were, and I had been ever since I visited sophomore year.

But after I got in, I wanted to enjoy my last few months of high school, which meant no curfew, no summer job, and no responsibilities.

My parents had other plans. They insisted on enforcing the most ridiculous eleven o’clock curfew, even on the weekends. They claimed they waited up for me if I was out, my mom especially. It was probably true, but she needed to learn to get over it. It’s not like I was going to call them from my dorm room every night when I got home.

The worst part was that if I missed curfew one night, it was an hour earlier the next time. The week my exams ended, by Sunday, my curfew was four p.m. I’m not kidding. Before the sun even set.

Madison showed up at noon, still in her pajamas. Her hair was brushed, though, and she had makeup on -- on most people, that might look a little strange, but she pulled it off. She was, by far, the prettiest girl in our high school class -- she could pull off just about anything.

“Should we take my car?” Madison’s car was newer than mine, and the sound system was better, so she usually drove whenever we were together. Her car’s stereo would play our iPods, while I was still driving a ten-year-old Volvo that used to be my dad’s.


I had already put on jeans, and I felt a little silly walking to the car with Madison in her boxer shorts and camisole. Some middle-aged guy walking his dog did a double-take as she leaned over to open the car door, and I tried to pretend like I didn’t notice.

Guess what’s not that fun, sometimes? Being best friends with the prettiest girl in my class.

It was a perfect summer day outside, sunny and bright. I pulled my sunglasses on and wound my hair into a ponytail as I opened the door to Madison’s Audi. She turned on the ignition and I immediately rolled my window down, resting my elbow on the inside of the window’s edge.

I didn’t ask what Madison wanted to listen to. We had the same favorite band: Moving Neutral, who ran the fine line between being popular and being mainstream pop. Their songs were like poetry set to music, lyrical and gut-wrenching.

And we had tickets to see them in four days.

“I can’t wait,” I murmured, and Madison grinned at me, flipping her hair back. I didn’t have to explain what I was talking about.

“It’s going to be amazing. Have you told Jeanne and Chris yet?” Madison insisted on calling my parents by their first names. Not to their faces, of course.

“One time only, curfew extension until two. If the show ends by twelve, we can get home in plenty of time.”

My curfew was a running joke among our friends, and I was sick to death of leaving parties before everyone else. It was part of why I never had a boyfriend -- by the time people coupled off, I was always back at home, eating graham crackers and watching late night infomercials.

But it wasn’t such a loss, because there was only one guy I had eyes for, and he definitely didn’t live in Rockland, Connecticut, where Madison and I were stuck. Blake Parker, the lead guitarist and only songwriter for Moving Neutral.

I closed my eyes for a moment, listening to the music and the breeze through the car window and thinking about summer, my last few months to have stupid curfew battles with my parents before the beginning of the rest of my life. And kicking it all off with tickets to see my favorite band.

A minute later, Madison pulled into the coffee shop parking lot next to the video store and turned off the engine. Without waiting for me to snap out of my daydream, she jumped out of the car, slamming the door behind her. I scrambled out just as she hit the remote to lock the doors.


We finished the last movie right before my mom got home with Trevor in tow. We’d shut all the curtains to make the movie scarier, and the pizza we’d ordered for lunch was still sitting on the coffee table, the cheese on the last two slices turned greasy and congealed. When I heard the car pull up, I rushed to toss the pizza box into our recycling bin.

I heard Trevor before he even got to the door, screaming out imaginary battle noises as he lugged whatever arts and crafts project he’d made at camp that day into the house. Catching Madison’s eye, we retreated to my bedroom to avoid getting into a conversation with my mom.

My room was yet another point of conflict between me and my parents. It hadn’t been redecorated since I was six. Everything -- sheets, walls, even my nightstand -- was some variation of pink. And it wasn’t like I hated pink or anything -- I wasn’t some crazy goth kid with black lipstick and spike leather collars. I just didn’t want to live in a room that looked like it could double as Barbie’s Princess Playground.

My parents said they didn’t want to redecorate my room when I was leaving for college so soon, but I had a sneaking suspicion that they wanted to turn my bedroom into an office or a media room as soon as I moved out. I’d probably be sleeping on a couch in the middle of the living room when I came home for vacations.

Madison picked up a copy of Spin from my nightstand, leafing through the pages until she found the article on Moving Neutral that I’d bought it to read.

It had a picture of the whole band, and a separate one of Blake. April, the lead singer, didn’t get her own photo in this one -- usually she was front and center in every profile I read. She was 5'9" and as skinny as a model, with cheekbones that could cut glass and big blue eyes. There were always tabloid pictures of her and Blake together, in those “Are they or aren’t they?” columns. I would have totally hated her, if she weren’t the lead singer of my favorite band.

Sophie, the drummer, was always in the back. It was pretty cool that Moving Neutral had a female drummer, hardly any bands did. The White Stripes, obviously. And Moe Tucker from the Velvet Underground -- my favorite. I thought Sophie must be pretty awesome, because she was only a little older than me, and she’d been drumming since she was a kid. What kind of eight year old girl wants to learn to play the drums?

Not the kind that decorates her room like Barbie’s dreamhouse, that’s for sure.

Madison’s cell phone buzzed in her pocket. Looking at the number, she flipped it open to answer the call.

“Hey,” she giggled, and I half-listened to her side of the conversation. “Oh yeah?” she said, looking interested. “Okay. See you then. I’m going to bring Casey, is that cool?”

I sighed. A party that Madison had been invited to. No one invited me to things directly -- they always invited Madison, and she always invited me. Sometimes I wondered, if she moved out of town, whether anyone even knew my phone number.

“Matt Andrews is having people over tonight. That was Jason.” She sounded gleeful -- Jason had graduated from our high school the year before, and Madison had been obsessed with him since she was a freshman. They had the kind of friendship that oozed with sexual tension, and now that he was home for the summer, Madison was positive something would happen.

BOOK: Moving Neutral
5.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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