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Authors: I. W. Gregorio

None of the Above

BOOK: None of the Above
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DEDICATION

For Joe, because I know you would love me no matter what my chromosomes were.

And for O and G: I hope that you are never afraid to fall.

CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1

Dawn is my favorite time of day. There's something sacred about being awake when the rest of the world is sleeping, when the sky is just turning toward the light, and you can still hear the sounds of night before the engines and conversations of the day drown them out. When I start out on an early-morning run, there's a clarity to the world, a sense that it belongs to me.

The morning before Homecoming, I met Sam at the bottom of my driveway as usual. He had started to warm up, his breath coming out in puffs visible in the chilly late autumn air. He looked serious, almost solemn as he stretched, but when he saw me his face lit up and he leaned in for a kiss. For a moment everything felt perfectly still.

Then we were off. Over hundreds of runs, Sam and I had established a rhythm, a pace that we no longer had to think about, as if we were running to the same internal song. Sam
pulled back his stride a little to match mine, and I stretched out just a bit to match his. On some days, it seemed like we even breathed in sync.

We didn't talk much at first, not until we got to our one-mile mark—the entrance to Gordon Park. Normally, Sam's as much of a stickler about routine as I am. So it surprised me when he kept on the paved trail instead of running through the uneven paths in the woods.

“Last thing you need is to bust your ankle, too.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. It had been a week since my best friend Vee's injury, and every day I had to talk her off the ledge. She was convinced that her Homecoming was ruined. Plus, her mom had been telling all her friends that Vee was a shoo-in for Queen, so now she was worried about losing face. “I told her she'll still get enough votes, but she doesn't believe me.”

“More drama that way.”

“That's why we love her, right? Never a dull moment.”

“Something like that.” Sam had never been Vee's biggest fan, but he tolerated her because he knew we were like sisters. “One way or another, it'll all be settled tonight. We're meeting at six, right?”

“Five thirty,” I corrected him. “Faith wants to get pictures of us in our dresses and tuxes while the sun is still up.”

“Shit!” Sam exclaimed.

I nearly tripped over a crack in the road. “Oh my God, what?”

He looked over at me, hands held over his mouth in horror. “I was supposed to get a
tux
?”

I almost choked on my laughter and lunged to my right to side-check him. We ran pressed up against each other for a few seconds before settling back into our run, grins on our faces. Over the months that we'd been dating, there wasn't much Sam and I hadn't shared. We'd debated the merits of State versus the Big U ad nauseam, and we knew each other's workout playlists by heart. He knew about my family's dogged obsession with the New York Rangers, and had come with me the last time we'd made our annual visit to my mother's grave. But sometimes I felt closest to him when we weren't saying anything, when we were both just concentrating on the soft percussion of our footsteps, the rhythm of our breathing, and the road in front of us.

By the time we got to my neighborhood and could see the oak tree that we'd measured to be fifty yards from my house, my legs felt like molten lead and my lungs were screaming.

Time to run faster.

When we passed the oak tree, Sam and I didn't even look at each other. As if a starter gun had gone off in our heads, we accelerated into a sprint. My body became a blur of straining muscles, and for the umpteenth time, I repeated my team's mantra: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

Nine times out of ten, Sam beat me to my house, but that morning one of my neighbors' kids had left their bike standing
in the middle of the sidewalk. While Sam swerved to avoid it, breaking his stride, I sized the bike up and hurdled instinctively. Takeoff. Transition. Touchdown. Coach Auerbach would've been proud.

I slapped my mailbox two seconds before Sam caught up to me, and shimmied a victory dance in my driveway. Sam dropped his hands to his thighs and bent over, wincing.

“Nice finish,” he panted.

“You could've won if you'd just jumped the bike,” I said as we jogged a cooldown lap around my block.

“Maybe. Or I could've wiped out.” Sam looked over at me and grinned. “I don't have your form.”

The wind had picked up, and now that we weren't running I had started to feel the cold, but Sam's praise warmed me down to my toes. I grabbed at his T-shirt and pulled him into a kiss, my heart still pounding, my skin flushed from the adrenaline.

We had stopped running, but the rest of the world was just getting started. A car door slammed. My neighbor's cocker spaniel barked. A boy on a bike sped past us, yelling, “Get a room!”

“Get a life,” Sam shouted back.

Reluctantly, I pulled away, the salty taste of his kiss lingering on my lips, but before I could head back to my house Sam bent over to whisper in my ear.

“To be continued.”

I shivered with anticipation.

Ten hours later, I stood in front of the full-length mirror in Vee's room, thinking that I'd rather be running.

“Krissy, you know I love you. But did you have to wear sleeves?” Vee asked as we got ready for the dance, her voice a tug-of-war between admiration and horror.

As Faith zipped me up, I checked to make sure the seams I'd tailored weren't noticeable. The dress had been my mom's, and it didn't have real sleeves, just wide triangular straps to hopefully de-emphasize my javelin shoulders.

“What's the matter with sleeves?” I asked.

“I'm pretty sure everyone else is going strapless,” Faith said sympathetically. Her own dress had a sweetheart neckline that perfectly showed off the jade necklace her grandmother had given her for her sixteenth birthday.

“Even the people who shouldn't are doing it,” Vee added. “It's, like, a Homecoming law.” When she saw me lifting up my arms and twisting down to peek at my underarms, she relented. “Come on, are you seriously worrying? You look good in everything.”

I glanced up at the edge in her voice, and caught her running her finger against the rough fiberglass of her ankle cast, which Vee had had specially tinted to match her skin.

“I can't wait to see you in your dress,” I said, changing the subject.

“Let me go get it,” said Faith, going over to Vee's closet, where the four-hundred-dollar ankle-length dress she'd rush-ordered the day after her accident hung like some holy relic.

Vee tossed her dirty-blond hair like a horse swatting off a fly. Just like that, the moody snarkmistress was gone, replaced by the girl who had set me up on a double date with Sam after I told her how cute I thought he was. The girl who held my hair back and gave me a Sani wipe when I threw up my first tequila shot. The girl who helped me sort out my mother's clothes the day my dad left them on the front curb because he couldn't deal with having them in the house anymore.

Faith and I helped her slip her dress on, and the three of us stood in front of the mirror. We'd literally been friends since we'd been born, when our mothers bonded in a postnatal yoga class. In grade school, my mom would comment on how well Vee and Faith complemented each other as friends. “Sweet and spicy,” she said. “They balance each other out.” Even then, Vee had an edge, while Faith was the sugar.

“But what am I?” I asked.

“You, my Krissy?” my mom said. “You're the steady.”

I didn't think that was too exciting, but my mom just smiled, stroked my hair, and said, “It may not sound exotic, but it's the best thing to be.”

I smoothed down Vee's dress. “See?” I said. “You can't even see your cast.”

Vee leaned against me and turned to her side, cocking her head. “Still wish I'd listened to Ms. Green when she said we should have people vote the week before the dance.”

“Don't worry,” I said. “It's in the bag.”

As Faith and I helped Vee down the stairs, the camera flashes went off like fireworks. My dad was waiting at the bottom of the steps with Faith's parents and Vee's mom, his eyes bright with tears.

“God, you're an angel,” he said, “just like her.” He pressed me into his shoulder and I closed my eyes, fighting off embarrassment but finding myself tearing up anyway. Even though he wasn't wearing his warehouse uniform, he smelled faintly of metal and wet cardboard, which isn't exactly perfume but always smelled like home to me.

Faith's mom asked me to take a picture of them. They were almost exactly the same height, and could've been sisters with their identical dimpled smiles and straight jet-black hair. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Vee's mom inspecting her dress, moving layers of the skirt around while Vee stood stiff as a mannequin, her hand gripping the banister for support.

“Your father's sorry he couldn't be here,” her mom said, “but you know how busy things are this time of the year. We
bought you this to match your dress.” She handed over a blue satin purse studded with pearls and crystals, and lowered her voice. “I made sure to put in some protection. Wouldn't want you to be pregnant for prom.”

“Mom!” Vee hissed.

I stifled my grin. Obviously, Vee's mom didn't know that she'd gotten the birth control shot earlier that month. Vee had convinced me to get one, too.

“But I haven't gotten my period in years,” I'd protested, which was a lie, because even before I'd started hard-core training when I was thirteen, I'd never gotten my period. Ever.

The three limos pulled up with the boys. Even though I thought it was totally over the top, Vee had insisted that we get separate cars. When I asked her why, she'd just raised her eyebrows at me until I blushed. The limos lined up along the Richardsons' driveway in a row of gleaming black, and a morbid part of me couldn't help thinking that it looked like a funeral procession.

I got one more tight hug from my dad, who whispered in my ear, “Have fun, and be safe,” which was the most disorienting thing that happened to me all night, if it meant what I thought it meant. My dad never really talked to me about Sam—he left that stuff to Aunt Carla, for better or worse. In fact, one of the reasons I'd never let Sam get past third base was my terror at the thought of my dad ever finding out.

But did he accept it? Maybe even expect it?

It was hard to get the thought off my mind in the limo while making out with Sam, who'd already had half of a Sprite bottle filled with champagne. He looked like a different person in his tux. Distinguished, almost. He'd put some gel in his light-brown hair, and I caught the whiff of a new cologne.

“You look killer in this dress,” he said, one hand trailing down my arm and making my skin tingle.

“Better than a tank top and a sports bra, huh?” I took a sip of champagne and leaned into him again, running my hands beneath his tux until I could feel the muscles underneath his dress shirt. His fingers moved up my thigh, warm and strong. Before, I'd always put on the brakes at this point. But that night, I pushed closer into him and he reached beneath my underwear.

Abruptly, his hand stopped. “Holy shit, did you go to Brazil?”

“Yeah,” I lied. It had bothered me for years that I'd never grown hair down there, but when my teammates noticed it I'd always just pretended that I'd gotten waxed.

Sam grinned his
GQ
grin, and leaned in for another kiss.

When we got to the dance, I spent a minute straightening out my hair and dress. Just as I was about to get out of the car, Sam reached out to stop me.

“Wait—I forgot your flowers.” He fumbled in a side compartment and brought out a green orchid wrist corsage. “I thought it matched your eyes.” The shyness in his voice
made me feel strangely protective.

“It's beautiful.”

“And one more thing . . .” He pulled a little velvet bag from his pocket and handed it to me. “Madison helped me pick it out.”

I smiled. Some people would find it funny imagining a three-sport athlete asking his twelve-year-old sister for gift advice. Then again, most people didn't know that the twelve-year-old in question had her big brother wrapped around her little finger. I gasped as the contents of the bag slid into my hand with a sparkle: a ring, two hands clasping a crowned heart studded with emeralds.

“Sam. It's gorgeous.”

“You sure you like it? It's called a claddagh ring or something.”

“I love it.” I gave him a kiss to prove it.

They'd decorated the entrance to the American Legion with white Christmas lights and votive candles, and I felt truly aglow as I walked in to the strains of Harry Connick Jr. crooning about love being here to stay.

Inside, we set up at a cocktail table strewn with rose petals and found a chair for Vee. Before long, she was holding court. I couldn't keep track of everyone who kept clustering around our table—members of the Events Committee, class officers, and random underclassmen looking to get brownie points. I caught sight of one of my track teammates and peeled off to say
hello, then slipped over to the finger-food table. Reaching for the cheese spread, my arm bumped against someone's elbow, sending a pile of wheat crackers flying.

“Sorry!” someone said, as he fell to the floor to pick up the broken crackers. I wasn't sure if I could lean over in my dress, but I managed to bend my knees and get down low enough to pick up a few crumbs with a cocktail napkin. Our fingers touched, and when I looked up to see who it was, I grinned.

“Hey, Darren!” I said when we stood up again. I looked up at him—he was one of the tallest guys in our class, but barely filled out his rented tux.

Darren Kowalski's face flushed when he recognized me, and he ran his hands sheepishly through his brown mop of hair. “What's up?”

I pointed at his plateful of cheese. “I hope that's not your dinner. Your mom would have a heart attack. Is she still trying to feed you alfalfa-hummus sandwiches?”

BOOK: None of the Above
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