A special movie tie-in edition of David Levithan’s New York Times bestseller, now a major motion picture set to release in April 2018 starring Angourie Rice of Spiderman: Homecoming and The Nice Guys!
Features cover art and a photo insert from the film!
There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere. It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with–day in, day out, day after day. But can Rhiannon love someone who is destined to change every day? This paperback movie tie-in edition features key movie art on the cover and bonus content about the film.
3D preview available at the top of this page...
New York Times Bestseller An Indie Bestseller An American Library Association Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten Selection 'Wise, wildly unique. A-? 'Entertainment Weekly 'It demonstrates Levithan's talent for empathy, which is paired in the best parts of the book with a persuasive optimism about the odds for happiness and for true love.' 'The New York Times 'A story that is always alluring, oftentimes humorous and much like love itself'splendorous.' 'Los Angeles Times 'The premise allows for stimulating parallels: A's experience is both like the writer's, who inhabits the consciousness of random characters, and the adolescent's, who tries on myriad identities.' 'The L Magazine H 'An awe-inspiring, thought-provoking reminder that love reaches beyond physical appearances or gender.' 'Kirkus Reviews, Starred H 'Every step of the narrative feels real and will elicit a strong emotional response from readers and offer them plenty of fodder for speculation, especially regarding the nature of love.' 'School Library Journal, Starred H 'Levithan has created an irresistible premise that is sure to captivate readers. . . . [Every Day] is a study in style, an exercise in imagination, and an opportunity for readers themselves to occupy another life.' 'Booklist, Starred 'Levithan's new YA novel proves to be his most nuanced yet, a tender meditation on identity and romantic love that evolves with surprising grace.' 'The Washington Post
'Brilliantly conceived. . . . A profound exploration of what it means to love someone.' 'The Horn Book Magazine 'Readers will identify with A's profound longing for connection ('I want to get back to yesterday. All I get is tomorrow'), but they'll also be intrigued by the butterfly effect A's presence may have on numerous other teens who make brief but memorable appearances.' 'The Bulletin 'I've never read a book like David Levithan's Every Day, and I've never met a character like his narrator, A'a teen who sees the world through different eyes'literally'each time he awakens. Fresh, unique, funny, and achingly honest, Levithan brilliantly explores the adolescent conundrum of not feeling like oneself, and not knowing where one belongs. I didn't just read this book'I inhaled it.' 'Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Lone Wolf and Between the Lines 'Genius concept, brilliantly written. Every Day is David Levithan at his very best, and that is very, very good.' 'Ellen Hopkins, New York Times bestselling author of Crank 'The most heartbreakingly beautiful love story ever; the most heartbreaking? (and heart-healing)? life? story ever.' 'Lauren Myracle,' New York Times? bestselling author of? TTFN? and? Shine 'To the Flying Dutchman and other doomed wanderers, now add 'A,' who is new every day, circling endlessly, in a world where home and love, which are the same thing, are just out of reach. Beginning as a drifter's travelogue, this page-turner expands to put its arms around empathy and become a reverberant novel of ideas.' 'Virginia Euwer Wolff, National Book Award winner 'Is it too unmanly to say that this breathless book made me cry? It is? OK, well then I'll just say this book is terrific, and if you'll excuse me, I have something in my eye.' 'Daniel Handler, author of Why We Broke Up
every day david levithan
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Text copyright ? 2012 by David Levithan Motion Picture Artwork ? 2018 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Ember, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, in 2012. Ember and the E colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC. Visit us on the Web! GetUnderlined.com Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at RHTeachersLibrarians.com The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition of this work as follows: Levithan, David. Every day / by David Levithan. p. cm. Summary: Every morning A wakes in a different person's body, a different person's life, learning over the years to never get too attached, until he wakes up in the body of Justin and falls in love with Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon. ISBN 978-0-307-93188-7 (trade) ? ISBN 978-0-375-97111-2 (lib. bdg.) ? ISBN 978-0-307-93189-4 (tr. pbk.) ? ISBN 978-0-307-97563-8 (ebook) [1. Love'Fiction. 2. Interpersonal relations'Fiction.] I. Title. PZ7.L5798Es 2012 [Fic]'dc23 2012004173 ISBN 978-0-525-58161-1 (movie tie-in pbk.) Printed in the United States of America January 2018 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Random House Children's Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
For Paige (May you find happiness every day)
Day 5994 I wake up. Immediately I have to figure out who I am. It's not just the body? opening my eyes and discovering whether the skin on my arm is light or dark, whether my hair is long or short, whether I'm fat or thin, boy or girl, scarred or smooth. The body is the easiest thing to adjust to, if you're used to waking up in a new one each morning. It's the life, the context of the body, that can be hard to grasp. Every day I am someone else. I am myself? I know I am myself? but I am also someone else. It has always been like this. The information is there. I wake up, open my eyes, understand that it is a new morning, a new place. The biography kicks in, a welcome gift from the not-me part of the mind. Today I am Justin. Somehow I know this? my name is Justin? and at the same time I know that I'm not really Justin, I'm only borrowing his life for a day. I look around and know that this is his room. This is his home. The alarm will go off in seven minutes.
I'm never the same person twice, but I've certainly been this type before. Clothes everywhere. Far more video games than books. Sleeps in his boxers. From the taste of his mouth, a smoker. But not so addicted that he needs one as soon as he wakes up. 'Good morning, Justin,' I say. Checking out his voice. Low. The voice in my head is always different. Justin doesn't take care of himself. His scalp itches. His eyes don't want to open. He hasn't gotten much sleep. Already I know I'm not going to like today. It's hard being in the body of someone you don't like, because you still have to respect it. I've harmed people's lives in the past, and I've found that every time I slip up, it haunts me. So I try to be careful. From what I can tell, every person I inhabit is the same age as me. I don't hop from being sixteen to being sixty. Right now, it's only sixteen. I don't know how this works. Or why. I stopped trying to figure it out a long time ago. I'm never going to figure it out, any more than a normal person will figure out his or her own existence. After a while, you have to be at peace with the fact that you simply are. There is no way to know why. You can have theories, but there will never be proof. I can access facts, not feelings. I know this is Justin's room, but I have no idea if he likes it or not. Does he want to kill his parents in the next room? Or would he be lost without his mother coming in to make sure he's awake? It's impossible to tell. It's as if that part of me replaces the same part of whatever person I'm in. And while I'm glad to be thinking like myself,
hint every now and then of how the other person thinks would be helpful. We all contain mysteries, especially when seen from the inside. The alarm goes off. I reach for a shirt and some jeans, but something lets me see that it's the same shirt he wore yesterday. I pick a different shirt. I take the clothes with me to the bathroom, dress after showering. His parents are in the kitchen now. They have no idea that anything is different. Sixteen years is a lot of time to practice. I don't usually make mistakes. Not anymore. I read his parents easily: Justin doesn't talk to them much in the morning, so I don't have to talk to them. I have grown accustomed to sensing expectation in others, or the lack of it. I shovel down some cereal, leave the bowl in the sink without washing it, grab Justin's keys and go. Yesterday I was a girl in a town I'd guess to be two hours away. The day before, I was a boy in a town three hours farther than that. I am already forgetting their details. I have to, or else I will never remember who I really am. Justin listens to loud and obnoxious music on a loud and obnoxious station where loud and obnoxious DJs make loud and obnoxious jokes as a way of getting through the morning. This is all I need to know about Justin, really. I access his memory to show me the way to school, which parking space to take, which locker to go to. The combination. The names of the people he knows in the halls. Sometimes I can't go through these motions. I can't bring myself to go to school, maneuver through the day. I'll say I'm
sick, stay in bed and read a few books. But even that gets tiresome after a while, and I find myself up for the challenge of a new school, new friends. For a day. As I take Justin's books out of his locker, I can feel someone hovering on the periphery. I turn, and the girl standing there is transparent in her emotions? tentative and expectant, nervous and adoring. I don't have to access Justin to know that this is his girlfriend. No one else would have this reaction to him, so unsteady in his presence. She's pretty, but she doesn't see it. She's hiding behind her hair, happy to see me and unhappy to see me at the same time. Her name is Rhiannon. And for a moment? just the slightest beat? I think that, yes, this is the right name for her. I don't know why. I don't know her. But it feels right. This is not Justin's thought. It's mine. I try to ignore it. I'm not the person she wants to talk to. 'Hey,' I say, keeping it casual. 'Hey,' she murmurs back. She's looking at the floor, at her inked-in Converse. She's drawn cities there, skylines around the soles. Something's happened between her and Justin, and I don't know what it is. It's probably not something that Justin even recognized at the time. 'Are you okay'? I ask. I see the surprise on her face, even as she tries to cover it. This is not something that Justin normally asks. And the strange thing is: I want to know the answer. The fact that he wouldn't care makes me want it more. 'Sure,' she says, not sounding sure at all. I find it hard to look at her. I know from experience that
beneath every peripheral girl is a central truth. She's hiding hers away, but at the same time she wants me to see it. That is, she wants Justin to see it. And it's there, just out of my reach. A sound waiting to be a word. She is so lost in her sadness that she has no idea how visible it is. I think I understand her? for a moment, I presume to understand her? but then, from within this sadness, she surprises me with a brief flash of determination. Bravery, even. Shifting her gaze away from the floor, her eyes matching mine, she asks, 'Are you mad at me'? I can't think of any reason to be mad at her. If anything, I am mad at Justin, for making her feel so diminished. It's there in her body language. When she is around him, she makes herself small. 'No,' I say. 'I'm not mad at you at all.' I tell her what she wants to hear, but she doesn't trust it. I feed her the right words, but she suspects they're threaded with hooks. This is not my problem; I know that. I am here for one day. I cannot solve anyone's boyfriend problems. I should not change anyone's life. I turn away from her, get my books out, close the locker. She stays in the same spot, anchored by the profound, desperate loneliness of a bad relationship. 'Do you still want to get lunch today'? she asks. The easy thing would be to say no. I often do this: sense the other person's life drawing me in, and run in the other direction. But there's something about her? the cities on her shoes,
the flash of bravery, the unnecessary sadness? that makes me want to know what the word will be when it stops being a sound. I have spent years meeting people without ever knowing them, and on this morning, in this place, with this girl, I feel the faintest pull of wanting to know. And in a moment of either weakness or bravery on my own part, I decide to follow it. I decide to find out more. 'Absolutely,' I say. 'Lunch would be great.' Again, I read her: What I've said is too enthusiastic. Justin is never enthusiastic. 'No big deal,' I add. She's relieved. Or, at least, as relieved as she'll allow herself to be, which is a very guarded form of relief. By accessing, I know she and Justin have been together for over a year. That's as specific as it gets. Justin doesn't remember the exact date. She reaches out and takes my hand. I am surprised by how good this feels. 'I'm glad you're not mad at me,' she says. 'I just want everything to be okay.' I nod. If there's one thing I've learned, it's this: We all want everything to be okay. We don't even wish so much for fantastic or marvelous or outstanding. We will happily settle for okay, because most of the time, okay is enough. The first bell rings. 'I'll see you later,' I say. Such a basic promise. But to Rhiannon, it means the world. ? ? '
At first it was hard to go through each day without making any lasting connections, leaving any lifechanging effects. When I was younger, I craved friendship and closeness. I would make bonds without acknowledging how quickly and permanently they would break. I took other people's lives personally. I felt their friends could be my friends, their parents could be my parents. But after a while, I had to stop. It was too heartbreaking to live with so many separations. I am a drifter, and as lonely as that can be, it is also remarkably freeing. I will never define myself in terms of anyone else. I will never feel the pressure of peers or the burden of parental expectation. I can view everyone as pieces of a whole, and focus on the whole, not the pieces. I have learned how to observe, far better than most people observe. I am not blinded by the past or motivated by the future. I focus on the present, because that is where I am destined to live. I learn. Sometimes I am taught something I have already been taught in dozens of other classrooms. Sometimes I am taught something completely new. I have to access the body, access the mind and see what information it's retained. And when I do, I learn. Knowledge is the only thing I take with me when I go. I know so many things that Justin doesn't know, that he will never know. I sit there in his math class, open his notebook, and write down phrases he has never heard. Shakespeare and Kerouac and Dickinson. Tomorrow, or some day after tomorrow, or never, he will see these words in his own handwriting and he won't have any idea where they came from, or even what they are.
That is as much interference as I allow myself. Everything else must be done cleanly. Rhiannon stays with me. Her details. Flickers from Justin's memories. Small things, like the way her hair falls, the way she bites her fingernails, the determination and resignation in her voice. Random things. I see her dancing with Justin's grand father, because he's said he wants a dance with a pretty girl. I see her covering her eyes during a scary movie, peering between her fingers, enjoying her fright. These are the good memories. I don't look at any others. I only see her once in the morning, a brief passing in the halls between first and second period. I find myself smiling when she comes near, and she smiles back. It's as simple as that. Simple and complicated, as most true things are. I find myself looking for her after second period, and then again after third and fourth. I don't even feel in control of this. I want to see her. Simple. Complicated. By the time we get to lunch, I am exhausted. Justin's body is worn down from too little sleep and I, inside of it, am worn down from restlessness and too much thought. I wait for her at Justin's locker. The first bell rings. The second bell rings. No Rhiannon. Maybe I was supposed to meet her somewhere else. Maybe Justin's forgotten where they always meet. If that's the case, she's used to Justin forgetting. She finds me right when I'm about to give up. The halls are nearly empty, the cattle call has passed. She comes closer than she did before.
'Hey,' I say. 'Hey,' she says. She is looking to me. Justin is the one who makes the first move. Justin is the one who figures things out. Justin is the one who says what they're going to do. It depresses me. I have seen this too many times before. The unwarranted devotion. Putting up with the fear of being with the wrong person because you can't deal with the fear of being alone. The hope tinged with doubt, and the doubt tinged with hope. Every time I see these feelings in someone else's face, it weighs me down. And there's something in Rhiannon's face that's more than just the disappointments. There is a gentleness there. A gentleness that Justin will never, ever appreciate. I see it right away, but nobody else does. I take all my books and put them in the locker. I walk over to her and put my hand lightly on her arm. I have no idea what I'm doing. I only know that I'm doing it. 'Let's go somewhere,' I say. 'Where do you want to go'? I am close enough now to see that her eyes are blue. I am close enough now to see that nobody ever gets close enough to see how blue her eyes are. 'I don't know,' she replies. I take her hand. 'Come on,' I tell her. This is no longer restlessness? it's recklessness. At first we're walking hand in hand. Then we're running hand in hand. That giddy rush of keeping up with one another, of
10 zooming through the school, reducing everything that's not us into an inconsequential blur. We are laughing, we are playful. We leave her books in her locker and move out of the building, into the air, the real air, the sunshine and the trees and the less burdensome world. I am breaking the rules as I leave the school. I am breaking the rules as we get into Justin's car. I am breaking the rules as I turn the key in the ignition. 'Where do you want to go'? I ask again. 'Tell me, truly, where you'd love to go.' I don't initially realize how much hinges on her answer. If she says, Let's go to the mall, I will disconnect. If she says, Take me back to your house, I will disconnect. If she says, Actually, I don't want to miss sixth period, I will disconnect. And I should disconnect. I should not be doing this. But she says, 'I want to go to the ocean. I want you to take me to the ocean.' And I feel myself connecting. It takes us an hour to get there. It's late September in Maryland. The leaves haven't begun to change, but you can tell they're starting to think about it. The greens are muted, faded. Color is right around the corner. I give Rhiannon control of the radio. She's surprised by this, but I don't care. I've had enough of the loud and the obnoxious, and I sense that she's had enough of it, too. She brings melody to the car. A song comes on that I know, and I sing along. And if I only could, I'd make a deal with God. . . . Now Rhiannon goes from surprised to suspicious. Justin never sings along.
11 'What's gotten into you'? she asks. 'Music,' I tell her. 'Ha.' 'No, really.' She looks at me for a long time. Then smiles. 'In that case,' she says, flipping the dial to find the next song. Soon we are singing at the top of our lungs. A pop song that's as substantial as a balloon, but lifts us in the same way when we sing it. It's as if time itself relaxes around us. She stops thinking about how unusual it is. She lets herself be a part of it. I want to give her a good day. Just one good day. I have wandered for so long without any sense of purpose, and now this ephemeral purpose has been given to me? it feels like it has been given to me. I only have a day to give? so why can't it be a good one? Why can't it be a shared one? Why can't I take the music of the moment and see how long it can last? The rules are erasable. I can take this. I can give this. When the song is over, she rolls down her window and trails her hand in the air, introducing a new music into the car. I roll down all the other windows and drive faster, so the wind takes over, blows our hair all around, makes it seem like the car has disappeared and we are the velocity, we are the speed. Then another good song comes on and I enclose us again, this time taking her hand. I drive like that for miles, and ask her questions. Like how her parents are doing. What it's like now that her sister's off at college. If she thinks school is different at all this year. It's hard for her. Every single answer starts with the phrase
12 I don't know. But most of the time she does know, if I give her the time and the space in which to answer. Her mother means well; her father less so. Her sister isn't calling home, but Rhiannon can understand that. School is school? she wants it to be over, but she's afraid of it being over, because then she'll have to figure out what comes next. She asks me what I think, and I tell her, 'Honestly, I'm just trying to live day to day.' It isn't enough, but it's something. We watch the trees, the sky, the signs, the road. We sense each other. The world, right now, is only us. We continue to sing along. And we sing with the same abandon, not worrying too much if our voices hit the right notes or the right words. We look at each other while we're singing; these aren't two solos, this is a duet that isn't taking itself at all seriously. It is its own form of conversation? you can learn a lot about people from the stories they tell, but you can also know them from the way they sing along, whether they like the windows up or down, if they live by the map or by the world, if they feel the pull of the ocean. She tells me where to drive. Off the highway. The empty back roads. This isn't summer; this isn't a weekend. It's the middle of a Monday, and nobody but us is going to the beach. 'I should be in English class,' Rhiannon says. 'I should be in bio,' I say, accessing Justin's schedule. We keep going. When I first saw her, she seemed to be balancing on edges and points. Now the ground is more even, welcoming. I know this is dangerous. Justin is not good to her. I recognize that. If I access the bad memories, I see tears, fights, and
13 remnants of passable togetherness. She is always there for him, and he must like that. His friends like her, and he must like that, too. But that's not the same as love. She has been hanging on to the hope of him for so long that she doesn't realize there isn't anything left to hope for. They don't have silences together; they have noise. Mostly his. If I tried, I could go deep into their arguments. I could track down whatever shards he's collected from all the times he's destroyed her. If I were really Justin, I would find something wrong with her. Right now. Tell her. Yell. Bring her down. Put her in her place. But I can't. I'm not Justin. Even if she doesn't know it. 'Let's just enjoy ourselves,' I say. 'Okay,' she replies. 'I like that. I spend so much time thinking about running away? it's nice to actually do it. For a day. It's good to be on the other side of the window. I don't do this enough.' There are so many things inside of her that I want to know. And at the same time, with every word we speak, I feel there may be something inside of her that I already know. When I get there, we will recognize each other. We will have that. I park the car and we head to the ocean. We take off our shoes and leave them under our seats. When we get to the sand, I lean over to roll up my jeans. While I do, Rhiannon runs ahead. When I look back up, she is spinning around the beach, kicking up sand, calling my name. Everything, at that moment, is lightness. She is so joyful, I can't help but stop for a second and watch. Witness. Tell myself to remember.
14 'C'mon!' she cries. 'Get over here!' I'm not who you think I am, I want to tell her. But there's no way. Of course there's no way. We have the beach to ourselves, the ocean to ourselves. I have her to myself. She has me to herself. There is a part of childhood that is childish, and a part that is sacred. Suddenly we are touching the sacred part? running to the shoreline, feeling the first cold burst of water on our ankles, reaching into the tide to catch at shells before they ebb away from our fingers. We have returned to a world that is capable of glistening, and we are wading deeper within it. We stretch our arms wide, as if we are embracing the wind. She splashes me mischievously and I mount a counterattack. Our pants, our shirts get wet, but we don't care. She asks me to help her build a sand castle, and as I do, she tells me about how she and her sister would never work on sand castles together? it was always a competition, with her sister going for the highest possible mountains while Rhiannon paid attention to detail, wanting each castle to be the dollhouse she was never allowed to have. I see echoes of this detail now as she makes turrets bloom from her cupped hands. I myself have no memories of sand castles, but there must be some sense memory attached, because I feel I know how to do this, how to shape this. When we are done, we walk back down to the water to wash off our hands. I look back and see the way our footsteps intermingle to form a single path. 'What is it'? she asks, seeing me glance backward, seeing something in my expression.
15 How can I explain this? The only way I know is to say 'Thank you.' She looks at me as if she's never heard the phrase before. 'For what'? she asks. 'For this,' I say. 'For all of it.' This escape. The water. The waves. Her. It feels like we've stepped outside of time. Even though there is no such place. There's still a part of her that's waiting for the twist, the moment when all of this pleasure will jackknife into pain. 'It's okay,' I tell her. 'It's okay to be happy.' The tears come to her eyes. I take her in my arms. It's the wrong thing to do. But it's the right thing to do. I have to listen to my own words. Happiness is so rarely a part of my vocabulary, because for me it's so fleeting. 'I'm happy,' she says. 'Really, I am.' Justin would be laughing at her. Justin would be pushing her down into the sand, to do whatever he wanted to do. Justin would never have come here. I am tired of not feeling. I am tired of not connecting. I want to be here with her. I want to be the one who lives up to her hopes, if only for the time I'm given. The ocean makes its music; the wind does its dance. We hold on. At first we hold on to one another, but then it starts to feel like we are holding on to something even bigger than that. Greater. 'What's happening'? Rhiannon asks. 'Shhh,' I say. 'Don't question it.' She kisses me. I have not kissed anyone in years. I have not allowed myself to kiss anyone for years. Her lips are soft as
16 flower petals, but with an intensity behind them. I take it slow, let each moment pour into the next. Feel her skin, her breath. Taste the condensation of our contact, linger in the heat of it. Her eyes are closed and mine are open. I want to remember this as more than a single sensation. I want to remember this whole. We do nothing more than kiss. We do nothing less than kiss. At times, she moves to take it further, but I don't need that. I trace her shoulders as she traces my back. I kiss her neck. She kisses beneath my ear. The times we stop, we smile at each other. Giddy disbelief, giddy belief. She should be in English class. I should be in bio. We weren't supposed to come anywhere near the ocean today. We have defied the day as it was set out for us. We walk hand in hand down the beach as the sun dips in the sky. I am not thinking about the past. I am not thinking about the future. I am full of such gratitude for the sun, the water, the way my feet sink into the sand, the way my hand feels holding hers. 'We should do this every Monday,' she says. 'And Tuesday. And Wednesday. And Thursday. And Friday.' 'We'd only get tired of it,' I tell her. 'It's best to have it just once.' 'Never again'? She doesn't like the sound of that. 'Well, never say never.' 'I'd never say never,' she tells me. There are a few more people on the beach now, mostly older men and women taking an afternoon walk. They nod to us as we pass, and sometimes they say hello. We nod back,
17 return their hellos. Nobody questions why we're here. Nobody questions anything. We're just a part of the moment, like everything else. The sun falls farther. The temperature drops alongside it. Rhiannon shivers, so I stop holding her hand and put my arm around her. She suggests we go back to the car and get the 'makeout blanket? from the trunk. We find it there, buried under empty beer bottles, twisted jumper cables, and other guy crap. I wonder how often Rhiannon and Justin have used the makeout blanket for that purpose, but I don't try to access the memories. Instead, I bring the blanket back out onto the beach and put it down for both of us. I lie down and face the sky, and Rhiannon lies down next to me and does the same. We stare at the clouds, breathing distance from one another, taking it all in. 'This has to be one of the best days ever,' Rhiannon says. Without turning my head, I find her hand with my hand. 'Tell me about some of the other days like this,' I ask. 'I don't know. . . .' 'Just one. The first one that comes to mind.' Rhiannon thinks about it for a second. Then she shakes her head. 'It's stupid.' 'Tell me.' She turns to me and moves her hand to my chest. Makes lazy circles there. 'For some reason, the first thing that comes to mind is this motherdaughter fashion show. Do you promise you won't laugh'? I promise. She studies me. Makes sure I'm sincere. Continues.
18 'It was in fourth grade or something. Renwick's was doing a fundraiser for hurricane victims, and they asked for volunteers from our class. I didn't ask my mother or anything? I just signed up. And when I brought the information home? well, you know how my mom is. She was terrified. It's hard enough to get her out to the supermarket. But a fashion show? In front of strangers? I might as well have asked her to pose for Playboy. God, now there's a scary thought.' Her hand is now resting on my chest. She's looking off to the sky. 'But here's the thing: she didn't say no. I guess it's only now that I realize what I put her through. She didn't make me go to the teacher and take it back. No, when the day came, we drove over to Renwick's and went where they told us to go. I had thought they would put us in matching outfits, but it wasn't like that. Instead, they basically told us we could wear whatever we wanted from the store. So there we were, trying all these things on. I went for the gowns, of course? I was so much more of a girl then. I ended up with this light blue dress? ruffles all over the place. I thought it was so sophisticated.' 'I'm sure it was classy,' I say. She hits me. 'Shut up. Let me tell my story.' I hold her hand on my chest. Lean over and kiss her quickly. 'Go ahead,' I say. I am loving this. I never have people tell me their stories. I usually have to figure them out myself. Because I know that if people tell me stories, they will expect them to be remembered. And I cannot guarantee that. There is no way to know if the stories stay after I'm gone. And how
19 devastating would it be to confide in someone and have the confidence disappear? I don't want to be responsible for that. But with Rhiannon I can't resist. She continues. 'So I had my wannabe prom dress. And then it was Mom's turn. She surprised me, because she went for the dresses, too. I'd never really seen her all dressed up before. And I think that was the most amazing thing to me: It wasn't me who was Cinderella. It was her. 'After we picked out our clothes, they put makeup on us and everything. I thought Mom was going to flip, but she was actually enjoying it. They didn't really do much with her? just a little more color. And that was all it took. She was pretty. I know it's hard to believe, knowing her now. But that day, she was like a movie star. All the other moms were complimenting her. And when it was time for the actual show, we paraded out there and people applauded. Mom and I were both smiling, and it was real, you know? 'We didn't get to keep the dresses or anything. But I remember on the ride home, Mom kept saying how great I was. When we got back to our house, Dad looked at us like we were aliens, but the cool thing is, he decided to play along. Instead of getting all weird, he kept calling us his supermodels, and asked us to do the show for him in our living room, which we did. We were laughing so much. And that was it. The day ended. I'm not sure Mom's worn makeup since. And it's not like I turned out to be a supermodel. But that day reminds me of this one. Because it was a break from everything, wasn't it'? 'It sounds like it,' I tell her. 'I can't believe I just told you that.'
20 'Why'? 'Because. I don't know. It just sounds so silly.' 'No, it sounds like a good day.' 'How about you'? she asks. 'I was never in a motherdaughter fashion show,' I joke. Even though, as a matter of fact, I've been in a few. She hits me lightly on the shoulder. 'No. Tell me about another day like this one.' I access Justin and find out he moved to town when he was twelve. So anything before that is fair game, because Rhiannon won't have been there. I could try to find one of Justin's memories to share, but I don't want to do that. I want to give Rhiannon something of my own. 'There was this one day when I was eleven.' I try to remember the name of the boy whose body I was in, but it's lost to me. 'I was playing hideandseek with my friends. I mean, the brutal, tackle kind of hideandseek. We were in the woods, and for some reason I decided that what I had to do was climb a tree. I don't think I'd ever climbed a tree before. But I found one with some low branches and just started moving. Up and up. It was as natural as walking. In my memory, that tree was hundreds of feet tall. Thousands. At some point, I crossed the tree line. I was still climbing, but there weren't any other trees around. I was all by myself, clinging to the trunk of this tree, a long way from the ground.' I can see shimmers of it now. The height. The town below me. 'It was magical,' I say. 'There's no other word to describe it. I could hear my friends yelling as they were caught, as the game played out. But I was in a completely different place. I
21 was seeing the world from above, which is an extraordinary thing when it happens for the first time. I'd never flown in a plane. I'm not even sure I'd been in a tall building. So there I was, hovering above everything I knew. I had made it somewhere special, and I'd gotten there all on my own. Nobody had given it to me. Nobody had told me to do it. I'd climbed and climbed and climbed, and this was my reward. To watch over the world, and to be alone with myself. That, I found, was what I needed.' Rhiannon leans into me. 'That's amazing,' she whispers. 'Yeah, it was.' 'And it was in Minnesota'? In truth, it was in North Carolina. But I access Justin and find that, yes, for him it would've been Minnesota. So I nod. 'You want to know another day like this one'? Rhiannon asks, curling closer. I adjust my arm, make us both comfortable. 'Sure.' 'Our second date.' But this is only our first, I think. Ridiculously. 'Really'? I ask. 'Remember'? I check to see if Justin remembers their second date. He doesn't. 'Dack's party'? she prompts. Still nothing. 'Yeah . . . ,' I hedge. 'I don't know? maybe it doesn't count as a date. But it was the second time we hooked up. And, I don't know, you were just so . . . sweet about it. Don't get mad, alright'? I wonder where this is going.
22 'I promise, nothing could make me mad right now,' I tell her. I even cross my heart to prove it. She smiles. 'Okay. Well, lately? it's like you're always in a rush. Like, we have sex but we're not really . . . intimate. And I don't mind. I mean, it's fun. But every now and then, it's good to have it be like this. And at Dack's party? it was like this. Like you had all the time in the world, and you wanted us to have it together. I loved that. It was back when you were really looking at me. It was like? well, it was like you'd climbed up that tree and found me there at the top. And we had that together. Even though we were in someone's backyard. At one point? do you remember'? you made me move over a little so I'd be in the moonlight. 'It makes your skin glow,' you said. And I felt like that. Glowing. Because you were watching me, along with the moon.' Does she realize that right now she's lit by the warm orange spreading from the horizon, as notquiteday becomes notquitenight? I lean over and become that shadow. I kiss her once, then we drift into each other, close our eyes, drift into sleep. And as we drift into sleep, I feel something I've never felt before. A closeness that isn't merely physical. A connection that defies the fact that we've only just met. A sensation that can only come from the most euphoric of feelings: belonging. What is it about the moment you fall in love? How can such a small measure of time contain such enormity? I suddenly realize why people believe in d'j? vu, why people believe they've lived past lives, because there is no way the years I've spent
23 on this earth could possibly encapsulate what I'm feeling. The moment you fall in love feels like it has centuries behind it, generations? all of them rearranging themselves so that this precise, remarkable intersection could happen. In your heart, in your bones, no matter how silly you know it is, you feel that everything has been leading to this, all the secret arrows were pointing here, the universe and time itself crafted this long ago, and you are just now realizing it, you are just now arriving at the place you were always meant to be. We wake an hour later to the sound of her phone. I keep my eyes closed. Hear her groan. Hear her tell her mother she'll be home soon. The water has gone deep black and the sky has gone ink blue. The chill in the air presses harder against us as we pick up the blanket, provide a new set of footprints. She navigates, I drive. She talks, I listen. We sing some more. Then she leans into my shoulder and I let her stay there and sleep for a little longer, dream for a little longer. I am trying not to think of what will happen next. I am trying not to think of endings. I never get to see people while they're asleep. Not like this. She is the opposite of when I first met her. Her vulnerability is open, but she's safe within it. I watch the rise and fall of her, the stir and rest of her. I only wake her when I need her to tell me where to go. The last ten minutes, she talks about what we're going to do tomorrow. I find it hard to respond. 'Even if we can't do this, I'll see you at lunch'? she asks.
24 I nod. 'And maybe we can do something after school'? 'I think so. I mean, I'm not sure what else is going on. My mind isn't really there right now.' This makes sense to her. 'Fair enough. Tomorrow is tomorrow. Let's end today on a nice note.' Once we get to town, I can access the directions to her house without having to ask her. But I want to get lost anyway. To prolong this. To escape this. 'Here we are,' Rhiannon says as we approach her driveway. I pull the car to a stop. I unlock the doors. She leans over and kisses me. My senses are alive with the taste of her, the smell of her, the feel of her, the sound of her breathing, the sight of her as she pulls her body away from mine. 'That's the nice note,' she says. And before I can say anything else, she's out the door and gone. I don't get a chance to say goodbye. I guess, correctly, that Justin's parents are used to him being out of touch and missing dinner. They try to yell at him, but you can tell that everyone's going through the motions, and when Justin storms off to his room, it's just the latest rerun of an old show. I should be doing Justin's homework? I'm always pretty conscientious about that kind of thing, if I'm able to do it? but my mind keeps drifting to Rhiannon. Imagining her at home. Imagining her floating from the grace of the day. Imagining her
25 believing that things are different, that Justin has somehow changed. I shouldn't have done it. I know I shouldn't have done it. Even if it felt like the universe was telling me to do it. I agonize over it for hours. I can't take it back. I can't make it go away. I fell in love once, or at least until today I thought I had. His name was Brennan, and it felt so real, even if it was mostly words. Intense, heartfelt words. I stupidly let myself think of a possible future with him. But there was no future. I tried to navigate it, but I couldn't. That was easy compared to this. It's one thing to fall in love. It's another to feel someone else falling in love with you, and to feel a responsibility toward that love. There is no way for me to stay in this body. If I don't go to sleep, the shift will happen anyway. I used to think that if I stayed up all night, I'd get to remain where I was. But instead, I was ripped from the body I was in. And the ripping felt exactly like what you would imagine being ripped from a body would feel like, with every single nerve experiencing the pain of the break, and then the pain of being fused into someone new. From then on, I went to sleep every night. There was no use fighting it. I realize I have to call her. Her number's right there in his phone. I can't let her think tomorrow is going to be like today.
26 'Hey!' she answers. 'Hey,' I say. 'Thank you again for today.' 'Yeah.' I don't want to do this. I don't want to ruin it. But I have to, don't I? I continue, 'But about today'? 'Are you going to tell me that we can't cut class every day? That's not like you.' Not like me. 'Yeah,' I say, 'but, you know, I don't want you to think every day is going to be like today. Because they're not going to be, alright? They can't be.' There's a silence. She knows something's wrong. 'I know that,' she says carefully. 'But maybe things can still be better. I know they can be.' 'I don't know,' I tell her. 'That's all I wanted to say. I don't know. Today was something, but it's not, like, everything.' 'I know that.' 'Okay.' 'Okay.' I sigh. There's always a chance that, in some way, I will have brushed off on Justin. There's always a chance that his life will in fact change? that he will change. But I have no way of knowing. It's rare that I get to see a body after I've left it. And even then, it's usually months or years later. If I recognize it at all. I want Justin to be better to her. But I can't have her expecting it.
27 'That's all,' I tell her. It feels like a Justin thing to say. 'Well, I'll see you tomorrow.' 'Yeah, you will.' 'Thanks again for today. No matter what trouble we get into tomorrow for it, it was worth it.' 'Yeah.' 'I love you,' she says. And I want to say it. I want to say I love you, too. Right now, right at this moment, every part of me would mean it. But that will only last for a couple more hours. 'Sleep well,' I tell her. Then I hang up. There's a notebook on his desk. Remember that you love Rhiannon, I write in his handwriting. I doubt he'll remember writing it. I go onto his computer. I open up my own email account, then type out her name, her phone number, her email address, as well as Justin's email and password. I write about the day. And I send it to myself. As soon as I'm through, I clear Justin's history. This is hard for me. I have gotten so used to what I am, and how my life works. I never want to stay. I'm always ready to leave.
28 But not tonight. Tonight I'm haunted by the fact that tomorrow he'll be here and I won't be. I want to stay. I pray to stay. I close my eyes and wish to stay.
29 Day 5995 I wake up thinking of yesterday. The joy is in remembering; the pain is in knowing it was yesterday. I am not there. I am not in Justin's bed, not in Justin's body. Today I am Leslie Wong. I have slept through the alarm, and her mother is mad. 'Get up!' she yells, shaking my new body. 'You have twenty minutes, and then Owen leaves!' 'Okay, Mom,' I groan. 'Mom! If your mother was here, I can't imagine what she'd say!' I quickly access Leslie's mind. Grandmother, then. Mom's already left for work. As I stand in the shower, trying to remind myself I have to make it a quick one, I lose myself for a minute in thoughts of Rhiannon. I'm sure I dreamt of her. I wonder: If I started dreaming when I was in Justin's body, did he continue the dream? Will he wake up thinking sweetly of her? Or is that just another kind of dream on my part? 'Leslie! Come on!'
30 I get out of the shower, dry off, and get dressed quickly. Leslie is not, I can tell, a particularly popular girl. The few photos of friends she has around seem halfhearted, and her clothing choices are more like a thirteenyearold's than a sixteenyearold's. I head into the kitchen and the grandmother glares at me. 'Don't forget your clarinet,' she warns. 'I won't,' I mumble. There's a boy at the table giving me an evil look. Leslie's brother, I assume? and then confirm it. Owen. A senior. My ride to school. I have gotten very used to the fact that most mornings in most homes are exactly the same. Stumbling out of the bed. Stumbling into the shower. Mumbling over the breakfast table. Or, if the parents are still asleep, the tiptoe out of the house. The only way to keep it interesting is to look for the variations. This morning's variation comes care of Owen, who lights up a joint the minute we get into the car. I'm assuming this is part of his morning routine, so I make sure Leslie doesn't seem as surprised as I am. Still, Owen hazards a 'Don't say a word? about three minutes into the ride. I stare out the window. Two minutes later, he says, 'Look, I don't need your judgment, okay'? The joint is done by then; it doesn't make him any mellower. I prefer to be an only child. In the long term, I can see how siblings could be helpful in life? someone to share family se-
31 crets with, someone of your own generation who knows if your memories are right or not, someone who sees you at eight and eighteen and fortyeight all at once, and doesn't mind. I understand that. But in the short term, siblings are at best a hassle and at worst a terror. Most of the abuse I have suffered in my admittedly unusual life has come from brothers and sisters, with older brothers and older sisters being, by and large, the worst offenders. At first I was na've, and assumed that brothers and sisters were natural allies, instant companions. And sometimes the context would allow this to happen? if we were on a family trip, for example, or if it was a lazy Sunday where teaming up with me was my sibling's only form of entertainment. But on ordinary days, the rule is competition, not collaboration. There are times when I wonder whether brothers and sisters are, in fact, the ones who sense that something is off with whatever person I'm inhabiting, and move to take advantage. When I was eight, an older sister told me we were going to run away together? then abandoned the 'together? part when we got to the train station, leaving me to wander there for hours, too scared to ask for help? scared that she would find out and berate me for ending our game. As a boy, I've had brothers? both older and younger? wrestle me, hit me, kick me, bite me, shove me, and call me more names than I could ever catalog. The best I can hope for is a quiet sibling. At first I have Owen pegged as one of those. In the car, it appears I am wrong. But then, once we get out at school, it appears I am right again. With other kids around, he retreats into invisibility, keeping his head down as he makes his way inside, leaving me completely
32 behind. No goodbye, no haveaniceday. Just a quick glance to see that my door is closed before he locks the car. 'What are you looking at'? a voice asks from over my left shoulder as I watch him enter school alone. I turn around and do some serious accessing. Carrie. Best friend since fourth grade. 'Just my brother.' 'Why? He's such a waste of space.' Here's the strange thing: I am fine thinking the same words myself, but hearing them come out of Carrie's mouth makes me feel defensive. 'Come on,' I say. 'Come on? Are you kidding me'? Now I think: She knows something I don't. I decide to keep my mouth shut. She seems relieved to change the subject. 'What did you do last night'? she asks. Flashes of Rhiannon rise in my mind's eye. I try to tamp them down, but they're not that easy to contain. Once you experience enormity, it lingers everywhere you look, and wants to be every word you say. 'Not much,' I push on, not bothering to access Leslie. This answer always works, no matter what the question. 'You'? 'You didn't get my text'? I mumble something about my phone dying. 'That explains why you haven't asked me yet! Guess what. Corey IM'd me! We chatted for, like, almost an hour.' 'Wow.' 'Yeah, isn't it'? Carrie sighs contentedly. 'After all this
33 time. I didn't even know he knew my screen name. You didn't tell him, did you'? More accessing. This is the kind of question that can really trip a person up. Maybe not right away. But in the future. If Leslie claims she wasn't the one who told Corey, and Carrie finds out she was, it could throw their friendship off balance. Or if Leslie claims she was, and Carrie finds out she wasn't. Corey is Corey Handlemann, a junior who Carrie's had a crush on for at least three weeks. Leslie doesn't know him well, and I can't find a memory of giving a screen name to him. I think it's safe. 'No,' I say, shaking my head. 'I didn't.' 'Well, I guess he really had to work hard to find it,' she says. (Or, I think, he just saw it on your Facebook profile.) I immediately feel guilty for my snarky thoughts. This is the hard part about having best friends that I feel no attachment to? I don't give them any benefit of the doubt. And being best friends is always about the benefit of the doubt. Carrie is very excited about Corey, so I pretend to be very excited for her. It's only after we separate for homeroom that I feel an emotion kicking at me, one I thought I had under control: jealousy. Although I am not articulating it to myself in so many words, I am feeling jealous that Carrie can have Corey while I can never have Rhiannon. Ridiculous, I chastise myself. You are being ridiculous. When you live as I do, you cannot indulge in jealousy. If you do, it will rip you apart. ? ? '
34 Third period is band class. I tell the teacher that I left my clarinet at home, even though it's in my locker. Leslie gets marked down and has to take the class as a study hall, but I don't care. I don't know how to play the clarinet. Word about Carrie and Corey travels fast. All of our friends are talking about it, and mostly they're pleased. I can't tell, though, whether they're pleased because it's a perfect match or because now Carrie will shut up about it. When I see Corey at lunchtime, I am unsurprised by how unremarkable he is. People are rarely as attractive in reality as they are in the eyes of the people who are in love with them. Which is, I suppose, as it should be. It's almost heartening to think that the attachment you have can define your perception as much as any other influence. Corey comes over at lunch to say hi, but he doesn't stay to eat with us, even though we make room for him at our table. Carrie doesn't seem to notice this; she's just giddy that he's come by, that she didn't dream the whole IM exchange, that chatting has escalated into speaking . . . and who knows what will happen next? As I suspected, Leslie does not move in a fast crowd. These girls are thinking of kissing, not sex. The lips are the gates of their desire. I want to run away again, to skip the second half of the day. But it wouldn't be right, without her. It feels like I am wasting time. I mean, that's always the case. My life doesn't add up to anything. Except, for an afternoon, it did. Yesterday is another world. I want to go back there. ? ? '
35 Early sixth period, right after lunch, my brother is called down to the principal's office. At first I think I may have heard it wrong. But then I see other people in class looking at me, including Carrie, who has pity in her eyes. So I must have heard it right. I am not alarmed. I figure if it was something really bad, they would have called us both. Nobody in my family has died. Our house hasn't burned down. It's Owen's business, not mine. Carrie sends me a note. What happened? I send a shrug in her direction. How am I supposed to know? I just hope I haven't lost my ride home. Sixth period ends. I gather my books and head to English class. The book is Beowulf, so I'm completely prepared. I've done this unit plenty of times. I'm about ten steps away from the classroom when someone grabs me. I turn, and there's Owen. Owen, bleeding. 'Shh,' he says. 'Just come with me.' 'What happened'? I ask. 'Just shh, okay'? He's looking around like he's being chased. I decide to go along. After all, this is more exciting than Beowulf. We get to a supply closet. He motions me in. 'Are you kidding me'? I say. 'Leslie.' There's no arguing. I follow him in. I find the light switch easily.
36 He's breathing hard. For a moment, he doesn't say anything. 'Tell me what happened,' I say. 'I think I might be in trouble.' 'Duh. I heard you called to the principal's office. Why aren't you down there'? 'I was down there. I mean, before the announcement. But then I . . . left.' 'You bolted from the principal's office'? 'Yeah. Well, the waiting room. They went to check my locker. I'm sure of it.' The blood is coming from a cut above his eye. 'Who hit you'? I ask. 'It doesn't matter. Just shut up and listen to me, okay'? 'I'm listening, but you're not saying anything!' I don't think Leslie usually talks back to her older brother. But I don't care. He isn't really paying attention to me, anyway. 'They're going to call home, okay? I need you to back me up.' He hands me his keys. 'Just go home after school and see what the situation is. I'll call you.' Luckily, I know how to drive. When I don't argue, he takes it as acquiescence. 'Thanks,' he tells me. 'Are you going to the principal's office now'? I ask him. He leaves without an answer. Carrie has the news by the end of the day. Whether it's the truth doesn't really matter. It's the news that's going around, and she's eager to report it to me.
37 'Your brother and Josh Wolf got into a fight out by the field, during lunch. They're saying it had to do with drugs, and that your brother is a dealer or something. I mean, I knew he was into pot and everything, but I had no idea he dealt. He and Josh were dragged down to the principal's office, but Owen decided to run. Can you believe it? They were paging him to come back. But I don't think he did.' 'Who'd you hear it from'? I ask. She's giddy with excitement. 'From Corey! He wasn't out there, but some of the guys he hangs out with saw the fight and everything.' I see now that the fact that Corey told her is the bigger news here. She's not so selfish that she wants me to congratulate her, not with my brother in trouble. But it's clear what her priority is. 'I've got to drive home,' I say. 'Do you want me to come with you'? Carrie asks. 'I don't want you to have to walk in there alone.' For a second, I'm tempted. But then I imagine her giving Corey the blowbyblow account of what went down, and even if that's not a fair assumption to make, it's enough to make me realize I don't want her there. 'It's okay,' I say. 'If anything, this is really going to make me look like the good daughter.' Carrie laughs, but more out of support than humor. 'Tell Corey I say hi,' I say playfully as I close my locker. She laughs again. This time, out of happiness. ? ? '
38 'Where is he'? I haven't even stepped through the kitchen door and the interrogation begins. Leslie's mother, father, and grandmother are all there, and I don't need to access her mind to know this is an unusual occurrence at three in the afternoon. 'I have no idea,' I say. I'm glad he didn't tell me; this way, I don't have to lie. 'What do you mean, you have no idea'? my father asks. He's the lead inquisitor in this family. 'I mean, I have no idea. He gave me the keys to the car, but he wouldn't tell me what was going on.' 'And you let him walk away'? 'I didn't see any police chasing after him,' I say. Then I wonder if there are, in fact, police chasing after him. My grandmother snorts in disgust. 'You always take his side,' my father intones. 'But not this time. This time you are going to tell us everything.' He doesn't realize he's just helped me. Now I know that Leslie always takes Owen's side. So my instinct is correct. 'You probably know more than I do,' I say. 'Why would your brother and Josh Wolf have a fight'? my mother asks, genuinely bewildered. 'They're such good friends!' My mental image of Josh Wolf is of a tenyearold, leading me to believe that at one point, my brother probably was good friends with Josh Wolf. But not anymore. 'Sit down,' my father commands, pointing to a kitchen chair. I sit down.
39 'Now . . . where is he'? 'I genuinely don't know.' 'She's telling the truth,' my mother says. 'I can tell when she's lying.' Even though I have way too many control issues to do drugs myself, I am starting to get a sense of why Owen likes to get stoned. 'Well, let me ask this, then,' my father continues. 'Is your brother a drug dealer'? This is a very good question. My instinct is no. But a lot depends on what happened on the field with Josh Wolf. So I don't answer. I just stare. 'Josh Wolf says the drugs in his jacket were sold to him by your brother,' my father prods. 'Are you saying they weren't'? 'Did they find any drugs on Owen'? I ask. 'No,' my mother answers. 'And in his locker? Didn't they search his locker'? My mother shakes her head. 'And in his room? Did you find any in his room'? My mother actually looks surprised. 'I know you looked in his room,' I say. 'We haven't found anything,' my father answers. 'Yet. And we also need to take a look in that car. So if you will please give me the keys . . .' I am hoping that Owen was smart enough to clear out the car. Either way, it's not up to me. I hand over the keys. Unbelievably, they've searched my room, too. 'I'm sorry,' my mother says from the hallway, tears in her
40 eyes now. 'He thought your brother might have hidden the drugs in here. Without you knowing.' 'It's fine,' I say, more to get her out of the room than anything else. 'I'm just going to clean up now.' But I'm not quick enough. My phone rings. I hold it so my mom can't see Owen's name on the display. 'Hi, Carrie,' I say. Owen is at least smart enough to keep his voice down so it won't be overheard. 'Are they mad'? he whispers. I want to laugh. 'What do you think'? 'That bad'? 'They've ransacked his room, but they haven't found anything. They're looking in his car now!' 'Don't tell her that!' my mother says. 'Get off the phone.' 'Sorry? Mom's here, and not happy about me talking to you about this. Where are you? Are you at home? Can I call you back'? 'I don't know what to do.' 'Yeah, he really does have to come home eventually, doesn't he'? 'Look . . . meet me in a half hour at the playground, okay'? 'I really have to go. But, yes, I'll do that.' I hang up. My mother is still looking at me. 'I'm not the one you're mad at!' I remind her. Poor Leslie will have to clean up the mess in her room tomorrow morning? I can't be bothered to figure out where everything goes. That would take too much accessing, and the
41 priority is finding out which playground Owen means. There's one at an elementary school about four blocks from the house. I assume that's the place. It's not easy to sneak out of the house. I wait until the three of them return to Owen's room to tear it apart again, then skulk out the back door. I know this is a risky maneuver? the minute they realize I'm gone, there will be hell to pay. But if Owen comes back with me, that'll all be forgotten. I know I should be focusing on the matter at hand, but I can't help but think of Rhiannon. School's now over for her, too. Is she hanging out with Justin? If so, is he treating her well? Did anything about yesterday rub off on him? I hope, but never expect. Owen's nowhere to be found, so I head to the swings and hang in the air for a while. Eventually he appears on the sidewalk and heads over to me. 'You always pick that swing,' he says, sitting down on the swing next to mine. 'I do'? I say. 'Yeah.' I wait for him to say something else. He doesn't. 'Owen,' I finally say. 'What happened'? He shakes his head. He's not going to tell me. I stop swinging and plant my feet on the ground. 'This is stupid, Owen. You have five seconds to tell me what happened, or I'm going to head right back home, and you'll be on your own for whatever happens next.'
42 Owen is surprised. 'What do you want me to say? Josh Wolf gets me my pot. Today we got into a fight over it? he was saying I owed him, when I didn't. He started pushing me around, so I pushed him back. And we got caught. He had the drugs, so he said I'd just dealt them to him. Real smooth. I said that was totally wrong, but he's in all AP classes and everything, so who do you think they're going to believe'? He has definitely convinced himself it's the truth. But whether it started out being the truth or not, I can't tell. 'Well,' I say, 'you have to come home. Dad's trashed your room, but they haven't found any drugs yet. And they didn't find any in your locker, and I'm guessing they didn't find any in the car, or I would've heard about it. So right now, it's all okay.' 'I'm telling you, there aren't any drugs. I used the weed up this morning. That's why I needed more from Josh.' 'Josh, your former best friend.' 'What are you talking about? I haven't been friends with him since we were, like, eight.' I am sensing that this was the last time Owen had a best friend. 'Let's go,' I tell him. 'It's not the end of the world.' 'Easy for you to say.' I am not expecting our father to hit Owen. But as soon as he sees him in the house, he decks him. I think I am the only one who is truly stunned. 'What have you done'? my father is yelling. 'What stupid, stupid thing have you done''
43 Both my mother and I move to stand between them. Grandma just watches from the sidelines, looking mildly pleased. 'I haven't done anything!' Owen protests. 'Is that why you ran away? Is that why you are being expelled? Because you haven't done anything'? 'They won't expel him until they hear his side of the story,' I point out, fairly sure this is true. 'Stay out of this!' my father warns. 'Why don't we all sit down and talk this over'? my mother suggests. The anger rises off my father like heat. I feel myself receding in a way that I'm guessing is not unusual for Leslie when she's with her family. I become nostalgic for that first waking moment of the morning, back before I had any idea what ugliness the day would bring. We sit down this time in the den. Or, rather, Owen, our mother, and I sit down? Owen and me on the couch, our mother in a nearby chair. Our father hovers over us. Our grandmother stays in the doorway, as if she's keeping lookout. 'You are a drug dealer!' our father yells. 'I am not a drug dealer,' Owen answers. 'For one, if I were a drug dealer, I'd have a lot more money. And I'd have a stash of drugs that you would've found by now!' Owen, I think, needs to shut up. 'Josh Wolf was the drug dealer,' I volunteer. 'Not Owen.' 'So what was your brother doing? buying from him'? Maybe, I think, I'm the one who needs to shut up.
44 'Our fight had nothing to do with drugs,' Owen says. 'They just found them on him afterward.' 'Then what were you and Josh fighting about'? our mother asks, as if the fact that these two boyhood chums fought is the most unbelievable thing that's occurred. 'A girl,' Owen says. 'We were fighting about a girl.' I wonder if Owen thought this one out ahead of time, or whether it's come to him spontaneously. Whatever the case, it's probably the only thing he could have possibly said that would have made our parents momentarily . . . happy might be overstating it. But less angry. They don't want their son to be buying or selling drugs, being bullied or bullying anyone else. But fighting over a girl? Perfectly acceptable. Especially since, I'm guessing, it's not like Owen's ever mentioned a girl to them before. Owen sees he's gained ground. He pushes further. 'If she found out? oh God, she can't find out. I know some girls like it when you fight over them, but she definitely doesn't.' Mom nods her approval. 'What's her name'? Dad asks. 'Do I have to tell you'? 'Yes.' 'Natasha. Natasha Lee.' Wow, he's even made her Chinese. Amazing. 'Do you know this girl'? Dad asks me. 'Yes,' I say. 'She's awesome.' Then I turn to Owen and shoot him fake daggers. 'But Romeo over here never told me he was into her. Although now that he says it, it's starting to make sense. He has been acting very weird lately.' Mom nods again. 'He has.'
45 Eyes bloodshot, I want to say. Eating a lot of Cheetos. Staring into space. Eating more Cheetos. It must be love. What else could it possibly be? What was threatening to be an allout war becomes a war council, with our parents strategizing what the principal can be told, especially about the running away. I hope for Owen's sake that Natasha Lee is, in fact, a student at the high school, whether he has a crush on her or not. I can't access any memory of her. If the name rings a bell, the bell's in a vacuum. Now that our father can see a way of saving face, he's almost amiable. Owen's big punishment is that he has to go clean up his room before dinner. I can't imagine I would have gotten the same reaction if I'd beaten up another girl over a boy. I follow Owen up to his room. When we're safely inside, door closed, no parents around, I tell him, 'That was kinda brilliant.' He looks at me with unconcealed annoyance and says, 'I don't know what you're talking about. Get out of my room.' This is why I prefer to be an only child. I have a sense that Leslie would let it go. So I should let it go. That's the law I've set down for myself? don't disrupt the life you're living in. Leave it as close to the same as you can. But I'm pissed. So I diverge a little from the law. I think, perversely, that Rhiannon would want me to. Even though she has no idea who Owen and Leslie are. Or who I am. 'Look,' I say, 'you lying little pothead bitch. You are going to be nice to me, okay? Not only because I am covering your butt, but because I am the one person in the world right now who is being decent to you. Is that understood''