EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK
Chapter 1 – Haley
Tuesday afternoon chemistry class is way more exciting when variables of physical chemistry are introduced.
Case in point: Dr. Blodgett’s Viscosity is a Virtue lab is all about trying not to gag on the overpowering smell of motor oil in the room – until Ben Ellis asks me to the Phi Beta Kappa Dance. Talk about an unexpected deviation.
“So, you mean, like, next week?” I try to sound cool.
“You’re probably already going. I just thought if you’re not, it would be cool to go together.” To his credit, Ben’s voice isn’t all that steady either. Neither are his hands on that test tube of oil.
“No. I mean yes. We could. Go to the Phi, I mean.” I make myself take a deep breath. “I’d like that.”
Ben smiles. He has a very good smile. “Great. So, it’s a date.”
I have a date with Ben Ellis.
The timer Dr. B. keeps on his desk dings. Five minutes left. Our cue to wrap it up.
“Crap. I lost track of time. I’ll clean this stuff up if you write the lab report?” Ben asks, glancing at the blank page on the table.
Right. Purpose, materials, methods, results, analysis. I always write the report because Ben’s handwriting sucks.
I scribble something down about motor oil and peanut oil. It’s the lab report I don’t turn in that has all of my attention today.
Purpose: Phi Beta Kappa date.
Materials (description): 1) Ben Ellis: Taylor University running back. Cross between Cam Newton from the Carolina Panthers and Taye Diggs, although without the scraggly goatee (Cam) and with more hair (Taye). 2) Me: Music major. Cross between Norah Jones and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, although nearly not as soulful (Norah) or as smart (Emma).
Methods employed: Direct request (Ben) with tinges of awkwardness (both).
Results: Date set. Pick up time, place tbd.
Analysis: Well…that’s what my best friend Kate is for.
“So you mean he asked you, just like that?” Kate asks as we walk home together after class. Her red messenger bag thwacks against her thigh.
“Pretty much. One minute we were measuring the flow rate of motor oil and the next Ben was asking me to the Phi.”
“Well, you know he’s always liked you.” Kate lowers her voice to try to imitate Ben, although it ends up sounding like she has a bad cold. “Haley, are you going to the game this weekend? Haley, how’s it going? Haley, can I borrow your chemistry notes?”
“He can’t read his own notes. Besides, he asks you the same thing.” I lower my voice, too. “Katie, what’s the band playing this week? Katie, how are you? Katie. Katie. Katie.”
“Ugh. Katie.” But she laughs. Ben’s the only one who gets away with calling her that. Everyone else gets the death stare if they look like they’re even thinking about making her name more than one syllable. “I don’t care what you say. You don’t ask someone to something like the Phi unless you like them.”
Kate’s boyfriend, Josh, asked her to last year’s Phi and they’ve been together ever since. But Kate knew Josh liked her. Hell, everyone in the brass section knew. But Ben and me? Even if what Kate says is true, I’ve never thought about him as a potential date. Ever.
“I don’t know about that.” My protest sounds lame even to me and I turn up the sidewalk to my front door so I won’t end up agreeing with her.
“He likes you,” Kate calls after me.
“He doesn’t,” I yell back, two steps away from the kitchen door.
“Doesn’t.” I pull the screen door and let it slam behind me.
My mom is at the counter chopping what looks like eight pounds of vegetables. Great. I’d bet money she’s been Skyping her friend Amber again. Amber, Miss Junior League, herself, is super skinny. Every time they talk, we end up with steamed vegetables and poached chicken for days. “What are you yelling about?” she asks without looking up.
I drop my backpack onto one of the black leather stools at the counter and take a carrot. “Kate thinks Ben Ellis likes me.”
“Ben? Why?” Mom doesn’t stop chopping.
“He, uh, kind of asked me to the Phi next week.” I move over to the fridge and contemplate the cartons of juice inside. “Did Garrett drink from any of these?”
Mom shakes her head. “I don’t think so. He’s upstairs.”
That doesn’t mean anything. My brother mainlines juice like normal people drink coffee and always right from the carton.
“So, what did you say? To Ben?” Mom thinks it’s high time I had a boyfriend or three. High time.
“I said yes.” I fidget a little, ready for her to squeal and overreact.
Which she does, but not in the way I expect.
Her tone is sharp and high-pitched as she slices through a hard carrot, the metal blade thwacking on the wooden chopping board. “Haley, what will people say?”
“Uh, I don’t know.” My dates don’t seem like they’d be a hot topic of conversation among people. Just me and Kate.
“Well, what will your father say? Have you thought about that?” The knife is poised in midair now.
Another no. My dad is the number one reason I’m the only sophomore I know at Taylor who’s still living at home, but, since he’s the university president and I get free tuition, I’m also the only sophomore I know without student loans, so it kind of works out. Add the whole nearly failing out my first year when I did live on campus, and well… Dad has some pretty strong opinions about where my grades need to be before I can move out. So does the academic probation committee he heads up.
I give Mom a blank look. “I don’t know. What will Dad say?”
“Haley.” Mom crosses her arms across the empire waist of her shirt and says my name like it’s an answer.
“What?” I roll my eyes, which I assume is why she purses her lips the way she does.
I expect the “don’t use that tone with me, young lady” speech. Not what she comes out with. “Do I have to spell it out for you? For God sake, he’s black.”
I laugh and wait for her to smile, but she doesn’t. “Ok? And?”
“Like I said, what will people say?” Her tone is the same one she gets when she’s talking to Mrs. Kuchinski, the house cleaner, who doesn’t speak English very well.
“I don’t know. I can’t imagine they’d say anything.”
She shakes her head and lets a little sigh escape. The heavy Southern accent comes next. “Doll…”
“Mom.” Coming from someone else, “doll” might be a term of endearment. When Mom says it, she’s gearing up for a full-on assault and I need to cut her off before she gets started. I grab my bag and start for the stairs. “I have a psych test tomorrow. I really need to study.”
“Fine. We’ll talk about this over dinner,” Mom says.
I clomp my boots on the stairs so she thinks I didn’t hear her. I don’t want to talk at dinner. I don’t even want to eat dinner if the vegetables are anything to go by. Mom will try to make a big deal out of this, Dad will either get annoyed or ignore her, and Garrett and I will eat as little and as quickly as possible until we can be excused.
Maybe I can go to Kate’s. Even though she’ll tease me about Ben, at least there aren’t any parents to contend with. I’m lying on my bed, scrolling through the texts on my phone when Garrett knocks and pushes my door before I answer.
“Hey. What’d you do to Mom?” He’s thin, but he fills the doorframe as he leans against it, his worn flannel shirt hanging open over an old Grateful Dead t-shirt. He’s got the whole wannabe-rockstar vibe, with the clothes and his too-long black hair falling in his eyes. It’s exactly the kind of look Mom hates.
“Did you ever think to knock and actually wait for me to answer?” I ask.
“Nope. Never.” He grins. “So?”
“Is she still chopping down there?”
“Oh yeah. I’m pretty sure it’s not me this time, so I figured it had to be you.” Garrett has a knack for pissing Mom off, to the point he spent most of last year grounded. Mostly for minor infractions, but Mom keeps score and Garrett doesn’t know when to quit. No wonder his sole plan in applying to colleges is as far from home as possible, student loans be damned.
I shake my head. “I’m pretty sure she Skyped Amber today.”
He rolls his eyes. “God. What’s she doing that for?”
I laugh. “No idea. I’m thinking of going to Kate’s to escape.”
“No way. I can’t face down those vegetables by myself.”
“So call someone. You can get a date if you want to.” I have it on good authority that declarations from girls who heart my not-so-little little brother fill the bathroom walls of Southmoreland High School. I also see the way he burns through his monthly text allowance. He could have a date, or at least a hook up, in ten minutes or less.
Garrett shrugs. “Well, sure.”
“Perfect. I’ll go to Kate’s, you’ll do whatever you do and if we’re lucky we can avoid the carrots altogether.”
“I can’t.” Garrett starts picking his nail. “I have to talk to Dad.”
“About what?” A list of possibilities race through my head, most of them related to girls or grades. Garrett’s smart enough to use condoms and to write a decent essay, but it doesn’t mean he’s doing either one.
“I’ve been offered a job.” He looks up at me through the hair veiling his eyes.
“Donnelly’s.” Garrett’s voice drops in case Mom’s lurking.
“Seriously?” Donnelly’s is the local bar, which makes his proposition worse.
“Amanda says they need someone to bus tables and stuff, and since I’m eighteen now – ”
“She thought you’d be perfect because your father’s so open-minded about those things?” I sit up cross-legged on my bed. Dad does not believe in social drinking, doesn’t really believe in drinking at all. It’s about the only throwback to his Southern Baptist roots, but it’s dug in deep.
“Don’t be a jerk. It’s a bar/restaurant.” He goes back to picking his nail again so he doesn’t have to look at me.
“Key word, bar, Gar. Come on. Dad didn’t even want you working at the athletic center last summer…”
“He didn’t want me working at the athletic center because he didn’t want me mingling with the older students.” Garrett’s tone is clipped.
“Well, he won’t want you mingling with liquor at a bar either. Or the people who go there.” Garrett’s shoulders drop so I try to lighten my tone. “Why this? I mean, I’m sure there are other places you could work if that’s what you want.”
Not that Mom and Dad have ever suggested either of us actually get a job. In fact, they’ve done the opposite – insist we focus on school because there will be plenty of time for all that later. And most jobs in our small Pennsylvania college town are service jobs – restaurants, stores, fast food places – and, well, isn’t that a little…menial?
“It seems like it’d be fun, you know? And Amanda says the tips are good.”
Amanda. Of course. Garrett dated and dumped her our first month here and has been trying to win her back ever since. “So, wait, is this about Amanda or is it about a job?”
His lips curl a little, but he doesn’t let himself smile. “The job. I want to make some money of my own.”
“And you’re willing to risk the wrath of Ken because you need to make said money in a bar? Uh uh. I don’t buy it and neither will he.” I sound more self-satisfied than I should, which earns me one of Garrett’s scowls.
“You and your wrath of Ken. What would you suggest then, smartass?” He looks me dead on with those midnight blue eyes of his, so dark they’re almost black. “I really want this.”
Garrett never asks for my help. Even though he’s two years younger, he’s smarter than me, more confident than me, more everything than me. But, based on the fact he’s still standing there, he’s apparently asking for it now. I bite back the sarcastic remark in the back of my throat and gesture to my chair. “Well, come into my office and let’s see what we can come up with.”
He rolls his eyes but he does it, slouching in my creaky desk chair. We talk about what he could say, even to the point of him repeating after me, before he says he has a plan and starts messing around with my laptop. We end up laughing over YouTube videos, cracking up over some cat on a skateboard when Mom taps at my door.
“I thought you said you had a test tomorrow, Haley?” Her eyes fix on the video still running on the computer screen.
“Um, yeah. I was just looking something up online.” It’s a total lie, but I don’t think she’ll say anything, given the time.
I’m right. “Ok, well, we’ll be eating in half an hour.”
Of course. At five-forty-five my mother goes to change and freshen her make up. Between six and six-oh-five, my father walks through the door and is greeted by my mother with either a sparkling water or sweet tea, depending on the season. At six-fifteen we gather in the formal dining room and take turns talking about our day and remarking appropriately. It makes me want to stab myself in the eye with my fork, it’s all so 1950s.
It’s where, I imagine, Mom will bring up Ben so my father can have his say. Except Garrett goes first. He leans back in his chair looking super casual as he starts. “So, I got an interesting offer today.”
“What’s that?” Dad asks. He’s loosened his tie but he still looks like he’s presiding over a board room with his elbows on the table, leaning forward. His short salt-and-pepper hair needs a trim, which makes him look a little less drill sergeant. But only a little.
“Amanda asked me if I’d want to maybe make some extra cash as a bus boy on weekends.” Garrett tilts his chair back a little. He’s not this offhand, not by a long shot, but he’s definitely playing up the “no big deal” angle.
Dad taps his fork on his plate. “Amanda. Which one is she?”
I interject. “You know, Dad. Soccer star. Blond. The one girl at Southmoreland who wouldn’t go out with him.”
Garrett smiles a little and Mom laughs. “Oh right,” she says. “I ran into her mother at Price Chopper the other day. Apparently Amanda’s looking at Penn next year.” Mom catalogs all of Garrett’s friends by their college prospects.
Dad ignores her commentary and stabs a carrot. “A bus boy. What’s the place?
“Donnelly’s. Over on Route 34.” Garrett bites his own carrot.
So his mouth is strategically full when Dad says, “Isn’t that a bar?”
Garrett makes that hand motion people do – like when they’re trying to chew faster – and talks out of the side of his mouth. “Partly, but it’s mostly a restaurant.”
We talked about this. No use trying to pretend it’s something it’s not. Just play up the restaurant more. Too bad Dad doesn’t buy it. “But it is a bar.”
“Sure. Yeah.” Garrett’s taking my advice to the letter. I wish I could give him a thumbs up.
“Well, that’s not an option. Hot blonde or not.” Dad says this like the subject is closed and turns to me. “How about you, Gab? How was your day?”
“I already told Amanda yes.” Garrett’s voice has the slightest edge to it.
But it’s enough. Dad’s head swivels back around and he sets his fork at the rim of his plate. “Well, I guess you’ll just have to tell her no, then.”
Dad’s used to getting what he wants, along with a big dose of “yes sir” to go with it. It happens at work. It happens at home. And when it doesn’t… I cross my fingers under my leg, praying Gar doesn’t blow it. “Sorry, Dad. Not an option.”
Shit. He so just blew it.
Dad leans back in his chair. An unpracticed eye might say he looks relaxed. “I wasn’t asking.”
Garrett nods. “Yep. I got that.”
“So you’ll tell your friend you’re not working in a bar and that’s that.” Dad taps his fork against the plate.
“Like I said, I already told her yes.” Garrett knows exactly where this is heading. Which is the only reason I can think of why he keeps going. “I mean, I’m not really the one with the issue here.”
Mom pushes her chair back. “Garrett!”
Any pretense of my and Gar’s plan is abandoned now. That’s clear. But I can’t stay out of it. “Dad, it’s not a big deal. Kate worked at McKean’s last summer and it was great.”
Dad’s glare turns to me. “Go to your room, Haley. This isn’t your concern.”
“I’m just saying…”
“Your room. Now.” Dad’s voice remains deadly calm, but his neck reddens above the collar of his white dress shirt.
I give one backwards glance at Garrett. He’s still in his chair, tilting a little. I’m on the first stair when I hear it crash to the floor. From his shout, I’m positive he went to the ground with it.
I close my bedroom door and perch on the edge of the creaky chair in front of my laptop. I rustle the papers on my desk, turn up the sound on my speakers, but I still hear too much. Mom starts yelling, but Dad quickly tells her to stay out of it. There’s a lot of pounding on the table. Cursing. A few hard thuds. Then the slamming of the front door, so hard it shakes the frame of our 100-year-old house. Two seconds later, the car starts and spits rocks as it slams into drive.
Quiet murmurs downstairs. Plates clattering. I can’t hear what he’s saying, but Garrett sounds contrite. Mom’s voice is high and thin. There’s a long pause and then Gar’s feet slap on the stairs. He shuffles down the hallway and pauses outside my door. I swear I hear his hand on the loose door knob, but he continues to the bathroom where the door clicks, followed by the sound of running water.
I count to ten four times before I let out the breath I’ve been holding since the water’s started. It’s still on, hissing through the pipe behind the wall. Running long enough that I know, even without Garrett opening my door, he’s trying to curb the swelling. Probably on his face where his hair falls across his cheek. Or maybe the back of his skull.
Either way, at least he’ll get to take the job. There’s no way Dad will say no now. He never does after one of his outbursts.
Maybe that was Garrett’s plan all along.