Authors: Lauren Oliver
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Juvenile Fiction
Freshman year Lindsay somehow found out that Juliet hadn’t been sent a single Valogram. Not one. So Lindsay put a note on one of her roses and duct-taped it on Juliet’s locker. The note said:
Maybe next year, but probably not.
Every year since then we’ve sent her a rose and the same note on Cupid Day. The only note she’s ever received from anyone, as far as I know.
Maybe next year, but probably not.
Normally I would feel bad, but Juliet deserves her nickname. She’s a freak. Rumor has it that she was once found by her parents on Route 84, stark naked at three
, straddling the highway divider. Last year Lacey Kennedy said she saw Juliet in the bathroom by the science wing, stroking her hair over and over and staring at her reflection. And Juliet never says a word. Hasn’t for years, as far as I know.
Lindsay hates her. I think Lindsay and Juliet were in a couple of the same elementary school classes, and for all I know Lindsay has hated her since then. She makes the sign of the cross whenever Juliet’s around, like Juliet might somehow go vampire and make a lunge for Lindsay’s throat.
It was Lindsay who found out Juliet peed her sleeping bag
during a Girl Scout camping trip in fifth grade, and Lindsay who gave her the nickname Mellow Yellow. People called Juliet that forever—until the end of freshman year, if you can believe it—and stayed away from her because they said she smelled like pee.
I’m looking out the window and I watch Juliet’s hair flash in the sunlight like it’s catching fire. There’s darkness on the horizon, a smudge where the storm is growing. It occurs to me for the first time that I’m not exactly sure why Lindsay started hating Juliet in the first place, or when. I open my mouth to ask her, but they’ve already moved on to other topics.
“—catfight,” Elody finishes, and Ally giggles.
“I’m terrified,” Lindsay says sarcastically. Clearly I’ve missed something.
“What’s going on?” I say.
Elody turns to me. “Sarah Grundel is going around saying Lindsay ruined her life.” I have to wait while Elody folds a fry expertly into her mouth. “She can’t swim in the quarter finals. And you know she lives for that shit. Remember when she forgot to take her goggles off after morning practice and she wore them until second period?”
“She probably keeps all of her blue ribbons on a wall in her room,” Ally says.
“Sam used to do that. Didn’t you, Sam? All those ribbons for playing with horsies.” Lindsay elbows me.
“Can we get back to the point?” I wave my hands, partly because I want to hear the story, partly to take the attention off me and the fact that I used to be a dork. When I was in fifth grade, I spent more time with horses than with members of my own species. “I still don’t get why Sarah’s pissed at Lindsay.”
Elody rolls her eyes at me like I belong at the special ed table. “Sarah got detention—she was late to homeroom for, like, the fifth time in two weeks.” I’m still not getting it and she heaves a sigh. “She was late to homeroom because she had to park in Upper Lot and haul ass—”
We all bust it out at the same time and then start giggling like maniacs.
“Don’t worry, Lindz,” I say. “If you guys throw down I’m totally putting money on you.”
“Yeah, we’ve got your back,” Elody says.
“Isn’t it kind of weird how that stuff happens?” Ally says in this shy voice she gets when she’s trying to say something serious. “How everything spirals out from everything else? Like, if Lindsay hadn’t stolen that parking space…”
“I didn’t steal it. I got it fair and square,” Lindsay protests, bringing her hand down on the table for emphasis. Elody’s Diet Coke sloshes over the side of the can, soaking some fries. This makes us start laughing again.
“I’m serious!” Ally raises her voice to be heard over us. “It’s
like a web, you know? Everything’s connected.”
“Have you been breaking into your dad’s stash again, Al?” Elody says.
This is all it takes to really get us going. This is a joke we’ve had with Ally for years because her dad works in the music industry. He’s a lawyer, not a producer or manager or musician or anything, and he wears a suit everywhere (even to the pool in the summer), but Lindsay claims he’s secretly a hippie stoner.
As we’re laughing, doubling over, Ally turns pink. “You guys never listen to me,” she says, but she’s fighting a smile. She takes a fry and throws it at Elody. “I read once that if a bunch of butterflies takes off from Thailand, it can cause a rainstorm in New York.”
“Yeah, well, one of your farts could cause a massive blackout in Portugal.” Elody giggles, throwing a fry back.
“Your morning breath could cause a stampede in Africa.” Ally leans forward. “And I do
Lindsay and I are laughing, and Elody and Ally keep throwing fries back and forth. Lindsay tries to say they’re wasting perfectly good grease, but she’s snorting so hard she can barely get the words out.
Finally she sucks in a deep breath and chokes out, “You know what I heard? That if you sneeze enough you can cause a tornado in Iowa.”
Even Ally goes crazy at this, and suddenly we’re all
trying it, laughing and sneezing and snorting at the same time. Everybody’s staring at us, but we don’t care.
After about a million sneezes, Lindsay leans back in her chair, clutching her stomach and gasping for breath.
“Thirty dead in Iowa tornadoes,” she gets out, “another fifty missing.”
This sets us off again.
Lindsay and I decide to cut seventh period and go to TCBY. Lindsay has French, which she can’t stand, and I have English. We cut seventh period a lot together. We’re second-semester seniors, so it’s like we’re expected
to go to class. Plus I hate my English teacher, Mrs. Harbor. She’s always going off on tangents. Sometimes I’ll zone out for a few minutes, and all of a sudden she’ll be talking about underwear in the eighteenth century or oppression in Africa or the way the sun looks rising over the Grand Canyon. Even though she’s probably only in her fifties, I’m pretty sure she’s losing it. That’s how it started with my grandmother: ideas swirling around and colliding with each other, causes coming after effects, and point A switched with point B. When my grandmother was still alive we would visit her, and even though I was no more than six, I remember thinking:
I hope I die young.
There’s a definition of irony for you, Mrs. Harbor.
Or maybe foreshadowing?
Technically you need a special pass signed by your parents and the administration to leave campus during the school day. This wasn’t always true. For a long time one of the perks to being a senior was getting to leave campus whenever you wanted, as long as you had a free period. That was twenty years ago, though, a few years before Thomas Jefferson got the reputation for one of the highest teen suicide rates in the country. We looked up the article online once: the
called us Suicide High.
And then one day a bunch of kids left campus and drove off a bridge—a suicide pact, I guess. Anyway, after that the school forbade anyone from leaving school during the day without special permission. It’s kind of stupid if you think about it. That’s like finding out that kids are bringing vodka to school in water bottles and forbidding anyone to drink water.
Fortunately, there’s another way to get off campus: through a hole in the fence beyond the gym by the tennis court, which we call the Smokers’ Lounge, since that’s where all the smokers hang out. No one’s around, though, when Lindsay and I slip through the fence and get started across the woods. In a little while we’ll come on to Route 120. Everything is still and frozen. Twigs and black leaves crack under our shoes, and our breath rises in solid white puffs.
Thomas Jefferson is about three miles outside of downtown Ridgeview—or what you can call the downtown—but
only about a half mile from a small strip of dingy stores we’ve named the Row. There’s a gas station, a TCBY, a Chinese restaurant that once made Elody sick for two days, and a random Hallmark store where you can buy pink glittery ballerina figurines and snow globes and crap like that. That’s where we head. I know we must look like total freaks, stomping along the road in our skirts and tights, our jackets flapping open to show off our fur-trimmed tank tops.
We pass Hunan Kitchen on our way to TCBY. Through the grime-coated windows we spot Alex Liment and Anna Cartullo bent over a bowl of something.
“Ooo, scandal,” Lindsay says, raising her eyebrows, although it’s really only a half scandal. Everyone knows that Alex has been cheating on Bridget McGuire with Anna for the past three months. Everyone except Bridget, obviously.
Bridget’s family is super-Catholic. She’s pretty and really clean-looking, like every time you see her she’s just scrubbed her face really hard. Apparently she’s saving herself for marriage. That’s what she says, anyway, although Elody thinks Bridget might be a closet lesbo. Anna Cartullo is only a junior, but if the rumors are true she’s already had sex with at least four people. She’s one of the few kids in Ridgeview who doesn’t come from any money. Her mom’s a hairdresser, and I don’t even know if she has a dad. She lives in one of the shitty rental condos right off the Row. I once heard Andrew Singer saying her bedroom always smelled like General Tso’s chicken.
“Let’s go in and say hi,” Lindsay says, reaching for my hand.
I hang back. “I’m going through sugar withdrawal.”
“Here. Take these.” She pulls a pack of SweeTarts from the waistband of her skirt. Lindsay always carries candy on her, 24/7, like she’s packing drugs. I guess she kind of is. “Just for a second, I promise.”
I let myself be dragged inside. A bell tinkles as we come through the door. There’s a woman flipping through
behind the counter. She looks at us, then looks down again when she realizes we’re not going to order.
Lindsay slides right up to Alex and Anna’s booth, leaning against the table. She’s kinda, sorta friends with Alex. Alex is kinda, sorta friends with a lot of people, since he deals pot out of a shoe box in his bedroom. He and I have a head-nod friendship, since that’s pretty much the limit of our interaction. He’s actually in English with me, though he shows even less than I do. I guess the rest of the time he’s with Anna. Every so often he’ll say something like, “That essay assignment blows, huh?” but other than that we don’t talk.
“Hey, hey,” Lindsay says. “You going to Kent’s party tonight?”
Alex’s face is red and splotchy. At least he’s embarrassed to be caught out with Anna so blatantly. Or maybe he’s just having a reaction to the food. I wouldn’t be surprised.
“Um…I don’t know. Maybe. Gotta see….” He trails off.
“It’s gonna be super fun.” Lindsay makes her voice extra
perky. “Are you going to bring Bridget? She’s
Actually, we both think Bridget is annoying—she’s always really cheerful and she wears T-shirts with lame slogans like
Unless You’re the Lead Dog the View Never Changes
(no lie)—but Lindsay despises Anna and once wrote
all over the bathroom right across from the cafeteria—the one everyone uses.
stands for white trash.
The situation is beyond awkward, so I blurt out, “Sesame chicken?” I point at the meat congealing in a grayish sauce in a bowl on the table, next to two fortune cookies and a sad-looking orange.
“Orange beef,” Alex says. He seems relieved by the change of topic.
Lindsay gives me a look, annoyed, but I keep rattling on. “You should be careful about eating here. The chicken once poisoned Elody. She threw up for, like, two days straight. If it
chicken. She swears she found a fur ball in it.”
As soon as I say this Anna picks up her chopsticks and takes an enormous bite, looking up and smiling at me as she chews so I can see the food in her mouth. I’m not sure whether she’s doing it deliberately to gross me out, but it seems like it.
“That’s nasty, Kingston,” Alex says, but he’s smiling now.
Lindsay rolls her eyes, like Alex and Anna are both a total waste of our time. “Come on, Sam.”
She pockets a fortune cookie and breaks it open when we
get outside. “
Happiness is found when one is not looking
,” she reads, and I crack up when she makes a face. She balls up the little slip of paper and lets it flutter to the ground. “Useless.”
I take a deep breath. “The smell in there always makes me sick.” It does, too: that smell of old meat and cheap oil and garlic. The clouds on the horizon are slowly taking over the sky, turning everything gray and blurry.
“Tell me about it.” Lindsay puts a hand on her stomach. “You know what I need?”
“A jumbo cup of The Country’s Best Yogurt!” I say, smiling. TCBY is another thing we can’t bring ourselves to abbreviate.
“Definitely a jumbo cup of The Country’s Best Yogurt,” Lindsay echoes.
Even though we’re both freezing, we order double-chocolate soft-serve with sprinkles and crushed peanut butter cups on top, which we eat on our way back to school, blowing on our fingers to keep them warm. Alex and Anna are gone from Hunan Kitchen when we pass, but we run into them again at the Smokers’ Lounge. We have exactly seven minutes left until the bell for eighth period, and Lindsay pulls me behind the tennis courts so she can have a cigarette without listening to Alex and Anna argue. That’s what it looks like they’re doing, anyway. Anna’s head is bent and Alex is grabbing her shoulders, whispering to her. The cigarette in his hand burns so close to her dull brown hair I’m positive it’s going to catch fire, and I
picture her whole head just going up like that, like a match.
Lindsay finishes her smoke and we dump our yogurt cups right there, on top of the frozen black leaves and trampled cigarette packs and plastic bags half filled with rainwater. I’m feeling anxious about tonight—half dread and half excitement—like when you hear thunder and know that any second you’ll see lightning tearing across the sky, nipping at the clouds with its teeth. I shouldn’t have skipped out on English. It has given me too much time to think. And thinking never did anybody any good, no matter what your teachers and parents and the science-club freaks tell you.