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First pages

Chapter 1

Happy. You don't miss that until it's gone. Right now, it’s tingling in my fingertips and making my hands shake, in a good way, in a way that reminds me not to mess this up.

I stare at the bulky note on my desk, the note that, through whispers and furtive glances, had just traversed the entire classroom to make it to me.

“From Harper,” Sophie says, nodding toward a girl sitting by the window doodling purple stars in her notebook. I can’t see the paper, but I know it’s stars; it’s always stars with Harper. She tucks a strand of bleach blond hair behind her ear and looks up at me.

“Open it,” she mouths, and terrified, I discreetly wipe the sweat from my hands and slowly unfold the clunky note. I prep myself for condoms or some equally embarrassing object to fall onto my desk.

 Ells, Mia told me to give you this. Welcome back. See u at lunch. XO, Harper.

That’s what’s scrawled in purple ink on the first piece of paper. The second piece is wrapped crudely around a small item with a thin black hairband. Not wanting to prolong the agony, I tear the paper away and turn the object over in my hand, searching for the word “slut” or “bitch” inked somewhere into the plastic. But there’s nothing like that. I look at Harper, and she gives me a meaningful nod as if to assure me of the note’s authenticity. With a smile that I hope is more poised than eager, I slip the item into my backpack.

When the bell finally rings, I run to the restroom, and like it’s a freaking diamond, I carefully take the blue chalk Harper gave me out of my backpack. At first my hands shake when I drag it across my hair, but after a few strokes the reality that I’m back on the team takes over and my hands steady. Even if our principal hasn’t said so, my teammates want me back, and for me, that’s what matters.

 “You playing soccer again?” a sophomore girl I’ve seen once or twice asks, smudging her fresh coat of mascara as she glances sideways at me in the mirror. “You’re so lucky.” She tries to seem nonchalant, rubbing away the dark spots on her lid with her finger and some spit.

I look at her in my peripheral vision. “It’s not about luck.”

It’s about being chosen because you’re one of the best.

The sophomore looks up and her mouth flops a bit before she stammers, “Right, um, sorry.”

Scarcely acknowledging her statement, I focus on making sure the blue is bright enough in my light brown hair, and when I’m satisfied it is, I put the chalk back in my backpack and leave.

The cafeteria is crowded, cold, and smells like day old pizza and sweat, but it may as well be perfume for all I care. First day of junior year is going much better than I anticipated. I strut over to the table a little bit cocky, a little like nothing ever happened. And I admit I love how my peers look at me, trying surreptitiously not to stare at my hair or how I’m walking directly to the soccer table, which is easy to spot because it’s the only table where ten girls are sporting blue hair. I practically float because I know Mia’s going to apologize, and I’ll shrug it off. I’ll be the bigger person.

But when I get to the table, there’s no space for me.

Mia hasn’t told them, of course. It’s Mia and this is her chance for a little drama.

Trying to maintain my dignity, I drag a chair from a nearby table and ease it between Palmer and Becca, across from Mia, but instead of making room, the two close ranks to keep me out.

“Slut,” Palmer coughs into her hand, the accusation barely hidden.

I look to Harper

“Oh, c’mon, Eloise, really?” Harper pauses to tilt her head, and then she laughs, snorting air out of her tiny nose. The other girls, like a chorus, join in. Pleased with herself, Harper continues, “You didn’t really think we’d go all summer without talking to you and then suddenly, just because we’re back in school, everything would be okay?”

And all of this is terrible, but it’s not the worst part. The worst part isn’t even how everyone is looking at our table now or how I so pathetically styled my hair over one shoulder so that the blue chalked tips are more visible. The worst part is that in my anticipation, my stupidity, I still think Mia sent me that chalk. I look at her as she stares at her plate of fries like none of this is happening.

“Mia?” I say, hating the scratchy and small sound of my voice.

She looks up, and Harper looks at her with pursed lips. But still, Mia opens her mouth, and I’m sure she’s going to tell Harper to shut the hell up. That’s what the Mia I knew would do. But she doesn’t. She shrugs and looks back down at her food.

And that’s what finally makes me leave, what finally makes me realize that junior year is going to be so much worse than I’d predicted.

I walk so fast to get past their table that I kick the leg of a chair in front of me, which is exactly my luck. It only moves a couple inches, but its grating sound against the tile floor draws enough attention that it starts them laughing at me all over again.

Stubbing my toe against the chair doesn’t hurt, but it’s enough. It’s like a hinge that finally gives in to pressure forced against it. Tears well in my eyes, and I blink to hold them back because I’m sure as hell not going to let them see me cry.

Embarrassed and trying to pull myself together, I sit down at the table I occupied last May, the one right by the smelly restrooms where only the occasional fellow social leper comes and sits with me. Today I have it all to myself. It’s pathetic. I tricked myself into believing one year of friendship meant something. Stacked against the years most people at this school have been friends, like Mia and Harper, my short-lived time with them meant little. I blink rapidly and hold my breath until the wave of hurt has been properly suppressed.

How could I have possibly believed her? I mean, Jesus, it’s Harper.

I want to run out of here, but there’s no way I’m going to let Harper see me cower that way. Instead, I sit. I don’t even take out my phone to distract myself. I try to eat my lunch like nothing happened, and I hope that they don’t see how my hands shake, not from happiness now but from shock and humiliation.

When I’m satisfied they aren’t looking at me, I try to discreetly blot my eyes, and that’s when he comes over to my table.

“Those chairs are always in the damn way,” he says and gently kicks the one in front of him. Without looking up, I know it’s Alec. I know his voice, I know those grey Converse shoes, and I know he’s leaning down to say it because he’s so tall. I laugh but have to stop because the relief from my laughter and the sound of his voice might reignite the tears.

Sucking in my breath, I look up at him and smile. “They should get rid of them.”

“We’d all be healthier.” He rests his hand on the chair beside me. “Sitting is the new smoking.”

“So I’ve heard,” I say.

For a second, he doesn’t say anything, just looks down at me and smiles, the greeting of a long lost friend. “Speaking of sitting, mind if I join you?” He points to the empty chair beside me. His light brown hair is short in the back and longer on top. It falls over his left eye, and he brushes it back with his hand. We’ve barely spoken in at least a year, but I’m not about to question anyone’s motive that wants to sit with me.

“Have a seat anywhere.” I gesture to the empty chairs around me and try to hide my relief at the idea of company. He sits down and loudly scoots his chair closer to me, like this is still a totally normal thing to do.

I open the glass container with my spinach, olives, tomatoes, and side of Blu cheese dressing, and Alec rests his arms casually on the table. This is good. My hands are shaking less, and the flood of adrenaline is subsiding, the tension in my muscles ebbing. Someone is sitting with me, and I’m still alive.

Inhale. Exhale.

“Been a while since we broke bread together, hasn’t it?” he comments.

First month of sophomore year, that was the last time. I left him alone to go sit with the soccer players, but I can’t think about that right now. The guilt would be like pulling the wrong peg in Jenga. I might collapse into pieces right here at his sneaker-clad feet. Maybe Alec and I only had each other to sit with freshman year, but we made the best of it, bemoaning the cafeteria food and planning what life would be like when we left this hellhole. Back then, I often wished it had been more than the two of us at a table, but now, his presence makes my table feel full and calms the freak-out going on in my head.

“I think you were still dressing like you were in high school last time.” I eye his light blue button up shirt, grey slacks, and navy tie.

“Ah, yes, must have been years ago then. Back when I thought t-shirts and jeans were still appropriate attire for a young man in his prime.” He leans back in the chair and adjusts his blue tie.

I laugh at his carefree grin. “So why bless me with your company today?” I shouldn’t have asked him that. It sounds like I want him to get to his point and leave. “Not that I’m not happy to have you sitting with me.” I take a bite from my salad to keep myself from saying anything else.

If Alec notices my awkwardness, he doesn’t let it show. “I’m here to talk to you about something,” he says.

“Great, talk away. I mean, I may have forgotten the art of conversation since my exile, but we can give it a shot.” Why can’t I say something normal?

He pauses and looks at me with sympathy, and I wish I hadn’t said anything. “Um, I thought you might be interested in doing something different.” He lets his eyes drift over to the center of the cafeteria.

“Look, I know I mentioned my exile, but I have no desire to talk about them.” I shake my head and refuse to follow his gaze over to their still loud table. At least they seem to have completely forgotten my near presence.

Alec doesn’t say anything, but he makes a point of looking at the dyed blue tips of my hair, as if asking if I’m sure I don’t want to talk about it. I feel my face flush at him taking notice, and I want to tell him that it’s not as desperate an act as it appears. I want to tell him about Harper and how that note whispered itself to my desk right before lunch, but I’m not sure he would understand even then. Alec wouldn’t understand why I wanted to be friends with them again in the first place.

Big deal. We all have our desperate moments.

Pulling my hands out of my sleeves and using a hair-band from around my wrist, I yank my hair back into a bun so the blue tips are less visible. He looks away, and we both blush.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it.” He fidgets with the button on the cuff of his shirt and then glances up at me.

I stab my fork into my salad but don’t take a bite. I just move a green olive around and concentrate on not looking at Alec for a moment. Finally, I say, “I don’t need help or anything different.”

He taps his fingers on the table and looks down. Then he looks at me and says, “You’re right; that was presumptuous of me. It’s not about that or them.”

I pause before answering, but he’s staring at me, so I have to say something. “Go on, but I’m not going to be interested.” I take a drink of my water wishing it was a nice sugary soda, but I’m determined to drop ten pounds before Christmas. I spent the whole summer curled up on my bed binge watching TV shows on my laptop with my mom popping her head in my room every few hours and telling me to go outside and “blow the stink off.” Sometimes I did. I’d walk to the park by our house, the one that no kids go to in the middle of a Texas summer afternoon because they’re not dumb enough to go outside in the crazy heat. I’d sit on the hot seat of a swing, let myself sweat so that I could remember I was still a living being, and then return to my escape from reality and the huge fan in my room as soon as I thought my mom would ignore me again. It was a really great summer, and to top it off, I gained five pounds.

“We need someone talented, a go getter. That’s why I’m talking to you.” He looks at me, waiting for me to respond.

“Right.” I pull myself away from my thoughts of summer that make me miserable all over again. But he’s got me all wrong. I’m not a “go getter.” I’m someone who runs away when people shout insults at me. I’m someone who dyes my hair in a desperate attempt to fit in after repeatedly being shunned. “When did you become such a salesman?” I ask more snarky than I intended, and he blushes. I soften my tone. “Anyway, I wouldn’t exactly describe me as a go getter.”

Alec looks disappointed.

I roll my eyes a little too melodramatically. “Look, I’m sorry, I’m just working hard to become a recluse these days,” I say, fully aware I don’t need to elaborate on that statement. Despite my best efforts, Alec persists.

“Go getter isn’t the right word.” He mulls for a second over his next words. “More like someone with endurance and fortitude.”

“Are you looking for Dungeon and Dragons players?” I ask.

He sighs and leans back in his chair, apparently frustrated by my shining sense of humor. “No, although you know you’re welcome to attend our Sunday games any time. We could really use a wizard.”

“Still a dork, huh?” I say, hoping he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

He laughs and shakes his head. “Still subtle, huh?”

We smile at each other because for the first time since he sat down with me, our conversation is like old times, the back and forth teasing.

 “But you’re avoiding what I’m trying to say, Eloise. I’m trying to tell you that right now, I’m looking for someone who can help us win.”

I stop smiling and take a drink of water because winning reminds me of someone I used to be, someone pretty good at winning. Maybe I wasn’t the best player, but I was definitely one of the fastest. Looking away from his face, I shrug but don’t dispute him, partly because I don’t want him to leave my huge empty table, even if it is just Alec, goofy, tall, lanky Alec.

He takes out a folded piece of paper from his breast pocket and puts it on the table. “Try-outs for mock trial team are tomorrow and Thursday.”

I glance at the black and white print-out. “Ah, yes, mock-trial, where once vibrant, happy high school students disappear rarely to be seen or heard from again.” At this, he sighs, but I think maybe I see a trace of a smile. “Jock turned academic, sounds like a good story,” I say because he’s not saying anything.

“Don’t put on a front. Intellectual pursuits have always been your true calling.” He pushes the flyer toward me.

It’s my turn to sigh in frustration and perhaps pleasure, pleasure that he still thinks of me that way. “You’re thinking of the me you used to know. That was over a year ago, eons in high school time.” I push the mock trail flyer back toward him, and he just shrugs. “Why would I join mock-trail?” I ask.

Because soccer is over for you. I know that’s what he wants to say to me.

But it’s not. Sure, I got kicked off the team, but I have a great imagination, and within it, I harbor a fantasy of my teammates approaching once soccer really starts and telling me there is no way the team can go on without me. They’ll tell me that obviously I was right about everything, and things will be different now. There are a few flaws with that imagined scenario, the first being that the team can definitely go on without me, and the second being that they just made their feelings about me being part of the team abundantly clear. Regardless, Alec is dangerously close to destroying that fantasy.

“Because you’re going to want something when you start applying for colleges next year,” he says.

Low blow, Alec. Kick a girl when she’s down, why don’t you?

He looks at me seriously, and I try not to respond in anger or hurt because it is honest even though it feels cruel for him to remind me that now I have nothing, at least that’s what I heard him just say.

“And Mr. Perez wants you on the team.”

“Mr. Perez? How does he even know me?” I ask. As far as I can remember, I’ve never met him.

“He has his ways,” Alec says and gives a slight shrug.

“Sounds like he might be desperate for people to join.” I take another bite of salad. This might be the most social contact I’ve had in four months, and I’d like to prolong it, regardless of who I need to insult to do so.

“Oh no.” Alec shakes his head defensively. “Mr. Perez only taps the best for the team.”

But before Alec even finishes what he’s saying, I see Mia glance over her shoulder at us and give Alec the once over, and something inside me shifts, like I’ve missed an obvious truth. “Is this some kind of joke?” I ask, terrified for a moment that the soccer girls found a new way to humiliate me. That somehow they dug into my past and recruited someone I would trust implicitly to help them make a fool of me. “Did Harper or Mia send you over to do this? Make me feel like I could be good at something again and then use that to humiliate me?” I regret it as soon as it’s out of my mouth, but the accusation stays, taking with it whatever light heartedness Alec had brought over here with him.

Alec leans back and holds up his hands. For a second, neither of us says anything. I’m trying to think of a way to take back my crazy when Alec speaks. “Nooo,” he says slowly. “Do you actually think I’d ever hang out with Mia or Harper, not to mention let them tell me what to do?” He looks angry that I’d even suggest such an idea.

I shake my head at Alec and smile because that is an obvious truth. “I’m sorry. I have to remember not to let my crazy show.”

“Well, a little crazy is a requirement for mock trial, so don’t feel you have to hide it all the time. Look, all I meant,” he points at himself, “was that Mr. Perez talks to teachers and pays attention. He knows who would be good on the team. And it shows. Last year we almost went to nationals, by the way.”

“Yeah, I heard something about that.” And it’s true. I do remember hearing it during morning announcements, knowing Alec was still on the team.

Alec rolls his eyes. “Right, we may not walk up and down the halls chanting and wearing jerseys, but two of our members got into Ivy League schools last year.”

“Wow,” I say sincerely.

Alec nods and pushes his chair back, like he’s getting ready to leave.

“I’m sorry, Alec, about what I said about Harper and Mia. I didn’t mean that.” I rub my forehead, trying to gather my thoughts, and then look up at him. “I spent all summer watching TV, by myself. I had way too much time to think about . . . stuff.”

“It’s fine. I get it.” He shakes his head. “Let me know if you’re interested. You’d get to hang out with me, and who knows, you might like it better than soccer,” he says as one last selling point. He stands up, gives a little wave and leaves.

“Right,” I mutter, mock trial better than soccer. I doubt it. Mock-trials get mentioned maybe once in the @GossipRockwood, but during the season, soccer tweets take up half the feed. So I have no idea how he can say that with a serious face, but he does.

After he leaves, I start packing up my stuff. No way I’m going to stay in here any longer than I have to. I turn to leave out the back so I don’t have to walk by their table again, but I take one last glance over there. Mia’s showing Harper something on her phone, and Sawyer and a few other guys are playing paper hockey with an old wadded up piece of paper. Palmer is sitting by Connor and leaning in close.

Connor sees me staring and gives a cocky smile, and for a second, I’m back in that garage, the smell of old gasoline and the warmth of Connor’s hand on the bare skin of my lower back. He’s looking down at me, not with his cocky grin, but like he wants to absorb me into him. I look away, blushing. My stomach drops but not in the way it used to when I saw him. What used to feel like desire is more like shame now, shame that I can remember every mortifying second with him, but I can’t remember anything that mattered that night, at least not well enough.

Quietly, I leave the lunchroom, but before I do, I grab the mock-trial flyer Alec left on the table and shove it in my bag. Probably I’ll never look at the damn thing again, but I definitely don’t want the soccer team to see it. I would rather sit down and tell them about my crushingly lonely summer than let them revel in the fact that, for a few minutes, while Alec sat with me and made me feel like a person again, I considered joining mock trail.

I go to the restroom where I try to wash the blue out of my hair. I run the water over the bottom half of the strands and watch the blue chalk drain in slow spirals down the sink. Water drips down my neck and onto my shirt. It’s the little things sometimes, like the cold drops of water from the sink or the Texas heat in the park over the summer, that shock me into feeling depressingly alive again and not numb like I would prefer. Staring in the mirror at the dark circles under my eyes and the splotches of water on my shirt, I twist my hair into a bun and wait. I wait until almost the last minute before the bell, and then I half jog to my next class. It’s better for me when the halls are mostly empty.

The rest of the day I try to go unnoticed until it’s time to go home. In history, Mr. Renkins goes on about World War II, and I sit in the back of the room where only one former soccer friend manages to throw a crumpled piece of paper at me with the word “Bitch,” scrawled in mauve lipstick. Not a horrible day considering all the unwanted attention I received last May.

Leaving school, the August heat radiates from the tar in the parking lot. Other kids walk by screaming and laughing. The first day of class is over, and I’m right back in my living hell.

“Think about it,” Alec calls to me a few yards away, yanking me out of feeling sorry for myself. He’s walking toward the senior parking lot. He smiles his big smile like the world is such a great place, and I hate that he’s seen me alone, again. He doesn’t wait for an answer. He gets in an old blue car and turns the engine twice before the car starts. That was another thing I always liked about Alec, how he could exist so independently in this microcosm of a world where everybody tries so hard to attach him or herself to someone or something of value. Before getting in my car, I watch him sputter away, windows down and radio loud.

Chapter 2

That afternoon when I get home, Mom has a snack for me on the counter, like I’m eight years old. Her auburn hair is pulled back in a loose bun, but little strands stick to the sweat on her neck. She’s standing at the sink running water. On the window ledge above the sink, knick knacks of our lives are lined up: chicken bones we’ve wished on, a small plastic container filled with bubbles from my aunt’s wedding three years ago, a misshaped plaster doll I made in first grade. Mom turns toward me and leans one hip against the sink, one hand under the water to ensure its proper temperature for washing dishes. She grins at me, circles under her eyes, and I bite my lip to keep from pointing out the smudge of peanut butter on her light blue t-shirt.

“What’s this?” I practically shout because the normal ruckus of our house surrounds me, comforting me and irritating me at the same time. The radio is on Mom’s favorite news station, my siblings are playing in the other room, and things in the kitchen are whirring and beeping.


“I thought you might want something to eat.” She shrugs her no-big-deal shrug. But it is a big deal because it reminds me that Mom’s worried about me. She’s never been the hovering type. Correction: she was never the hovering type until May when shit hit the fan.

In the other room, my younger brother and sister start fighting over a toy truck. The chaos of our house always increases with the temperature. Mom doesn’t believe in air-conditioning; she thinks we should “feel the real air.” The ceiling fan rotates hot air from the open windows. It’s like being in a sauna, and the chicken Mom’s roasting in the oven doesn’t help.

“Joseph,” Mom yells to my younger brother, “it’s your sister’s turn for the truck.” She turns back to me, smiles, and starts to wash dishes. Looking over her shoulder and still smiling at me — she’s always smiling at me now — she says over the radio, “I have to take Kendra to her art class at four today, but I was thinking tomorrow we might go to the mall. Buy some new school clothes. Oh, and Rhea called. She says she’ll be able to make it home for fall break this year.” She turns to the dishes instead of looking at me when she says this because she knows she’s acknowledging how lonely I’ve been all summer. She knows I don't want her to see it in my face.

“Great.” I try to smile. “It’ll be good to see her,” I say but I’m too distracted to think about my older sister coming home in two months.

I can’t do this again. I can’t go back to being that person again.

I never used to mind going on errands with Mom, going grocery shopping and watching my siblings play on the playground outside the store. I’d sit and read a book until one of them started an argument with the other. Then, like the good older sister I was, I’d go over and gently coax them into peace again. And I didn’t mind staying home with them when my parents went out. We’d fix popcorn and watch movies, and I’d read them stories before bed. And the truth is some part of me misses those days, misses the girl who was satisfied with a world that small, but I’m not that girl anymore.

I want to tell my mother that. Tell her that I’ve been to parties, remind her that I’ve had fans scream at me after scoring a point in soccer, that I’ve walked down the hall and seen how the homely girls look at me, and I’ve been drunk at parties — stumbling drunk at parties. But she knows that. She just doesn’t know how to help me now, and so whenever she looks at me it’s with a mix of pity and false cheer. It drives me crazy. I want her to look at me like she used to, like I was her strong reliable daughter.

“I can’t.” I shrug my backpack off my shoulders and set it on the kitchen island. The sweat from where the straps were cools me beneath the warm circulating air; my body relaxes a bit from the absence of the bag’s weight and the slight cooling affect of the sweat.

“What? Why not?” She looks over her shoulder again, hands still submerged in the sink’s soapy water. We’re talking over the running water and my siblings’ argument in the other room, but her tone of voice and the flash of hope in her eyes are clear and cause a stir in my chest like tiny breaks across my heart. It’s all too painfully familiar. It’s too much like that day when she rose from one of those dingy waiting room chairs to give me a confused look and walk silently into Principal Ingram’s bright office filled with heavy polished oak furniture. And then worse, when later she asked me if I thought it might be better to switch schools despite how much she and Dad have sacrificed to enroll me in my small private school.

My mother who never let me be scared of anything, who rolled her eyes when I would flinch at spiders, who insisted at the Museum of Science that I not pass up the opportunity to hold a snake, who joined the Peace Corps before she had kids and taught in a country where the local showers were outside, wanted me to take the coward’s way out. So of all people, she should understand why I can’t do that, why it would feel like I let them win, even if they haven’t, not yet.

Now, I have to show her that things are going well, that staying at this school was the best choice. But hiding the truth from her is exhausting.

Without a word, I walk over to the counter and turn the radio off. She stops washing the dishes but doesn’t take her hands out of the water.

“I’m trying out for mock trial,” I announce, not sure if I’m telling her a lie or not.

She pulls her hands out from the soapy water and narrows her eyes so that the worry wrinkle on her forehead is activated. Wiping her hands on a dishtowel, she begins her inquisition. “Okay. So who what is mock-trial and who is going to be on the team?”

Walking over to the kitchen island, I unzip my bag and set down the flyer for her to look over. She scans it without picking it up, still wiping her hands on the dishtowel. She nods slowly.

“Do you remember Alec?”

“Alec?” she looks up from the flyer. “Mmmm, oh, yes. The kid you were friends with before soccer, the one with glasses who came over here once?” She laughs, and for a second, it’s like she forgets how worried she is about me. “His mother and I could not figure out if you were dating, or whatever you call it now days, and whether or not we should tell you to leave the door open when you went to your room. Turns out we didn’t have to worry though. You kept the door open and wrote book reports.” She stops smiling. “He seemed like a nice boy,” she says slowly and cautiously.

Nodding, I mange to muster a smile, but that world of book reports and me and Alec eating lunch alone together is also much closer than I would like it to be.

My little sister walks in, her cheeks flushed pink from the heat, and interrupts our conversation. “Mom, Joseph’s not sharing.” She crosses her arms in front of her.

“Share, Joseph!” Mom shouts toward the other room and then gives me a thin smile to let me know her attention is still focused on our conversation.

My sister opens her mouth to speak again, but Mom stops her.

“I need to speak with Eloise right now, sweetie. Go tell him I said to share, Kendra. Go on now.” Mom points to the living room where my brother is waiting, and reluctantly, my sister trudges out of the room.

“Yes, him,” I say, “but he doesn’t wear glasses anymore, and he’s a lot taller.”

 “Okay, it sounds like it could be good.” She pauses. “I’ll have to call Mr. Perez and get a list of who’s on the team,” she says in her rarely used “this is non-negotiable voice” and then walks back to the sink, and before I can offer any protest, she changes the subject. “Do you need anything? Do we need to go to the store and get something for try-outs?”

“No, it’s fine.” I pick up an apple slice from the bright orange plate with a blue flower painted onto it and take a bite, avoiding eye contact with her.

“Okay.” She shrugs. “So you’re getting along with people at school?” She tries to ask innocently.

Her back is to me now, looking at the dishes she’s putting in the dishwasher. I look out over her shoulder into our back yard where my goal posts are still standing. Dad put them in for me after I made the soccer team. They both beamed the first few times I practiced outside, occasionally shouting words of encouragement through the open windows, between chasing my brother and sister around the house and settling arguments. They’d been so happy for me, happy I finally had a group of friends to hang out with.


About me

Irene Lee lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and six month old baby. Between feeding, bathing, and sweet baby smiles, Irene writes and reads. She loves mysteries, love stories, and young adult novels. When she's not doing those things, she enjoys swimming and taking photos.

Q. Which writers inspire you?
Many writers inspire me. In high school, I loved John Irving and Toni Morrison. I remember one summer night my sisters and I started reading Beloved by Toni Morrison out loud. We stayed up all night reading it together. Recently, I have really enjoyed reading Liane Moriarty.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
I wanted to write a story about the friendships people form in high school. The novel ended up taking a few twists and turns, but I still believe the heart of this story is about friendship.