Author Topic: Contemporary YA--GROWING TOO WILD  (Read 149 times)

Offline ruthrobertson91

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Contemporary YA--GROWING TOO WILD
« on: August 18, 2021, 03:26:22 PM »
I'd love some more eyes on the first chapter of my YA Contemporary, GROWING TOO WILD. (Here's my fast twitter pitch for context:  YOLK X SOME GIRLS DO. SLC, 2004: After a disastrous tarot reading, it's Valerie vs. her body & her heart vs. mind as she develops feelings for one of her best friends during cancer treatment, right as Utah bans gay marriage.) Any help is sincerely appreciated!!

Chapter 1

July, 2004

My skin is on fire. Each movement stokes the flame as he inches closer. I lean into him—into the warmth. James and I lie hip to hip, barely touching at first, and each small shift closer is both seismic and completely deniable. Our classmates shift on the futon and squeeze us closer and closer together. My shoulder presses into his and even in the dim light, I can see the dimples that contour his face. This doesn't mean he likes me.

Hours earlier, we found each other in the dark, musty fog of the laser tag arena, our guns trained at each other's hearts. We stood there, his vest glowing blue, mine red, and our weapons stayed tight despite our mutual recognition. He lowered the muzzle of his gun and my smile betrayed me. I lowered mine too, and we passed each other silently. That doesn't mean he likes me.

We piled four-deep into the backseat of Ashley's mom's car and drove back across the Salt Lake valley. James and I shared a seatbelt, me halfway on his lap, his arm around my waist. I teased him for being on the losing team while we waited for Ashley's mom to pick up the pizzas. A strand of my dark hair fell into his face, and he brushed my cheek with his fingertips as he tenderly tucked it behind my ear. That doesn't mean he likes me either.

We sang "Happy Birthday" before Ashley blew out fifteen candles, and here we are in her basement while a movie blares on the huge TV in front of us as James and I move closer. My cheeks are two smoldering coals, my stomach is in knots. He tentatively intertwines his pinky with mine and I'm afraid I’m going to burn the house down because my body blazes. Does this mean he likes me?

I think about glaciers floating in the sea, penguins waddling around Antarctica, ice cubes clinking in a glass, anything cooler than me as I gather all my courage and rest my head against his shoulder. He rests his head on top of mine and his honey-blond hair smells sharp and clean like tea tree oil. After each joke, I laugh harder than I need to, just to feel my body move next to his. When the movie ends, and Ashley turns on the lights, we spring apart like we've been caught doing something we aren't supposed to. His cheeks are as flushed as mine.

He might like me.

Ashely stands in the front of the large den and asks, “Have you ever played ‘suck and blow'?" We shake our heads, but Jessica nods and adjusts her ponytail. "You take a piece of paper and put it between your lips," Ashley says as she grabs a notebook from her backpack flung in the corner of the room and tears off part of a page. "Like this." She puts the paper to her mouth and breathes in. It flutters against her lips, drawn toward her breath. She stops inhaling and lets it fall into her hand. "And then, you blow."

She breathes in again and presses her mouth against Jessica’s. Electricity arcs across my skin when their lips almost meet through the thin paper. Jessica pulls away with it on her lips, the faint outline of Ashely’s pink lip gloss on the other side. The boys in the room whoop and with their encouragement, Ashley and Jessica give another demonstration. I rub my hands on my upper arms to make my goosebumps go away.

We line up. Jessica passes the paper to Ashley, Ashley to James, James to me. He puts his arm around my shoulder and leans in. I forget how to breathe and almost drop the paper. When it leaves my lips, I turn back to him, and he smiles. We play a few rounds before we’re laughing too hard to pass the paper and the game falls apart.

“What now?” Ashley asks.
 
Jessica gets a mischievous smile. "Truth or dare?"

"Truth," Ashley says.

"Have you ever been skinny dipping?"

"At my parents’ cabin with my cousins." Ashley turns to James. "Truth or dare?"

"Truth."

"Do you have a crush on anyone?"

"Yes."

Ashley bites her lip and looks up at James through her long eyelashes. "Is she in this room?

His head snaps from Ashley to me to Ashley again. "Yes."

My heart pounds in my ears, Ashley's smile goes thin, and I'm certain that I'm either going to throw up or die.

James turns to another classmate. "Truth or dare."

"Dare."

A kid I recognize from math moons the room, but the flash of James’s brown eyes is all I can see. Was he actually even looking at me? Doubt creeps in and I fold my arms around myself. He probably doesn’t like me. I don’t even know what I’m doing here. Ashley and I are friendly in class, and I’ve known Jessica and James since kindergarten, but I don't wear Ugg boots or makeup. Ashely’s house is huge, and I don’t think she’s ever had to share a room with her little brother. I'm afraid that any second they’ll all realize that I don't belong here.

"Hey Valerie, c'mere a sec." Jessica grabs my arm and pulls me out of my feelings and into the hall. Her freckles look like chocolate sprinkles on an ice cream cone. I look at her quizzically and almost expect her expression to match mine. In kindergarten, we thought we were twins with our dark brown hair and blue eyes, and though my freckles have disappeared as I've gotten older, looking at her is like looking into a funhouse mirror that warps my features into someone prettier. "James is into you."

My stomach flips like I'm upside-down on the Colossus at Lagoon. "Really?"

"Yeah. He told me like a month ago when we were all sluffing at the mall. Do you like him?"

I nod my head so hard my hair comes untucked from behind my ear. "I really, really do."
"
I’m going to dare him to kiss you. Is that okay?"

I realize I’m still nodding and stop. "It’s more than okay." 

I float back into the room behind Jessica. She stares hard at James. "Truth or dare?"

"Is it my turn?"

"Truth or dare?" She draws the last word out longer and raises a thin eyebrow.

"Dare."

"I dare you to kiss Valerie."

His face flushes as he crosses the room. My mind races and I try to remember everything I know about kissing as the space between us closes. Other than that boy I dated for two weeks in eighth grade, I'm woefully under-experienced. James puts his hands gently on my waist, and I put my arms around his neck. He leans in and accidentally bumps my nose with his glasses. He tries again and his soft lips meet mine. It's short, but it quenches a thirst I didn’t even know I had—it’s like the first sip of lemonade on a hot day. Someone whistles and we break apart. I tug my Ramones shirt back down self-consciously.

"I think you two have some stuff to talk about," Jessica says, giving me a thumbs-up behind his back.

James takes my hand, and I can almost feel every cell move in my body as we walk down the hall and up the stairs to Ashley’s kitchen. The marble tile feels cool beneath my bare feet. We stand there, unsure of what to do next. I catch a whiff of ozone and thunder rumbles in the distance. James points out the window at the purple clouds looming heavy in the sky. "It's starting to—"

"I like you," I blurt. I look down at my feet, my hands balled into fists and steeling myself just in case this is somehow one big misunderstanding.

He steps forward and puts his arms around me. "I like you too."

I unclench my hands. "I’ve never really done this before. Do you wanna go out?" I shrug and make my voice sound silly so I can play it off if he doesn’t say yes. "Are you like my boyfriend now?"

"Sure. I'll be your boyfriend."

"I was only jo—"

James presses a finger to my lips before he takes his glasses off and puts them in his back pocket. He leans in again. I'm dizzy, spun by how quickly everything can change and how simple it was and he's the only thing holding me upright. My heels peel away from the tile as I get on my tiptoes to reach him. This kiss is more urgent than the first, and he runs his tongue along my bottom lip when I hear footsteps on the stairs. James puts his glasses back on and we turn to see Ashley looking into the kitchen.

She sniffs. "I just want you guys to know I’m, like, really happy for you."

"Thanks," I say.

She sniffs again. "You’re really cute together."

She rubs what looks like a tear from her eye before she turns around and walks back downstairs. Oh sh**. I hope we didn’t ruin her birthday, but I might be too happy to care.

"Maybe we should go back downstairs too," I say.

"I probably have to go soon." James says. "I don’t think I’m invited for the sleepover."

We walk back down the stairs together, our fingers interlaced and a smile trying to eat my face. I grab the watch around James's wrist and bring his arm closer to my face. The glowing hands read 10:17 PM but it doesn't feel that late. James checks the time too. "I should call my dad. Let me say goodbye to Ashley." He walks over to her and I follow behind him, using his body as a shield. "I'm gonna go soon. Thanks for inviting me!" He gives her a quick hug, but she doesn't drop her arms after he lets go and rests them on his shoulders.

"Why don't you just sleep over?" Her ashy blonde curls bounce as she shrugs. "My mom said you could stay if you want."

"Really? Are any of the other of the guys staying?"

"No." She frowns. "But she's known you forever. It's fine. I think we have an extra toothbrush."

"One sec," James says and steps out into the hall.

I look at Ashley and smile, but when she doesn't smile back, I bend down to retie the laces of my black Converse. They weren't untied, but I don't know how to apologize for maybe ruining her birthday. I start to wonder whether I should go home too when James walks back into the room.

"He said it's fine. I guess I'm staying." He grins and puts his arm around my shoulder.

The other boys go upstairs, summoned by a honking horn or phone call and I'm left with Ashley, Jessica, James, and five other girls from our class at Southwest High, but we’ve known each other at the latest since seventh grade when we all tested into a magnet program that sent us to Southwest for middle school. Six years at the same school seems like forever, but they offer a lot of AP courses and an IB diploma, so most of us have stayed on.

With all the boys gone except James, Ashley puts on a chick flick. He and I settle into the futon again where he holds my hand instead of my pinky, and I’d be happy to stay on this futon with him forever.

It’s after midnight when the movie ends. "We should probably figure out where we're sleeping," Ashley says as she leads us through the kitchen and up another set of stairs to the top floor. "Half of us can sleep in my room." She points down the hall. "The other half can sleep in my mom's office." She gestures to her left. "The bathroom is that way." Jessica and Ashley walk toward her bedroom, and I shoulder my backpack and head to the bathroom. 

I turn on the light and look at myself in the mirror, wondering if I've changed somehow. I thought my cheeks would be bright pink, but my face is stripped of all color—white-hot like molten metal. I search for what James likes about me specifically—what about me is different from Ashley or Jessica, or every other beautiful girl I can't help but stare at, but I'm still Valerie. Short and pale Valerie. Smart and sweet Valerie. Stubborn and serious Valerie. After searching for a minute, I give up and splash water on myself to cool down. I trade my jeans and tee-shirt for pajama shorts and a Hello Kitty tank-top, brush my teeth, then walk back down the hall to Ashley's mom's office.

James has set up an air mattress and a sleeping bag perpendicular to one another, forming a letter T. He stands up and points to the air mattress resting on the plush, white carpet. "I thought you could sleep there. I like your necklace, by the way," he says as he slides past me sideways in the doorframe and heads down the hall.

I rub my lucky blue guitar-pick necklace between my fingers as I move the blanket he set on the mattress for me and lie down. I take a few deep breaths the way my mom taught me: in through the nose, hold for a three count, slowly out through the mouth. My heart gallops in my chest, and I'm almost jealous of the girl lying on the white leather sofa, calm and half-asleep, but when James walks back in I'm okay feeling like my heart might burst. He turns the light off and crawls into the sleeping bag. He reaches above his head to find my hand in the dark and whispers, "Goodnight, Valerie." And I swear, my smile is so bright I can see it shine through the
dark.

#

I wake up covered in sweat, my stomach in a tight knot, but deliriously happy. I roll onto my side and there's James below me, his mouth open slightly and drool pooling on his pillow. I want to brush the hair away from his forehead and kiss him awake like he's a Disney Princess, but the butterflies in my stomach are crashing around and I'm too light-headed to move.

I wait for everyone else to get dressed before I put on my clothes, then walk downstairs and through the kitchen into the dining room. Cans of Sterno flicker under silver chafing dishes full of eggs and bacon, and trays of fresh fruit and pastries flank both sides of the mahogany table. James is sitting on a bar stool at the counter and laughing with Ashley and Jessica. I contemplate the cost of a catered breakfast as I find a corner and sit down. I pull my phone out of my backpack. There's a text from my mom saying “Be there in 30 mins” which she sent almost 45 minutes ago. She's always running late.

I'm too queasy to eat, so I rest my head against the cool subway-tile wall. Ashley's mom comes over to me and frowns. "Do you feel well?" Her German accent barely peeks through her perfect English. "You look like a ghost. Are you in pain?" Without asking, she puts her hand on my forehead.

I shake my head and she pulls her hand away. "I'm fine. Just really hot." I look past her to James and the fire in my body roars.

She leaves and comes back with a glass of orange juice. "Drink this." I put the condensing glass against my cheek, then take a sip. The doorbell rings and Ashley's mom goes to answer it. My mom, even shorter than me with curly, light-brown hair graying at the temples, follows Ashley's mom into the dining room.

"Thanks for having Valerie over," she says.

"You're welcome." Ashley's mom nods toward me. "She's very pale. Keep an eye on her."
My mom leans in for a closer look, but I dodge her and walk over to the stools where Jessica, Ashley, and James are sitting. I hug Jessica from behind and whisper "Thank you." She just smiles at me in return. "Ashley, happy birthday! Thanks for inviting me." I make my voice breezy, like somehow it's not a big deal that I stole her crush on her birthday.

"Oh. Yeah. You're welcome. Thanks for coming," she says, only half paying attention to me and turns back to James. He hops off the stool and stands in front of me. I hug him and rest my forehead against his collarbone. He smells like sweat and fabric softener.

"Call me?" I ask after I let him go.

"I will. Is your number in the directory?"

"I think the home phone is, but I just got a cell. Lemme give you my number."

I look around for something to write with and spy a cup full of pens on the counter behind us. James holds out his hand and I write my number on his palm. He holds it up in a mock Boy Scout salute. "I'll never wash my hand again."
I roll my eyes at him. "Such a cliche."

He gives me an easy smile. He knows how cheesy he's being and knows that he's still charming as hell. I dart in to hug him one last time.

As we walk to the car my mom, who usually isn't nosy, asks me "Who was that?"

"A boy," I say. I'm not sure that I'm ready to talk about James yet—it's like making a wish—I'm afraid if I say it aloud, it won't come true.

"He looks familiar. Was he the goose who laid the golden egg in your kindergarten class play?"

"How am I supposed to remember that?"

"Do you want to tell me about him? What's his name?"

"His name is James. I had English with him last year, and he plays the guitar too." I open the door to the car and climb in the front seat.

"And?" My mom closes her door, punctuating the question.

"And what?"

She opens her mouth to say something else, but her phone rings. As she answers it, she turns the key in the ignition and we leave the Avenues, heading down toward our home in Sugarhouse.

My mom turns to me. "I've got to pick your brother up from Benji's and take him to get some new clothes. He ruined his last pair of jeans this morning falling out of a tree, but your dad will be home."
I keep my eyes fixed on the reflection in the side mirror. I'll never be used to my dad living with us again. My parents got divorced when I was four. After that he disappeared for a while—there are years that I don't have any memories of him at all, and then he showed back up one day on his birthday and expected me to know what day it was. He and my mom are still good friends, but I don't really get it with what he put her through. He's living in our basement until he gets back on his feet again. The best word to describe him is intense. He can be fun, like spraying-the-bottom-of-your-sled-with-PAM fun or letting-you-play-on-the-roof fun, or he can scream at you because you took the bigger salad for yourself instead of giving it to your little brother who doesn't even like salad anyway or for lifting the trunk of his car by the key on Christmas Eve and you have to wipe away the snot and tears before you walk into his parents' house and when you ask him not to yell at you he asks if you'd rather be hit instead.

We pull up to our house that sits by itself on a corner next to a golf course. My mom waits in the driveway until she sees me walk inside. I unsling my backpack and drop it on the white entryway tile. I start for the kitchen, my stomach finally settled enough for breakfast, but I don't even make it one step before my dad barks, "Put it away." I flinch—I hate that I react when he yells but it happens automatically. My stomach growls, but I pick my bag back up and go to my room instead. I grab my Discman and earbuds and turn it up until I can't hear the cars rush outside my window or my dad stomp around the house. It's not the greatest music for blasting because it's mostly folk but listening to sad people sing always makes me feel less alone. My purple-glitter gel pen flows across the pages of my journal as I write about last night. I look at the words wet and glistening on the page and almost don't believe them, but I remember James's lips against mine and know they're true: Guess what? He likes me.

Offline Jub666

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Re: Contemporary YA--GROWING TOO WILD
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2021, 11:57:39 AM »
I really enjoyed this and I would definitely read more. A great, strong voice and I'm keen to learn more about the dynamics between all the characters.  :clap:

Offline sharonstuff

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Re: Contemporary YA--GROWING TOO WILD
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2021, 09:38:50 AM »

I love the first sentence.  The word, “fire”, makes me want to read more. I like how you go through the inner dialogue that occurs during young love.
Good luck! I can’t wait to read more ;D
« Last Edit: September 16, 2021, 09:53:36 AM by sharonstuff »

Offline rivergirl

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Re: Contemporary YA--GROWING TOO WILD
« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2021, 04:30:15 PM »
Chapter 1

July, 2004

My skin is on fire. Each movement stokes the flame as he inches closer. I lean into him—into the warmth. James and I lie hip to hip, barely touching at first, and each small shift closer is both seismic and completely deniable. Our classmates shift on the futon and squeeze us closer and closer together. My shoulder presses into his and even in the dim light, I can see the dimples that contour his face. This doesn't mean he likes me.

Hours earlier, we found each other in the dark, musty fog of the laser tag arena, our guns trained at each other's hearts. We stood there, his vest glowing blue, mine red, and our weapons stayed tight despite our mutual recognition. He lowered the muzzle of his gun and my smile betrayed me. I lowered mine too, and we passed each other silently. That doesn't mean he likes me.

We piled four-deep into the backseat of Ashley's mom's car and drove back across the Salt Lake valley. James and I shared a seatbelt, me halfway on his lap, his arm around my waist. I teased him for being on the losing team while we waited for Ashley's mom to pick up the pizzas. A strand of my dark hair fell into his face, and he brushed my cheek with his fingertips as he tenderly tucked it behind my ear. That doesn't mean he likes me either.

We sang "Happy Birthday" before Ashley blew out fifteen candles, and here we are in her basement while a movie blares on the huge TV in front of us as James and I move closer. My cheeks are two smoldering coals, my stomach is in knots. He tentatively intertwines his pinky with mine and I'm afraid I’m going to burn the house down because my body blazes. Does this mean he likes me?

I think about glaciers floating in the sea, penguins waddling around Antarctica, ice cubes clinking in a glass, anything cooler than me as I gather all my courage and rest my head against his shoulder. He rests his head on top of mine and his honey-blond hair smells sharp and clean like tea tree oil. After each joke, I laugh harder than I need to, just to feel my body move next to his. When the movie ends, and Ashley turns on the lights, we spring apart like we've been caught doing something we aren't supposed to. His cheeks are as flushed as mine.

He might like me. I'm torn on this. I enjoyed reading this, but it's reading a little like prose and doesn't put the reader immediately into the story. Sorta of like reading a poem with the little repetitive lines. It wasn't until a second read that I realize this is one consecutive scene and not little unrelated blips in the MC's life that she is speculating about Jame's affections for her.

Ashely stands in the front of the large den and asks, “Have you ever played ‘suck and blow' theres's an apostrophe here?" We shake our heads, but Jessica nods and adjusts her ponytail. "You take a piece of paper comma and put it between your lips," Ashley says as she grabs a loose-leaf page from inside her backpack (the reader will see all the in-between stuff)a notebook from her backpack flung in the corner of the room and tears off part of a page[/s]. "Like this." She puts the paper to her mouth and breathes in. It flutters against her lips, drawn toward her breath. She stops inhaling and lets it fall into her hand. "And then, you blow."

She breathes in again and presses her mouth against Jessica’s. Electricity arcs across my skin when their lips almost meet through the thin paper. Jessica pulls away with it on her lips, the faint outline of Ashely’s pink lip gloss on the other side. The boys in the room whoop comma and with their encouragement, Ashley and Jessica give another demonstration. I rub my hands on my upper arms to make my goosebumps go away.

We line up. Jessica passes the paper to Ashley, Ashley to James, James to me. He puts his arm around my shoulder and leans in. I forget how to breathe and almost drop the paper. When it leaves my lips, I turn back to him, and he smiles. We play a few rounds before we’re laughing too hard to pass the paper and the game falls apart.

“What now?” Ashley asks.
 
Jessica gets a mischievous smile. "Truth or dare?"

"Truth," Ashley says.

"Have you ever been skinny dipping?"

"At my parents’ cabin with my cousins." Ashley turns to James. "Truth or dare?"

"Truth."

"Do you have a crush on anyone?"

"Yes."

I'd suggest making up some games of your own invention. This is teen party is cliche and will be a turn-off to you agent, imo. Make this surprising! also while your writing is strong, I'm not sure you started your book in the right spot. The reader needs time to get to know and bond with this character so they can care whether she gets James or not. Since this isn't labeled and a romance, there must be some other things going on in her life???

Ashley bites her lip and looks up at James through her long eyelashes. "Is she in this room?

His head snaps from Ashley to me to Ashley again. "Yes."

My heart pounds in my ears, Ashley's smile goes thin, and I'm certain that I'm either going to throw up or die.

James turns to another classmate. "Truth or dare."

"Dare."

A kid I recognize from math moons the room, but the flash of James’s brown eyes is all I can see. I don't understand here. A guy actually pulls down his pants and the MC is only looking at James? Was who looking at her? Was he actually even looking at me? Doubt creeps in and I fold my arms around myself. He probably doesn’t like me. I don’t even know what I’m doing here. Ashley and I are friendly in class, and I’ve known Jessica and James since kindergarten, but I don't wear Ugg boots or makeup. Ashely’s house is huge, and I don’t think she’s ever had to share a room with her little brother. I'm afraid that any second they’ll all realize that I don't belong here. Her lack of confidence is not appealing to this reader. It's vital this character is likable. I get she needs to be relatable to your reader but if you make her too whiny and fixated on the boy it's a turn off. There has to be a balance in here. Also it's not clear why she feels so insecure when she's known Jessica and James forever.

"Hey Valerie, c'mere a sec." Jessica grabs my arm and pulls me out of my feelings and into the hall. Her freckles look like the chocolate sprinkles on an ice cream cone. I look at her quizzically and almost expect her expression to match mine. In kindergarten, we thought we were twins with our dark brown hair and blue eyes, and though my freckles have disappeared as I've gotten older, looking at her is like looking into a funhouse mirror that warps my features into someone prettier. Love this! "James is into you."

My stomach flips like I'm upside-down on the Colossus at Lagoon. Oh my, I think I've been to this park when I was a kid "Really?"

"Yeah. He told me like a month ago when we were all sluffing at the mall. Do you like him?" Consider making the confession more recent. NO teen alive would keep a whopper of a secret for so long.

I nod my head so hard my hair comes untucked from behind my ear. "I really, really do."
"
I’m going to dare him to kiss you. Is that okay?"

I realize I’m still nodding and stop. "It’s more than okay." 

I float back into the room behind Jessica. She stares hard at James. "Truth or dare?" It's poor form to have four back to back sentences start with I

"Is it my turn?"

"Truth or dare?" She draws the last word out longer and raises a thin eyebrow.

"Dare."

"I dare you to kiss Valerie."

His face flushes as he crosses the room. My mind races and I try to remember everything I know about kissing as the space between us closes. Other than that boy I dated for two weeks in eighth grade, I'm woefully under-experienced. James puts his hands gently on my waist, and I put my arms around his neck. He leans in and accidentally bumps my nose with his glasses. great sneaky peek at James. I love that you gave him glasses. It's unexpected He tries again and his soft lips meet mine. It's short, but it quenches a thirst I didn’t even know I had—it’s like the first sip of lemonade on a hot day. Someone whistles and we break apart. I tug my Ramones tee-shirt back down self-consciously. At first I didn't know what a Ramones shirt was. I had to think about it. No thinking should be involved here

"I think you two have some stuff to talk about," Jessica says, giving me a thumbs-up behind his back.

James takes my hand, and I can almost feel every cell move in my body as we walk down the hall and up the stairs to Ashley’s kitchen. The marble tile feels cool beneath my bare feet. We stand there, unsure of what to do next. I catch a whiff of ozone and thunder rumbles in the distance. James points out the window at the purple clouds looming heavy in the sky. "It's starting to—"

"I like you," I blurt. I look down at my feet, my hands balled into fists and steeling myself just in case this is somehow one big misunderstanding.

He steps forward and puts his arms around me. "I like you too."

I unclench my hands. "I’ve never really done this before. Do you wanna go out?" I shrug and make my voice sound silly so I can play it off if he doesn’t say yes. "Are you like my boyfriend now?"

"Sure. I'll be your boyfriend."

"I was only jo—"

James presses a finger to my lips before he takes his glasses off and puts them in his back pocket. He leans in again. I'm dizzy, spun by how quickly everything can change and how simple it was and he's the only thing holding me upright. My heels peel away from the tile as I get on my tiptoes to reach him. This kiss is more urgent than the first, and he runs his tongue along my bottom lip when I hear footsteps on the stairs. James puts his glasses back on and we turn to see Ashley looking into the kitchen.

She sniffs. I can't see any teenage girl getting teary-eyed over this scene "I just want you guys to know I’m, like, really happy for you."

"Thanks," I say.

She sniffs again. "You’re really cute together."

She rubs what looks like a tear from her eye before she turns around and walks back downstairs. Oh sh**. I hope we didn’t ruin her birthday, but I might be too happy to care.

"Maybe we should go back downstairs too," I say.

"I probably have to go soon." James says. "I don’t think I’m invited for the sleepover."

We walk back down the stairs together, our fingers interlaced and a smile trying to eat my face. nice I grab the watch around James's wrist and bring his arm closer to my face. The glowing hands read 10:17 PM but it doesn't feel that late. James checks the time too. "I should call my dad. Let me say goodbye to Ashley." He walks over to her and I follow behind him, using his body as a shield. "I'm gonna go soon. Thanks for inviting me!" He gives her a quick hug, but she doesn't drop her arms after he lets go and rests them on his shoulders. How does the make Valerie feel?

"Why don't you just sleep over?" Her ashy blonde curls bounce as she shrugs. "My mom said you could stay if you want."

"Really? Are any of the other of the guys staying?"

"No." She frowns. "But she's known you forever. It's fine. I think we have an extra toothbrush."

"One sec," James says and steps out into the hall.

I look at Ashley and smile, but when she doesn't smile back, I bend down to retie the laces of my black Converse. They weren't untied, but I don't know how to apologize for maybe ruining her birthday. I start to wonder whether I should go home too when James walks back into the room.

"He said it's fine. I guess I'm staying." He grins and puts his arm around my shoulder.

The other boys go upstairs, summoned by a honking horn or phone call comma and I'm left with Ashley, Jessica, James, and five other girls from our class at Southwest High, but we’ve known each other at the latest since seventh grade when we all tested into a magnet program that sent us to Southwest for middle school. Six years at the same school seems like forever, but they offer a lot of AP courses and an IB diploma, so most of us have stayed on.

With all the boys gone except James, Ashley puts on a chick flick. He and I settle into the futon again where he holds my hand instead of my pinky, and I’d be happy to stay on this futon with him forever.

It’s after midnight when the movie ends. "We should probably figure out where we're sleeping," Ashley says as she leads us through the kitchen and up another set of stairs to the top floor. "Half of us can sleep in my room." She points down the hall. "The other half can sleep in my mom's office." She gestures to her left. "The bathroom is that way." Jessica and Ashley walk toward her bedroom, and I shoulder my backpack and head to the bathroom. 

I turn on the light and look at myself in the mirror, wondering if I've changed somehow. I thought my cheeks would be bright pink, but my face is stripped of all color—white-hot like molten metal. I search for what James likes about me specifically—what about me is different from Ashley or Jessica, or every other beautiful girl I can't help but stare at, but I'm still Valerie. Short and pale Valerie. Smart and sweet Valerie. Stubborn and serious Valerie. nice descriptionsAfter searching for a minute, I give up and splash water on myself to cool down. I trade my jeans and tee-shirt for pajama shorts and a Hello Kitty tank-top, brush my teeth, then walk back down the hall to Ashley's mom's office.

James has set up an air mattress and a sleeping bag perpendicular to one another, forming a letter T. He stands up and points to the air mattress resting on the plush, white carpet. "I thought you could sleep there. I like your necklace, by the way," he says as he slides past me sideways in the doorframe and heads down the hall.

I rub my lucky blue guitar-pick necklace finally something cool about her between my fingers as I move the blanket he set on the mattress for me and lie down. I take a few deep breaths the way my mom taught me: in through the nose, hold for a three count, slowly out through the mouth. My heart gallops in my chest, and I'm almost jealous of the girl lying on the white leather sofa, calm and half-asleep, but when James walks back in I'm okay feeling like my heart might burst. He turns the light off and crawls into the sleeping bag. He reaches above his head to find my hand in the dark and whispers, "Goodnight, Valerie." And I swear, my smile is so bright I can see it shine through the
dark.

#

I wake up covered in sweat, my stomach in a tight knot, but deliriously happy. I roll onto my side and there's James below me, his mouth open slightly and drool pooling on his pillow. I want to brush the hair away from his forehead and kiss him awake like he's a Disney Princess, but the butterflies in my stomach are crashing around and I'm too light-headed to move.

I wait for everyone else to get dressed before I put on my clothes, then walk downstairs and through the kitchen into the dining room. Cans of Sterno flicker under silver chafing dishes full of eggs and bacon, and trays of fresh fruit and pastries flank both sides of the mahogany table. James is sitting on a bar stool at the counter and laughing with Ashley and Jessica. I contemplate the cost of a catered breakfast as I find a corner and sit down. I pull my phone out of my backpack. There's a text from my mom saying  “Be there in 30 mins” which she sent almost 45 spell out numbers less than 100 unless used in a scientific term as a general rule minutes ago. She's always running late.

I'm too queasy to eat, so I rest my head against the cool subway-tile wall. Ashley's mom comes over to me and frowns. "Do you feel well?" Her German accent barely peeks through her perfect English. "You look like a ghost. Are you in pain?" Without asking, she puts her hand on my forehead.

I shake my head and she pulls her hand away. "I'm fine. Just really hot." I look past her to James comma and the fire in my body roars.

She leaves and comes back with a glass of orange juice. "Drink this." I put the condensing glass against my cheek, then take a sip. The doorbell rings and Ashley's mom goes to answer it. My mom, even shorter than me with curly, light-brown hair graying at the temples, follows Ashley's mom into the dining room.

"Thanks for having Valerie over," she says.

"You're welcome." Ashley's mom nods toward me. "She's very pale. Keep an eye on her."
My mom leans in for a closer look, but I dodge her and walk over to the stools where Jessica, Ashley, and James are sitting. I hug Jessica from behind and whisper "Thank you." She just smiles at me in return. "Ashley, happy birthday! Thanks for inviting me." I make my voice breezy, like somehow it's not a big deal that I stole her crush on her birthday. Ohhh, that explains the tears. sorry if I missed that above

"Oh. Yeah. You're welcome. Thanks for coming," she says, only half paying attention to me and turns back to James. He hops off the stool and stands in front of me. I hug him and rest my forehead against his collarbone. He smells like sweat and fabric softener.

"Call me?" I ask after I let him go.

"I will. Is your number in the directory?" school directory? this will have to be spelled out as this is very dated. Wouldn't he say text me your number or something?

"I think the home phone is, but I just got a cell. Lemme give you my number."

I look around for something to write with and spy a cup full of pens on the counter behind us. James holds out his hand comma and I write my number on his palm. He holds it up in a mock Boy Scout salute. "I'll never wash my hand again." sounds like something a boy would say. lol
I roll my eyes at him. "Such a cliche."

He gives me an easy smile. He knows how cheesy he's being and knows that he's still charming as hell. I dart in to hug him one last time.

As we walk to the car my mom, who usually isn't nosy, asks me "Who was that?"

"A boy," I say. I'm not sure that I'm ready to talk about James yet—it's like making a wish—I'm afraid if I say it aloud, it won't come true.

"He looks familiar. Was he the goose who laid the golden egg in your kindergarten class play?"

"How am I supposed to remember that?"

"Do you want to tell me about him? What's his name?"

"His name is James. I had English with him last year, and he plays the guitar too." I open the door to the car and climb in the front seat.

"And?" My mom closes her door, punctuating the question.

"And what?"

She opens her mouth to say something else, but her phone rings. As she answers it, she turns the key in the ignition and we leave the Avenues, heading down toward our home in Sugarhouse.

My mom turns to me. "I've got to pick your brother up from Benji's and take him to get some new clothes. He ruined his last pair of jeans this morning falling out of a tree, but your dad will be home."
I keep my eyes fixed on the reflection in the side mirror. I'll never be used to my dad living with us again. My parents got divorced when I was four. After that he disappeared for a while—there are years that I don't have any memories of him at all, and then he showed back up one day on his birthday and expected me to know what day it was. He and my mom are still good friends, but I don't really get it with what he put her through. He's living in our basement until he gets back on his feet again. The best word to describe him is intense. He can be fun, like spraying-the-bottom-of-your-sled-with-PAM fun or letting-you-play-on-the-roof fun, or he can scream at you because you took the bigger salad for yourself instead of giving it to your little brother who doesn't even like salad anyway or for lifting the trunk of his car by the key on Christmas Eve and you have to wipe away the snot and tears before you walk into his parents' house and when you ask him not to yell at you he asks if you'd rather be hit instead. This is a lot to digest. At least break up this long sentence.  I'd suggest a show don't  tell scene with Valerie interacting with her dad.
We pull up to our house that sits by itself on a corner next to a golf course. My mom waits in the driveway until she sees me walk inside. I unsling my backpack and drop it on the white entryway tile. I start for the kitchen, my stomach finally settled enough for breakfast, but I don't even make it one step before my dad barks, "Put it away." I flinch—I hate that I react when he yells but it happens automatically. My stomach growls, but I pick my bag back up and go to my room instead. I grab my Discman and earbuds and turn it up until I can't hear the cars rush outside my window or my dad stomping around the house. It's not the greatest music for blasting because it's mostly folk but listening to sad people sing always makes me feel less alone. My purple-glitter gel pen flows across the pages of my journal as I write about last night. I look at the words wet and glistening on the page and almost don't believe them, but I remember James's lips against mine and know they're true: Guess what? He likes me. This is a personal preference only. The guess what? imo instantly pulls the reader out because they are suddenly being addressed

Since she's got the guy on the first page Im not sure what's going to prompt the reader forward at this point. I'm also not sure where the plot is headed.(I just read your twitter pitch and have a better idea of where you are headed. You might have Val feeling off since she's getting ready to have a big diagnosis. I did think it strange that her coloring was off but I didn't put two and two together that she was actually ill. something strong has to happen in this chapter to have the reader ask, "What's going to happen next?" Perhaps there's trouble in paradise or you ramp up the illness. I honestly don't know, I'm just concerned that this feels like the end of a story, not the beginning. I hope my honest comments are constructive.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2021, 04:39:31 PM by rivergirl »