A New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age
“An engaging collection of back-to-school love stories…that should appeal to teens.” – School Library Journal
“…[these] very chaste, yet charming short stories, all centered on the beginning of school, will be just the fluffy, feel-good romances early teens crave.”
Read an excerpt from Lee Wardlaw’s story
Late summer. Late afternoon. I’d only been back from vacation ten minutes, tops, when I heard a familiar thump on my bedroom door. The tornado that is Hershey burst in, whirling me into a hug.
“Zack, you’re home!” She tickle-squeezed my waist, then trampolined onto the bed.
“Are you rigged with radar, or what?” I asked. “My mom doesn’t even know I’m back yet.”
“I saw The Beast parked in the driveway.”
“Watch it,” I warned. You’re talking about the woman I love.”
Hershey snorted. “Get a life, Zack. It’s a car. An alleged car.” She flopped onto her stomach, hands cupping her chin. “So, how was the lake.”
“Don’t give me that. If it was so ‘fine-fun’, what are you doing home “ – she glanced at her watch – “two weeks early?”
I shrugged and pulled wads of dirty clothes out of my duffel bag. I rounded a few socks into a laundry ball, slam-dunking it into the hamper. Two points!
“Zaa-ack.” She bounced an impatient fist for emphasis.
Her real name is Susan Barr, but minutes after meeting her in fourth grade I nicknamed her Hershey Barr. Yuk-yuk. A real wise guy. And, without knowing it, right on target. Almost eight years later, she’s still as sweet as chocolate, and hyper as a four-year-old who’s gobbled a box of candy.
“Tell me,” Hershey insisted. She sat up and tucker he blunt-cut hair behind her ears as if to better hear. “What happened?”
“Nothing happened.” I aimed another laundry ball. Rim shot.
“Hey, this is me you’re talking to. Your best friend, remember?”
A lot of guys at school think it’s weird that my best friend is a girl. I mean, they don’t understand how I can hang around this scrumptious blonde with the bon-bone eyes and not try to make out with her. Or more.
Truth is, Hershey and I have been buddies so long we feel like brother and sister. WE can advise each other, criticize each other, bicker-over-who-gets-the-last-fries each other. But kiss? The thought gives us both the creepies.
“Was the weather horrible?” Hershey prodded. ”The cabin? Food? Oh, no. You and Troy didn’t have another fight about the band, did you?”
“Nah. Nothing like that.”
Troy is my second-best friend. We started a rock band with three other guys about a year ago. I play drums. Troy wails on lead guitar and writes most of the songs. Clash-bash-and-smash songs about death, disease and destruction – which means we don’t get booked for a lot of gigs. My solution is for Troy to write less depressing stuff. His solution is to play louder.
“Did his parents drive you crazy?” Hershey asked. “Set an eight p.m. curfew or something?”
“Actually,” I answered, “his family’s pretty cool.”
“Then what?” Hershey leaned over the bed and scooped a handful of underwear from my duffle. With one eye closed, she aimed and fired.
Rebound. Right into the trash.
I laughed. “That why I like you, Hersh. What girlfriend would shoot hoops with me using my dirty boxers?”
“Your love life is a completely different issue,” she replied, “which I’ll get to in a minute. First things first. You tell me what happened at the lake and you tell me now. Or else – “ she leaned toward the duffle again “ – or else my next shot goes out the window!”
“Okay, okay.” I tugged the duffle from her reach. “Troy met a girl.”
“A girl?” Her voice squeaked an octave. “Troy? The same guy who wanted to tattoo Chicks are Scum across his chest?”
“The very same.”
“And he’s in love?”
“Head over heels.”
Hershey collapsed in a fit of giggles. “I – I don’t – believe it! Wait. Hold on. Are we talking about a human girl?”
I nodded. “Two eyes, one nose, the whole nine yards.”
“That’s fantastic! I’m happy for him.” She gave me a curious glance. “So what’s the problem?”
“The problem is they acted like Siamese twins joined at the lips! Which was great for Troy, but I felt like a chaperone. You know. Three’s a crowd. So I packed up and headed home.”
“Didn’t Troy try to talk you out of it?”
“Are you kidding? Last I saw him, he and his girl were tentacled together, staring at each other with glazed-doughnut eyes. His little brother will miss me, though. I lost fifty bucks to him playing 137 games of Go Fish.”
Hershey encircled me in a hug from behind. “I’m sorry your vacation was such a drag.”
“It’s no big deal.” And it wasn’t. Not really. I mean, the lake was great. I could’ve stuck around and fished and sailed without Troy. But I didn’t want to be there when the inevitable happened. When his girlfriend decided they should see other people, that they should just be friends…
“Still,” Hershey went on, “it was rude of Tory to ignore you like that. He could’ve at least found out if his sweetie had a friend for you.”
“Hel-lo, we’re changing the subject now.” I announced. “We can talk about anything except Troy. Underwear. Basketball…”
“Well, in that case – “ Hershey flurried over to my wall calendar. She flipped the old month to August, rummaged through my desk for a marker and drew a big green heart around one of the Saturdays.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
“”This,” she said, sketching a cupid’s arrow through the heart, “is the night you fall in love.”
“What are you talking about? Leave my stuff alone.” I tried to pry the marker from her fingers. She clutched tighter, stuck out her tongue at me, and continued her masterpiece. Jagged lightning bolts radiated from the heart’s outline.
“Now that you’re home early,” she continued, “you’ll be able to go out with my pen pal. Remember? I told you last month that she’s coming. All the way from Toronto. She’s never been to California, she’s staying a whole week, and this – “ she jabbed at the calendar – “is the night of your first date.” Inside the heart she penned Dinner with Lynn Ohi.
“Lynn Ohi? I think I saw a picture of her once. Isn’t she the scrawny seventh grader with braces and Elton John glasses?”
Hershey rolled her eyes. “She’s not a seventh grader anymore. She’s gonna be a senior, like us. And the braces are gone. So are the scrawnies.”
“And the glasses? I don’t date girls with glasses.”
Hershey threw the marker at me. “You don’t date. Period.”
I shrugged. “Been there. Done that.”
“C’mon, Zack. No wonder you couldn’t relate to Troy. It’s been almost a year since Jade dumped you. Isn’t it time you moved on?”
“I have moved on. On and up and out. I don’t want to get involved with anyone right now. Or – “ I peered at the green heart – “ on August twenty-sixth.”
“Okay, so I’ll cancel the wedding cake,” Hershey said, “and book a pizza instead. Strictly casual. Just promise you’ll go. We can double-date.”
“With you and what’s-his-name?”
“You mean Jose?” She waved as if dismissing a mosquito. “We broke up weeks ago. I’m dating a new guy named Russell. I met him at Bonanza Burger. Did I tell you I’m working there now? Night shift. Very challenging work. Here, listen to this and tell me what you think.” She posed over an imaginary cash register, her face wrinkled with intense concentration. “Would you like fries with that?”
“Impressive,” I said.
She chuckled. “I knew you’d like it. Yikes! I’ve gotta go. My shift starts at six. Want to meet me after work for a Coke? You could tell me more about the Leeches in Love.”
“Not tonight, Hersh. I’m tired after the drive.” I did a drumroll with my fingers. “And I need a couple hours of practice.”
“Sure. Call me tomorrow, okay?” She spun out the door. “And don’t forget – August twenty-sixth!”
“I’m busy that night!” I shot back.
But she just laughed and sailed down the stairs, humming the wedding march.
After Hershey left, I rummaged through the kitchen looking for something that resembled dinner. Mom didn’t know I was coming home, so the cupboards were Mother Hubbard-bare. I finally settled on a bowl of stale cereal, softened in a splash of quasi-sour milk.
As I slurped and crunched, I flipped through Mom’s date book. Just as I suspected. Tonight she was heading to school straight from work. She wouldn’t be home till ten.
After my parents’ divorce, Mom enrolled in night classes at the local college. She’s working on a degree in literature and wants to be a professor some day. I’m really proud of her. A little envious, too. It must feel good to have something to reach for. Something bright and right to look forward to…
I dumped the dregs of the cereal down the sink then headed back upstairs to the drum set that hunches like a monstrous spider in the corner of my room. I spun a few times on the stool and flexed my fingers, ready for a marathon practice session.
The sweet-smoky scent of barbecuing chicken wafted through the open window.
My stomach groaned and I nearly drooled onto a cymbal.
Then the meaning of that delicious smell hit me harder than hunger.
“Great. Just great,” I grumbled, flicking my sticks across the room.
The house next door had stood empty for two years, ever since the husband got laid off and the bank foreclosed. I knew I should’ve felt sorry for them, but Hershey and I shamelessly cheered and waved as the U-Haul rumbled down the street. Reason? The couple complained I was ‘disturbing the peace’ if I even looked at my drums after five p.m. And they set up their stereo system in the room across from mine, where they played bad opera for hour after endless hour until troops of women Vikings with ropelike braids had paraded through my dreams.
I hoped the new neighbors were music haters.
With the exception of drum solos.
I retrieved my sticks from where they’d rolled under the bed and got ready to start again.
But I couldn’t play. Couldn’t concentrate. Hershey’s words kept echoing in my mind.
It’s been almost a whole year since Jade dumped you. Isn’t it time you moved on?
I shook my head. I couldn’t move on. I mean, what was the point? How could I ever find a girl who meant more to me than Jade? A girl who loved me as much as I loved her? A girl who was searching, reaching, like me, with me, for something more?
And would it be worth find her? Even at the risk that someday she might walk away?
The sticks hung limp in my fingers, and the room slowly darkened around me.
The music. I heard the music first.
It eased through the open window. Rats, I muttered. The Vikings are back. But the music didn’t clash in a jumble of booming drama. Instead it flowed simply and clean, the melody glittering like clear, cool water. Questions, disguised as notes, darted and teased, chased and explored in playful minnows of sound. They swirled up and around, tugging at something deep inside me… tugging me to the window.
I put down my sticks. Crossed the room. Pushed open the curtains.
And then … I saw her.
A girl. A girl’s shadow. Projected in profile on the shade of the window across from mine.
I caught my breath.
She was beautiful. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew. I knew from the way she stood as if perched on tiptoes at the edge of a rock, high above a valley of water. Back arched slightly, chin raised, she clasped her hands behind her head and listened. Not to the music, but to the questions that swirled around her, around us. And when the notes burst through to the surface in a splash of answers, her chin rose higher. This, the gesture said. This is what I’m looking for. And I knew in that instant that I’d been hoping, wishing, waiting for the same thing…
Excerpt from “Shadow Girl”
Copyright Lee Wardlaw 1995
Famous Quotes About Love
Francis David: We need not think alike to love alike.
Zelda Fitzgerald: Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much a heart can hold.
Goethe: To be loved for what one is, is the greatest exception. The great majority love in others only what they lend him, their own selves, their version of him.
Matt Groening: Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.
Margaret Guenther: [W]e all need friends with whom we can speak of our deepest concerns, and who do not fear to speak the truth in love to us.
Robert Heinlein: Love is a condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.
Victor Hugo: Life is the flower for which love is the honey.
Ursula K. LeGuin: Love doesn't just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Him that I love, I wish to be free – even from me.
Mary Oliver: To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.
Ayn Rand: To say ‘I love you’, one must first be able to say the ‘I’.
Agnes Repplier: We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh.
Rita Rudner: Before I met my husband, I'd never fallen in love, though I'd stepped in it a few times.
Rumi: Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Dr Seuss: When you are in Love you can't fall asleep because reality is better than your dreams.
Henry David Thoreau: Love must be as much a light as it is a flame.
Mark Twain: After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.
George Sand: There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.