by Erin Butler
Published by: Swoon Romance
Publication date: September 8th 2015
Katie thought she knew where her life was going. She was dating the captain of the football team, had a BFF for life, and everyone at school wanted to be her. But then her pregnant teen sister’s pregnancy changes all that. Everyone dumps her, including her friends and boyfriend.
Hey, Katie, welcome to life at the bottom of the high school food chain. This is how the other half lives.
Then there’s Nick. He’s a straight-A student and self-professed geek who’s had a thing for her since middle school. He needs a date for the winter formal, and Katie needs something to keep her busy. Nick’s plight becomes her personal pet project. She will help him get over his insecurities and get a date. Besides, she was popular once. She knows how to get dates.
But Nick has other plans. He’s going to use these “dating” lessons as a way to win Katie’s heart.
A cry pierced the five-second silence that could’ve raised the hackles on a cute baby seal. If cute baby seals had hackles … I didn’t know. Pulling the worthless, spongy ear plugs from my ears, I jotted down a note on an empty page in the notebook I’d left open the night before. To Google: Do baby seals have hackles? What exactly are hackles anyways?
The lined notebook paper was hard to see in the dim light of my room, let alone the soft pencil marks I was scribbling. Hoping I’d be able to read the quick, exhausted lines in the morning when the world stopped punishing me, I pushed it aside and sat up.
Fluorescent teeth glared at me like a lighthouse beam from the corner of the room. As the peacefulness of sleep retreated further, a ghost of a face appeared around the mouth along with the rest of the lanky but fit, and relaxed yet somehow staged form. More bodies came into focus next to him with equally radiant, ten-minute, glow-in-the-dark smiles.
It was a poster of a boy-band I couldn’t even remember the name of anymore. Pretty sure I was in love with the boy in the middle once upon a time, but that had to have been at least two years ago. His name started with an H. Henry, maybe? No. Harry. No. Horny? Yes. That was it. Had to have been Horny.
The poster was a pre-niece poster. Pre-sixteen-and-pregnant episode going on right in my own house. The only thing I’d never have to write down in my musings notebook: Should I have a kid?
Second of all, my mom would probably disown me, but first of all—the biggest first ever—I would never find out if my mom was that heartless because I’d never let it get that far. I was never getting pregnant. Like never. Because what came from a pregnancy? Babies. Or hell spawn. Or schizoid minions, if you wanted to be exact about it.
Sure, babies could be cute at times. However, I was convinced my niece had horns that slid out of her blond curls in the middle of the night. Hanna had this thing where she liked to scream her head off at the most inappropriate times. Mostly sleeping times. Like right now. The clock confirmed it was only four thirty in the morning. Four thirty! Alicia wasn’t even home from work yet, which meant Mom was most likely trying to calm the baby down in the baby/Alicia’s room. My sister gave up all rights to her own room when she allowed herself to get knocked up.
I picked up a rolled sock at my feet and threw it at Horny’s happy-go-lucky face. I’d be happy too if I was rich and hung up in every adolescents’ bedroom for them to fawn over … and didn’t have a sister who couldn’t keep her legs closed … and could ace school without the necessary hours of sleep.
A shrill scream from the other room punctuated my thoughts with a gigantic exclamation point. My own house was a sideshow. No need to travel to Nowhere, Ohio to see oddities like the Biggest Ball of Yarn. A quick drive down Clamberry Lane would do.
Untangling my legs from the sheets, I stood and tiptoe-ran from the room. The soles of my bare feet allowed the cold from the hardwood floors to seep through my skin and ice its way from my chipped toe nail polish all the way to my mousy brown hair. There was no time to put slippers on even if I could remember where my puppy ones were, or remember where anything was lately. If Mom and I wanted any more sleep tonight, we had to put Hanna back to bed. Immediately.
The door to Alicia/Hanna’s room was slightly ajar. Before pushing it open, I took a huge breath. What was supposed to calm me did the exact opposite. The smell of baby powder only served as a reminder that I wouldn’t get a full night’s sleep until I left for college in another year and a half. Distracted, and now thoroughly annoyed, I pushed the bedroom door open.
Mom stood in the middle of the room doing this bopping up and down swinging thing she thought Hanna liked, never once realizing it hadn’t ever put her to sleep since day one. She turned, her wild, snaky hair knotted around her face, her eyes a mix between sadness, exhaustion, and relief. It was always the relief that bothered me.
“I got her,” I said.
She plopped the devil-crier into my arms. Hanna looked up for a brief second and I thought her wails might subside, but no, she was just gearing up for another ear-piercer. Why was it she always looked so good, even when she was ensuring I’d need hearing aids when I was sixty? Sure, she was red from screaming and snot was dripping from her nose, but it was always Mom and me who looked like we were dragged through thorny bushes and tossed into a manure patch to wilt. Hanna always looked adorable. Angelic. Her tousled curls perfectly framing her face.
I made soothing noises and leaned down to sniff her head. She smelled awesome too. Not fair. I wanted to be mad at her but it was just so dang hard when she was so perfect.
Mom put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Thanks—”
I flinched away. “Just go to bed, Mom. Get some sleep.”
She dropped her head to the side. A flicker of wanting to say more shone in her eyes. I’d noticed the look more often lately. Thoughts were rising to the surface and threatening to spew out. They were practically on her lips, but I didn’t want to get into it. Not right now. Not ever.
“Go to bed.” I said, patting Hanna’s back. “You’re going to make her start crying again.”
Her eyes widened, more from hurt than surprise. Slowly, she turned and I watched numbly as she walked away, her plaid pajama pants twisted oddly around her waist. She must have been too tired to balk at my attitude. Though we did kind of have this unspoken agreement that when we were woken up in the wee hours of the morning, we were allowed to be moody.
Alicia and Hanna’s room matched the décor of the rest of the house, which could only be described as baby dump. It was like a parenting magazine threw up in every room. Except mine. Never mine. I barred anything baby from being in my room except the actual baby.
Several Sippy cups sat on the dresser and toys dotted every available horizontal surface, and some vertical ones too. They were everywhere. Just everywhere. Unbelievable places I wasn’t even sure Hanna could get at. A pink-tongued snake half slithered its way from behind the dresser mirror. Hanna was too small to put that there, she couldn’t even reach the top of the dresser let alone the dresser mirror.
The cooing noised I’d been making seemed to work. Her lungs stopped expelling bloody murder and turned to soft cries. But her tiny little fists? They still gripped my tank top and wouldn’t let go.
There was a time when I wanted to be just like my sister. Up until she got pregnant, I tried to follow in her high school footsteps. That seemed like eons ago now. Plush snake heads and baby alarm clocks were not my idea of a good time.
Apparently, the baby in my hands never got the message. When Alicia started working nights, I was the only one who could calm Hanna down. I basically took over all Mommy functions when my sister wasn’t around, which was at opposites with still trying to have a normal life and bringing my grades up.
Good grades and a decent SAT score were essential to me getting into college. Unfortunately, my pre-niece self had been more interested in boys and parties and best friends than thinking about college. I needed good grades so I could get out of here. This lack of sleep thing wasn’t helping, though.
I lifted Hanna from my shoulder to stare at her. Her eyelashes were wet and spiky. They fluttered and then, bam, she was out again.
Just call me the baby whisperer.
I laid her down, zombie-walked back to my room, and threw myself in bed again. A half hour later, Alicia came home. Her car thrummed in the driveway, her key clicked in the lock, and her exhausted feet stomped to her now-cohabitated bedroom. With her arrival, a heavy, acrid, black cloud fell over our house.
I was a miniscule white dot in a sea of dark, and, not for the first time, wished my sister would take her poor decisions and wasted dreams and leave.
The alarm clock clicked on at six a.m. and belted out the tune to that new soul-revolting pop song, I’ll love you for the rest of my life. It’s you or die, baby.***
Gag. Me. Now. That wasn’t real life. Real life was the fact that my eyes were stinging and tired from being painted wide open, staring at the ceiling, and listening to Hanna get fussier and fussier in the room on the other side of Horny’s smile. Alicia would have a fit if neither one of us got Hannah from the room so she could sleep her night shift away.
When she’d first got the job, she’d tried to lobby for Hanna and I to share a room because we were on the same sleep schedule. Yeah. Nope. Hanna, okay, but Hanna sleeping in my room would require her bed, her bottles, her toys, and pretty soon my room would look like Alicia’s and that sure as hell wasn’t happening.
The baby powder smell hit me again when I walked into Alicia’s room. It used to smell like Tommy Girl perfume and nail polish remover. Hanna stood in her crib, her little fists outstretched, opening and closing toward me. I swung her onto my hip and didn’t bother being quiet as I shut the door. I was pretty sure Alicia mumbled something that sounded like “itch,” but I didn’t care. My being crabby toward her was yet another side effect of her being a teenage mother.
I changed Hanna out of her nighttime diaper, then watched as she clumsily walked around the living room looking for something to do. Finally, she pointed at the television and said, “Tee?”
I turned cartoons on and watched along with her as the writers and illustrators of today turned the perfectly awesome cartoons I’d grown up on into travesties of nature. No wonder why the youth of today were screwed up. What Hanna needed was a good old-fashioned cartoon, not this crap. She needed the antics of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, not this metaphorical nonsense.
When Mom got out of the shower, we switched places wordlessly. This had been our morning routine for about a year and it always felt like a personal victory when I actually made it to the curb on time, with clothes on the right way, my book bag in my hand, and a fake smile on my face to see Nic pull up. The thing about Nic though, what always started out as me faking a smile, turned into a real one when he was around.
Nic was a juxtaposition.
Hmm. Note to self to make note in notebook: Am I using the word juxtaposition correctly?
He dressed like he could never quite make out who he wanted to be and therefore ended up making himself new every day. He wore punk rock T-shirts under Einstein button-up sweaters. He wore loafers with jeans and Nikes with khakis. The only constant about him was his glasses.
As the door swung open, Nic held out a white Styrofoam cup. “Full many a glorious morning have I seen …”
I took it, smiling, and then after taking a long, wonderful sip, I said, “And blessed is thee who brings me coffee made from bean?”
His face screwed up and the glasses slipped a little down his nose. He had on a red and black plaid collared shirt over a Call of Duty T. He fixed his glasses, still squinting. “Made from bean?”
“…sss? Made from beanssss? Would that have made more sense?”
He cracked a smile. “You never make sense. Did they have coffee back in Shakespeare’s day?”
Of course I never made sense. He should try getting interrupted sleep day in and day out. Wait … night in and night out?
See? Proved my case.
I leaned my book bag against my shins and took another long sip of the steaming cup, squelching the need to say what I’d just thought out loud. It upset Nic when I said things like that. He didn’t get mad, only troubled, as if it made him sad to know I wasn’t happy.
I pointed to the cup in my hand. “Thank you. For this.”
He shrugged. “I know you need it to function.”
The word “now” was carelessly left off the end of his sentence. He knew I needed it to function now. I never needed it before. Didn’t even drink coffee pre-niece. I was good with OJ, or milk, or any of the other breakfast drinks. Just not now. I needed caffeine.
“I take it you did the Shakespeare reading we were supposed to do?” I asked. Stupid question. He always did. We were taking the same English lit course. Unfortunately for us though, we’d been put in different classes. It sucked. Big time. “What sonnet is that from?”
“One of the thirties I think. Did you read them?”
Shaking my head, I said, “No. Not yet. I’ve got study hall today first period, though. It’s on my agenda. Do you remember it? The sonnet?”
“The beginning,” he said. He paused and rubbed his chin. “It reminded me of you.”
It didn’t surprise me he’d remembered it. Nic had one of those carbon copy memories when it came to literature. Words just stuck inside him like fly paper. As he recited the poem, I pictured the words catching to the paper and hanging on for dear life. I wished the inside of me looked like the inside of Nic.
I brought out the notebook I’d slipped in the front pocket of my book bag earlier that morning and jotted down: Juxtaposition. Then, I wrote: 30’s. Poem with glorious morning.
I wanted to see what poem Nic thought was like me. Did he see me like I saw me? If he did, the sonnet would be written in a tornado of words and I doubted Shakespeare would have written something so hideous and disorganized.
Nic’s laughter penetrated my thoughts. “Are you even listening?”
I didn’t even have the decency to get embarrassed. He knew me too well.
“Sorry. Say it again?”
He took another breath and, like usual, the words flowed from him like a trickling stream. Though Nic was considered a science geek at our school, his true calling was something artistic. He could be an actor or a writer or something where emotions ruled and not the brain. He felt things more than normal people. At least, the way he said things was as if feelings were pouring from every crevice.
“Full many a glorious morning have I seen, flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye, kissing with golden face the meadows green, gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy; anon permit the basest clouds to ride.”
Right after glorious morning in my notebook, I wrote down: Anon permit the bases clouds to ride???
What the hell did that even mean? Mentally shrugging, I decided it didn’t really matter. It sounded beautiful coming from Nic.
She lives in Central New York with her very understanding husband, a stepson, and doggie BFF, Maxie. Preferring to spend her time indoors reading or writing, she'll only willingly go outside for chocolate and sunshine--in that order.
Erin is the author of BLOOD HEX, a YA paranormal novel, HOW WE LIVED, a contemporary NA novel, and the forthcoming YA contemporary romance title, FINDING MR. DARCY: HIGH SCHOOL EDITION. Find out more about her at www.erinbutlerbooks.com or @ErinButler on Twitter!Author Links:
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