Authors: Kristin Walker
Many thanks go to my family for encouraging me, to my editor for guiding me, and to my agent for believing in me. I wouldn’t have this book without any of you.
Seven Clues to Winning You
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © 2012 Kristin Walker
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THE PROBLEM WITH SOME OF THE STEAMIEST romances in Shakespeare is that everyone ends up dead. I never saw the point of going through all that anguish and passion and sneaking around just to end up with a pile of corpses. It didn’t seem right. So whenever my dad picked
Romeo and Juliet
for one of our family Shakespeare readings when I was a little kid, I always changed the ending so Juliet woke up in time. It drove Dad nuts, but I just couldn’t help it. I’m a girl who likes happy endings.
Family Shakespeare readings were just one of the by-products of having an English teacher for a father. I’m pretty sure I was the only eight-year-old who could recite Sonnet 29. That was years ago, though, long before Dad got promoted to principal of Ash Grove High School, over in the next school district. I wasn’t too thrilled that he was the principal of our rival school, but at least he wasn’t principal here at Meriton. Can you imagine how horrifying that would be? Talk about a tragedy.
But like I said, I’m a firm believer in happy endings. I wanted my own happily ever after, but I wasn’t about to leave it up to chance. I had everything planned out, step by step.
I’d graduate from Meriton High in the top of my class, get into Bryn Mawr (majoring in literature with a minor in classics), and marry a man from Haverford. My wedding dress would be a strapless ivory silk-satin ball gown with a beaded shrug and birdcage veil, the reception would be held in the Rittenhouse Hotel in early June, and we’d live in Swarthmore: north of Yale Road, but east of Chester. I’d get my master’s degree in education and then teach at Swarthmore College, getting tenure in record time, while my husband commuted to the city for his upper-level corporate job.
We’d enjoy cozy holidays snug in our warm restored historic house. We’d host engaging dinner parties with the university elite. I’d do charity work with underprivileged orphans. We’d be blessed with four darling children of our own (boy–boy–twin girls … but of course I would be happy no matter what we got) who would go to the finest private schools (my husband would come from old Philadelphia money, of course). There would be flowers in the garden, stars at night, and undying love from my handsome husband. We would live happily ever after.
Everything was right on track by the last half of my junior year at Meriton. I was getting top marks in my honors classes and had an impressive list of extracurricular activities that would demonstrate well roundedness on my college applications. I was also well liked and well dressed. In fact, it was just as I was swapping out my winter wardrobe for spring when things in my plan started to slip a little sideways.
“Blythe?” Dad called up to me from downstairs. “Can you come down for a minute?”
“Be right there!” I shouted. I stood in front of my closet, satisfied. “Perfect.” My wardrobe was the last stop on my room organization blitz for spring. “Oops, hold up …” I reached in and plucked a pale aquamarine cami from the line of hangers and moved it to the other side of the nearly identically colored tank top next to it. “Now it’s perfect.” I trailed my fingers down the line of garments precisely organized by color. Spring clothes. Lovely, bright spring clothes. Gauzy chiffons and crisp linens. Pinks and yellows, prints and polka dots. I was so glad to be finished with my heavy winter wardrobe for the year. If I’d had to wear another ribbed cable-neck sweater, I was going to drop dead from asphyxiation. It was time to break out the cap sleeves and capris. Okay, sure, maybe it was only early March, but it was the beginning of spring break, and spring break was when I always organized my room and switched out my wardrobe. Come hell or high necklines.
I shut the closet doors and headed downstairs, making a mental list of my plans for the week. Shopping with Tara and the girls. Studying for the SATs. Hanging out with Tara and the girls. My weekly volunteer time at Shady Acres Nursing Home. Movie night with Tara and the girls. Sleeping late. Stalking the captain of the basketball team with Tara and the girls (her crush, not mine). And general relaxation.
When I got to the living room, I could tell something was up. Evidently, it was a Family Meeting. It didn’t look good. Everyone was there, including Zach, my twelve-year-old brother, who almost never shows up for anything family-oriented if he can help it. He was stretched out on the floor
playing a game on his PSP. As I stepped over his legs, he yelled, “DIE, YOU MUTANT SCUM!” and bent one leg just enough to trip me. I stumbled over him, and Zach cringed. He’d been talking to his game. “Oops, my bad!” he said as he returned to playing. “Sorry.”
Dad stood with his back to us, staring out at the damp front yard through the bay window. There was definitely a weird vibe in the room. Zach let out a huge belch and said, “Ooh, that’s better.” Then the vibe became revolting.
Dad turned around and saw me. He motioned for me to sit on the couch, which I did. I searched my mom’s face for some clue to what was happening. To my horror, she had on her lady look. The lady look was this expression of placid friendliness and utmost composure that Mom put on her face whenever she was in an uncomfortable situation. Picture the queen of England getting a wedgie, and that’s the lady look. A lady never shows displeasure on her face, Mom always said. She’d been making that face for so long, I don’t think she even realized when she did it. She’d learned it from her mother and passed it along to me. I’d found the lady look very useful for smoothing over sticky situations. Not that the situations I got in were ever terribly sticky.
When I saw the lady look on my mother’s face as she perched on the edge of one of the matching sage-green wingback chairs, I knew that the situation was about to go nuclear.
Dad clasped his hands behind his back and rocked back and forth on his heels. I knew that move too. It was his “I’m about to do something that’s going to make your life miserable,
but first I’ll pretend I’m on the fence about doing it” maneuver. He used it regularly as principal at Ash Grove. I knew Zach and I were in for it before Dad even said a word.
Dad cleared his throat. “Well. We weren’t planning on telling you kids this for a few months, but circumstances have dictated an acceleration in the schedule.”
“Dumb it down. Please.
,” Zach said without looking up from his game. “Try talking like a damn father.” Zach loved to call Dad out for treating us like we were his students or worse—his faculty. Not that I understand why he’d talk like that over there. Ash Grove isn’t exactly the kind of school that Rhodes scholars come from. More like Rhode-side garbage pickers. It may be a neighboring district to Meriton, but it’s on the other side of the academic tracks, if you know what I mean. That’s one of the sources of fuel for our rivalry.
“Do not swear in this house, young man,” Dad said. Zach started to get to his feet and Dad barked, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Outside. To swear,” Zack said. “Just like you ordered.”
Dad pointed to the floor. “Park it.” Zach plopped back onto the carpet and went back to his game. He always seems to know just how far to go to annoy our parents without getting in trouble.