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Authors: Maria Padian

Brett McCarthy

BOOK: Brett McCarthy
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For
Madsy

Acknowledgments

Writing has proved to be a far more solitary, challenging, and joyful process than I ever imagined. I would never have completed this book without the support and advice of so many, but especially:

My wise, enthusiastic agent, Edite Kroll, my fabulous editor, Nancy Hinkel, assistant editor Allison Wortche, and our wonderfully thorough copy editor, Renée Cafiero.

My intrepid readers, especially Charlotte Agell, Dan Elish, Elizabeth Owens, Christine Bolzan, and the Beacoms: Betsy, Kate, and Hannah.

My husband, Conrad Schneider, who always believes in me more than I believe in myself.

And above all, my daughter, Madeline, who was there every step of the way.

in•ter•lop•er

I’ve been obsessed lately with trying to pinpoint the exact moment when I got redefined.

That’s one of my grandmother’s favorite words. It basically means defined again.
Define
means
to make clear; mark the limits of; identify the essential qualities or meaning of.
Before my life changed from fairly decent to really bad, my self-definition was pretty straightforward.

Brett McCarthy:
Only Child; Only Granddaughter; Vocab Ace; Best Eighth-Grade Corner Kicker in Maine; Diane’s Best Friend.

Then came the redefinition.

Brett McCarthy:
Deadest Meat in Maine and Possibly the Planet; Practically Friendless; Violent; Suspended.

Can you blame me for wanting to sort this out?

It all got started like any other day: at The Junior.

As in “Mescataqua Junior High School,” the big green letters on the front brick wall. Kit was the one who noticed that every morning Diane stood directly under the word “Junior.” Never under “Mescataqua,” never under “School.” But perfectly positioned between the “i” and “o” of “Junior,” leaning against the wall, her backpack slung over one slender shoulder.

Diane insisted she wasn’t doing it on purpose, but once Kit pointed it out, it got to be our thing. “See you at The Junior!” we’d say each afternoon, instead of “See you tomorrow!” Or “Meet me at The Junior!” if we planned to get together after school.

Diane, Kit, me, and (unfortunately) Jeanne Anne. Except for Jeanne Anne, the interloper, we’d known each other forever, from as far back as preschool. And even though we all had other friends outside the group, and sometimes got into really bad fights among ourselves, there was never any question about
us
. We were the first four chairs at the lunch table; the first four names on the Instant Messenger Buddy List; the first four numbers on speed dial.

Interloper:
intruder; interferer.
Someone who moves to Mescataqua in seventh grade and attaches herself to your BFF.

Within the group, Diane Pelletier was my first and best friend, even though she’s nothing like me. For one thing, she’s beautiful. She has licorice-shiny long black hair and lavender eyes. I have short frizzy hair that my mother describes as “strawberry blond.” That’s a nice term for “light brown with red highlights.” Trust me, it’s a noncolor.

Diane is really smart and really funny in a quiet way. I’m funny too, but in a loud, opinionated way. Diane can’t catch or kick a ball without injuring herself. I’m totally into sports. Diane looks great in clothes, and people tend to copy what she wears. I’m a wrinkle magnet and break out in a stress rash when I enter a mall.

Despite all this she was my best. We slept over at each other’s houses at least twice a month, talking all night. We agreed about most things. Except one. Diane was a little more tolerant and a lot more patient than I was when it came to jerks. Like Jeanne Anne.

For instance, on the morning of Monday, October 15th, she came rushing up to The Junior practically shaking with excitement. Kit was filling us in on what had happened during the previous night’s episode of her favorite TV reality drama.

“You
guys
!” Jeanne Anne burst out, interrupting the story. “You are
not
going to believe this!”

“Good, then don’t bother telling us,” said Kit. She had just been describing the giant, maggot-like insects that members of Team A, on the verge of starvation in Fiji, were probably going to eat on the next episode. Kit tends to share my opinion of Jeanne Anne, and assumed that whatever she had to say was less interesting…and more annoying…than maggots.

“No, really,” insisted Jeanne Anne. She faced Diane. “Diane, your telephone number is 555-1749, right?”

“Last time I checked.” Diane smiled.

“Okay,” Jeanne Anne said. She took one of her dramatic pauses. “Bob Levesque’s number is 555-1748.”

Blank stares. Silence. Finally broken by Kit.

“That’s really fascinating, Jeanne Anne. Now back to the maggots…”

“Aah!” Jeanne Anne cried in exasperation. “Hello, people! Am I the only one who realizes what an amazing coincidence this is?”

“Yes, you are,” replied Kit. The bell rang at this point, and we began moving toward the main entrance.

“Oh, c’mon!” Jeanne Anne pleaded. She was getting whiny now, and a little loud. People were turning to look at us. “Remember that thing you used to do with the phones? Don’t pretend this isn’t an awesome discovery!”

Even Diane realized it was time to shut her up. Broadcasting our old prank in the middle of the school lobby was not cool. Diane pulled Jeanne Anne close.

“Keep your voice down,” she hisssed. “We’ll meet at study hall and talk about it.”

Satisfied, Jeanne Anne smiled and headed off to her locker.

“Who told her about the Phone Thing?” I asked Diane as soon as Jeanne Anne was out of earshot. “And why is she looking up Bob Levesque’s telephone number?”

“Oh…you know her!” Diane shrugged. “She’s always crushin’ on someone.”

“She is a certifiable jerk. A complete idiot!” I sputtered.

I was upset. I get klutzy…and loud…when I’m upset. So the “idiot” came out with a bit more volume than necessary, and at the same time I managed to smash my size-nine sneakers down on someone’s toes.

“Ouch! Hey, watch it!”

The toes belonged to a pair of electric-blue eyes. The eyes went with some sun-bleached, tousled blond hair and perfect white teeth without a trace of orthodontia. In other words, I had just crushed the foot of none other than Bob Levesque, resident Greek God. And called him an idiot in the middle of a crowded hallway.

Bob looked at me and Diane, annoyed. Then, something…either my comically guilty expression or Diane’s beautiful face…made him change his mind, because he grinned.

“An idiot! She called me an idiot! My heart is broken.” Bob pressed his hands against his chest dramatically, closed his electric blues, and pretended to fall back in a theatrical faint. His ever-present posse of cool friends, who never seemed to miss one of his performances, laughed in appreciation. Before I could stammer out an “excuse me,” Bob lurched out of view and disappeared in the sea of students.

Diane stared at me in shock.

“It’s a sign,” she whispered. “And you know, one digit off. That’s almost too good to be true.”

True, but as it turns out, not good.

ap•o•plec•tic

A little background is important at this point.

For starters, the Phone Thing was something the three of us had dreamed up years earlier. It was very elementary school, and we hadn’t done it in ages. It meant calling people on the telephone and playing a joke on them. Not some dumb joke, but a truly creative prank that took more than just a little acting talent.

For example, a dumb joke would involve dialing a stranger and saying, “Hi, I’m from the power company. We’re just calling to see if your refrigerator is running.” Caught off guard, the stranger would reply, “Yes, it is.” Then everyone would scream, “So run after it!”

That’s a stupid joke, and we never lowered ourselves to such a level.

Our joke was slick, and our delivery perfect. So slick and so perfect, in fact, the person at the other end never even knew we’d fooled them. We could laugh ourselves sick at someone else’s expense, but because they didn’t know they’d been tricked, we never got caught…until Tuesday, October 16th.

A second bit of background: Bob Levesque. Bob is the son of a car dealership owner in our town. Levesque’s Mescataqua Dodge. My dad says only in Maine, where the phone book is full of names like Ouellette and Thiboutot and the atlas is full of towns like Chesuncook and Norridgewock, can you get away with a mouthful like that. Dad’s the sort of guy who notices those things: He’s an English professor. Which may explain where I inherited my obsessive way with words.

Anyway, Bob’s house sits atop a wide green lawn that slopes down to the ocean. His parents look ten years younger than everyone else’s, and I once heard Diane’s mother refer to them as “Ken and Barbie,” even though their real names are Drew and Meredith.

If you had lined me and my friends up under The Junior and asked Bob Levesque who we were, I doubt he could have cared less. We did not exist on his planet or even circle in his orbit.

Until Tuesday, October 16th.

By study hall on Monday, Jeanne Anne was practically apoplectic.

Apoplectic:
highly excited.

She couldn’t make herself stop talking about Bob Levesque’s phone number. Kit kept telling Jeanne Anne to lower her voice.

“You know, Jeanne Anne, we really don’t do that anymore,” Kit whispered, glancing over at study hall teacher at the front of the room. Students at other tables kept looking our way.


You
were in on the Phone Thing?” Jeanne Anne practically squealed. Study hall teacher’s head shot up from the papers he was grading. “Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me
anything
?”

“One guess,” I muttered. Diane kicked me under the table.

“Ladies, do I need to separate you?” study hall teacher asked. Everyone opened books and pretended to read. After a few minutes of silence Diane quietly ripped a sheet from her binder, scribbled on it, and slid it into the middle of the table.

“Maybe once more…for old times’ sake?” it read.

Jeanne Anne grabbed the pen from Diane’s hand and scrawled “YES!” on top of the page. Kit rolled her eyes at me but added a “yes.” Then she paused and wrote, “Foreign or domestic?” She handed the pen to me, and everyone waited. I was the final vote.

“Sworn to secrecy…
right
?” I wrote. Three heads nodded emphatically at me.

“We play Topsfield today. Levesque tomorrow?” I wrote. Three nods again.

“Foreign,” I wrote.

“Sí, señorita,”
Kit replied in a perfect Spanish accent. Study hall teacher’s head jerked up and the bell rang at the same moment. We gathered our things, and as our crowd moved toward the door, I felt someone tap my shoulder. Michael.

“What was that all about?” he asked.

“Shut up.” I smiled at him. “Aren’t you supposed to be at your brainiac lessons?” I hung back so we could talk.

Michael is the school genius. He is definitely going to end up either as another Ken Jennings—that guy who won more than two million dollars on
Jeopardy!
—or as the next Steve Jobs, and invent something as cool as the iPod. He has a photographic memory, he speed-reads, and no math class can hold him. For a while they were shipping him out to the high school for math, but now someone from the college comes in and works with Michael.

I’ve known him since forever. Our dads were in grad school together, and both came to Mescataqua to teach at the college. When we were younger, our mothers started the joke about how we would probably end up married to each other, but I told them that would be incest.

Sometimes I get the creepy feeling that Michael would be okay with the idea, but since he hasn’t tried anything stupid, like holding my hand or something, things are cool.

“So, your grandmother and I have big plans for tomorrow afternoon,” Michael said.

“Let me guess,” I said. “You’re going to put a parachute on an old bicycle and ride it off the roof?”

“Guess again.”

“You’re going to construct a nuclear reactor out of the broken vacuum cleaner she picked up last week?”

“Close.”

I sighed. Usually I didn’t mind playing this game with Michael, but at that moment I had other things on my mind.

“I give up. Just tell me,” I said.

“Nope,” he replied. “You’ve got to come by and see for yourself.” He took a sharp right down the corridor and ducked into his last-period class. I didn’t have a chance to tell him that I had other plans for that afternoon.

As it turns out, reassembling old vacuum cleaner parts with my grandmother and the captain of the school math team would have been a much better choice.

BOOK: Brett McCarthy
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