Authors: Adrienne Maria Vrettos
ALSO BY ADRIENNE MARIA VRETTOS
The Exile of Gigi Lane
MARGARET K. McELDERRY BOOKS
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
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This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Adrienne Maria Vrettos
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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Book design by Irene Metaxatos
The text for this book is set in Adobe Caslon.
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Vrettos, Adrienne Maria.
Burnout / Adrienne Maria Vrettos.—1st ed.
Summary: Months after coming out of alcohol and drug rehab, high school student Nan wakes up on the subway the day after Halloween wearing a torn Halloween costume, her long hair cut, and “HELP ME” scrawled across her chest, feeling sick and having no idea how she got there.
ISBN 978-1-4169-9469-5 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-4391-6312-2 (eBook)
[1. Drug abuse—Fiction. 2. Alcoholism—Fiction. 3. Emotional problems—Fiction.
4. New York (N.Y.)—Fiction.] I. Title.
FOR JEFF, FOR WREN,
AND FOR DEZ
This is a ghost story.
I am the ghost.
wake up falling. I am falling fast, away from myself, but when my body should slap against the ground, it isn’t the ground at all, but black water that swallows me whole, and the last thing I see is my own face staring up at me before the water sucks me down.
I have the weirdest dreams when I’m sober.
I wake up listening. I hear the Tick come into my bedroom, and I know when I open my eyes, I am going to see him kneeling by my bed, wearing his Halloween vampire teeth and smelling like little-boy sleep, wet-lipped with stifled laughter, waiting for me to wake up and pour him a bowl of Cap’n Crunch for breakfast. He
will poke me and whisper, “Nan, are you dead again?”
I wake up freezing, and now I am getting tired of this and want to wake up for real. This dream isn’t even a dream; it’s a memory in the shape of a dream. I am at the deep end of a drained pool in Connecticut. It’s early spring, and I am freezing. I’ve slept on a long patio-chair cushion covered with flowers the color of orange sorbet. There’s a matching cushion on top of me; a stiff, unforgiving blanket. I blink my eyes against the too-bright sky. It smells like dead leaves and cold and something else. My feet lie in an ice-crusted black soup of rotting things. I roll over on my side and try to throw up, but there’s nothing in my stomach. From the look of the mess next to me, I lost it all last night.
I will never, ever drink again.
I think I might still be drunk.
Seemy yells, laughing, from over the side of the pool. She’s wearing a Santa hat that’s too big for her little pixie head.
What the hell! Patrick told you to sleep in his sister’s room!
I push the cushion off and sit up. What feels like a tsunami-size wave of dizziness crashes over me, and I close my eyes before it can flip me upside down and drown me. When I open my eyes I am staring at my hands in my lap. They are red with cold, except for my knuckles, which are chapped and white.
Seemy yells again, not laughing this time.
I finally ask, pulling my feet out of the water and shaking them off.
I look up, and the kid is vaguely familiar, with the sort of stupid face Seemy always falls for.
I groan aloud when I recognize him.
I remember him from last night, this douchy kid from the suburbs that Seemy insisted we bring back to the carriage house. She threw a freaking tantrum when Toad and I, in a rare moment of agreement, told her the carriage house was supposed to be just for us. The three of us argued about it while Patrick waited across the street, trying not to look alarmed at the fact that his hook-up location was being decided by committee. It ended with Seemy getting her way because she said,
Fine, me and him will just go someplace else,
which was shocking because I don’t think Toad or I ever considered that her leaving was even an option. The fear of her just walking away felt silver and sharp, with a blade that was bigger than my body could take. So we all went to the carriage house. We climbed the iron gate and then rubbed the rust off on our pants as we stole across the muddy lawn in the dark. We turned sideways to squeeze between the barn-style wooden doors. I hoped Patrick would get stuck and then hated him for slipping through so easily. Work on the place had stopped before they even tore out the
stalls, and the three of us had set up a little living room in the one that stunk the least. That’s where Toad and I went, to sit on milk crates and turn on the battery-operated lamp we’d stolen from Eastern Mountain Sports. We made Seemy leave us the bottle of vodka mixed with orange juice before she and Patrick climbed up the ladder to the hayloft. It was just Toad and I downstairs, and he turned on some music, which was good because Toad and I hate each other and I didn’t want to have to talk to him. The floor upstairs creaked and he and I avoided looking at each other. Then, even though the music was on, we heard Seemy moan really loud and then laugh, and Toad stood up so fast he knocked over the milk crate.
Stay and listen if you want
. He turned off the music.
There, now you can hear even better.
I watched him slip between the doors into the night and wondered what I should do. I wished I wasn’t so drunk. I wished I could just stand up and walk out and go home, but I knew I wouldn’t because that would mean leaving Seemy with some douchy kid from the suburbs. A couple minutes later Seemy called down from the hayloft that it was too cold and Patrick’s parents were away for the weekend, and that’s how I ended up in the bottom of a drained pool in Connecticut.
And now Patrick is looking down at me, sick with panic.
My parents and sister are coming home early. You guys have to leave,
he says. I keep sitting, keep looking around
me, wondering where I put my stuff.
, Patrick calls down,
you guys have to leave
Patrick and Seemy look into each other’s eyes, blush, look down at their shoes. Then Seemy moves her head a little so she catches his gaze, lifts his chin with the tip of her pointer finger. They kiss. Seemy does that little moaning sound in her throat that drives the boys wild. I think maybe they can feel the vibrations on their tongues.
I climb out of the pool. The aluminum ladder is breaking away from the side, so with every step it pulls back, letting loose a spray of cement that rattles down to the bottom.
, I say, looking away as they kiss again.
Patrick says to me.
I just have to get my stuff
His face changes. I see Seemy already has her bag.
You have to go over the fence
, he says, pointing to the white picket fence that lines the far side of the backyard. Between us and the fence there’s a football field’s worth of brown lawn, which I imagine magically turns into a lush green carpet with the
sprinkler sound of springtime in the suburbs. There’s a pool house, which, if I had a brain in my head, I would have slept in. Patrick nudges me, keeps pointing.
Just climb over the fence. That’s all you have to do. Just climb the fricking fence, okay?
I run my hand through my knotted hair, pull my long, multicolored mane over my shoulder, hold out the ends and study the stripes of pink and green.
I need to get my stuff inside
, I say again, waiting a moment before I level my gaze at him. I tower over him. He has to look up. His mouth twists a little.
You don’t want your parents to meet me?
He shrugs. I clack my tongue ring against my lip ring a few times, grinning as he flinches.
There’s a cold gust of wind, and I don’t want to be standing here anymore in wet boots, with vomit breath and a crick in my neck. My anger feels liquid and hot, gushing into my lungs like water, billowing and blooming like black roses. I hate Seemy for dragging me out here with her last night and hate myself for coming. We both knew I wouldn’t let her go alone.
Come on, Nan
, Seemy says,
let’s just go