Authors: Laurie Anderson
Table of Contents
When I walk into AP Chem, twenty-six sets of eyes follow me to my table. Twenty-six pairs of lips whisper the same question. “Are you in? Are you in? Are you in? Are you in, Kate?”
“Well?” asks Diana Sung, my lab partner, 3.86 GPA, accepted by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
“I didn’t check the mail yesterday.”
“She hasn’t heard yet,” Diana reports to the rest of the class.
Several dweeb-kings nod smugly: Ed Davis, 3.97, accepted by every single college he applied to, all fifteen of them; Omar Hakeen, 4.12 (we get extra brownie points for super-advanced honors courses), full ride to Howard University; Eric Warren, 3.84, headed to Dartmouth to study pre-med and play hockey.
“They have a pool going. The odds on you getting into MIT are four to one.”
Diana fiddles with the graphing calculator. “Against.”
OTHER SPEAK BOOKS
Published by Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road,
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Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand
First published in the United States of America by Viking,
a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 2002
Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2003
Copyright © Laurie Halse Anderson, 2002 All rights reserved
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE VIKING EDITION AS FOLLOWS:
Anderson, Laurie Halse.
Catalyst / by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Summary: Eighteen-year-old Kate, who sometimes chafes at being a preacher’s daughter, finds herself losing control in her senior year as she faces difficult neighbors and the possibility that she may not be accepted by the college of her choice.
ISBN : 978-1-101-54970-4
[1. High schools—Fiction. 2. Schools—Fiction. 3. Neighborliness—Fiction.
4. Death—Fiction. 5. Fathers and daughters—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.A54385 Cat 2002 [Fic]—dc21 2002007115
This book is dedicated to the memory of Edith MacDonald Larrabee.
Take my hand and walk with me in the forest.
“The rate of a chemical reaction depends on the frequency and force of collisions between molecules.”
—ARCO Everything You Need to Score
High on AP Chemistry,
SAFETY TIP: Never carry out unauthorized experiments.
I like to run at night. No one watches me. No one hears my sneakers slipping in the loose gravel at the side of the road. Gravity doesn’t exist. My muscles don’t hurt. I float, drift past churches, stores, and schools, past the locked houses and their flicker-blue windows. My mind is quiet and clear.
A ghost hovers off my left shoulder. I can almost hear her breathe. I pick up the pace. She doesn’t scare me; I know I’ll win. Well, I’m pretty sure I’ll win. Chances are good.
On the outside I am Good Kate, Rev. Jack Malone’s girl, isn’t she sweet, she helps so much with the house, so sad about her mother, and she’s smart, too, seen her name in the papers for honor roll this and science fair that, she’s got scholarship written all over her, runs pretty fast, she’s so good with her brother, why can’t all teenagers be like her?
On the inside I am Bad Kate, daughter of no one, she’s such a bitch, thinks she’s all that, prays with her eyes open, lets her boyfriend put his hands all over her, Miss Perfect, Miss Suck-up, disrespectful, disagreeable, still waters run deep and dirty, she’s going to lose it, just you watch, I’ve seen her type before.
Sweat trickles along the bones of my face and licks my neck. Running, sweating, evaporating… I’m distilling myself in the dark: mixture, substance, compound, element, atom. The ghost is getting closer. Run faster. Push beyond the wall, push beyond my limits. My chest is flayed open; no lungs to breathe with, no heart to pound. The air flows around and between my shiny bones. My skin is silk. I take it off when I get hot.
The first night I ran late like this, the puddles were filmed with ice. Now the trees are leafing and the roads are dry and I fly almost naked, breathless, running out of the empty night into a place where I can’t hear myself think.
I wish I never had to stop.
I take a quick shower and pull on old sweats and two pairs of socks. It’s only quarter after one and there’s no way I’m going to fall asleep, not with all the crap running through my head. But that’s a good thing. Insomnia rocks, actually. You can get a lot done if you don’t sleep. I’ve turned into a hyper-efficient windup Kate doll, super Kate, the über-Kate. I wish this had happened last year. It would have given me more time to study for my AP exams.
I head downstairs to finish the laundry. The rest of the family does not share my passion for clean clothes. Dad (age 47; hobbies: religion, football, losing hair) wouldn’t notice if he wore the same pair of pants for a month. Toby (age 14; hobbies: trombone, soccer, masturbation) doesn’t know how to find the laundry room. I take the clean load out of the dryer, move the wet stuff over, and empty the hamper into the washing machine. I pour in the soap and set the dial to regular.
Bad Kate mutters that they need to start washing their own clothes. What are they going to do when I go to MIT? Good Kate doesn’t mind. She thinks there is something soothing about doing the laundry, something de-stressing. Besides, I don’t leave for another four months.
Bad Kate points out that I have not been accepted yet. She can be a real bitch after midnight.
I carry the dry clothes to the family room and dump them on the couch. Sophia, our Siamese cat, strolls into the room and hops up on the recliner. She is followed by her boy-toy, Mr. Spock, our black Lab. He lies down in front of her chair with a groan.
I set up the ironing board, plug in the iron, and turn on the TV to the Sci-Fi Channel. A bug-eyed, tentacled alien has just totaled her spaceship in a cornfield. (The ship looks alarmingly like my car.) A SWAT team confronts her in the middle of all that corn. Poor little alien.
I pull one of Dad’s shirts out of the pile and iron it. By the time I’m done, it can almost stand up by itself. Nobody irons like me. As I button the shirt on its hanger, a deep, wet cough echoes down the stairwell. Sophia and Mr. Spock stare at me, their black eyes drippy and wide like cartoon animals.
“I gave him his medicine at ten-thirty,” I say.
Another cough, as if on cue. Sophia flicks her tail in irritation. I set the shirt hanger on the edge of the ironing board. Toby has allergies, asthma, and a bad cold. It sounds as if he has a quart of pus in his lungs.
“He needs to cough,” I remind the cat. “It clears the mucus.” I check my watch. Pause. Pause. Toby coughs again. This one is better, productive and short. And then it’s quiet. “See?”
Sophia bends over and licks her butt.
“Oh, lovely. Thank you.”
I lay another shirt on the ironing board. Toby is fine. Really. I checked his peak flow when he took the medicine, and he was way out of the danger zone. I pull out another shirt and spray starch on the collar. It’s not like this could get serious or anything. It’s just annoying, all that soggy noise—disgusting.
I set the starch can on the end of the ironing board and pin down the collar with my fingertips. When I skate the hot iron across the cloth, the starch bubbles and hisses. I press the collar, work my way around the buttons, smooth out the buttonholes, and flatten the cuffs. When the detail work is done, I lay the shirt facedown and iron back and forth, back and forth. The wrinkles vanish. Next victim.
On the television, the battle is heating up. The alien burbles something and whips out a weapon (though for all we know it could be a tentacle cleaner). The SWAT team lobs a canister of tear gas at her feet and it explodes. The alien falls to the ground, clawing at her eyeballs.
I stop ironing. That is a major logic flaw: no alien lifeform would be affected by tear gas the way humans are. She’s probably not even carbon based. Don’t these writers know anything? Geez.
I iron and iron and the movie goes downhill. Dad’s shirts and khakis are hung on hangers, his jeans are folded, his T-shirts stacked in his basket with all the limp, dark Dad socks. Sophia is asleep, her nose tucked under her tail. Mr. Spock yawns. I can’t help it; I yawn back. Oh yeah, sleep . . . a good concept. But I need to finish Toby’s clothes . . . and I should finish tomorrow’s to-do list, I should run the dishwasher. I should sleep, I should sleep, I should sleep. I know I should sleep, but knowing and doing are two different beasts. I’m stressed, duh, but it’s almost over. The finish line is in sight and I can hear the crowd roaring.