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Authors: Jessica Love

In Real Life

BOOK: In Real Life
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For lagwgn101

 

Why do you think I call you “Ghostie”?

Mostly because you're impossible to see.

—PUNCHLINE

 

CHAPTER

1

FRIDAY

My best friend and I have never met.

We talk every day, on the phone or online, and he knows more about me than anyone. Like, deep into my soul. But we've never actually seen each other in real life.

Sometimes, when I'm talking to Nick, I wonder how we managed to get ourselves into such a bizarre, complicated friendship. At first glance, our relationship probably doesn't seem all that odd. Like right now, it's the Friday afternoon that kicks off the spring break of my senior year. I'm lying out next to my pool with my feet dangling in the chilly water, my back flat on concrete, and I'm talking to him on the phone. This is how I spend pretty much every Friday from 3:30 to 4:25-ish, before he goes off to band practice and I have one of my various school or family obligations. Sounds pretty normal.

But the thing is, Nick lives in a different state, 274 miles away. Yes, I looked it up.

“Ghost,” he says, because he never calls me Hannah, “you know I will do anything for my best friend, and this is no exception. I'll have this girl killed for you without a second thought. Just give me twenty-four hours.”

I laugh as I swish my feet back and forth in the pool. “There's no need to resort to murder. It's just a stupid student government trip. I'll be over it by the end of the week.”

As tempting as it is to plot Aditi Singh's violent end, the only reason she applied to go to the national leadership conference when it should have been a given that the senior class president (aka me) was going was because I got into UCLA and she didn't, so a big ol' middle finger to her. But she can't see my middle finger, because she's in Washington, D.C., for spring break and I'm at home with no plans like a big loser.

“Well, if you change your mind,” Nick says, “just let me know. That's how much our friendship means to me. The code word is ‘Platypus.' Just say it, and—poof!—I'll make her disappear.”

I sit up and pull my feet from the pool, crossing them in front of me. “And how can you do that?”

“Hey, I live in Vegas. I have connections to the mob. Everyone here does.”

“You're a senior in high school, and you live in a tract home in Henderson. You're not exactly Al Pacino.”

“You don't know. Everything I've told you for the past four years could be a front. I need to have a cover. No one suspects the quiet, nondescript white boy.”

“You're right. There is a lot I don't know about you. I mean, there are any number of huge secrets you could be keeping from me.” I say it just because I'm playing along, but it's not true at all. I'm pretty sure I know everything there is to know about Nick Cooper.

I know when my sister met his brother at a concert four years ago and they told us we should start talking online, he thought I was one of his brother's friends playing a joke on him until I e-mailed him a picture. I know in the middle of junior year, he shaved his head when his favorite English teacher started chemo. I know the gravelly scratch of his voice when he wakes up in the middle of the night to answer one of my random “I'm bored, talk to me” phone calls. I know the hole in the sleeve seam of the lucky Rage Against the Machine T-shirt he inherited from his brother, Alex, since I've seen so many pictures of it. I know his middle name (Anthony), the date and time he was born (September 24 at 3:58
A.M.
), and his favorite color (gray). And he knows more about me than absolutely anyone else, even the über-embarrassing stuff. We've IM'd, texted, sent a million pictures, mailed each other packages, video-chatted, and talked on the phone.

We've just never been in the same place at the same time.

I don't think it's strange to be so close to someone I've never met. Yeah, he's in Nevada and I'm in Southern California, but I talk to him more than to people I've been in classes with since kindergarten. I do wish we could go to the movies together or something normal like that, but we watch the same movies at the same time and mock them over video chat, which is pretty much the same thing.

On the other end of the phone, his laugh stops abruptly and his voice changes. “Secrets? What kind of secrets could I have?”

“Who knows!” I try to sound shocked and serious, but I can't keep a laugh from creeping in. “For all I know, you
do
have a secret mob life. Do you have some sort of gangster name I'm supposed to call you?”

His voice lightens again when he realizes I'm joking. “Oh yeah. Knuckles Nick. Or, no. Wait. Nick the Click.”

“What does that even mean?”

“I don't know. It rhymed. Don't those names always rhyme?”

“I know nothing about mob names, Nick the Click. But rhyming names do make mobsters seem a bit less murder-y.”

There's a shuffle, a thump, and a squeak on his end of the phone, and I imagine him collapsing backwards onto his twin bed. “I just hate that you're still bummed over missing out on the trip.”

“It's not that I'm bummed, it's just … I followed all the rules, Nick. I did exactly what I was supposed to do. Serving four years as class president means I go on that trip, not Aditi Singh. Onetime vice-presidents don't get to go! It's supposed to be
my year.
She broke the rules, but she got picked. How do you break all the rules and get what you want like that? It isn't fair.”

“Well, you know what they say.…”

“Life's not fair?”

“Well, that, too. But I was thinking rules are made to be broken.”

Yeah, that
is
what people say, but it goes against my Good Korean Girl DNA. Rules are made to be followed—at least that's what my parents, who aren't Tiger Parents or anything but are still pretty serious, drilled into me starting the second I learned to crawl. And I've always followed every rule, done exactly what I've been told, and it always worked out to my benefit.

Until it didn't, and I found myself at home over spring break, trying to figure out how to make an Aditi Singh voodoo doll.

I hate rules.

A door slams somewhere in Vegas and echoes through my phone. “Oh, crap,” Nick says. “I have to go, Ghost. The guys are here.”

“Getting ready for the show tomorrow? Are you nervous?” Nick's band Automatic Friday landed a huge gig opening for a popular Vegas band by entering and winning a Battle of the Bands at UNLV back in February. I always knew they were awesome, aside from their dumb name that I tried all junior year to convince him to change, and I was stoked that other people would have a chance to fall in love with their music, too.

“Ummm, let's see. Instead of our usual backyard birthday party, Automatic Friday is opening for Moxie Patrol at the House of freaking Blues on the Strip. This will probably be the one and only chance to perform at a legit venue like a real band. I'd say ‘nervous' doesn't quite capture the level of sheer terror going on over here.”

“I'm coming to your show, by the way,” I say. “I'll be in the front row. With an ‘I Heart Nick' sign. Will you throw a guitar pick at me?”

“Even better,” he says. “I'll throw the guitar at you.”

“Hello? Concussion!” We both laugh. “I do wish I could see your one and only real show, though.” He doesn't say anything, because we both know the odds of me ever seeing Automatic Friday play are right up there with me piercing some body part that's never meant to have a hole in it. “Okay, thinking about this
is
bumming me out. I'll let you go. Say hi to Oscar for me.”

“I will. Did you get our package?”

“Oh yeah! I love the T-shirt. I wore it to school today.” Yeah, after I slept in it last night. The black T-shirt with the band's name in the middle of a hot pink bass drum, the
A
and
F
made from drumsticks, is the best present he's sent me so far. I guess the box of cake balls I sent last week decorated to look like my cat, Bruce Lee, was a hit.

“Oscar designed the shirt. He wanted you to have it.”

“Tell him thanks.” I smile down at the T-shirt as I smooth the front of it. “Now I'll have to find something extra creative to send you back.”

“I'll be waiting at the mailbox. Talk to you later, Ghost.”

“Text me when you're done with rehearsal.”

It never feels like our conversations are over when we say good-bye. I always think of a hundred other things I want to say after I hit End on my screen, but I save it all for later, because there's always a later with us.

I crawl back to the grass and flop down, letting the afternoon sun warm my face as I drift off into my typical Friday 4:26-to-4:45 post–phone-call daydreaming. After we hang up, I always zone out and imagine what hanging out with Nick in real life, knowing each other in-person instead of being only online friends and phone buddies, would be like. Today I'm actually picturing myself at one of their shows, cheering and dancing like a maniac in the crowd as he plays guitar, when—

“What are you dreaming about, weirdo? You have a huge grin on your face. It's creepy.”

The sliding glass door slams shut, and I know my real-life BFF Lo will be standing over me in a matter of seconds. She's spending spring break at my house, along with my older sister, Grace, who is a senior at UCLA, while my parents celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary on a cruise down to Mexico. Mom and Dad said they wanted Grace to keep an eye on me and Lo, but knowing my sister, I'm pretty sure it's the other way around.

“Oh, you know,” I say as I stand up, trying to shake the mental picture of Nick out of my head as I brush grass off my jeans. “Just thinking about hiring a mob boss to dispose of Aditi Singh for me. No big.”

Lo has changed from her school look of jeans and hoodie into a short floral dress that covers her bikini, and she let her long, wavy black hair out of its usual ponytail. She looks me up and down and shakes her head. “You were talking to Nick, weren't you?”

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