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Authors: Heather Hepler

Love? Maybe.

BOOK: Love? Maybe.
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Heather Hepler

 

Dial Books

an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

DIAL BOOKS

An imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Published by The Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa • Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 by Heather Hepler

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast.

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

CIP Data is available.

Published in the United States by Dial Books

An imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

www.penguin.com/youngreaders

Designed by Nancy R. Leo-Kelly

Text set in Dante

Printed in U. S. A.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

EISBN: 9781101559697

 

For my dad who taught me to work hard,

 

love long, and forgive easily.

 

And as always for Harrison.

 

Thank you for making my life so sweet.

 

 
chapter
one
 

C
laire tells me it’s romantic that my birthday is on Valentine’s Day, but then she thinks it’s romantic when Stuart remembers to say excuse me after he burps. Jillian tells me it’s unfortunate, but only because she thinks it lowers the gift receiving opportunities. I don’t really care one way or the other. February 14th has always been just another day to me.

“All I’m saying is that we need a plan,” Jillian says. I nod without looking up.

 

“Yes, but why are you saying this to
me
?” I ask.

 

“Because you have a plan for everything,” Jillian says, pointing to my date book, lying open on the counter. In between customers, I was trying to work out my semester. But right now I’m trying to finish stocking the front case before I have to leave. It’s not as easy as it looks, building pyramids
out of round chocolates. One misplaced candy and you have an avalanche.

 

“Fine,” I say, giving in to Jillian. “Tell me the plan.”

 

“Well, I don’t have the whole thing worked out yet,” she says. “That’s where you and your compulsive organizational skills come in.” I roll my eyes. She nudges me, making me knock over a pile of coconut truffles. “Sorry,” she says, making big eyes at me. I sigh and start building again. “The first step is getting you to admit that we need a plan.”

 

I have to stifle the urge to roll my eyes again. Ever since Jan hung the big pink hearts in the window and started playing Sinatra
all the time
, Jillian’s been obsessed with finding a boyfriend. Thankfully I don’t have to participate that much in her lunacy. She’s like a windup toy; all I have to do is nod and um-hum in the appropriate places to keep her going. I look over at Claire for help, but she’s tapping away on her phone. Texting Stuart, no doubt. I keep stacking the truffles. I think the coconut ones are completely nasty, but they’re one of our biggest sellers.

 

“I still don’t see what the big deal is,” I say. I sneak a look at Jillian out of the corner of my eye. She’s staring at me, her mouth slightly open, like I just told her I didn’t see what the big deal is with oxygen. “I mean, it’s not like it’s the end of the world if you don’t have a boyfriend for Valentine’s Day.” Jillian actually turns away from me as if I offended her.

 

“Did you hear that?” she asks Claire.

 

Claire looks up from her phone slowly. “Hear what?”

 

Jillian shakes her head. “Good thing you two have me,” she says.

 

“We are very lucky,” I say dutifully. Either Jillian doesn’t hear the sarcasm in my voice or she chooses to ignore it. I can’t tell. “Any word from Stuart?” I ask, looking over at Claire. She shakes her head. “Maybe he doesn’t have phone service up in the mountains.” I feel my heart start racing like it always does when I lie.

 

“Maybe,” Claire says, but I don’t think she believes it any more than I do. Stuart’s on a family ski trip. He’s only been gone four days, but to look at Claire, you’d think it was four hundred. In the year Claire and Stuart have been together, I don’t think they have gone more than eight hours without talking to each other and that’s just because they have to sleep. But in the last month or so, he’s been acting squirrelly. And the weirder he acts, the clingier Claire gets. And the more freaked out Claire gets, the more Stuart seems to retreat. I’ve noticed he keeps looking behind him when they’re together, like he’s searching for an exit. I’ve seen the signs before. So his silence is a bit ominous.

 

Jan pushes through the door to the kitchen, balancing a long metal tray covered in foil in his hands. “Coming through,” he says, stepping up beside me. He places the tray on the counter in front of me. Even though he does it gently, it sends the coconut truffles I just stacked spinning off in a
dozen different directions. Jan looks at me sheepishly, but I just sigh. He nods at the tray in front of us. “Let the guessing begin,” he says. “Piper, you first.”

 

I pretend to think for a moment. “Chocolate,” I say, teasing him.

 

Jan sighs. “At least try,” he says.

 

“Milk chocolate.”

 

He shakes his head and points at Jillian. “Your turn.”

 

“Strawberries and Cream,” she says, trying to peek under the foil. Jan pushes her hand away and shakes his head.

 

“Cupid’s Crunch,” Claire says, picking up her phone and checking it for the five thousandth time.

 

“No, but points for creativity,” Jan says. “Give up?” He smiles, pinching the corner of the foil with his fingers, ready to whip it off and reveal the new flavor of truffle. This is his favorite moment. He changes the featured flavor out every month. Sometimes it’s good, like Mocha Caramel Madness. Sometimes boring, like Mango. Sometimes weird, like Chipotle Banana. Once just plain gross, like last summer when Jan decided to try making avocado candies. Even dubbing them Green Goddess hadn’t gotten many to sample them.

 

“We give up,” I say. Jan whips off the foil, revealing dozens of brown balls with purple squiggles all over them. No one says anything, making Claire get up and walk over to look at the pan too. “What is it?” I ask, trying to smell anything unusual.

 

“Kalamata Caramel,” Jan says. “Awesome, right?” He looks from Jillian to me to Claire, a big smile on his face.

 

“Awesome,” I say, hoping I sound more enthusiastic than I feel.

 

“Wait, you mean Kalamata
olives
?
” Jillian asks.

 

“Yep,” Jan says, clearly excited. “Of course, I just used the olive juice, not the actual olives.”

 

Jillian nods, her face unreadable. “Good call,” she says. Claire nods in agreement. “Okay, I’ll try one.” Jillian picks up a truffle and pops it in her mouth. She closes her eyes for a moment, chewing. Then her eyes pop open. “These are good,” she says, reaching for another. “Really good.” Jan just smiles and nods toward Claire and me. Claire takes one, but I reach under the counter for a rag and the box of chalk.

 

“I’ll make the sign,” I say, trying to get away before Jan asks me to try one and I have to give him my honest opinion. I am all about the truth. Not so much because I’m overly moral, but because I am the world’s worst liar. I stutter. I start sweating. My pupils dilate. I get this twitchy thing in my left eye. Besides, I’m really not the best at judging Jan’s creations. As weird as it sounds, I just don’t like chocolate very much. I’m pretty sure the addition of olives isn’t going to change that.

 

Jillian and Claire follow me outside to the sidewalk. They sit at one of the tables Jan has out front, right in front of the lettering on the window. J
AN THE
C
ANDY
M
AN
. Although
it’s not yet lunchtime, people are already starting to filter into the store for their sweet fix. That’s one thing about Jan’s: Even the most hard-core health fanatics can find something they’ll want to buy, even if it’s just the homemade granola Jan makes.

 

The blackboard out front still features January’s flavor: Pineapple Orange Banana, or Pine-or-ban as Jan calls it. Surprisingly, it was a big seller. Several people even started stopping by for a quarter pound first thing in the morning. I’m pretty sure that even though it has fruit and milk in it, it still isn’t breakfast.

 

When I first started working here about a year and a half ago, I thought it was Jan’s crazy ideas that were keeping his store from getting the attention it should have, but now I know it’s not his candy making. Jan’s a culinary genius. Somehow he puts weird things together and they taste amazing. Jan’s big problem is organization. That’s where I come in.

 

For January I drew the three fruits playing instruments; the pineapple on drums, the orange with a saxophone, and the banana on vocals, of course. Sort of a tropical jazz trio. I use the rag to clean the blackboard. Then I start drawing olives waltzing with what I hope look like caramels.

 

“We need a plan,” Jillian says for the seven thousandth time this morning.

 

“You’ve said.” I use a piece of coppery chalk to color in the caramels.

 

“We need three reasonably good-looking, moderately interesting, not utterly hopeless guys.”

 

“Two,” Claire says. Jillian stares at her and I say a silent prayer that for once Jillian will be slightly sympathetic.

 

“Okay, two. Two decent guys in all of Atlanta. That shouldn’t be too hard.”

 

I look past Jillian and smile. “I think fate just smiled on you.” She looks around then quickly snaps her head back to glare at me. “Hey, Jeremy,” I say to the guy walking up behind her. Jillian stares holes into my face before reaching into her purse and pulling out her sunglasses.

 

Jeremy barely nods in my direction. “Hi, Jillian,” he says. I wince as his voice cracks in the middle. Jillian hardly acknowledges him. He stands there for a couple of moments, hopeful. I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. He is head over heels in love with Jillian, but at best she seems to tolerate him. Just another in a long line of examples of why love is so stupid. Finally Jeremy walks past and slips into Jan’s.

 

“Okay,” I say when the door shuts behind him. “One down.” I’m pretty sure Jillian is glaring at me, but it’s hard to tell with her dark glasses.

 

“Yeah, um, Germy doesn’t count,” she says.

 

“But he likes you,” I say.

 

“Piper, please be serious.” I look over at Claire and see she’s smiling, so I keep going.

 

“But, just think, Jillian, he’d probably name a character after you in Warcraft,” I say.

 

“Maybe he’d play you a song on his clarinet,” Claire says. Jillian sighs.

 

“Okay,” I say, adding curlicues around the edges of the blackboard. “I’ll be serious.”

 

“I’m just tired of being single,” Jillian says. “And Piper, aren’t you ready? I mean, you haven’t really dated anyone since what’s-his-name last fall.”

 

“Eric,” I say, coloring the olives deep purple. “His name was Eric. But he doesn’t count. That was under duress.” Claire rolls her eyes. Eric is Stuart’s wingman—something he actually calls himself, which should have been a clue. I went out with him once because Claire begged me to. It was awesome. When it’s humid, my purple hoodie still smells vaguely of vomit. “Wait,” I say, smiling. “You’re forgetting Peter.”

 

“You only went out with Peter like three times,” Jillian says.

 

“True. And they were also under duress.”

 

“Stop using that word,” Jillian says. “It’s not like anyone forced you to go out with him.”

 

“Seriously?” I can’t keep my indignation to myself. “Jillian, when you begged me to go with you to
accidentally bump into
Mike VanSickle at Zuzu’s, you neglected to mention that you had actually already told Mike you’d swing by
and
that you’d bring a friend. What do you call that?”

 

Jillian rolls her eyes at me. “Well, that was the one time, but you also went with him to the ASPCA Day in the Park.”

 

I take a deep breath and count to ten. Backwards. Slowly. “Only because you kept telling me that for every ten dollars the animal shelter raised, the life of a puppy would be saved!”

 

“And you watched a movie together,” she says.

 

I don’t bother responding. I’ve already told her about watching half a movie with Peter because I couldn’t stand to sit through the whole thing.

 

“What exactly do you have against dating anyway?” Jillian asks.

 

I shrug. “I just don’t see the point. It’s not like it’s required.”

 

“Piper, please,” Jillian says, dismissing Eric, Peter, my arguments, and the last of my sanity with the flip of her fingers. “I’m just saying. It’s time.”

 

“Time,” I say, looking at my watch. “I have to go. I’m supposed to be at my mom’s shop in ten minutes.” I stare at my drawing of waltzing caramels and olives. It’s missing something. I decide to give top hats to the olives and high heels to the caramels and quickly sketch them in.

 

“Go,” Claire says. “We’ll finish up.” I give her a grateful smile and untie my apron. I pull the door to the shop open and holler to Jan, who has disappeared into the back.

 

“Jan,” I say, balling up my apron and lobbing it toward the bin under the counter. “I have to go.”

 

He peeks his head out. “Thanks for the help, Piper. See you in a few days?”

 

“I have to check with my mom. I’ll call you.” He nods and
smiles, his eyes crinkling under his wire-rimmed glasses. I think I’ve gotten away, but Jan hurries over to me, and thrusts a paper bag into my hands. “Don’t forget your candy,” he says. “I want your honest opinion.”

 

“Thanks,” I say, taking the bag. I kick myself for not getting out of there faster. I step back outside. “Bye!” I yell, tearing past Claire and Jillian as they finish coloring my drawing.

 

“Don’t be late tomorrow!” Claire yells.

 

“I won’t!” I yell over my shoulder, laughing. Claire likes to tease me about my punctuality. I am always early for everything.

 

I’m sort of proud of myself for actually being able to run the whole way over to my mom’s shop. Maybe the fact that I’m not totally sucking O’s by the time I get there means that the first day of swim practice won’t be horrible. I pause and check out my appearance in one of the big windows on the front of the store. I can half see myself, with my cutoffs and rainbow checked Vans and my T-shirt from last year’s regional meet. But I can also half see through the window into my mom’s flower shop, so that on top of my usual stick-straight brown hair, I have a vase of purple tulips coming out of my head. It’s weird for sure, but a definite improvement over the usual Piper. The door opens and my mother pokes her head out.

BOOK: Love? Maybe.
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