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Lurlene McDaniel

BOOK: Lurlene McDaniel
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From every ending comes a new beginning. …

F
RIDAY
, O
CTOBER
21, 11:58
PM

I
am floating in total darkness. Not floating like in water, but on a stream of air. Floating, trapped within a dark cloud … my eyes wide open. But there's no light, not even a glimmer, and I can't see. I hear nothing. I feel nothing. No pain. No brush of air against my skin. Not the limbs of my body. Not the beating of my heart. Not the sound of my blood rushing through my ears.

My heartbeat. My sight. My touch. Where are they? Where am I?

Who
am I?

F
RIDAY
, O
CTOBER
21, 6:15
PM

“How many times are you going to change clothes tonight?”

I stop riffling through the contents of my pathetic closet and look over at Judie, my best friend. She's sitting on my bed eating potato chips, spilling salty crumbs all over my comforter.

“As many times as it takes to get it right,” I tell her.

“I've seen at least four outfits that look good on you. Why not just eeny-meeny-miney-mo them and get over it? He's going to be here in forty-five minutes.” She glances at my bedside clock. “And I still haven't done your hair.”

I want to be patient with her, but how can I? She knows that Quentin Palmer—Quin to the entire city of Asheville, North Carolina—has asked me, Laurie Stark, out to a bash at some mountain estate. I think of what Dorothy said
when meeting the Wizard of Oz.
“I am Dorothy, the small and meek. …”
Freshman girls like me don't get rushed by senior jocks like Quin. And yet, I was. He came right over to the cafeteria table where I was sitting with Judie two days ago and said, “You're Laurie, aren't you? Want to come to a party Friday night?”

My mouth dropped open. I've worshipped him from afar since school started and now, just before school carnival, he was asking me on a date. Judie nudged me under the table. “This Friday?” Did my voice squeak?

“I'll pick you up at seven,” Quin said.

“D-do you need directions?”

“I know where you live.”

He gave me a smile that made my blood sizzle, but when he walked away, Judie said, “That's scary.”

“What?” I could hardly speak and I was shaking. This happens when a god speaks to you.

“That he knows where you live,” she said.

We picked up our trays and headed to the deposit window. I thought every eye in the cafeteria was looking at me because they'd seen Quin come up to my table and talk to me. I thought maybe Judie was jealous. “So then why did he ask me?”

“Because he's working his way through all the
new freshman girls at school. It's October and he's up to the
S
‘s.”

I felt a flare of temper. “That's mean.”

“Cool off. I'm kidding. He asked because you're pretty.” Judie flashed me a smile.

We've been friends since fifth grade. She's big-boned and round with boobs that need a double-D-cup bra. I'm the tall lanky type with blond hair and size C-cup boobs—okay, a high B. Judie doesn't date anybody. I've dated a few guys, but dumped them when they asked for benefits.

People wonder why we're friends, because we're different. I don't know, but ever since passing from Asheville Middle School to Asheville High, student population just shy of six hundred, we've navigated the wannabe waters of popularity.
“With you steering the boat,”
Judie would say.

Now, with a date to a party with Quin, I see rocks ahead of our boat. But two days ago, I was walking on air. Quin asked me. Me!

When I tell Mom about my date with Quin, she practically does a cartwheel. She knows who Quin is. Everyone who reads the local paper and isn't mentally impaired knows. He's the star of our baseball team, the All-County and All-State team pitcher, member of
Parade
magazine's A-team,
the number-one draft choice of coaches from Duke and North Carolina State and any number of colleges and universities across the country. Quin's hot in every way.

“Tell me how he asked you.” Mom wants details, so I give them. Mostly to see her face light up. People say we look alike and I guess we do, but the similarity is only skin deep.

When she went to Asheville High, she was homecoming queen, Miss Student Body, prom queen … the list goes on. (My list is painfully short: cross-country team.) Everybody loved Lindsey Duvales, including my dad, Denny Stark. They got married and had me, but the marriage didn't work out, so Dad left Asheville for Columbus, Ohio. Mom sells real estate and makes enough money to keep us both in trendy clothes and decent shoes.

Sometimes I'm sorry she can't go to high school in my place. She likes it all so much more than I do, and now that I've got a date with Quin, I feel more like Lindsey Duvales than Laurie Stark, which is an interesting feeling.

So now, when I'm standing in front of my closet, all my self-assurance goes out the window. Judie scoots off the bed and picks up three outfits scattered on the floor. Two still have the tags on
them from when Mom brought them home. She likes shopping for me.

“What's wrong with this?” Judie holds up a green sweater and a plaid miniskirt. “It'll show off your long legs. You should go for it.”

“Too Catholic-school girl.”

“Then go with jeans and this sweater.”

“I hate that sweater.”

“How about these jeans?” Judie holds out a pair Mom just bought, with ragged knees and a hole in one thigh. She looks at the price tag and grimaces. “Why would you spend this much money on something from the thrift store?”

“They're brand-new,” I tell her. I snatch the jeans and slide them over my legs, zip them up. They fit like a second skin.

“This sweater,” Judie says, giving me a pink one that has a low V-neck and barely skims my waistband.

I try it on, stare at myself in the mirror. “You think so?”

“I think so.”

Quin agrees. I see it on his face when I come down the stairs, and it makes my insides glow. Mom has him cornered in the living room and is bubbling with enthusiastic questions. I'm embarrassed, but
he doesn't seem to mind. All I can think about is getting out of there.

“You kids have fun,” Mom calls from the front door as we start down the walk to his car.

I'm thankful she hasn't whipped out her camera.

“You two look alike,” he says, opening the door for me.

“I've been told that before.” I get in, stare out the window at my mother's figure backlit in the front doorway, where she's standing and waving. I want to sink into the upholstery.

Quin starts the engine. “Buckle up. I drive fast.”

I do as I'm told, grateful for his blaring CD player. Now that the commotion is over, now that I'm riding into the dark hills beside Quin Palmer, it occurs to me that I don't know this guy and I have nothing to say to him.

I miss Lindsey Duvales. She'd know how to talk to him. Laurie Stark doesn't.

F
RIDAY
, O
CTOBER
21, 4:00
PM

I go in for a shot, elbow my way through bodies, jump and shoot and come down hard on Matt Trammel's head. He swears at me, but the ball goes through the hoop and my teammates whoop. It's just a pickup game in the gym after school, but it helps us blow off steam.

“Am I bleeding?” Matt asks.

Game's over anyway, so I humor him and catch him in a headlock, run my knuckles hard across his sweaty hair and say, “Suck it up. You're fine.”

He yelps. “Let go, Jer!”

I oblige him. The rest of the guys have lost interest and are heading for the doors, where the janitor is standing ready to sweep the floor. The gym's open until four until basketball season starts, so I kill time on the court waiting for Analise, my girl. She works on the school paper and the yearbook three afternoons a week, and I give her a lift
home. The rules are that the school has to be emptied of students by four-thirty. I'd vacate at noon if I could. But hanging around guarantees that I see Analise about every day, a hard thing to do now that we're both seniors with sucky schedules that keep us apart. And man, I
do
like seeing her.

I shower and change in the locker room, use half a stick of deodorant just in case the soap didn't work and head out to meet Analise at her locker. She and her friend Amy Cartwright come toward me down the long hallway. Analise Bower is tall and slender, not knock-you-over pretty, but interesting-looking.
“Dramatic,”
my mom says. Olive skin, green-brown eyes and hair that's a really dark brown, straight and hanging down to her waist. She never wears makeup, maybe some of that gloss goop on her mouth that girls like and us guys hate, but nothing else. I think she's beautiful.

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