Authors: R. A. Nelson
Table of Contents
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright 2005 © R. A. Nelson
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To my family: Deborah, Zachary, Alexander, Christopher, and Joseph.
In memory of Dona Vaughn. Thanks to Sue Corbett, Diane Davis, and the generosity of the YAWRITERS list for establishing the Dona Vaughn Work in Progress Grant to honor this wonderfully giving writer. Thanks also to Stephen Mooser, Lin Oliver, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. This grant helped make this book possible.
Thanks to my matchless editor and friend at Razorbill, Liesa Abrams, whose amazing mind and indispensable talents have made me a better writer. Thanks also for the invaluable contributions of Eloise Flood, Margaret Wright, Karen Taschek, Christopher Grassi, Polly Watson, Andy Ball, and Archie Ferguson.
Thanks to my extraordinary agent, Rosemary Stimola. Rosemary is simply perfect. I couldn’t ask for a better champion and friend to chart my career.
Thanks to my writerly compatriots, Kathleen O’Dell, Linda Zinnen, and Charis Kelly. Their priceless support helped my career become a reality.
In memory of Linda Smith and thanks to Linda Sue Park and the dazzling denizens of
. I’m grateful to Jon Bard for putting it together.
To Brian Nelson, Craig Nelson, Randy Nelson, Ronnie Nelson, Rikki Nelson, and Doris Nelson, thanks for believing through all those years of typing and dreaming.
Hey, Ms. Gonzalez, I did it!
the physics of falling
Welcome to my head.
Let’s hit the ground running. I will get you up to speed. We need a short learning curve here. Those are things my dad likes to say. He works for NASA. He spends his days figuring out problems like this:
If an object weighing 8.75 ounces traveling ten thousand miles per hour strikes the earth, how big a hole does it create?
Answer: One exactly the size of my heart.
Call me Nine.
Everybody does. When I was three, I couldn’t pronounce Carolina; it came out Caro
. My math-crazy father thought that was cute and shortened it to Nine. I’ve been a number ever since.
Right now I’m sitting with my parents in Mom’s Victorian room, surrounded by drapes with tassels, photographs of long-decomposed relatives, muscle-bound furniture. The sofa is covered with pictures of golden English villages I am desperate to live in that don’t exist. And on today’s menu:
The are-you-a-lesbian conversation.
Not that Mom would ever use that word.
I’ve broken her heart. She’s drowning in hay fever tears. All because at this penultimate moment in my eighteen-year-old life, two weeks before the senior prom, I’m just not interested.
Mom sobs explosively into a Kleenex. She’s allergic to her own head. She just got a new perm. If she sneezes one more time, her sixty-year-old mucous membranes will flop out on the Cavendish rug.
That’s right. My parents are old. Older than satellites, rock ‘n’ roll, or color TV. They married late; I’m the only fruit of their looms.
“But you’re so smart, Nine,” Mom sputters.
I want to say. Don’t you know that boys don’t like smart girls? But men . . .
I look out the window so they can’t see my eyes.
My teacher, Mr. Mann, said the same thing the day the craziness started that knocked my heart out of its orbit. He was standing under a tree with an angel halo of moonlight around his face. Then he asked me this:
“Did you know Emily Dickinson wrote a poem with your name in it?
Awake ye muses Nine, sing me a strain divine.
Not one of her best, I’m afraid.”
Two hours later, behind the Wal-Mart Rule the World Super Center, he kissed me.
“Why doesn’t Schuyler come around anymore?” Dad says, bringing me back to Earth for a fiery reentry.
Schuyler’s my best friend. We’ve known each other since the supercontinent Pangaea split apart. Well, second grade. He and Dad have always liked each other. Schuyler is family in this house, the brother I never got to have.
I’m hiding from him.
I don’t want him to know what I’ve done. The trouble I’m in. How far, how fast I’m falling.
“He’s busy,” I say.
“But what about any of the other boys?” Mom says. “What about that one in your—”
“I’m invisible,” I say to keep from saying anything else.
Dad laughs. “Invisible?”
Dad’s an engineer. He thinks in spaces, measurements, volumes.
A six-foot chunk of girl-woman with a thirty-five-inch inseam and brown chair-stuffing hair can’t be invisible. Not the Kevin Bacon/Claude Rains movie kind, where you take off the bandages and poof, disappear.
I’m this kind of invisible to boys: I see you, but I don’t care. I’m not going to look a second time as long as we both shall live. But to men . . .
“It’s not just the prom, darling.” Mom goes down the list.
I’m not sleeping. I talk too little. Lose my college paperwork. Push away my favorite Spamburger Helper. Disappear to God knows where doing God knows what. Is it dangerous? Illegal?
What am I supposed to tell them?
That my heat shield has failed? That I’ve fallen to Earth and disintegrated? That no one can reassemble the pieces of my life and tell the story of my death?
“It’s nothing,” I say.