"Definitely one of the best YA contemporary romances I've read." —My Tiny Obsessions blog
Becca Hanson is a reader—a voracious reader. She’d rather hang out with Harry and Ron than go on a date or surf the internet. But Becca’s also seen a Thestral. Since her best—and only—real friend Charlotte’s death, Becca’s read 108,023 pages, and she’s not about to let anything, or anyone, keep her from reading 108,023 more.
Until she meets Max. He’s experienced loss, too, and his gorgeous, dark eyes see Becca the way no one else in school can. But Becca’s already lost so much…she’s not about to lose her heart, too.
The companion novel to Love and Other Unknown Variables is an exploration of loss and regret, and a celebration of hope and discovering a life worth living again.
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|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
|File size:||2 MB|
|Age Range:||12 Years|
About the Author
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Life After Juliet
By Shannon Lee Alexander, Heather Howland, Jenn Mishler
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Shannon Lee Alexander
All rights reserved.
I'm not sure how long I've been back in school. I don't really do days anymore. Time is measured in pages. I've read 3,718 pages since Dad dropped me off on the first day. It's been 108,023 pages since Charlotte died. I've read 150 pages since I stepped on the bus this morning. It's been ten pages since I thought of Charlotte.
She's not coming back, and I don't know what else to do, so I keep turning the pages.
However long I've been back at Sandstone High, the advanced literature and composition teacher, Mrs. Jonah, informed me yesterday that I am no longer allowed to "sit like a bump on a log, reading books" in her class. I find this strange, but then, I don't understand the real world. I've given up trying to make any kind of sense of it. Today in class, I am sitting like a bump on a log, staring out the window.
Sandstone is a typical high school, unlike the fancy math and science school on the other side of town that Charlie graduated from last spring. It's the kind of building that's been pieced together — add a wing here, convert a gym there, dump mobile units here — throughout the decades as the town's population grew and it had to be quickly expanded. There's no one defining style. It's a mishmash. The kids who go here are also diverse, so it's not hard for me to fade into the background.
Lit and Comp is a junior course. The guidance counselor signed me up for it at the end of last year. She described it as a lively class full of opportunities for personal and artistic growth. In other words, it's my worst nightmare. I've decided growth is overrated.
Mrs. Jonah's classroom is long and narrow, with a wall of windows down the side. She's decorated the wide windowsill with spindly spider plants, stacks of books, empty vintage Coke bottles that catch the sunlight, and a bust of Sir Isaac Newton, which is strange since she's not a science teacher.
Mrs. Jonah raps on her desk now to get our attention. She stands and brushes invisible lint off her black pencil skirt. Tall and unafraid of wearing high heels, she towers over everyone in the school, even the basketball coach. Her pixie haircut and makeup are always perfect. She's the most with it human I've ever seen.
"Time's up," she says. "Please, pass your quizzes forward."
I've been done with my quiz for what would have been about twenty pages, if reading were still allowed in Lit class. I pass my paper to the boy in front of me. He runs his hand through his choppy black hair and smiles. His lips are chapped, and the smiling pulls the raw skin too tight. It makes me wince. I instantly feel bad, because I remember this guy.
Max. He was in Mr. Bunting's World History class with Charlotte and me last year. He was the only student at Sandstone who spoke directly to me after Charlotte died. He came right up to me in history, cleared his throat so I'd look up from my book and said, "Sorry for your loss."
I remember I got up and left the room. It was either that or start crying.
He's still looking at me now. I should say something, something nice, like "Thank you for your condolences." Instead, I look out the window again.
Max sighs, soft like the riffle of book pages, as he turns around and passes our quizzes forward. I'm used to that sound. It's the sound of my father when I refuse to put my book down and come join my mother and him. The sound of my mother when she realizes I've been listening to the book characters in my head instead of her. Lately, I'm really only safe lost in the pages of a book. Outside, in the real world, it's like I'm walking around with no skin. Everything hurts.
"Okay, people," Mrs. Jonah says, clapping her hands. The sound snaps my attention back into her classroom. "I'm going to assign your critique partners for this quarter. You'll be partnering with this person on various writing assignments, sharing constructive criticism, ideas, and support throughout the writing process. Your job as partners is to help each other improve. My hope is that many of you will connect over your writing and that these partnerships will become valuable to you outside of the classroom, too. So for the remainder of class, I want you to get acquainted with your new writing buddies."
The class murmurs and scuffles in their seats, excited that they'll get to work with other people. If Charlotte were here, I would whisper to her, "Partners?"
Charlotte would roll her blue eyes at me. "Of course," she'd mouth back.
But that's not going to happen, so I turn back to the window to watch a gray-tinged cloud morph from a blob into a Volkswagen Beetle. No, that's a silver Honda with a dented fender just like Charlotte's. And despite not wanting to remember, I'm caught in a memory that won't let me go.
"You remember how we met, don't you?" Charlotte asks. My room is dark. I'd thought she'd fallen asleep. Her sleeping was so erratic then. "Remember?" she says, "Mr. Bunting assigned us that history project? I thought for sure it was going to be a disaster, until you looked up at me with those big old doe eyes of yours and this funny smile on your face, and I knew right then that we'd be friends."
But I remember it differently. "I was so nervous I started babbling."
Charlotte laughs, her wind chime laugh that makes the air around her shimmer. "That's right. You said you didn't want a partner — actually you kind of yelled, 'NO'— but he insisted, and I stuck out my hand and said, 'You can call me Charley.' And then you said" — she waits for me to fill in the blank.
I laugh and bury my face in my pillow.
"Go ahead, Bec. What'd you say?"
I toss my pillow at her. "'My brother's name is Charlie and that would be weird.' That's what I said. Little did I know how weird it would get."
She fakes insult and hugs my pillow to her chest. "You mean how awesome it would get?"
I didn't ask for my first real friend to start dating my older brother, but life is full of surprises.
Some of them more deadly than others.
"Quiet down, folks," Mrs. Jonah says to the class now. The excitement about partner work has continued to build around me. "I'll be assigning the partners."
Everyone groans, and my insides bunch up thinking of Charlotte again. My fingers are getting tingly, my eyes sting, and my head feels too big. I realize I'm holding my breath. This is why the memories are so dangerous.
Mrs. Jonah pulls out a slip of paper and reads off the partner assignments. As names are called small bubbles of excitement burst around the classroom. There are four of us left, and we eye one another like we're the final four tributes in the Hunger Games — the dark-haired Max, a blond guy with an unfortunate case of acne, and a girl whose purple fingernails match her purple cowboy boots. Her hands are fisted on her knees, and the tips of her ears are rosy. It reminds me of my brother Charlie. His ears go red whenever he's embarrassed. But I don't think this girl is embarrassed.
And then there's me, fighting to keep the anxiety in my stomach curled into a nice, tight, controllable ball.
"Max," Mrs. Jonah says, reading from a clipboard. He nods. "You and Brian will work together, and —"
"Mrs. Jonah," Purple Boots interrupts.
"Meggie and I work really well together and I thought maybe —"
"You'll work with Becca."
Darby of the purple boots looks once at the girl to her left — Meggie? — before sighing and unclenching her fists. "Yes, ma'am," she says with a tight-lipped smile. When she glances at me, I notice a flutter of dread in her gray eyes.
I'm amazed at the strange power I now wield as the dead girl's friend. My classmates may have never noticed me before Charlotte. But now that she's dead, their eyes slide right off me like I'm wearing an invisibility cloak. They don't want to see me. I make them feel things they don't like. I get it. I feel lots of things now that I don't like.
Mrs. Jonah addresses the class. "Now, with these last ten minutes, get together with your partners, get acquainted, and discuss your expectations and any ground rules for critique you'd like to establish."
Whatever discomfort Darby felt a moment ago passes quickly. She has long dreadlocks, and she tosses them, whip-like, over her shoulder, and I'm struck by how different we are — like if we were books she'd be shelved with the thrillers and I'd be something like, I don't know, candlemaking.
Instead of moving to meet with me, she glares at Mrs. Jonah, her purple boot tapping out an angry rhythm on the metal leg of her desk.
There is no way I'm getting up and approaching her. It'd be akin to poking a pissed-off badger with sharp purple claws. The room hums as everyone shifts desks and chairs around. Max glances between Darby and me once before he moves to sit across from his partner.
Mrs. Jonah keeps looking at me. She's noticed that we're the only pair that hasn't moved. She had to have known this was a bad idea. There should be a bulletin board in the teacher's lounge with posters of troublemaker kids — like the wanted posters in the post office — so that teachers know what they're getting before you walk in their doors.
Mine would say:
WANTED FOR THE OBSTINATE REFUSAL TO WORK WITH OTHERS REBECCA JANE HANSON
And it'd have my yearbook photo, the one where I look like the camera is a zombie about to eat my face off, smack-dab in the middle. I don't know. Maybe they do have stuff like that. Maybe teachers just like to think they can change us. The way Mrs. Jonah keeps looking at me makes me think she believes she can get me to move with sheer will.
It's creeping me out. Normally, I'd stuff my face in a book so I wouldn't even notice her looking, but this is English class, and I'm not allowed to read in English so ...
I don't know what else to do. I force myself to stand and walk toward Darby, giving Mrs. Jonah my best when-she-maims-me-I'm-blaming-you look. My heart alternates between wedging itself in my throat and fisting itself into my stomach. Mrs. Jonah smiles.
I tell myself that Charlotte would be proud of me. I'm taking initiative. I'm putting myself out there. I'm walking through fate's open door. I'm not paying attention to where I'm going, and now I'm tripping over the blond, acne-prone boy's bag.
I gasp, and my hands do a flailing thing, like a fast-pitch softball pitcher throwing two balls at once. I stumble forward, my ankle trapped in one of the backpack straps, arms still flapping, and I face-plant into Max's lap.
Hello, Max's lap.
Max jumps because it's obviously not every day that a girl's face ends up in his lap.
That's not fair. Maybe it is normal for him. I don't know him. Either way, it probably doesn't happen in class. So Max jumps up, swearing under his breath, but he manages to grab my head before my temple smacks into the desk beside him.
I'm not sure I'm painting this picture too well. I'm now on my knees. Max is standing and holding my head. Everyone is laughing. Except the acne kid, who is swearing because I've ripped the strap of his backpack.
And Darby. Darby's not laughing. She's just watching.
The bell rings, and everyone leaves as Max helps me to a seat. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, Becca," Mrs. Jonah says, walking up the aisle, "that was quite a fall."
Mrs. Jonah looks from me to Max. "Well, then, Mr. Herrera, I'll let you handle this." She nods, a quick bob of the head.
Darby is lingering in the doorway. "Please, Mrs. Jonah," Darby says, "couldn't I work with Meggie?" Mrs. Jonah shoos her into the hallway.
Max shifts his weight as he stands in front of me. I can't look at his face, but if I look straight ahead, I'm staring at his crotch, which only reminds me that my face was just smashed into said crotch.
I look up and focus on his T-shirt instead. It's faded gray with a picture of the first edition cover of A Wrinkle in Time. The cover is blue with three green circles and many black circles all interconnected. Each green circle has a silhouette inside. It's one of my favorite books — has a great first line.
It was a dark and stormy night.
"She's amazing," I say.
Max crosses his arms, covering the middle of the three green circles and the man standing inside it. "Darby's a drama qu —"
"Madeline L'Engle is amazing." I point at his chest.
Max's skin is the color of a well-worn penny, but his cheeks brighten to a coppery glow as he drops his arms to pull on the hem of his shirt and studies it. "Oh. Yes. She is."
"It's a cool shirt," I say.
He licks his lips and smiles, sliding into the seat across the narrow aisle from me. "Thanks."
I finally take a moment to study his face. It's a nice face, deep brown eyes, longish nose, wide, sharp cheekbones and, although his lips are chapped, they are full and a delicious shade of — what the heck is wrong with me?
I jump up, knocking our knees together. "Sorry," I say, only it comes out wobbly sounding. "I'm sorry for" — using your manly bits as a landing pad? Um, no — "for, you know, the thing." I grimace at him instead of smiling, probably looking a bit like a skittish dog baring its teeth. Then I rush for the door.
"Becca, wait," Max calls as I'm two steps shy of the hallway. I drop my chin to my chest and turn around. There's no way I'm looking at his face ever again.
"Your books," he says, scooping up my bag. When I reach for the strap, he doesn't let go. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Without my brain allowing it, I look up at him. Yep. He's still adorable. "No, I'm not okay. But thanks for asking." He calls my name again as I'm running away, but I don't turn around.
* * *
Without Charlotte, I've been forced to ride the bus home from school each day. It's not as bad as it seems. No one on the bus cares if I read. If you sit near the front and keep your head down, even the bus driver ignores you. It's kind of the best part of my school day.
I've just left my locker for the bus lot. I've already got my copy of Jane Eyre open to my page and can't help but read as I walk, because the faster I can leave school and get back to Thornfield the better. Of course, I'm not looking where I'm going (book nerd problem number seventy-two) so it doesn't take long for me to run into someone in the crowded hallway.
The someone turns around and I'm facing A Wrinkle in Time again.
I look up at his face. "Max." My glance skitters away, bouncing from the red lockers across the hall, to the shiny tile floor, to the way Max's hand — his fingernails short and square — grasps the strap of his backpack.
Max shifts his weight, leaning back to get a glimpse of the book cover in my hand. "Walking and reading, eh?" He nods at my open book. "Always knew you liked to live on the edge."
I frown at the joke, because it's been months since I've been expected to interact with real live humans, and I'm a little rusty.
Max licks his bottom lip and presses on. "So, are you —?"
"Thank you for your condolences." I instantly want to punch my brain. What is wrong with you? Why can't you just say normal things?
Max's whole face is flickering with a thousand expressions as he stutters, "Wha — oh, um, you're welcome." Then he smiles.
"Okay, well, I have to go." I refocus on my book and head toward the bus lot.
"Do you want a ride home?"
"It's no problem. My friend Victor lives around the corner from you, and I take him home every day. We pass your house."
"You know where I live?" My hands are clammy from all the adrenaline, and I try to wipe them on my jeans without him noticing.
"I'm not a stalker or a creeper or whatever." He presses his lips together. "Saying that kind of makes me sound like one, huh?"
"It's just — Victor and I, we've seen you get off the bus. It sucks to ride the bus — I know — and it's no trouble."
I take a deep breath, trying to slow everything down, and in that breath I pause. Max smells like honey and boy soap, sharper and spicier than girlie soaps. It reminds me of the cedar wood behind Gram's house. The smell of him makes me want to close my eyes and rest my head on his chest and just breathe.
"Uh, no, thank you. I like the bus." I take a step away.
"You do?" One of Max's dark brows arches upward.
I take another step, this time in the direction of the buses. "Yes."
"No one likes the bus, Becca." Max falls in step with me.
I grab a piece of hair and begin tangling it around my index finger. "I do."
"You didn't ride it last year."
I yank at the tangle of hair. "What?"
"Victor and I were on that bus last year. I'd have noticed you."
"That was different."
"I had a friend —"
"Who offered you a ride? How's this different?"
She smelled like vanilla, and you smell like clean, spicy bees. "No. Thank you, but no."
Excerpted from Life After Juliet by Shannon Lee Alexander, Heather Howland, Jenn Mishler. Copyright © 2016 Shannon Lee Alexander. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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