A story about eighteen-year-old Emily Windsor, one of the thirteen Windsor children. Around home, school and work, she's the loner except for the three friends she went to grade school with. Works two jobs, is all signed up for college, plans on becoming a doctor, and can't keep a relationship if her life depended on it. Enter Joshua Amado, Emily's best friend's arch-nemesis, whom has suddenly taken keen interest in Emily for what she automatically assumes are all the wrong reasons. Joshua and Emily's best friend, Christine King, have been rivals since the fifth grade. Factor in Joshua's identical twin brothers, his crazy Moroccan grandparents as well as Emily's own tyrannical grandmother, whom everyone refers to as "The Sergeant" behind her back, and the gorgeous new cook at the diner where Emily works, whom Emily quickly develops a crush on, who her best friend begins dating not a full week after she's met him, and the result throws Emily's life and plans way off track. The fact that Emily is incapable of following rules, doing the exact opposite of what everyone expects of her, probably won't help in solving the ensuing bedlam. When she's angry, she laughs. When she's sad, she smiles. When she falls in love with her best friend's sarcastic enemy one summer, she breaks down completely. Can she repair the world she'd built up around herself before the end of summer, when college will call her away? Or will she have to start over again?
There were thirteen of us. In order, from eldest to youngest, there was Thomas, Danielle, William, Crystal, Emily, Adam, Laura, Eric, Anthony, Nicholas, Brandon, Kevin and Steven. But Dad had long ago given up on our real names and simply gave us numbers. Thomas was One, and down the line until Steven, who was Thirteen. Mom still called us by our real names, but she usually had to go through about half of them until she figured out which one belonged to the child she was calling on. Grandma Margaret, who everyone called Sergeant, who had lived with us since Crystal's birth, just pointed and shouted a command, leaving out names entirely. To our teachers and peers at school, we were simply the Windsor siblings. Only our closest friends called us by our real names, getting it right on the first or often the third try, and hardly regarded the other Windsor siblings at all.
By the time Anthony came along, alliances had formed within the Windsors. These alliances were necessary, of course, with eight children already and five more on the way. When there was a fight, it was not just a battle but a war. Thomas, Danielle, William, and Adam made up one alliance. Crystal, Laura, Eric, Nicholas and Brandon made up another alliance. Then there was me, Anthony, Kevin and Steven. We were more of the unsteady alliance, and it was mostly the boys against me: an alliance within our alliance.
I was the loner.
Not on purpose, of course. Or maybe on purpose. I don't rightly know anymore. It just happened that way, as I see it. The closest siblings in age to me are Crystal, the drama queen, and Adam, the gay sibling.
I'm not being mean, he's literally gay. Came out of the closet when he was sixteen. Somehow, none of the family was surprised. Adam had never gotten rid of his lisp, despite the speech therapists he went through like pills, and he always walked with more of a saunter than a swagger, so unlike the rest of the Windsor boys, who were all crazy about sports. While everyone else was wrestling out in the front yard, playing tackle football during the holidays, Adam was off to the side complaining about mosquitoes or the weather or an imaginary injury he had claimed in order to get out of participating. He was always sneaking Danielle and Crystal's fashion magazines, Cosmopolitan and Shape, and once even Mom's Good Housekeeping. More slender than the rest of the guys, he was always already picked on.
Plus, when he was ten and I was eleven, I caught him practicing kissing on a poster on the wall of Danielle and Crystal's bedroom featuring Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
Homosexuals are great, siblings and otherwise. I'm just as comfortable with them as I am with anyone. Don't get me wrong, I'm not homophobic. That isn't my problem with Adam. Sure, he's flamboyant, but I've managed to convince myself that he just can't help himself. Okay, that's fine. My problem with him is that he's just so damn whiny. Argumentative. I can hardly stand to eat dinner beside him, because the moment I touch a piece of chicken that he had been eyeing for the past half hour I've got him whining in my ear, and then the rest of his allies gets on my back about it, which starts up Anthony, Kevin and Steven in my defense, which starts up Crystal, Laura, Eric, Nicholas and Brandon because they like a fight as much as anyone. Thus, a whole new war has started. Adam can be as gay as he likes, but that won't be the reason I'm pummeling him the next time he tries picking another fight with me. Sometimes I'm convinced he's doing it on purpose.
Then there's Crystal, who I couldn't stand even if I tried. In the beginning, we shared a bedroom. She's two years older, which automatically gives her some diabolical power over me, or so she was convinced until I was five years old and she was seven, and I blackened her eye because she had tried blaming a vase she had broken on me.
Crystal never went through a tomboy phase like Danielle and me. Danielle eventually grew out of it, but even she's a tougher cookie than Crystal. Therefore, even when Crystal was seven and I was merely an undersized five-year-old, all she could do was run crying to our grandmother, who talked our parents into moving Crystal in with Danielle, who was much older, bigger and stronger than me but had a more passive temper. Thus, Crystal the Wimp moved in with Danielle the Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome Patient, and I got stuck with Laura, who was then barely two years old and had been born with colic so that she cried a lot. Within the first few weeks, when the insomnia was only then beginning to settle it, I began to miss Crystal's sound snores in place of Laura's deafening cries. But then all I needed was to remind myself of the last time Crystal had thrown one of her tantrums over some little thing, which were at least ten times louder and scarier than any wail little Laura could produce, and I was once again grateful that she was out of my bedroom. Besides, Laura was easy to overrule in any argument, unlike Crystal, who ended up on the debate team by the seventh grade and could dispute your ear off.
As for getting along with Anthony, Kevin and Steven—that was totally out of the question, despite their being part of my alliance. All three were mean-spirited, rough, stupid, and unwieldy hooligans by nature. Anthony was only six years younger than me, but one would think he was twice that, like Steven, with how immature he acted. Kevin was the quietest of the bunch, eight years old and something of a bookworm, but that only made his pranks the worst. And Steven was only six years old, but he liked to bite, which Grandma Margaret claimed had been a favorite pastime of an infant Anthony, which could only mean that Anthony had passed on the art to our youngest brother. They stood up for me only when all the others were against me, or else they were plotting something against me as well.
Thomas was too aloof to get buddy-buddy with. Twenty-six years old, he had long since moved out, gone off to college, found his true love, gotten married, and now owned a small house up in Connecticut with his wife and one child, a daughter named Ashley. Danielle and William were too close for me to intervene between without getting interrogated, yelled at, and then stonewalled. Laura was everyone's sweetheart, as well as the middle child, too cute and too girly for me to like much more than the cute and girly girls I had known at school. Eric was the heterosexual male version of Laura, only one year younger. Nicholas and Brandon were each other's best friends.
Leaving the cheese (i.e. me), standing alone.
At least alone in the family, which should have bothered me more but didn't. Who needs a confidante in the family? With the Windsors, someone is always letting slip a secret, betraying this sibling and that one, and drama is unavoidable.
I much preferred telling any secrets I had, which weren't many anyway, to my friends.
Unlike my family, I kept the numbers small with my friends. While my siblings were all wildly popular for this and that reason, with me there were only three people I bothered to learn the names of. Brittany Payton, Christine King, and Li Bao.
Of the three, Christine was my best friend. She was as tomboyish as me, which made me more comfortable with myself. Everyone called her Chris instead of Crissy, because the last person to have called her Crissy had been in the fifth grade, when she beat the sixth grade boy beyond recognition. Her family was sued by the little boy's for the severe beating, and the Kings paid, but ever since no one had dared given Chris any other nickname. She now played left forward on the soccer team, right alongside me, as I was center forward. Christine I had met back in fifth grade outside the principal's office, about ten seconds after she beat up the sixth grader. She got expelled for it, but since had winded her way back to our small suburban town of Mapleton, and now our small high school, Mapleton High.
Li and Brittany were gossips. There was no foretelling the disasters they caused once they got hold of a fresh rumor. I had been friends with Brittany longest, since the second grade, meeting Li not until the eighth grade. Unlike Christine, there was no definite reason Brittany and I had become close, seeing as there was no common ground between us. I think Li was more Brittany's friend than mine, seeing as it was the same story there—no common ground anywhere between the three of us. Sort of like another secret alliance: Brittany and Li, Christine and me. But that was just the way of things, there were no hard feelings.
I think Britt and me became friends just because she was there, and back in the second grade the two of us had yet to make our first friend. I had plenty of acquaintances, seeing as I had been going to the same elementary school for two and a half years already and Mapleton wasn't all that big a town. But Brittany was new to Mapleton, knew no one and had no older or younger siblings to introduce her to new people. Her parents had divorced when Brittany was barely two years old and she never saw her father, never talked about him either now that I think about it, living in assumedly permanent custody of her mother. Not that the divorce appeared to bother Britt. But even in the second grade, when we were just seven, it was easy for me to see that she was lonely. And in a way, I guess I had been as well. Hadn't I learned before the age of four that, despite standing in the center of a crowded room, one could still find themselves lonesome? The reverse must have been true for Brittany, too.
As for Li, she was amiable, but I just never found myself hanging out with her when left to our own devices. I never went out of my way to call and invite her someplace, and she never went out of her way for me. She had been adopted from China when she was three years old by an All-American Dream family: a loving mother, an enthusiastic father, a heterosexual older brother that was her adoptive parent's biological son and every girl's dream, plus a dog and a cat named Willow and Meow. They had lived in New York City before, but then moved down to North Carolina for 'a change in scenery,' as it were, when Li was just turning thirteen.
And there it is, the story of my childhood all summed up in a nutshell. Or maybe more like a bag full of nuts, if you count my siblings, my parents, my friends.
That was all before, though. Before high school ended, before college started, before I met him.
Before my life changed forever one summer.