CHAPTER 1 - Brian

"72? I studied all night long, and for what, a 72?" Victoria leans back violently on the swing, catching herself before she falls into the hard cold dirt.

"It's not so bad."

She turns to me, glaring. "Oh, really? And what did you get, Brian?"

I pretend to glance at my paper even though I remember all my grades. "Just, um, 102. But, seriously, that's not a horrible grade."

"That's so unfair! You don't have to study an ounce, I study all night—ugh!"

I push back on the ground. I swing to avoid conversation with my best friend. I like talking to her, don't get me wrong, but when she gets that's not possible to argue.

She stands up in front of me, giving me no choice but to stop. "I have a geometry test tomorrow, you need to help me study."

"I haven't taken geometry in three years, I doubt I'll be much help."

"You remember everything, plus I'll have the book with me. Just help, please?" She sticks out her bottom lip and shows her puppy-dog eyes, but she can't hide her smile. She knows I can't say no to that face.

I roll my eyes, "Fine."

She jumps up and down, clapping. "Yes! We can rent movies too!"

I shake my head. "And you wonder why your studying never sticks."

"Not following."

I sigh, ready to explain. "You say you studied for hours last night?" She nods. "Well look at your test. 'Who was the last person to sign the Declaration of Independence?' You wrote Bill Nighy."


"And he's the guy that plays Davy Jones."

"Oh! I knew that name sounded familiar."

I close my eyes; she's such an airhead. She's two years younger than me. Sometimes she seems older than that, she's in my history class (somehow), and she can keep up an intellectual conversation, but most other times she seems completely clueless. "No movies, no TV, just geometry."

She pouts, "None at all?" I shake my head. "What about music?"

"Fine. But I get to pick it, when you listen to your own music you have seizures singing along."

"Elegant seizures."

I can't help but laugh as I push her along to her house.


"Brian! It's so nice to see you! How's your mother doing?"

"Better." Victoria pulls on my sleeve, begging me to end the almost non-existent conversation I'm having with her mother.

"Well I was going to bring her a casserole, but since you're here you can just take it home to her."

I nod. "Thank you Mrs. Crohner."

"Oh, it's my pleasure. Tell her if she ever needs a break from you, you can always come here."

I nod again. "Thank you."

Victoria pulls my arm harder this time. "Bye mom." I quickly wave before I'm dragged to her room. "God, my mom talks way too much."

"She's being nice."

"Ugh, she needs to stop." She throws her backpack on her bed and pulls out her geometry book. She then throws that on the bed, grunting in hatred of her math book. She flips the book open, somehow landing on the exact page she needed. "'Two Column Proofs.' How could I not hate this?"

I sit down beside her on her bed, and am delighted to find that she's in one of her airiest moods. "OK, so read over that section, do the problems, then talk to me if you have trouble."

"You're not getting this; I read this section, did all of the work, but I suck. Following?"

OK, so maybe I misjudged the extent of her airiness. I put on my glasses so I can read the tiny print in the math book. "Mm…oh yeah, I remember this…I hate this stuff."

"Argh, I hate high school!" She throws her pencil across the room.

I, accustomed to her random outbursts, just nod. "Yeah, the first year always sucks."

"First year?"

"OK, maybe all the other years suck too. But, I'm not sure about senior year, it might just be bearable."

"Wow, we have so much to look forward to." She pauses. "Did you catch my sarcasm?"

"No, it was so sneaky it just flew over my head." We were both silent for a moment.

"Your pocket's vibrating."


She rolls her eyes. "Your phone's ringing."

"Oh." I pull the phone out of my pocket.

"How did you not hear that? Or feel that?" She sees my face when I look at the number and her grin fades.

"Hey, mom…Yeah, I'm at Tori's…I'm just helping—right now?" I cover the speaker of my phone with my chest. "I have to go home…you want to come with?"

"Yeah, sure."

I bring the phone back to my face. "Yeah mom, but can Tori come over as well? I won't…OK, I'll see you soon…bye." I sigh, looking back to Tori. "My mom thinks I'm gonna force you to work, or something."

She lets out a short laugh. "Well, let's go." She started packing up her things.

"You know, you don't have to go if you don't want to."

"I know. But you're my best and only friend, so I'm coming over."

"Wow, you really know how to make someone feel wanted."

"Yeah, I'm good at that." She grabs her bag and flings it over her shoulder. I follow her downstairs. "Mom, we're leaving." She picks up the covered dish on the counter. "I got the casserole." Without waiting for a response, she opens the door and we're gone. The snow crumbles under our feet as we make our way over to my house, a whopping two blocks away.

"Do you want me to hold that?"

She looks down at the huge Tupperware container in her hands. "Nah. I'm strong."

I laugh. She's probably the smallest person in her grade. The reason I say her grade, is because one of the seniors is only 4'8". That somehow doesn't stop him from having 4 girlfriends at once. Despite what she said, I take the dish from her hands anyway.

"God, it feels like you just lifted a midget from my hands."

"So it was heavy. So you're just incredibly stubborn."

"Um…yeah." After that the two of us are silent. Every few minutes Victoria picks up a snowball and throws it at a tree. We, after what seems like an eternity of walking, get to my house.

"Brian…you're home." I hear my mother's withered voice echoing through the house. I can see Tori becoming edgy beside me, but I don't think much of it. She's always been…over-sensitive around death. It's become indisputably clear, even just in the months I've known her. "Could you bring me a glass of water?"

"Yeah, just one second." I turn to Tori. "You should go wait upstairs."

She nods, and walks towards the stairs. She doesn't pass my mother, nor does she acknowledge her.

I walk to the kitchen, and fill the plastic cup halfway, and putting a straw inside; I don't want it to be too heavy or too much of a hassle for her. After putting it on the table sitting by the couch I kiss her head. "I'll be upstairs, OK?"

She nods as well as she can and I walk up to my room. Tori's on my bed, staring at my CD collection that she's probably memorized by now.

I take it from her hands and sit next to her on the bed. "Two-column proofs?"

She leans back against the wall groaning. "Fine." She pulls it out of her backpack once again and throws it on the bed in front of her. This time flipping to the page is much less elegant, and it takes a few tries.

I put my glasses on and lean in. "OK. So, the proofs are pretty straightforward…sometimes they get confusing, though. Like, right here," I point to a problem on the paper, "It could be angle addition postulate, or it could be definition of a triangle. But, since the three angles aren't given, it's simply definition of a triangle."

She turns to me, glaring. "Simply? Never, ever, ever use the word 'simply' around me, ever."

I put up my hands in defense. "Never again." She smiles at herself, giggling a bit. "What?"

At the sound of my voice, I suppose, she breaks out laughing. "You're such a nerd."

"Where did that come from?"

She pushed her fake-glasses up her nose, and sticks her front teeth out a mile. "'The answer is quite simply simple.' It's just all so nerdy."

I just shake my head, suppressing a smile. "Do your work." I pull out my own math book and start working.

She leans over and gazes at my math book. "Whoa. I wouldn't even know where to start with that."

I nod. "And that's why you're in geometry, not calculus."

She rolls her eyes and sits up straight. A small hum escapes her lips. I look over, glaring, the small smile on her face widening. Soon she's humming the tune to Speed Racer like there's no tomorrow. I shake my head, unable to stop the smile creeping onto my face. "No…"

She leans in right next to me, saying the words like it's her own declaration of independence. "Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer, he's a demon on wheels!"

My irritable sister passes by my door, mumbling incoherently.

Tori smiles, leaning toward the door. "I'm sorry, I didn't here a word that you said."

"I wasn't talking to you," my sister snaps back.

"Darling, how many times have I told you to ignore the voices in you head?" She smiles sweetly as she waits for my sister to return and yell at her.

"Brian, tell your little friend that I'll shove her tongue down her throat if she doesn't shut the hell up."

"Emily, dearest, how many times must I tell you I just don't go that way?"

Emily turns to me, being sure to keep her middle finger aimed prominately at Victoria. "I'm going to my room, if you need me don't hesitate to keep your fucking mouth shut."

Tori turns to me, giggling wildly. She sighs, finally able to catch her breath. "God, when is she gonna move out? She's like, 19."

"When my mom gets better."

Her eyes drop down to her hands. "Right." Neither of us speak for a moment, but she finally perks her head up. "I'm allowed to bring someone to Christmas dinner, and my family's…weird. You should totally come. We don't have it on Christmas; we'd all rather not have to be with each other on the actual Christmas."

I let out a short, tired laugh; the kind that always makes Tori blush. She thinks I'm oblivious to it, but I'm just polite. She, however, would beg to differ, and rely solely on my oblivion. "OK, sounds cool. So that will be…?"

"Two days before Christmas. We wouldn't want to ruin our Christmas Eve too."

I tilt my head. "Mm, I just love warm family get-togethers."

"Right. So can you come?"

"Yeah, I think so." I nod, biting the inside of my cheek in thought.

"Sweetness. Oh, and my sister's coming."


"And you have a crush on her. I totally get it. You've got a thing for the forbidden college girl." She shrugs her shoulders in emphasis.

"W—no I don't."

"Oh my god, you totally do. You're all nervous and stuttery around her."

"Who aren't I that way around?"


I drop my head back, groaning. "You? That's the great example you could come up with? Of course I'm not stuttery around you, you're…you."

"And that makes me less worthy of stutters why?"

"Because I know you, and have done incredibly stupid things around you before."

She thinks for a moment. "OK, I'll accept that answer. But, as punishment for almost insulting me, you have to sit next to my Aunt at dinner."

"I can still turn down your invitation at any time."

"Oh, I hate you."

"You love me." She turns away rolling her eyes, signaling my victory…again.

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