About the Author
Rebecca Serle is a Huffington Post contributor with a popular column in which she writes about children's literature and literacy. She holds an MFA from The New School and her work has appeared in numerous literary journals. She's also contributed to Brooklyn-based YA blog, Forever YA. Last year, Rebecca founded Nurturing Narratives, a children's program centred around empowering children through storytelling. This is her debut novel.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
When You Were Mine Scene One
“This is so not how it was supposed to go.”
I crack one eye open and sneak the covers down over my head. Charlie is standing above my bed, arms crossed, a bag of Swedish Fish in one hand and a Starbucks cup in the other.
I blink and glance at the clock on my nightstand: 6:35.
“Jesus. It’s the middle of the night.”
Charlie lets out a dramatic sigh. “Please. I’m ten minutes early.”
I rub my eyes and sit up. It’s already light out, but that’s not too surprising, given that it’s August in Southern California. It’s also hot, and the tank top I slept in is drenched. I don’t understand why, after all these years, my parents still have not sprung for air-conditioning.
Charlie hands me the Starbucks cup, folding herself down next to me on the bed and stuffing another piece of candy into her mouth as she continues to lecture me. Charlie never drinks coffee—she thinks it stunts your growth—but she still picks me one up every morning. Grande vanilla latte. One sugar.
“Are you even listening?” she asks, irritated.
“Are you kidding me, Charlotte? I’m sleeping.”
“Not anymore,” Charlie says, pulling the covers off. “It’s the first day of school, and I’m not letting you drag me down with you. Time to rise and shine, Ms. Caplet.”
I scowl at her, and she smiles. Charlie’s beautiful. Not in the way any old blond girl is in high school, but actually spectacular-looking. She’s got strawberry-red, curly hair and bright green eyes and impossibly white, translucent skin. Sometimes she’s so stunning, it’s shocking even to me. And I’m her best friend.
We met on the playground in the first grade. John Sussmann had taken my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and tossed it into the sandbox. Charlie knocked him over, fished it out, and even ate half just to prove he hadn’t won. That’s real friendship, right there.
“So anyway, listen,” she says as I swing my legs over the side of the bed and head into the bathroom. “Ben and Olivia totally just got together. Ben told me.”
“About time.” I stick a toothbrush into my mouth and root around in the medicine cabinet for my deodorant. I can tell from Charlie’s impatient prattle that there’s no time to shower.
“This is, like, a big deal. He’s my brother.” Ben is Charlie’s twin, actually, but they’re nothing alike. He’s tall and blond and lanky and he likes English, a subject Charlie thinks is frivolous. She’s a history buff: “Why read about stuff that didn’t happen, when you can read about stuff that did? Real life is way more interesting, anyway.”
Olivia is our other best friend. She’s been with us since the eighth grade, when she transferred to San Bellaro.
“Look,” I say, spitting, “they’ve been flirting for decades. It was bound to happen.”
“But now she’s going to, like, what? Come over after school?”
“She already comes over after school.”
“I know why you’re so calm about this,” Charlie says.
“Because I am still unconscious?”
“No, because Rob got back last night and you’re going to see him today.” She pops another fish into her mouth, triumphant.
My stomach clenches and releases. It’s been doing that all week. The thought of seeing Rob is, well, making me ill.
It’s been eight weeks, which I guess is a long time, although I refuse to see it that way. In the general scheme of things, what’s two months? Like, a millisecond. Okay, so it’s the longest we’ve ever been apart and, yeah, I’ve missed him, but I’ve known Rob my whole life. It’s really not a big deal seeing him again. It’s been a busy summer, and it’s not like Robert Monteg is my boyfriend or anything. God, even his name flashing through my mind like that makes me nauseous. I don’t get it. It shouldn’t. We’re friends. He’s just the next-door neighbor.
“You guys are totally going to be the new senior couple,” Charlie says. “I decided.”
“Well, as long as you decided.” I tug on a blue skirt and slip a white tank top over my head. Charlie looks like she just came from the salon, and I permit myself one glance in the mirror. Just as I suspected, total bed-head.
Charlie tosses me a bra, and it hits me in the face. “Thanks.”
“Oh, come on,” she says. “It’s Rob. You guys finally kissed last year, and then he goes away to be a camp counselor the entire torturous summer and writes you all of these love letters saying how much he cares about you, and you think that now that he’s back, you guys aren’t going to get together? Please.”
Of course this is how Charlie sees it. The problem is, that isn’t exactly what happened. It’s not even close. Let me explain.
The “kiss” she’s talking about wasn’t really a kiss at all. And the fact that Rob and I went to junior prom together has absolutely no significance. We’re best friends, and neither of us had a date. Rob is handsome and smart, and I could easily list ten girls in our soon-to-be senior class who would have traded in their Gucci book bags to go to prom with Rob, but I think he’s scared of the female species. Well, actually, Charlie thinks that. It’s the only explanation, she says, for why he still doesn’t have a girlfriend. The only explanation besides the fact that he’s waiting for me (her words, not mine).
Anyway, we were on the dance floor and my hair got in my eyes, and Rob brushed it away and kissed my cheek. My hair is always getting in my eyes, and my father kisses my cheek, so I hardly think that counts as a make-out session. It just happened to be in public, to a slow song.
And those emails? Definitely not love notes. Example:
Thanks for your letter. I’m glad to know Charlie is as crazy as ever, and thanks for the gum. I’m chewing it now.
Camp is good but I miss home. Sometimes I think it was a stupid idea coming back here this summer, especially after the end of school and everything. It’s good, I guess. I’m back with Bunk 13. Remember when we were here together? It seems like so long ago. I guess it was. Anyway, I really miss you. I guess that’s what I meant when I said I missed home. It’s not the same without you here. Last night I went out to the docks, and I thought about that time we swam there after lights-out. Do you remember that? The water was freezing. It was that summer our parents had to send us more sweatshirts. Anyway, I’m thinking about you and hope you’re doing well.
Charlie combed through that email and constructed a new one, which basically read: I love you and I’m so sorry I went to camp and my heart is breaking being away from you and let’s spend eternity together when I get back. Heart, Rob.
It makes sense that she likes history, since she’s constantly rewriting it.
Her fantasy is nice and all—it’s just not accurate. It’s the kind of thinking that gets girls into trouble all the time. And it’s not just Charlie. For instance, last year when Olivia was dating Taylor Simsburg (and by “dating,” I mean they made out twice and once was sort of in public at winter formal), he told her she looked nice in yellow, and she made him a playlist called “Here Comes the Sun.” She also started carrying around sunflowers for no good reason.
It’s not that most girls are delusional, per se. It’s just that they have this subtle ability to warp actual circumstances into something different. And if there’s one thing I’m really against, it is turning a blind eye to reality. What’s the point? Things are the way they are, and the best thing for us to do is to just acknowledge that. No one ever died from having too much information. It’s the misunderstandings that are the problem. And until Rob says or tells me otherwise, I have no reason to think he wants anything more than my friendship.
Except for this one thing that happened the night before he left. I haven’t told Charlie or Olivia, because I’m not sure how I feel about it myself. But I keep going over it in my mind. I’ve been going over it for two months.
We were sitting on the floor in my bedroom watching an old DVD of Friends. This part isn’t particularly unusual. We do that all the time. Rob likes to escape the chaos of his house, where he has three little brothers. But there was something different about him that night. When Ross made a joke, Rob didn’t laugh, which was crazy, because Ross is his favorite character and Rob always laughs. He has this deep baritone laugh. It reminds me of Santa Claus.
We were watching the episode where Rachel moves out of the apartment she shares with Monica, and there’s this scene where Rachel tries to steal Monica’s candlesticks. Anyway, Rachel is grabbing them out of the box, and all of a sudden the television is on pause and Rob is staring at me in this really intense way he sometimes looks before a big basketball game.
“What’s up?” I asked. He didn’t answer. He just kept looking at me. He has these gigantic brown eyes that look like little teacups of hot chocolate. Not that that’s what I think about when I look at him. I don’t even like hot chocolate. I’m just trying to describe him accurately, here.
He didn’t say anything, he just sat there looking at me, and then he reached over and cupped my chin in his hand. He’d never done that to me before. No boy had ever done that to me before. And then, with my chin still in his hand, he said, “God, you’re beautiful.” Just like that. “God, you’re beautiful.” Which is crazy because (a) it’s not true. It’s not that I’m unattractive; it’s just that I don’t look particularly different than anybody else. I mean, I have brown eyes and brown hair and what Charlie calls a button nose, so if someone were describing me, you’d probably think you knew me and at the same time never be able to pick me out of a crowd. Except for the fact that I blush like crazy when I’m embarrassed—but that doesn’t exactly make me more desirable. So, (a) “beautiful” doesn’t really fit, and (b) it’s just so cheesy. So I laughed, because it was the only conceivable thing I could think to do, and then he dropped his hand and unpaused Friends, and when we said good night, he hugged me but not any differently than he usually does, and then the next morning he was gone. I’ve been turning that moment over in my mind ever since. For two months now.
“What time did he get in, anyway?” Charlie asks as we plod our way downstairs.
I want to say “Too late for me to see his light go on,” but I don’t. Charlie doesn’t know that sometimes I angle myself out my bedroom window just to see if Rob’s bedroom light is on. Our houses are separated by a barrier of trees, so you can’t see much, but his bedroom is directly diagonal to mine, and I can tell if he’s home because of the light. Most nights I wait for it to go on, to know he’s next door, right here. I think that’s one of the things I’ve missed most while he’s been gone. Seeing that light go on.
“I’m surprised he didn’t come over last night.” She wiggles her hips and laughs.
I shrug. “He just texted me.”
She spins on the stairs and grabs both my shoulders. “What exactly did he say?”
“I’m back,” Charlie repeats, looking thoughtful. Then she gets this snarky grin on her face. “I’m back, and ready for action.”
“Honestly,” I say, “it’s Rob. You’re making something out of nothing.”
“Maybe, maybe not.” She links her arm through mine as we step into the kitchen. “But you know I always like to err on the side of caution.”
“Drama,” I correct her. “You like to err on the side of drama.”
My mom and dad are in the kitchen dancing around with the orange juice, still in their bathrobes. She has it over her head, and he’s tickling her.
“Sorry, girls,” she says, her face flushed. “Didn’t see you there.” My dad just winks. Gross. Also, neither one of them is sorry. They do this sort of thing all the time. They are constantly making out in our living room and leaving each other love notes on the fridge—“Peas for my squeeze,” that kind of thing. I guess it should make me happy, the fact that my parents are in love and still into each other after twenty years, but it sort of creeps me out.
“They definitely still have sex,” Charlie says under her breath, like she’s settling a debate. Trust me, it’s not up for argument. Factual truth: They do.
I guess maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal if I had, you know, done it myself. It’s not that I’m opposed to sex or anything. I mean, morally speaking. You want to know my problem, actually? It’s that I don’t feel particularly moral about the whole thing. It’s like this girl I used to know, Sarah, who never ate meat. Literally, in her entire life, she never had a hamburger. Her parents didn’t eat meat, and she was just raised that way. Anyway, one day her dad started eating it again, and all of a sudden it was in their house and on the table, and I remember her telling me how weird that seemed, how unnatural. Like all of a sudden she was supposed to just start eating meat and it was supposed to seem normal. She was a vegetarian, for crying out loud. It seems weird to just start. Like changing something fundamental about who you are.
It also might have something to do with the fact that I’ve never really gotten close. There was Jason Grove, who I dated last year. We made out a few times, mostly in the back of his dad’s Audi and in his basement. It was okay, I guess, but he couldn’t figure out how to unhook my bra, and after a few tries we sorta gave up.
Charlie thinks this is tragic. Olivia’s and my virginity are like an affront to her values, or something. Mind you, she’s done it with two people already. The first was Matt Lester, her boyfriend sophomore year. They did it after homecoming, and she said it was awful and they never did it again. Now there’s Jake, her on-again, off-again boyfriend—and, as Charlie says, “I’ve lost count.” Which I guess is what’s supposed to happen. It’s not like you keep counting the number of times you have sex. At a certain point it just becomes sex, I think.
“This year is definitely your year,” Charlie told me last week. “You are not losing your virginity in a dorm room. Not an option.”
“What are my prospects?”
“Just one,” Charlie said. “Rob. You two are totally meant to be.”
Meant to be. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought about that phrase in relation to Rob and me. It has occurred to me that something might happen between us. I haven’t admitted too much of this to Charlie, though, mostly because I recognize the real possibility that these thoughts about Rob could have more to do with all those television shows she makes me watch than my actual feelings. I mean, yeah, I care about him. He’s my best friend. Of course I love him. But do I want to kiss him? Do I want him to kiss me? And am I willing to risk our friendship on the off chance that a romance might really work out? Not to mention the fact that I don’t even know what he’s thinking. He probably regrets ever saying I was beautiful. He has probably already moved on. I mean, he’s been halfway across the country for the entire summer, and just because I haven’t managed to fall on anyone else’s lips in two months doesn’t mean he’s hauling around the same track record.
My mom pries my father off of her and sets the juice down. “You girls ready for your first day?”
“Definitely,” Charlie says, winking at me.
“Well, that’s good,” she says. She scoops so...
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