Authors: Sylvia McNicoll
Copyright © 2015 by Sylvia McNicoll
Published in Canada by Tundra Books,
a division of Random House of Canada Limited,
One Toronto Street, Suite 300, Toronto, Ontario
Published in the United States by Tundra Books of Northern New York,
P.O. Box 1030, Plattsburgh, New York 12901
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014934268
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher—or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
McNicoll, Sylvia, 1954-, author
Best friends through eternity / Sylvia McNicoll.
Edited by Sue Tate
Designed by Rachel Cooper
For Bob, my best friend through eternity
All kinds of support was needed for the creation of this work, and I am extremely grateful to the Ontario Arts Council (Writers in Reserve) and the Canada Council (Creative Writing Grant) for funding the research and writing time necessary for this novel.
A huge thank-you goes to Becky Dumais and her chosen daughters, Sophia and Grace, for sharing their stories of finding each other. Reading
Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love
by Xinran helped me understand some of the emotions behind international adoption.
Thank you to Beena Patel for consulting and supplying anecdotes and information on East Indian culture. Much appreciation goes to Dr. Sarah Miyata-Kane, who volunteered at the Body Worlds exhibit in the Ontario Science Centre and helped many, including me, understand what a lung feels like. She also gave insight into the kind of character Paige would be and recommended reading
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
by Mary Roach, which I, in turn, recommend to you, if you have a strong stomach. Thanks also to my test readers, Michelle Fornasier and Dharma Patel; applause for an early draft certainly supported me emotionally and carried me through in the final writing.
blame Jasmine for the fact that I’m dying. On Monday afternoon, she should be volunteering in the library. That’s what she tells her parents, after all. But, instead, she’s sneaking around with Cameron in the mall three blocks from school.
She’s probably holding his hand, nuzzling his neck or even kissing him, and who can blame her? He’s a good-looking boy, baby-faced with a cleft chin, slow, measuring brown eyes and a generous mouth. His hair is a light shade of milk chocolate, and it has a gentle wave. There isn’t a girl in school who doesn’t want to go out with him. Including me.
A week ago, I was thrilled that Jazz could snatch Cameron from Vanessa during their monthly breakup drama. Vanessa is the resident volleyball queen, a blonde, hazel-eyed power girl. What a victory! Geeks over jocks, 2–1. Gives everyone hope, even me. Someday I, Paige Barta, might be able to
score the best-looking boy out from under one of the long legs of the fair-skinned girls. And really, like Vanessa, I believed the relationship was very temporary. For one thing, Jazz’s parents won’t let her go out with boys—and not just until she turns fifteen or sixteen. Not ever. For another, she likes books and theater, not ball games on big screens. In an instant Cameron would make up with Vanessa, and we’d be the brainy duo again.
But a week later it already feels like an eternity. Here I am by myself again, shutting down the computers that were left on by the last class. Jazz ditching me, and even using me as a smoke screen for Cameron, has gotten really old.
And it isn’t the first time I’ve been abandoned for the sake of a boy.
Back in China, my birth parents gave me up because the state wouldn’t allow them to have more than one child. They needed a boy to carry on the name and the duties of the farm. Like girls can’t do that. Still, there’s a happy ending to that story. I was “chosen” by my adoptive parents, as they like to tell me.
No one chooses to adopt me as their new lunch or afterschool buddy when Jazz abandons me. In fact, in gym class, Vanessa’s supporters shove me around, whapping me with balls and snapping wet towels at me, as though I have anything to do with the Great Romance.
I sigh. Two banks of computers—most of them left for me to look after. How many times does the teacher have to
tell the morons to save and shut down? I quit the windows as quickly as possible without even looking, pressing “No” to saving changes. Some people will lose their essays and notes, but really, why should I take the time to check which version and file name they need to keep, if
can’t be bothered?
Third to last computer, Vanessa McDonald’s Facebook photo catches my eye. She’s puckering her lips and blowing a kiss in it. Her hair looks golden and windblown, her hazel eyes liquid and secretive. The photo makes her look like a model, way better than how she looks on the volleyball court, all red-faced and frizzy-haired.
I skim through the messages, finger hovering over the “Enter” key, ready to close. Her friends seem to have two modes: one, sickly sweet…
Ur so purty Van.
Aw! Luv u 2 Kbear.
Best friends 4ever. Can’t wait till we get an apartment together.
It’s gonna be party heaven!
And the other mode, psycho evil…
Saw Cameron sucking face with the Bollywood Biatche.
Can’t believe he would dump purty Van for her.
Bollywood has 2 pay.
Let’s get her after school. Make Jasmine a hazbin. LOL
Yeah! Let’s surprise Hazbin at the overpass. Rip off her face.
Knock out her teeth.
What about Banana?
Let’s take her down, too.
Four little thumbs-up icons show that Gwyn, Emma, Zoe and Rebecca like this.
My mouth goes papery dry. Yellow on the outside, a reference to my Asian looks—although I prefer to think my skin has more of a golden hue—white on the inside, referring to the fact that I am being raised Caucasian. I can’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese, not that Mom hasn’t tried to send me to class. I don’t even know what to choose at the Chinese buffet.
Jasmine and I still meet at four-thirty in the parking lot to walk home together. Even though Jasmine says it’s our girl time—since she spends the rest of her life with Cameron—it’s really so her parents won’t suspect. They’re Hindus the way mine are Catholics, not that serious or strict about observing all the details. Still, Jasmine certainly isn’t supposed to be “sucking face” with a boy, as Morgan so quaintly puts it.
What to do?
I squint out the library window. Through the inky black, I can make out white. Like clumps of soggy cloud, the snow drops heavy and fast.
The sky is falling. I swallow hard. In class, with a teacher around, Vanessa’s team managed to shove me into the wall, hit me in the face with a ball and trip me. What will happen without any adults around?
“Certainly coming down out there,” Mrs. Falkner, our librarian, says. “Maybe you should head home, Paige. We can shelve the books tomorrow.”
It’s four o’clock on a Monday afternoon. Too early for Jazz to come back. I text her but doubt she even looks at her cell phone when she’s with him. If I leave now, I won’t be able to warn her in person. What good will a warning do, anyway? Like a pack of hyenas, they’ll track us down sometime when no one is around. I lick my teeth … smooth. I like the way they look since the braces came off. I don’t really want to chance having them kicked in.
If I leave now, no one will be on my tail. I’m not their prime target, anyway. If I don’t hang with Jazz, I’ll be safe. “Yeah, I’m going to pack up and head home.” I snap the last computer off and rush out to my locker. I throw on my coat and shove my hat down over my head, flipping the hood over it. Vanessa’s gang needs to have memorized my clothing to know it’s me. But the way their eyes take hold of us when we walk down the halls, I don’t doubt they have. I kick my sneakers into the locker, pull on my boots and grab
my backpack. I won’t walk our regular route in case those girls catch up with me somehow.
Instead, I’ll take the shortcut along the track. My house backs onto the city of Burlington’s railway line, so I know the schedule pretty well. The four-thirty GO Train shouldn’t be by for another half an hour, maybe later because of all the snow. By that time, with any luck, I’ll be sipping hot chocolate over my algebra.
I duck out and see Mr. Brewster, my science teacher, brushing off his car. He’s a cool guy—should I ask him for help? What can he do? Will he drive me out to look for Jazz? That has to be breaking some school board rule. Besides, he can’t give us a lift home all the time, can’t guard us every moment of the day. I don’t wave or call hello, I just scuttle out of the parking lot.