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Authors: Emily Franklin

Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult

The Half-Life of Planets

BOOK: The Half-Life of Planets
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T
HANKS TO
—

My co-author…and Faye Bender, Tamson Weston, and everyone at Disney • Hyperion, AJS and the offspring, those boys of summer long ago, the musicians mentioned herein, my brothers for sharing their music with me, and my parents for letting me be the family DJ—EF

Emily Franklin. Douglass Stewart. Suzanne Demarco, Casey Nelson, Rowen Halpin, Kylie Nelson, Squeeze, Hank Williams (I and III), The Kinks, and Kiss—BH

Text copyright © 2010 by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin

All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.

ISBN 978-1-4231-5440-2

Visit
www.hyperionteens.com

To all those names on my list, but most especially the last one

—EF

To Suzanne, co-star of my favorite love story

—BH

I am not a slut.

Evidence exists that is contrary to this statement, but this is what I'm thinking in the hospital bathroom. In movies, actors are always splashing water on their faces in times of crisis as if this will somehow explain to them what they should do. How they should feel. What comes next. I put my hands under the running water, chuck some of the tepid liquid up so it hits my cheeks and my forehead. All I feel is drenched.

I am not a slut. Even though I have a note in my pocket that suggests otherwise. Even though James Frenti, Pren Stevens, Mitchell Palmer, and Jett Alterman would beg to differ. Even though I could give a guided tour of all the different places I've kissed different boys in this semi-small town: the sand-gritty sidewalk near the fishing rocks, outside Sweet Nothings candy shop, under the stereotypical bleachers at school, in my own basement amid my parents' old records and my ancient kid drawings. Suffice it to say I am not an artist. I am also not a slut. Even though I could give this tour.

The Littered Kisses tour
, I say to myself as though I'm a rock band. I look at my damp face, think about those kisses, about what it feels like to have someone's face that close to my own, how I can feel the warmth emanating from his skin. What it feels like to be that close to another person. I tug my T-shirt down so it covers my waist. This is more a nervous tic than a teenage-girl-hiding-her-body move, and definitely a habit I haven't been able to shake since I branded myself with a tattoo last summer. I run my thumb over the small circles, tug again at my shirt, and feel the note crumpled in my pocket, the four-letter word written on it tucked away.

I want to look at it now; to study it as I would a scientific document, weigh the possibilities (Is it true? What does it mean?), the mysteries (Who sent it? When? And why?). I want to evaluate it like I did in APS. Science is easy to understand. Even if it's complicated, I've always found it comforting. People get nervous about math, but the truth is, math is simple—there's correct and incorrect. And with science, you always know what you're trying to prove, you know your predictions. The order of science is a lullaby. Even the names—celestial mechanics, icy moons, star systems, brown dwarfs—provide everything you need, poetry to humor.

But Advanced Planetary Science, while it will dominate my summer and keep me trapped in the lab if I let it, has nothing to do with finding this note in my locker eight hours ago. Life is like that, though: one minute you're de-junking your locker—removing the old papers, stained T-shirts, AP Physics texts,
Worlds Apart: Black Holes and Space
, math tests, stray flip-flops, and CDs to get ready for summer—and the next minute you're holding in your hands a tiny slip of paper that changes everything. Or nothing. It depends how you look at it, which of course I haven't decided yet because I hardly had a chance to shove it in my pocket before coming here. I left the rest of my locker's contents outside in my beat-up brown Saab, but the lined piece of paper with exactly one word written on it is with me now. It's impossible to erase the looping script, the perfect
l
as though the word were “love” or something pleasant. This scientist I heard lecture last summer at the university basically said that it's possible to approach everything—food, shopping, dancing—with a scientific mind. For example, you could understand the physics of dancing—like some geeky girl in a movie who figures it out on paper and then suddenly can win some competition—or, presumably, science can just help you analyze anything. Even slut notes. Way back in basic bio we were taught that before you question what you have, you have to investigate how it got there. So I spend a few seconds wondering: Katie from homeroom, who glared at me when I came to class with a scarf around my neck in early June? Celeste, who is not celestial as her name implies but just bitchy and who liked Pren before I got to him? Who sends notes, and why, and did she—assuming it was a she—plan it out, or just rip off a corner from an old
Sound and the Fury
pop quiz and slip it in my locker on a whim? And then the truth, cold and plain as the metal bathroom shelf in front of me: it doesn't really matter who or why. Just that it exists.

So I know that geomorphology studies features on the planetary surface and reconstructs formational processes, and when this is applied to the note in my back pocket, I can deduce the following: the person who sent it wouldn't confront me directly, that the word itself is meant to hurt me, and that if I didn't think it was at all true, I wouldn't be standing here in the hospital bathroom, nervously thumbing the blue-and-purple tattoo on my hip. Saturn, turned on its side, a marbled moon in the distance behind it. As many mouths on mine as there have been, as many hands around my waist or tangled in my hair, no one has touched those circles. Maybe an accidental brushing, but no study of it, no examination of that surface. Slut.

I want to grab the note, but not with my wet hands. Instead I splash a little more water on my cheeks, press my dark bangs flat on my forehead, and wait for some giant revelation, like in the movies.

But unlike in the movies, I don't look placid and calm after this face-swim. I don't appear ready to take on the world. I just look the same.

I am not a slut. I swear I have proof. Proof I could provide if I get out of this hospital bathroom and back to the reality waiting outside the door.

Only the door opens, and in bursts—

“It's all over me!” The guy's about my age, maybe a little older; who can tell, really, because he's flustered and jumping around a little. It takes me only a few seconds to realize why: his pants are soaking. And not just in any area. His crotch.

I look at him in the mirror, my green eyes focused on his—are they brown?—but he doesn't look back at me. He just stands there, flailing, unaware somehow that paper towels by the bushel are right in front of him.

“Here,” I say when I can't take it any longer. I hate seeing people in need. Watching desperation spread like the liquid on his jeans makes my skin crawl—like those people who watch accidents, or stand by as a fight breaks out. So I help with what I can—in this case, paper towels. “There's more,” I tell him, and tug my shirt over my tattoo. “Over by the door? See there's…”

But he doesn't see. He's caught up in the moment of blotting himself, and then suddenly, very suddenly, getting his bearings. “Oh, wait. Wait a second.”

I nod, my arms crossed, the edges of my bangs still wet and plastered to my forehead. I blush for him. He must have just realized where he is. But he takes it well. He must be centered. Sure of himself. “It's okay,” I tell him, and gesture to the bathroom. “It's the women's, but you know what?”

He doesn't answer. He doesn't look at me even though my eyes are glued to his face so I don't focus on his pants. “Squeeze!”

Now I'm confused until I see him looking at my chest and remember I'm wearing a concert shirt I took from one of those boxes in the basement. Next to the records are old stickers, programs, ticket stubs. “Gotta love Squeeze—
45's and Under
,” I say, and he cracks up. “It's not that funny.” He's got a deep laugh, calm too, which goes against his flailing jumpy persona. Maybe he's not really an anxious person. Probably just surprised is all. But definitely able to hold his own in the least likely of places.

I could bolt now, run out of here as though it too is a stop on my tour—minus the kiss—but I don't. It seems right somehow that I should be stuck having some weird, random interaction in here while everything else is happening out there. Planets are spinning, diagnoses are being made, notes are being dropped into unsuspecting lockers. I chew on my lower lip.

“It's just, Squeeze, right? Famous song: ‘Black Coffee in Bed.'” He mumbles a little here, his mouth stretched in a wide grin. He's older than I am, definitely. Only by a year or so, but how else to explain the fact that he's not particularly flustered by the lack of urinals? “‘The stain on my notebook'…you know it, of course.” I nod, because I do. I've memorized that whole album. “But now…” He laughs. “It's so stupid. I've got a stain on my pants and it's black.”

Now I laugh, allow a quick glance, and shrug. “It
is
black. Why, is it coffee?” I can't think of any other stain that color. He takes his coffee black. Intense. I'm all about the milk and sugar. Not Splenda. Not skim milk. Creamy and truly sweet. But black-coffee drinkers who are under the age of twenty are all about intensity. Then I think of something besides coffee. “Is it ink?”

That's it. He's a writer. A writer who knows cool music. So maybe a musician. Which would be bad. At least for me, since drummers (James Frenti), guitarists (Mitchell Palmer), lead singers (Jett Alterman, Pren Stevens), even bass players get my heart racing. “So is it ink?” I ask again, wanting, not wanting.

He shakes his head, his wide shoulders back, his long-sleeved T-shirt pushed up to the elbows, a grin stretched across his mouth. “This is not black coffee in bed. It is not ink. It is Dark 'n' Daring.”

I wrinkle my nose. A flaw in my thinking. “The energy drink?”

He shrugs and goes to the sink. “DnD,” he says, and splashes water onto his pants, which doesn't help. In fact it's only making it worse, and I show this with my face, my eyebrows raised, but he still won't look at me. He's got that cool reserve. Not exactly aloof, but not all here either. “I don't even drink the stuff. But Chase does. All the time. I mean, like he might have an addiction. Like Jimmy Page. Or Steven Tyler before rehab. Chase will probably have to be weaned from the substance. Or no—go cold turkey and just one day go to the fridge and find that there are no more DnDs.”

“I don't drink them either,” I tell him, but the truth is I've never tried them. I don't want to ask who Chase is because I don't like to pry, and maybe it's some well-respected musician I'm supposed to know but don't. “I doubt I'd like Dark 'n' Darings anyway.” I like root beer, preferably in a glass bottle, and that's it. At least, in terms of soda. If I can't have that, I won't have any. I can get pretty stuck in my ways.

“But, you know, he dared me.”

“Who?” I try and get him to look at me by checking out his reflection in the long rectangle of mirror, but he's on his own time, blotting, splashing, thinking.

He turns to me now, the stain dark on his jeans, but the rest of him looking regular, like a guy I could see at school. Who I should see at school instead of in the bathroom at Westwood-Cranston General at the tail end of June, on what was the last day of classes. “Chase. Chase is always daring everyone to do everything. He's home from college for the summer, which would be fine—it was fine last year when we went to see Proverbial Nuance at the beach stage. But now he's back and—”

I hear footsteps outside and recognize them as my mother's. I have to go, I think, and then realize I need to say this aloud. I poke through my jeans at the planets on my hip and chew my lip. “I have to go.”

He nods and shrugs, eyes me but at arm's length. Intense. I think that he'll ask where or why or thank me for the paper towels, or tell me why he's here, at the hospital too, but he doesn't. So I don't say anything else—not good-bye or anything—because really, is it necessary?

BOOK: The Half-Life of Planets
6.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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