From National Book Award Finalist Julie Anne Peters This thoughtful, wry story is about two girls--a "punk" and a "prep"--who find themselves facing each other in a peer-counseling program and discover that they have some surprising things in common. A new reading-group guide written by the author is included in the back of this paperback edition.
Release date: May 7, 2003
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Print pages: 208
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Julie Anne Peters
I opened the door and froze. Not Jazz Luther. Couldn’t be. Impossible. My jaw stuck in the gape-open position.
“What are you looking at?” Jazz sneered at me.
Your purple hair? Your black lips? Your shredded jeans? “Nothing,” I muttered.
“You my peer counselor?” Jazz asked, clunking ankle-high boots up onto the conference table. She tipped back the chair and threaded her fingers together behind her head.
My stomach knotted. “Guess so.” I thought, Define “peer.”
Jazz snorted. She must’ve had the same thought.
Exhaling a long breath, I slid into a chair at the opposite end of the table. Even that far away, her perfume was noxious. Maybe it wasn’t perfume. More like incense. The odor, a mix of musky and sweet, made my nose pucker. I smoothed down my pleated skirt, trying desperately not to sneeze. Or gag. “Where’s Dr. DiLeo?” I asked.
“He had some emergency,” she answered. “Probably ran out of Tic Tacs and had to rush over to 7-Eleven.”
I stifled a laugh. Our school psychologist did reek of peppermint.
“So, you want to start or you want me to?” She leaned back farther in the chair, her boots scraping across the Formica tabletop. They left a noticeable black mark. Maybe the faculty conference room wasn’t the ideal place to hold counseling sessions.
Start. Where to start? When Dr. DiLeo proposed the peer counseling program at Oberon Middle School, I’m sure he didn’t think someone like Jazz Luther would sign up. No doubt he meant it for people with minor problems. Problems such as dealing with difficult teachers or getting bogged down with homework. Problems with boyfriends or jealous girlfriends. I don’t know. Not someone with Jazz Luther’s problems. She was hopeless. A punker. A druggie. A gang hanger. Peer counseling? Jazz needed long-term professional psychotherapy. “In a lock-up facility,” I mumbled.
“Huh?” she said.
“Nothing. Why don’t you go ahead.” This should be good. “Tell me why you’re here.” Dr. DiLeo suggested the line as an icebreaker, a way to open a conversation. Although between us, there loomed an iceberg.
Jazz smirked. “It keeps me off the streets.”
I forced a smile back. Good reason.
She flung her feet to the floor and stood. Her chair crashed into the metal heater behind her, leaving a dent. “Oops.” She shrugged. Without picking up the chair, she clomped across the room toward me. “I can’t talk to you clear down there.” She yanked out a chair catty-corner to me and looped her left leg over the back. “I’m here because DiLeo says I gotta be. I gotta do fifteen hours of counseling this term.” She slid the sleeve of her lavender leather jacket up an inch and glanced at her watch. “Ten minutes and counting.” She grinned.
I couldn’t get over how white her teeth looked against the black lipstick. Or maybe what distracted me was the earring in her eyebrow. “Doesn’t that hurt?”
“What?” She frowned.
I touched my eyebrow.
“Naw. I mean, it hurt at first. Bled like crazy. I felt like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Why? You thinking of getting one?”
I shuddered. Not in this life.
“’Cause if you are, Tattoo 4 U 2 is having a special. With every body piercing you get one free tattoo.”
Tattoos? Should I ask?
“Want to see mine?”
Was I a masochist? Apparently. “Why not,” I said.
Jazz wrenched her right boot off and stuck her foot in my face. Talk about fumes. “Can you tell what it is?” she asked.
Nostrils plugged, I peered closer at her ankle. There it was, a tiny tattoo. “A blood drop?” I ventured. Seemed appropriate.
“No.” She shoved it closer to me. “It’s a ladybug. See the spots?”
Only before my eyes. I squinted. “Oh, yeah. Cool.” Okay, I admit it. It was sort of cool. “Did that hurt?”
“Naw. The other one did. The one on my… you know.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “I won’t show you.”
She laughed. As she tugged her boot back on, her gaze drifted down to her watch again. “Sixteen minutes. This isn’t so bad. You want to talk about my hair, too? ’Cause you keep staring at it.”
My face seared fireball red. Eyes dropping to my stack of books, I pulled out the peer counselor folder and opened it. My hands shook. What am I doing here? I wondered. I can’t do this.
Jazz said, “Maybe we should start with our names. I’m Jasmine Luther. Everybody calls me Jazz, don’t ask me why.” She drummed the table with her index fingers like a rock musician then shined those sparkling teeth at me again.
It almost made me laugh. Almost. “I’m Antonia Dillon.”
Jazz stuck out her hand to shake. “Nice to meet you, Tone.”
Jazz leaned back in her chair. “Why don’t you tell me about you first. Then maybe I won’t be so nervous.”
She was nervous? My hands were about to register on the Richter scale. “Okay. My name is Antonia. Everybody calls me Antonia.” My eyes met hers.
I continued, “I’m fourteen and in the eighth grade. My favorite subjects are algebra and history. I’m on the honor roll and in math club… I was in math club. I had to quit. I used to do gymnastics, too, but—”
Jazz yawned audibly. She checked her watch. “Time sure flies when you’re having fun.” Batting mascara-caked eyelashes at me, she added, “And that’s about all the fun I can stand for one day.” She stood.
I stumbled to my feet. As I shoved my notebook back into my bag, she flounced by me and opened the door. “Hey, thanks a lot, Tone,” she said at my back. “I feel better already.”
Wonderful, I thought. I feel sick.
I rushed to the school counseling center to catch Dr. DiLeo before he left for the day. Good, he was still in. “It’s not going to work, Dr. DiLeo.” Standing in the doorway, panting, I added, “She’s beyond help.”
Dr. DiLeo straddled the desk corner and motioned me to sit. “Now, Antonia,” he said. “No one is beyond help.” Over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses he studied me. “Hmmm?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “She’s not my peer, Dr. DiLeo.” I almost blurted, She doesn’t have a peer. Instead, what came out of my mouth was “I don’t think I’m cut out to be a peer counselor.”
“The first session is always tough. Believe me. You probably felt as if nothing was accomplished, right? But you’d be surprised how much progress was made. Just knowing someone cares is self-affirming, Antonia. Truly.”
“That’s just it,” I said. “I don’t care.” Heat fried my face. There. I’d said it. Now he’d have to remove me from the program. I had no compassion at all.
“Let’s just say that with Jazz, there’s more than meets the eye.”
I widened my eyes at him. “That’s a scary thought.”
He laughed. Standing up and moving toward the door, he said, “You only have to meet twice a week. Give it another session.”
He added, “See if you don’t change your mind.”
It’d take a left-lobe lobotomy to change my mind.
He smiled. The peppermint bit my nose. I smiled back, even though I wanted to retch.
All the way home I fumed. The only reason I agreed to participate in the peer counseling program was that I could do it during the day. Okay, sure, it was an honor to be asked. And I knew I needed some extracurricular activities on my record if I was going to get into the college-prep program next year. But it was a major sacrifice giving up my homeroom period for peer counseling. Now I’d be up until midnight doing homework. And for who? Or should I say, for what?
Jasmine Luther. She was a what. A subhuman. A foreign body to steer clear of in the hallways. All punkers were. When people found out I was counseling Jasmine Luther, they’d die of hysterics. Of course, you were never supposed to tell who was in counseling; it’d break the oath of confidentiality. But everyone knew. There were no secrets at Oberon Middle School. I’d be the laughingstock. Lead the joke parade. I’d be hung out on the grapevine to wither and die. Nope. No way. Dr. DiLeo couldn’t force me.
When I flung open the door at home, still muttering to myself, my little brother Chuckie was screaming, “No! I don’t want it.” Michael, my other brother, hollered at him, “It’s all there is, Chuckie. What’s the matter? You like Cap’n Crunch.”
Chuckie sobbed. “I hate warm milk.”
I dropped my backpack on the couch and hustled to the kitchen. “What’s going on?” I demanded. “What are you doing home already, Chuckie?”
Michael said, “He was here when I got home. He must’ve gotten out of day care early.”
Without warning, my knees buckled. Exhaustion overwhelmed me as I took in the scene around my brothers. It looked like Hurricane Hugo had swept through the kitchen. Cereal was strewn all over the counter. Dirty dishes filled the sink. Newspapers, envelopes, and trash littered the floor. Automatically, I flicked off the Mr. Coffee. A crust of black had burned to the bottom of the pot. Had Mom left the machine on all day?
“All we got to eat is cereal,” Michael said to me. “We’re out of milk so I made powdered. Chuckie’s being a brat.” Michael threatened him with a butter knife.
“Michael!” I stood up, gripped his wrist hard, and yanked away the knife. “Quit it.”
Michael took a deep, shaky breath and lowered his arm.
I let go and he crumpled into a chair to eat his cereal. “Chuckie, sweetie, you want to eat it out of the box?” I asked him.
His eyes gleamed. I handed him the box of Cap’n Crunch, which he proceeded to dump all over the floor.
I was too wiped out to care. “Where’s Mom?” I asked, wandering over to the refrigerator. “I thought she was going shopping today.” The fridge was bare. Except for a bottle of ketchup and a jar of crusty mayonnaise, there was nothing on the shelves. I pulled out the crisper drawer and wished I hadn’t. A slimy head of lettuce rolled to the front. “Well?” I turned to Michael.
His face reddened. The freckles on his nose seemed to swell. “She’s sick.”
“Again?” My anger flared, but I forced it down.
Michael concentrated on his cereal.
“Okay,” I said in a sigh. “I’ll go get some groceries. Do you want me to call Mrs. Marsh to come over?”
“Yeth,” Chuckie said.
“No,” Michael countered. “Maybe we could go over there. It’s… cleaner.”
Tears welled in my eyes. It was my fault the house was so bad. I should’ve cleaned up before leaving this morning. I should’ve done a load of laundry. I should’ve checked on Mom. “I’ll call Mrs. Marsh,” I said, turning away so the boys wouldn’t see me cry. They didn’t need any more tears.
When I got off the phone, Michael and Chuckie were at it again. Michael was pelting Chuckie with Cap’n Crunch while Chuckie flailed his arms and wailed.
“Stop it, Michael!” I yelled at him.
“Why is it always my fault?” he said.
“You know why.” I held his eyes.
He threw the box of cereal across the room and stormed out, screeching, “You’re not the boss of me.”
“Michael!” My fists clenched. Okay, Antonia, I calmed myself. It’s going to be okay. Take a deep breath. They’re just kids. In a nicer voice, I called to him, “Michael, take your homework to Mrs. Marsh’s, okay?” I knew he wouldn’t. He was going to flunk second grade if I didn’t keep after him. What did he care?
Chuckie was still howling.
I knelt down in front of him. “Hey, I have something for you.”
“A prethent?” He sniffled.
“Yes, a present. Stay put.” I bounded to the living room and grabbed my backpack. From inside the front pocket, I fished out the brownie I’d saved from lunch. Not saved, actually. Snitched from an abandoned tray on my way out.
Chuckie tore into the napkin wrapper.
“Save some for Michael,” I said.
Michael reappeared in the doorway. Hastily he started picking up pieces of Cap’n Crunch. “He doesn’t have to,” Michael muttered, but I saw him eyeing the brownie.
“I’ll buy brownie mix at the store,” I told him.
“And some bread and peanut butter for lunch,” Michael said. “We ran out two days ago.”
“What’ve you been . . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...