Not Now, Not Ever
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AN INDIE NEXT PICK!
Jennifer E. Smith meets The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy in Lily Anderson's Not Now, Not Ever, a deliciously nerdy companion to The Only Thing Worse than Me Is You
ONE OF Paste's BEST YOUNG ADULT BOOKS IN NOVEMEBER 2017
"A wonderful book." —School Library Journal
Elliot Gabaroche is very clear on what she isn't going to do this summer.
1. She isn't going to stay home in Sacramento, where she'd have to sit through her stepmother's sixth community theater production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
2. She isn't going to mock trial camp at UCLA.
3. And she certainly isn't going to the Air Force summer program on her mom's base in Colorado Springs. As cool as it would be to live-action-role-play Ender's Game, Ellie's seen three generations of her family go through USAF boot camp up close, and she knows that it's much less Luke/Yoda/"feel the force," and much more one hundred push-ups on three days of no sleep. And that just isn't appealing, no matter how many Xenomorphs from Alien she'd be able to defeat afterwards.
What she is going to do is pack up her determination, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and run away to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College—the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program, and her dream school. She’s also going to start over as Ever Lawrence: a new name for her new beginning. She’s even excited spend her summer with the other nerds and weirdos in the completion, like her socially-awkward roommate with neon-yellow hair, and a boy who seriously writes on a typewriter and is way cuter than is comfortable or acceptable.
The only problem with her excellent plan to secretly win the scholarship and a ticket to her future: her golden-child, super-genius cousin Isaiah has had the same idea, and has shown up at Rayevich smugly ready to steal her dreams and expose her fraud in the process.
This summer’s going to be great.
Release date: November 21, 2017
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 320
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Not Now, Not Ever
There was no empirical evidence that the Lieutenant wasn’t a robot.
And, really, if the government was going to pick a family to test run a cybernetic human, why wouldn’t they pick the Lawrences? Career air force going back to the Tuskegee pilots, all officers—except for our second cousin Terry, but no one ever talked about him. Strong bone structure with God and country stamped into the marrow. No genetic predisposition for diabetes or flat feet or nostalgia.
Then again, maybe living with my father and my stepmom, Beth, had made me soft.
There was nothing soft about the Lieutenant. My cousin was leaner than anyone else in the family, with ropy arms made for one-hand push-ups and cheekbones that tipped up the corners of her eyes. Her spine was a compass pointing her forever northward. She kept her hair at a regulation two inches high and her bare nails clipped short and her mouth set into a neutral line.
She didn’t bob her head as the restaurant’s speakers started thumping a Prince song. She didn’t put ketchup on her French fries. Her gaze flickered to her brother decimating a burger beside her, and then back to my face.
A slow blink. Another plain fry slipped between her teeth.
If the government was going to program the perfect airman, would they have thought to make them crave French fries to let them blend in with the rest of us? She could run on veggie oil like a converted diesel car.
Lieutenant Sidney Lawrence: now energy efficient! Fly, fight, win!
At least if she were a cyborg, she would have Asimov’s laws of robotics written into her code. Forcing a late-night dinner at the Davis In-N-Out burger in the name of familial bonding definitely counted as harmful. Sid alone I would have been able to deal with. Sure, she was intense in a black Terminator sort of way, but she was my oldest cousin and sometimes she had nuggets of wisdom to pass down.
Having to sit directly across from Isaiah, however, was an exercise in torture. He was the baby of the family, a year and some change younger than me. And, in a perfect world, we would only see each other on federal holidays and the occasional milestone birthday.
But tonight Sid had paid for my burger and agreed to drive me to the train station without question, so I wasn’t in a position to complain. At least, not out loud. It had been way too valuable to have my dad and stepmom see her drive me away from our house. It added real, tangible credit to my story.
“So, Ellie,” she said in between nibbles. “Your family won’t let you attend the summer program in Colorado Springs?”
Your family. No Venn diagram would force the Lawrences to acknowledge the other half of my genes. Even Grandmother Lawrence only referred to the Gabaroches as “those Creoles.” Like knowing that there were French people somewhere in the higher boughs of my dad’s family tree made them all suspect.
It’d been at least a century since any of the Gabaroches could even speak French. I’d been taking Spanish since middle school.
Plus, I couldn’t wear a beret without pressing my hair. No, thanks.
“Dad doesn’t want me to fly,” I said. I heard the squeak of my sneakers rubbing together and tucked my feet around the legs of my chair. The cold metal helped settle the twitch that had started up in my calves.
“That’s dumb,” Sid said. “You’re seventeen. We’d never let you in the air.”
I thought of the Air Force Academy pamphlet torn to shreds and buried under the junk mail in the blue recycle bin. Sid didn’t mean never the same way my father did. She was thinking of a temporary pause—a stop sign. But cadets turned into airmen. Not after the high school summer seminar, but eventually.
My father didn’t like eventualities.
“Don’t you miss In-N-Out burgers when you’re deployed?” Isaiah asked his sister.
He’d grown since Christmas. Sitting down, he was almost a full head taller than Sid. It could have been true for a while. The three of us hadn’t been in the same room at the same time since—when? Grandmother Lawrence’s sixty-fifth birthday? Back when the whole family was crowing about Isaiah skipping the eighth grade. He’s so gifted, they let him move right on into high school. Looks like he and Ellie are going to graduate in the same year. The academy better watch out.
Like anyone learned anything in the eighth grade.
“There’s decent food everywhere,” Sid said. “Especially burgers.”
“But no spread,” Isaiah said. His long Predator dreadlocks slithered around his shoulders as he squeezed more pink ooze onto his burger out of the red and white plastic tube. He’d always had a thing about sauces. He drenched his food until everything he ate could be considered a soup. I couldn’t sit next to him at holiday dinners anymore. Watching him drown his plate in equal parts gravy and cranberry sauce made me heave.
Gwendolen is devoted to bread and butter, my brain hummed. I tried to shoo the thought away. Not now, Oscar Wilde.
“It’s Thousand Island dressing,” Sid said. “So, yes, we could have that anywhere.”
“It’s not just Thousand Island,” Isaiah pouted, slurping a blob of Thousand Island off his dark brown hand. “It’s spread. Does Thousand Island have pickles cut up in it?”
“By definition, yes,” I said.
“Well, it tastes better when you can squeeze it onto burgers,” Isaiah said, continuing to coat his burger in chunky goop. He shook his head and hiccupped a laugh. “Who would put ketchup and pickles on a salad? That’d be like putting mayonnaise on pizza.”
“What do you think makes ranch dressing white?” I asked.
His upper lip curled. “Milk.”
“Isaiah, I told you to stop buying salad dressing. It’s empty calories,” the Lieutenant said. Then, as though sensing the scoff building up in the back of my throat, she snapped her head toward me again. “Elliot, when am I supposed to drop you at the train station?”
“By ten,” I said.
“I didn’t even know the train went all the way to So Cal,” Isaiah said.
“The railroads go everywhere. It’s even in a ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ song,” I said. “I guess they must have covered the Industrial Revolution in the back half of middle school.”
“Must have,” Isaiah said, not registering the dig. He idly licked a drop of spread off one of his dreads.
I pushed my fries away.
“I didn’t know that Senior was so much of a tightwad,” Sid said. “He must have the money for a plane ticket. Who the hell makes their kid take the train across the state?”
Since my father remarried, neither of my cousins felt the need to refer to him as “Uncle Elliot” anymore. I wished they would. I wasn’t technically a junior. Not only because I’m a girl, but also because Mom had replaced Dad’s middle name on my birth certificate with her even more masculine last name. Regardless, calling him Senior was a constant reminder that my name was barely mine.
Except, once I set foot on the train, it would be.
I scratched at my scalp with my prickling fingertips. It was slick with melting coconut oil. The air conditioner wasn’t up high enough to permeate through more than the top layer of my hair. Even with the streetlamps burning outside the windows, I knew it would still be almost ninety degrees outside. I took a long sip of my lemonade.
Sid’s biceps gave an unconscious flex. “They couldn’t have picked something useful for you to do with your vacation?”
“No,” I said. The truth came out cool and clean against my lips. “They really couldn’t have.”
* * *
When we perfect commercial time travel, everyone in the past is going to be pissed at us. It’s not only that their quiet, sepia-toned lives will be inundated with loud-mouthed giants. And it’s not even the issue that language is a living organism, so all communication will be way more problematic than anyone ever thinks about.
It’s jet packs.
At some point, someone is going to ask about jet packs, and no amount of bragging about clean water and vaccines and free Wi-Fi will be able to distract them. Even if you went back before the Industrial Revolution, someone is going to want to know if we’ve all made ourselves pairs of Icarus wings.
Defrost Walt Disney and he’ll ask to be put back in the fridge until Tomorrowland is real. Go back to the eighties and everyone’s going to want to know about hoverboards.
Hell, go back to yesterday, find your own best friend, and they’d still ask, “Tomorrow’s the day we get flying cars, right?”
People want miracles. They want magic. They want to freaking fly.
Unrelated: Did you know that crossing state lines on a train is pretty much the most boring and uncomfortable thing ever?
Despite sounding vaguely poetic, the midnight train to Oregon wasn’t much for scenery. Unfortunately, running away tends to work best in the middle of the night, especially when one’s cousins have a curfew to make and can’t wait on the platform with you.
Twelve hours, two protein bars, and one sunrise later, the view was rolling brown fields that turned into dilapidated houses with collapsing fences and sun-bleached Fisher Price play sets. Apparently, the whole “wrong side of the tracks” thing wasn’t a myth. Everything the train passed was a real bummer.
One should always have something sensational to read on the train, whispered Oscar Wilde, sounding remarkably like my stepmom.
With my headphones drowning out the screech of the tracks, I reached into my backpack, pushing past the heavy stack of books and ziplock bags of half-eaten snacks, to the bottom. Tucked between the yellowed pages of my battered copy of Starship Troopers was a folded square of white printer paper. I tried to smooth it over my leg, but it snapped back into its heavy creases.
On behalf of Rayevich College and our sister school, the Messina Academy for the Gifted, it is my great pleasure to offer you a place at Camp Onward. At Onward, you will spend three weeks learning alongside forty-seven other accomplished high school students from all over the West Coast as you prepare for the annual Tarrasch Melee. The winners of the Melee will be granted a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to Rayevich College …
The page was starting to wear thin in the corners from my fingers digging into it whenever it stopped feeling real enough. The packing list that had once been stapled to it was even worse off, highlighted and checkmarked and underlined. I’d had to put that one inside of an N. K. Jemisin hardcover so that the extra weight could smash it flat.
I ran my thumb over the salutation again. Dear Ever.
I shivered, remembering how my hands had trembled as I’d read those words for the first time, stamped to the front of an envelope with the Rayevich seal in the corner. It meant that everything had worked. It meant that freedom was as simple as a checked box on an Internet application.
The train lurched to a stop. I shoved the note back inside of Starship Troopers and popped out my headphones just in time to hear the conductor’s garbled voice say, “Eugene station.”
I staggered down to the platform, my laptop case and my backpack weighing me down like uneven scales. I sucked in fresh air, not even caring that it tasted like cement and train exhaust. It was cooler here than it was back home. California asphalt held in heat and let it off in dry, tar-scented bursts.
Oregon had a breeze. And pine trees. Towering evergreens that could have bullied a Christmas tree into giving up its lunch money. We didn’t get evergreens like that at home. My neighborhood was lined in decorative suburban foliage. By the time I got back, our oak tree would be starting to think about shedding its sticky leaves on the windshield of my car.
As a new wave of passengers stomped onto the train, I retrieved the massive rolling suitcase that Beth had ordered off of the Internet for me. It was big enough to hold a small person, as my brother had discovered when he’d decided to use it to sled down the stairs.
I’d miss that little bug.
There were clusters of people scattered across the platform, some shouting to each other over the dull roar of the engine. I watched an old woman press two small children into her bosom and a hipster couple start groping each other’s cardigans.
In the shade of the ticket building, a light-skinned black guy had his head bowed over his cell phone. His hair was shorn down to his scalp, leaving a dappling of curl seedlings perfectly edged around his warm brown temples. He was older than I was, definitely college age. He had that finished look, like he’d grown into his shoulders and gotten cozy with them. A yellow lanyard was swinging across the big green D emblazoned on his T-shirt.
“Hey,” I called to him, rolling my suitcase behind me. My laptop case swayed across my stomach in tandem with my backpack scraping over my spine, making it hard not to waddle. “Are you from Rayevich?”
The guy looked up, startled, and shoved his phone into the pocket of his jeans. He swept forward, remembering to smile a minute too late. All of his white teeth gleamed in the sunshine.
“Are you Ever?” His smile didn’t waver, but I could feel him processing my appearance. Big, natural hair, baggy Warriors T-shirt, cutoff shorts, clean Jordans. Taller than him by at least two inches.
“Yeah,” I said. And then, to take some of the pressure off, “You were looking for a white girl, right?”
His smile went dimply in the corners, too sincere to be pervy. “I’m happy to be wrong.”
“Ever Lawrence,” I said, hoping that I’d practiced it enough that it didn’t clunk out of my mouth. It was strange having so few syllables to get through. Elliot Gabaroche was always a lot to dump on another human being.
“Cornell Aaron,” the college boy said, sticking his hand out. He had fingers like my father’s, tapered, with clean, round nails. I spent the firm two-pump handshake wondering if he also got no-polish manicures. “I’ll be one of your counselors at Onward. It’s a quick drive from here.”
He took the handle of my suitcase without preamble and led the way toward the parking lot. I followed, my pulse leaping in the same two syllables that had wriggled between the folds of my brain and stamped out of my shoes and pumped through my veins for months.
It was a stupid thing to drive you crazy, but here I was: running away from home in the name of Oscar Wilde.
Copyright © 2017 by Lily Anderson
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