Every winter, straight-laced, Ivy League bound Evan looks forward to a visit from Lucy, a childhood pal who moved away after her parent's divorce. But when Lucy arrives this year, she's changed. The former "girl next door" now has chopped dyed black hair, a nose stud, and a scowl. But Evan knows that somewhere beneath the Goth, "Old Lucy" still exists, and he's determined to find her... even if it means pissing her off. Garden State meets Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist in this funny and poignant illustrated novel about opposites who fall in love.
Release date: December 5, 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Print pages: 317
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They walked in the shiny street along piles of curbside snow. Lucy pulled her winter hat tight over her long, straight brown hair. Evan wished she’d wear hats more often. She looked cute in them. “It’s been sixteen years, Ev. I’m tired of waiting.” She cut him a quick grin.
“I have reached puberty, thank you,” Evan said as they walked under a streetlight. The road ahead of them was wet and dark, and everything else was orange or black with touches of blue in the distance. Their voices and a droning wind were the only sounds.
“I’ve seen your penis, Ev,” Lucy said playfully. “I’m not sure you have.”
Evan’s eyes widened. She’s kidding, right? “Where’s the punch line, Lucy?”
“No punch line. I saw it. It’s tiny.” Her eyes gleamed mischievously.
“When did you see it?” Evan asked, leaning over to see how serious she was.
“I remember every detail. We were six. It was summer. We were getting ready to go to the beach, and I walked into your room when you were changing, and there it was. It was just dangling there—”
“I was six!” Evan nearly shouted, startled by his own echo. “That doesn’t even come close to counting! Six-year-olds have tiny penises—that’s just how it is!” Evan was lanky, kind of tall, and had, as girls told him, a cute face. He rarely had to fight for his manhood.
“How do you know six-year-olds have tiny penises?” Lucy asked.
“I was one, which puts me in a position to know. I don’t like this conversation.”
Lucy grabbed Evan’s hand, and they walked mitten-in-glove, paw-in-paw. Evan fought back a sigh. He didn’t want to bring in the new year alone when his best friend was staying only blocks away. Tomorrow Lucy would be far away again. An engine sounded from down the street. Tiny white lights grew out of the horizon and crawled along the street slowly. “We’re going to get soaked if we don’t get off the road,” Evan said, and looked for any clear spot they could move to.
Lucy stared ahead as a wash of yellow-white colored her coat and face. “Okay.”
Evan took Lucy’s arm, and they stepped cartoonishly over mounds of snow until they were a few feet off the street and shin-deep in wet-and-cold. Evan laughed. It wasn’t midnight, but it was New Year’s Eve and he was with Lucy, under the stars and out in the quiet, and currently looking like half a snowman. This would be their last silly night together for a while. He hated to see her go. He hated how everything had to change.
“You can probably still make it back to watch the ball,” Lucy said.
“Nah, I don’t know. I might try to finish my game instead.” Evan was bored with it already. “I downloaded this video game. It’s an old-school, side-scrolling kind of thing, and it’s fun, but you have to finish it all in one sitting, and I can never do it.” They crossed back into the street after the car passed. Lucy shook snow off her long denim trench coat. “There aren’t really any levels. You start in this house, and you leave and go out into the woods and into this graveyard. There are bosses and stuff, but it just keeps going from one section to the next with nowhere to really save, so I’d get into the game, but then there’d be dinner or homework or a phone call or whatever. And I don’t want to just leave it paused all night or anything, so I haven’t finished it yet.”
“God, that story sucked so hard,” Lucy said, and gave Evan a soft push that caught him off guard and almost sent him back into the snow. “You just wasted my entire life.”
Evan regained his balance and pulled Lucy’s hat down over her eyes. “Remember when we’d have entire vacations to just play a game like that ’til it was finished?” Evan asked. “That doesn’t happen anymore.” They walked quietly for a moment and leaped over another puddle—Lucy first and then Evan. She took Evan’s hand again and this time gave it a squeeze.
“Well, I’ll be gone now,” she said, “so you’ll have more time for your horrible game.” This didn’t cheer Evan up. “I’ll be in Aelysthia. I’ll be easy to find.”
The name came from the street they were walking to, Alice Drive, Lucy’s old home, where her dad still lived. Aelysthia was a fantasy world Evan and Lucy had made up as kids. They’d planned to write hundreds of bestselling novels that took place there. Evan’s parents and Lucy’s parents would meet and talk or play cards and drink, and Evan and Lucy would sit away from the adults and draw together and dream up worlds, well past their bedtime.
“So where can I find you?” Evan asked.
“Well,” Lucy said. She looked forward. “You’ll know where to find me because I’ll be right under the vomiting sun.” The vomiting sun was a staple of Aelysthia: the source of warmth, light, and a constant waterfall of vomit. The world grew sillier and more bizarre with each passing year, evolving with Lucy’s and Evan’s humor.
“I can’t imagine a worse place for you to stay,” Evan said.
“Well, maybe not right under it,” Lucy replied.
Evan and Lucy gently swung their hands between them. They had passed the cemetery and town houses, and had turned right to walk uphill, with the lights downtown glowing behind them. Evan found he had to walk carefully on the icy sidewalk up the hill.
“Anyway, it’s nice there. The walls of my cave are all bright from my luminous wallflowers.”
“Sounds very Avatar,” Evan said.
“No. Shut up. They stole that from me,” Lucy said.
“Hey, I’ll be there, too,” Evan said, as if she’d neglected his existence in Aelysthia. “I’ll be installing some decent lighting for you.”
They reached the apex of the hill and walked toward Lucy’s father’s house on the left after the corner. Evan could see the ocean a few streets away, wide and dark. As they walked into Lucy’s yard, she let go of Evan’s hand, turned to face him, and shrugged her shoulders.
“ ’Til next time,” she said, a silhouette now.
“Keep it real,” Evan said, offering a fist bump. They shared a stilted, awkward hug, and Evan stepped back. “So this is it, then? You sure?”
Lucy touched her hair. “Yeah. I have to pack still. So.”
Evan smiled at his shoes. He looked up as Lucy walked to her house, and he raised a hand in a short wave. “Happy New Year,” he said, and Lucy smiled.
“You go on,” she said from her front porch, lit by the porch light. “I want to watch you walk away.”
Evan walked home alone.
When Evan reached his house, his driveway and the street in front of it were still full of cars. He could hear the cheer in his warm, bright house: laughter, talk, and television. He stood still for a long time, the cold stars behind him and the warm light in front of him, casting a long shadow across the street. Evan sat in a chair on the porch with his gloved hands in his coat pockets and looked up at the tiny white moon. Maybe he’d be alone for the ball drop after all.
The countdown was being shouted inside. Four, three, two, one.
Evan heard muffled laughter and celebration. He took a deep, long breath and exhaled slowly, and then he got up and went inside to wish everyone a happy new year.
Back home if you’re free. Evan looked at Lucy’s text message as he sat in the bathroom. It was the only quiet place in the house. The last text from her had been in April, about eight months ago, and read qwerty texting is a bitch! Before that had been Will be busy for the newlxt few days. He also had a text message from his friend Marshall: So where is this girl already? That one was from yesterday.
“Where’s the box with the wires?” Evan’s dad yelled from the living room. “I need the box with the wires and lights,” he repeated louder, though no one seemed to be listening. Evan’s dad liked to be heard, a trait Evan had never fully picked up. Evan walked to the sink and washed his hands. Just twenty minutes ago, Evan had been enjoying himself, drawing at the kitchen table and talking with his grandmother, but those five words, Back home if you’re free, had turned his day around. Now he felt stuck here, trapped in his own home.
The house was overrun with guests, which made it a Sunday. Family Sunday, to be exact. Meaning stay home with your family, not go out with your friend you haven’t seen in twelve months. It was also mid-December, which meant his dad’s winter town was being put on display. His dad was constantly fiddling with it, trying to make it just right.
“There’s still a few boxes we haven’t opened, hon,” Evan’s mom said. “It could be in one of those.”
Evan stepped into the living room, where his neighbor Ben immediately began to follow him. Evan was used to being followed around the house, if not by Ben then by one of the children. Followed, talked about, or called from across the room in loud fashion. He had a close family, and that’s what close families did.
There were twenty-three people in the house at the moment and one dog. The kitchen was full and the living room was full, and the couch and all the chairs were taken, with some family members watching the game, while others were talking and eating. Evan hugged the living room wall as he navigated his way toward the front of the house. The scene was especially active here as an assortment of Evan’s family members were helping his dad get all the town pieces up and running in their proper places. Evan made his way into the dining room, where several unopened boxes were stacked, and he and Ben each brought one back to Evan’s dad. Evan sat his box down by the large window display his dad was working on. Maybe he could get out early on good behavior.
“Thanks, son,” Dad said in his baritone voice. His voice and his brow were his two most impressive features. He had the appearance of a deep-thinking philosopher. Even on Sunday Fun-day he wore a tie.
Conversation over the next few minutes quickly turned to Dad’s topic du jour, Evan’s upcoming excommunication to college. Evan was over it. He’d already spent his fall applying to ten different colleges with his dad looming over him for every minor decision. The problem was that Evan still didn’t know what he wanted to do, or where he wanted to go. For all his effort and for all his good grades, Evan Owens was a man without a plan.
“What do you think about trying for an Ivy League or two?” Dad asked. “We still have a couple of weeks.” He dropped and picked up a tiny Christmas tree. “You’ve got the grades and the extracurricular activities. If you took up a sport, you could mention it during interviews.” He lined the trees up on a shelf in a perfect row around a small pond. There was a handful of boys and girls skating on the ceramic ice.
“I haven’t played a sport since sixth grade, Dad. Why bother if it’s not going to make the application anyway?” Evan said. The part he didn’t say was that he hadn’t enjoyed sports even then. Taking a baseball to the side of the head had something to do with it. Since then, he’d participated chiefly in what he called anti-sports. Invisibility was an admired trait in anti-sports. The trick was to make it look like he was having a good time, while avoiding the ball, the goal, and his teammates.
“You’re in good shape,” Dad said, looking Evan over as if to fact-check. “You’ll pick it up fast.”
Evan tried to center his eyes, which wanted so badly to roll in their sockets. His dad had to focus on sports, and not, say, Evan’s advanced classes, homework, set-building for the theater department, tutoring, debate club, and Wednesday afternoons volunteering at SARAH, a community that helps disabled people. He had friends, he had girlfriends, he did everything right. But he didn’t play sports.
“There’s no time, Dad,” Evan said, wondering how soon he could get to Lucy’s. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He hoped his father didn’t realize he still had Saturdays and Mondays free.
“It’ll really add another layer to your transcript.” Dad stood up and scratched his head. “You’ve got Saturdays and Monday afternoons open still,” he said, and Evan wondered if he was thinking too loudly. Would he need one of those tinfoil hats?
“Dad, you’re gonna kill me.” Evan plotted a quick escape to the kitchen to avoid further college talk, but his mom cut him off with a plate of cheese and crackers in hand.
“I was just looking for you,” she said.
“Thanks, Mom.” Evan relented and took the plate.
She gave an isn’t-he-the-sweetest? smile and patted his head. Now he had to take the time to eat. Evan’s mom had medium-length brown hair and red-framed glasses and what Evan would call a soccer-mom-lite look. She thought Evan was the most wonderful person to ever walk the earth and let him know it every day. With her, Evan was rocketing over the moon, and with his dad, he couldn’t get off the ground. Evan imagined himself somewhere in the middle, floating along the troposphere, airplane-level. Moms coddle their children. It was nice, it was fine.
“Barb,” Dad said, “what do you think about Evan taking on a sport?”
“Dad…” Evan groaned. “Enough with the sports.”
“It’s for school, Ev.”
“Oh, you’re going to suffocate him, Charlie. Let him go out with his friends every now and again. He hasn’t met a girl in months, not since that awful Jessica,” Mom lamented, exaggerating her frown. If Evan’s dad was predictable in his speeches on education, then his mother brought up his social life like it was a soap opera. Not that it was salacious or even interesting; she just had a need to get her daily fix of it. Jessica was Evan’s late-spring girlfriend. It had been, in all fairness, a disaster. She was the pretty, redheaded version of the baseball that had hit him on the side of the head. That was spring, though. Two seasons had passed entirely. He was over it.
Evan fidgeted some more. This talk, too, had run its course, and being the center of attention wasn’t going to help Evan get out of the house.
“She could have been a lot more tactful in breaking up with you. She didn’t realize how lucky she was to have you in the first place.” Mom adjusted Evan’s collar and brushed his sweater, as if the act of talking about relationships would lead to a date for him in the next four minutes.
“That’s not that important right now anyway,” Dad said with his hands raised. He’d heard enough of this gang-up on his son, or at least enough without his participation. “You can go out and have fun when the opportunity arises, but—”
“What does that mean?” Mom asked in sort of an accusing whine.
“Well.” Dad collected his thoughts and firmed his stance. “It means he should date. He’s . . .
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