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I guess I buried the lede: We're moving to a small town in Alabama, because my mom, the rocket scientist, got a prestigious job at the Marshall Space Flight Center. And families stick together, whether they want to or not, I guess. Or at least mine does.

"You've got to come and visit me," I say.

"I'll do my best," he replies. He leans forward, and I lean forward, and we kiss just as my mom honks the horn.

I cry until we cross the Mason-Dixon Line. At that point, I think I'm out of tears.


CHAPTER 3

GRANT

When my alarm clock rings, I hit it as hard as I can, knocking it off my dresser. Something about that feels good for a second. Then I hear it, still beeping. I look at the side of my hand, which is bleeding—from the alarm clock, maybe, or maybe from something else. I turn over onto my stomach and bury my head in my pillow and drown out the noise and the tiny twinges of pain (I've felt worse), and I will myself to go back to sleep. It's summer, and there's nowhere I need to be. Setting my alarm at this point is just for appearances, even if appearances have ceased to matter.

Downstairs, I hear people moving around and breakfast sounds, like pouring cereal and the toaster dinging and the chatter of my little brothers. Here in this room, my head is pounding, and the inside of my chest feels ragged. I shut my eyes. The only thing I can do is wait for the hangover to pass. The problem is, shutting my eyes doesn't necessarily bring rest. That's when my head feels like it might explode. That's when I get pretty near desperate for another something to soothe me. Most of the time, I give in. Nothing like popping the top of a cold one, as they say.

My name is Grant. I'm seventeen years old. I used to be the captain of the football team, the most promising young quarterback in the history of my school, maybe the entire state of Alabama. I used to date the hottest girl in town. Now I'm just a guy. Don't expect too much from me. If you do, I'll probably let you down.

Don't say I didn't warn you.


CHAPTER 4

The purple leopard suitcase wasn't alone for very long. Another flight came in shortly afterward, and all of the new suitcases it
had held for its passengers were tossed onto the conveyor belt, tumbling around the left-behind bag, which was caught up in their swirl. Then everyone came and collected their belongings but one, and the purple suitcase had a friend, a neon green bag with a lemon appliqué . The purple suitcase would have breathed a sigh of relief, if suitcases could breathe, because it sucks to be left alone at baggage claim, and traveling together is almost always better than traveling alone.

At the last minute, though, a breathless, sweaty guy rushed into the terminal and grabbed the lemon-lime suitcase. "There you are!" he said. "Let's go!" And then he, and it, were out the door, and the purple suitcase was all by itself once again.


CHAPTER 5

NELL

To my surprise, our new house is not completely tragic. It's got a sloping roof that nearly touches the sprawling top branches of a big green willow tree growing right in the middle of the front yard. The back is full of what my mom says are magnolia trees. They're squat, with oily, oblong leaves, and they're supposed to be beautiful when they bloom in the spring. There's even a tiny trickling rock pond that the former owners built. It's twenty-years-ago high-tech; you hit a button, and water flows down the rocks. The other day I saw a little frog chilling in the pond, and I said, "Hey, frog," and it said nothing, and I said, "That's my line."

I apologize to the frog, and to you. This is what passes for a joke with me at the moment. I haven't been speaking to my parents unless it's truly necessary. The only thing that's keeping me going is a constant stream of text messages from Ashton and my friends back home. (I check my phone. There's nothing new yet, but the <3<3<3 Miss u baby <3<3<3 Sleep well zzzzz from last night warms my heart.)

There's this playhouse in the backyard. The former owners had two little girls, and little girls, according to the widely accepted
gender rules of society, must love pink. I have long preferred blue, myself, and can go on about a certain shade of lush green for at least a minute, but I hope these little girls really did love pink, because they were the owners of a bright pink shack that's got
enough room in it for all the pink things I can imagine them wanting: a pink Barbie Dreamhouse and a pink Easy-Bake Oven and a ton of pink stuffed animals, or whatever else little kids are playing with that comes in pink these days.

Pink notwithstanding, I would have killed for a playhouse when I was a kid. I made do with pillow forts. And now I sound like some ancient curmudgeon complaining about trudging in the snow for ten miles to get to school, hot potatoes in my pockets to keep my hands warm. I'm fun. I promise I'm fun. Just not right now.


This excerpt ends on page 25 of the paperback edition.
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