Authors: Shannon Alexander
Tags: #teen romance, #social anxiety, #disease, #heath, #math, #family relationships, #friendship, #Contemporary Romance
Charlie Hanson has a clear vision of his future. A senior at Brighton School of Mathematics and Science, he knows he’ll graduate, go to MIT, and inevitably discover solutions to the universe’s greatest unanswered questions. He’s that smart. But Charlie’s future blurs the moment he reaches out to touch the tattoo on a beautiful girl’s neck.
The future has never seemed very kind to Charlotte Finch, so she’s counting on the present. She’s not impressed by the strange boy at the donut shop—until she learns he’s a student at Brighton where her sister has just taken a job as the English teacher. With her encouragement, Charlie orchestrates the most effective prank campaign in Brighton history. But, in doing so, he puts his own future in jeopardy.
By the time he learns she’s ill—and that the pranks were a way to distract Ms. Finch from Charlotte’s illness—Charlotte’s gravitational pull is too great to overcome. Soon he must choose between the familiar formulas he’s always relied on or the girl he’s falling for (at far more than 32 feet per second squared).
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Shannon Lee Alexander. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.
Edited by Heather Howland and Kari Olson
Cover design by Kelley York
Interior design by Jeremy Howland
Print ISBN 978-1-62266-467-2
Ebook ISBN 978-1-62266-468-9
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition October 2014
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
for my Em
“How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?”
eginnings are tricky things. I’ve been staring at this blank page for forty-seven minutes. It is infinite with possibilities. Once I begin, they diminish.
Scientifically, I know beginnings don’t exist. The world is made of energy, which is neither created nor destroyed. Everything she is was here before me. Everything she was will always remain. Her existence touches both my past and my future at one point—infinity.
Lifelines aren’t lines at all. They’re more like circles.
It’s safe to start anywhere and the story will curve its way back to the starting point. Eventually.
In other words, it doesn’t matter where I begin. It doesn’t change the end.
eeks are popular these days. At least, popular culture says geeks are popular. If nerds are hip, then it shouldn’t be hard for me to meet a girl.
Results from my personal experimentation in this realm would suggest pop culture is stupid. Or it could be that my methodology is flawed. When an experiment’s results are unexpected, the scientist must go back and look at the methods to determine the point at which an error occurred. I’m pretty sure I’m the error in each failed attempt at getting a girl’s attention. Scientifically, I should have removed myself from the equation, but instead, I kept changing the girl.
Each experiment has led to similar conclusions.
Hold her hand under the table during social studies,
Punched in the thigh.
Yawn and extend arm over her shoulder during Honor Roll Movie Night,
Elbowed in the gut.
Kiss her after exiting the bus,
Kneed in the balls.
After Maria, I decided my scientific genius was needed for other, better, experiments. Experiments that would write me a first-class ticket to MIT.
I’m tall and ropey with sandy blond hair so fine it’s like dandelion fluff—the kind of dork that no amount of pop culture can help. Which is how I already know how this experiment will end, even as my hand reaches out to touch the girl standing in front of me at Krispy Kreme donuts.
There was a long line when I walked in this morning, so I’d been passing the time by counting the ceiling tiles (320) and figuring the ratio of large cups to small cups stacked next to the coffee (3:2). I’d been counting the donuts in the racks (>480) when I noticed the small tattoo on the neck of the girl in front of me.
It’s a symbol—infinity. There’s a cursive word included in the bottom of one of the loops, but I can’t read it because one of the girl’s short curls is in the way.
Before I realize what I’m doing, I sweep away the hair at the nape of her neck. She shudders and spins around so fast that my hand is still midair. Flames of embarrassment lick at my earlobes, and I wonder if I should be shielding my man parts from inevitable physical brutality.
“What’s your problem?” Her hand cups her neck, covering the tattoo. Her pale skin flushes and her pupils are black holes in the middle of wild blue seas, but since I’m not coughing up my nuts, I’m already doing better with this girl than any before.
She’s waiting for me to explain.
It takes too long to find words. She’s too beautiful with that raven-hued hair and those eyes. “I wanted to see your tattoo.”
“So, ask next time.”
I nod. She turns back around.
The curl has shifted.
The word is “hope.”
apido, Chuck. J’s pissing his pants because we’re going to be ‘tardy,’” Greta says, using her shoulders to wedge the door open so she can make air quotes around James’s favorite word. “God, it smells good in here.”
Greta McCaulley has been my best friend since our freshman year at Brighton. On the first day of Algebra II, Mr. Toppler held a math contest, like a spelling bee only better. I came in second, one question behind Greta. Since then, her red hair, opinions, and chewed-up cuticles have been a daily part of my life. She has a way of ignoring the stuff about me that makes others want to punch me. And she’s equal parts tenacity and loyalty—like a Labrador/honey badger mutt.
She’d also beat the crap out of me if she knew I’d just thought of her as a hybridized breed of animal.
Outside, her boyfriend James unfolds himself from the cramped backseat of my car, and rips open the heavy doors. “People of Krispy Kreme, I will not be made tar—” He takes a quick breath and loses his concentration. Krispy Kreme’s sugary good smell remains invincible.
Greta stands beside me in line, while James drifts toward a little window to watch the donuts being born in the kitchen. Greta and James have been together since the second quarter of ninth grade. If I wanted to continue to hang out with Greta, her Great Dane of a boyfriend would have to become part of my small circle of friends.
Actually, it’s not a circle. It’s a triangle. I’d need more friends to have a circle.
The girl with the tattoo steps up and orders a glazed and a coffee. She’s about our age, but I don’t know her, which means she must go to my sister’s high school, Sandstone. It’s for the regular kids. I go to Brighton School of Math and Science. It’s for the nerds.
Greta leans into my shoulder, and I know I’m not supposed to notice because a) we’ve been friends for a long time, b) James is four feet away, and c) I just fondled a stranger’s neck, but Greta’s left breast brushes against my arm.
“So what’s with the girl?” she asks. “I saw her turn and—”
My ears feel warm. “Shhh.”
Mercifully, Greta whispers, “I thought she was going to punch you.”
“What’d you do?”
“She has a tattoo,” I say, shrugging.
“And, I may have touched it.”
Greta’s mouth hangs open, a perfect donut.
“Fine. I touched it.”
“Where?” Greta quickly turns and scans the girl. “Oh, thank God,” she breathes, touching the correlating spot on her own bare neck. “I thought maybe it was a tramp stamp.”
I must look blank because Greta points to her lower back, just below the waistline of her khaki uniform skirt.
“God, no,” I say, too loudly. The girl with the hope tattoo glances over her shoulder. Greta and I both look at our shoes.
James steps in front of us, and for once I’m thankful that the width of 1 James = 2 Charlies + 1 Greta. His large frame blocks us from the girl’s glare. James taps the face of his watch.
“I know,” I say. “Look, both of you go back to the car. I’ll be right there. We have plenty of time to make it before the first bell.”
They turn to leave just as the girl is stepping away from the counter, coffee in one hand and donut in the other. I should let her walk away and be thankful she didn’t punch me, but without thinking, I touch her arm as she goes by. I can feel the muscle of her bicep tighten under my fingertips.
I’m locked in place, like when an electric shock seizes all the muscles in your body so that the only thing that can save you—letting go of the electrical source—is the only thing you can’t do.
“Yes?” she asks, her jaw looking as tight as her bicep feels.
“I wanted to apologize.”
“Oh,” she says. Her muscles relax. “Thanks.”
She smells amazing. At least, I think it’s her and not the warm donut in her hand. Either way, I have to force myself to focus on what I was about to say.
“So, I’m sorry.”
Now, walk away. Go, Hanson.
“But I’m afraid you’re mistaken about infinity. Infinity is quantifiable.
Her expression shifts, like Tony Stark slipping into his Iron Man mask. She shakes her arm free from my slack grip. “So if it can’t be measured, I shouldn’t count on it? That’s bleak, man. Very bleak.”
She turns and pushes through the door.
Girl with the hope tattoo, first day of senior year,
Grope her neck. Follow with a lecture on topics in advanced mathematics,
No physical harm, but left doubting whether I’ll ever figure this relationship stuff out.