Excerpt: A Midsummernight's Girl's Bonding Camping Trip (Shakespearean Chick Lit)

TIMES THAT I HAVE LIKED A GUY WHO PREFERRED HEATHER: 

1. Third grade  –  Josh R.

Josh R. had gigantic earlobes and sparkling blue eyes and I loved him. I wrote a song about him, and it was very clever. Meghan passed him a note one day asking if he liked me. (I had not consented to this note being passed.) He crossed out my name, wrote Heather’s, and sent it back with a “yes.” I tried to rationalize that he had still used the H from my name, and that counted for something. It had not counted for something. I was very glad when he moved to Fresno.

2. Fourth grade  –  Mr. Agharkar

Mr. Agharkar read us Maniac McGee and made fun of the pictures in the science textbook. He was perfect. But I kept noticing that when I wrote a story, he never gave me compliments as specific as the ones he gave Heather in Writer’s Workshop. This was because he liked her better. My stories were very funny and insightful.

3. Fifth Grade  –  Josh R.

Josh R. came back from Fresno with a new haircut and cuter than ever. I was also cuter than ever, since I was now shaving my legs and wearing capri pants to show off my smooth ankles. I had grown out my bangs. I basically looked like I could be on the cover of Seventeen, six years ahead of schedule. The time was ripe. This time I passed the note and signed it with Heather’s name  –  I knew her handwriting very well. When it came back to me, under “Who do you think is the prettiest girl in class?” he had written “You.” I was delighted until I remembered I had sent it as Heather. They were boyfriend and girlfriend a week later. Sadly, he had not moved to Fresno again.

4. Seventh grade  –  Tyler Arroyo

Tyler Arroyo had a lip ring. He also had excellent emo hair. He wore Vans and girls’ jeans and his favorite band had a name that was essentially a sentence. It was foolproof  –  I would complete my transformation into a Cool Edgy Teen instead of Pre-Teen Wearing Penguin Shirts (Not Cool Ones). I asked him if he liked the Ramones. I did (genuinely, because the Ramones are real good, but also because that gave me Vintage Punk Cred) and he said he did too. Our bond was instant, but tenuous, and soon we were close enough for him to confide in me that he like Heather. But he was worried she was out of his league because she was so preppy and smart. I AM ALSO PREPPY AND SMART! THIS IS A FACADE!  I wanted to shout at him, but the damage was done. He pined for her as she dated Scott Kabir, who also preferred her over me, but I hadn’t seen his appeal until after they started dating, so he doesn’t get a spot on the list.

5. Sophomore Year  –  Prince

Heather and I went to a Prince concert for my sixteenth birthday. We were in the front, dancing our hearts out, when all of a sudden, Prince locks eyes on her, because she was wearing a raspberry beret. Up until that point, I had thought that the song was  “Raspberry Parade,” so I hadn’t understood why he was so happy about her reddish-pink hat. I was enraged that I had not picked up a matching beret. We could have basically been twins in his eyes. 

6. Senior Year  –  Prince Eric

For our senior trip, we all went to Disneyland. It was thrilling, especially since Heather was solidly relationshipped with Antone Colón, leaving me an opening with Reza Stevenson. We took the seven-hour bus ride down, Heather sitting with me instead of Antone, which was the best best-friend thing to do, scheming the whole time to ensure that I would end up on Pirates of the Caribbean with Reza. Instead, Reza took off with his tennis friends, and Antone ditched us to go with them, even though he didn’t play tennis. Heather was mad, obviously, and we linked arms to go on our merry way, determined not to let go. That plan failed when we went to go take pictures with the princesses and found out that it was one of those times when the princes were chilling with them. Even though I was pretty sure most of the guys who played princes were gay, I couldn’t help but notice how swoon-worthy the Prince Eric guy was. I was wearing fake eyelashes, so I looked enough like a princess that I figured I had a chance. But he beelined to Heather and gave some pretty solid in-character flirtatious banter  –  “Your voice is beautiful! I like a princess who speaks” etc.  –  and after his shift they got ice cream at Gibson Girl. I ate three Dole Whips on the Mark Twain Riverboat.

 

7. First Year At UCLA  –  Marsh

I was mostly thrilled that Heather and I were the only people in our class who had gotten into UCLA. I couldn’t wait for us to be college friends, like we had been high school friends, junior high friends… But there was a part of me that knew, just knew, that the cycle would continue. Again, I knew, there would be a guy who was perfect for me, and that guy would go for Heather. I was right  –  we met Marsh the first week at a party in someone’s dorm, and I fell basically in love with him as soon as I laid eyes on him. He was practically seven feet tall, meaning that he saw everyone at their most flattering angle possible, and I thanked baby Jesus and his angels that I was wearing a shirt with an open neck. But Heather is one and a half inches taller than me, so, she was closer to him, and therefore had a different angle that turned out to be more flattering. (Especially since she was wearing heels.) They dated for three months, although he wanted to put a label on it and she wanted to just “be single and have fun” for once. She did, of course, end up with a labeled, official Boyfriend about three weeks later.

8. First Year At UCLA, Three Months And About Three Weeks Later  –  Michel

I technically hadn’t liked him first. But I had seen him and admired him. So, it counts.

And the one, the only, the everlasting almighty  –  

8. Junior Year at UCLA  through Present–  Dominic Ko

I first met Dominic at an Omega Sigma Tau party for Homecoming. I saw him across the linoleum floor of the kitchen, sensually pounding down a Sierra Mist after taking a Goldschlager shot. He smacked his friend on the back and smiled this huge, joyful grin, his dimples deep enough to do body shots from. It was almost in slow-motion, the way he turned to me, and we locked eyes, and then he looked away with a shocked look on his face. Did he know me? Was he taken aback by my magnetic beauty?

 

Well, no, it turns out he had looked away and then looked shocked. “Heather.”

 

She slurped up a bit of her Yuengling before turning from the greeting she’d been giving to her friend Lola.

 

“Dom?” Her eyes lit up, but not necessarily with cheer. More like a crackling, seasonal fire that was merry, but getting a little too big for comfort and the people gathered around it were wondering who was going to reach for the extinguisher first. 

In response, this “Dom” guy swept her up in a bear hug, sending foamy spirals of lager through the air, right towards me. I yelped, but nobody noticed me.

“I had no idea you were going to come tonight!” he said, his burly arms still wrapped around her, her feet still a few inches off the ground.

“I didn’t think I was, but Harper wanted to check it out,” she said, setting her hands gently on his shoulders to gracefully come to the ground. My insides roiled with envy.

“Harper?” he said, not even looking around to see if he could figure out who that was for himself. No, he stayed locked on her, his eyes intent and framed by beautiful eyebrows like black checkmarks, as though his face were a questionnaire asking “are you hot?” and he was answering accurately.

“My best friend,” she said, shoving me forward. “Harper, this is Dominic Ko, from my church back home.”

Right. Her church. Not being a Lutheran myself, there was a big part of Heather’s life that I wasn’t part of, which was always weird to remember. She had her youth group every Wednesday when we were growing up, and it was always the worst day of the week. I had always felt so left behind.  

Which is how I felt right now, because Dominic barely looked at me. He just kept looking at Heather the way guys always look at her  –  as though it’s the dawn of time and women were just invented by God or whoever.

“The church we have to get married in!” he said, elbowing her in the ribs. She rolled her eyes.

I did not. “Married? What  –  what do you mean married ? You didn’t tell me you were going to get married.”

“Unclench, Harp, it’s a joke.” She rolled her eyes. “One time when I was like, six, I got a gemstone ring from the dentist and Dominic said that it was our engagement ring. Like, we were kids, but my dad loooves Dominic so he refuses to let that joke die.”

“I know, dads are so embarrassing.” Dominic did not look embarrassed. He looked like half a couple describing the moment they knew they were destined to be together, even if the alleged other half of the couple didn’t think so.

I don’t know what I looked like, but it must have been moony-eyed. I hope it was attractively moony-eyed, but knowing my luck, it’s pretty friggin’ unlikely.

“Nice to meet you, Dominic,” I finally said, before extending my arm to get a handshake that I can still feel to this day.

 ~

So, yeah. It’s a pretty extensive list. 

CHAPTER ONE

“So happy for you!” I gush. And for once, I actually am. 

Heather is beaming. I swear I can see actual rays of sunshine halo-ing around her face. Maybe it’s the angle she’s facing, right where the sunshine is streaming through the bay window of the school’s huge food-court atrium. Maybe it’s an illusion caused by pure joy. Maybe it’s just the reflection of the cushion-cut sapphire that’s newly hanging off her finger.  

There could be multiple factors at play here. 

“Makes all the traveling seem like time well spent,” she jokes.  Heather’s boyfriend  –  fiance  –  Luke goes to UC San Diego, which is obviously not exactly a hop, skip and a jump from UCLA. They’d been doing great, seeing each other at least once a week, but I knew she was so ready to be done with long-distance.

And I love Luke. I think he’s great. They’re totally right for each other. They’re opposite enough to be a good balance, but samey enough to still get along. Reading gives her a headache, but it’s basically all he does, so he always gets an audiobook of things he thinks she might like. He’s studying English, she’s Cog Sci. She loves a good party, he thinks it’s cute when he has to escort her home after she’s had a few.

Even when we were in high school, Heather was always a serial monogamist, which is easy to do if you’re Heather. She has capital-B Boyfriends, never flings or casual relationships. The girl loves deeply, but moves on quickly. She’s fairly practical like that. In the moment, with foresight. So I’ve known a lot of her Boyfriends before Luke. I’ve never liked anyone half as much. I’m glad this is the one that stuck. 

(Especially since he’s one of the few that I didn’t like first.) (Oh, dear, who said that?)

“So how did it happen?” I ask her, gearing up for a story. I mean, I was kind of shocked that Luke hadn’t consulted me at all before the proposal, not even about the style of ring. I mean, don’t all best friends share their favorite ring styles with each other in case of this sort of situation? I know Heather’s been shared on my Pinterest board forever, and I’ve definitely taken a mental note when we walk by a jewelry store and she comments on something she thinks is nice.

“Well, I mean, when he came to visit this weekend, he got all excited about going to the Botanic Garden, so I kind of knew something was up.” she laughs. “But he had this Polaroid camera and was taking so many shitty pictures of me, and of the flowers and stuff, and I finally got so mad at him for wasting the film that I grabbed the camera and handed it to someone and asked them to take a nice picture of us together. And then when we were posing he pulled his jacket open  –”

“Why was he wearing a jacket? It was eighty-seven this weekend, and you guys were outside?” I interrupt.

“Well, exactly. He wore a jacket and then pulled it open and then closed it again, which was bizarre, but then the stranger gave him the camera back and left with this big smile, and then Luke handed me the picture, and when I saw it develop, it turned out the jacket was on top of a shirt that said MARRY ME!" 

“NO!” I shriek. It’s too precious. It’s too cute. I can’t.

“Yes! And when I looked up from the photo, he was on one knee with the ring box, and I tried to say yes and stick out my hand so he could put it on, but I spazzed out and knocked the ring box out of his hands and the ring fell out!”

“Heather! No way.”

She covers her face with her hands, the ring glinting its little brag in the sunlight. “It was so embarrassing!”

(Heather seems to be unaware that when girls like Heather do something like that, it’s considered adorable. It’s adorable that she has no idea. Really, so adorable.)

“So I scramble around, trying to find it, and it turns out the ring looped around the stamen of a hibiscus and was just perfectly centered in the middle of the flower, and Luke got a great picture of it. He was just taking terrible pictures on purpose because he knew I’d get frustrated with him and he could pull off the stranger thing.”

“What a stinker."

“I know. But hey, now we have a save-the-date image and an official wedding flower! Talk about serendipity.”

“Save-the-date? Are you guys setting a date already?” I start to freak out. I had figured they would have a long engagement  –  we’re only twenty-one, Jesus Christ!  –  but now she’s talking save-the-dates and I’m suddenly realizing how behind I am, oh my god, I’ll never get engaged, let alone get another boyfriend…

“No! Not until after graduation,” she laughs. “I mean, can you imagine being married and still living in different cities  –  or one of us driving two hours in traffic to school every day? I’m just thinking ahead. 

“Better make a copy of that picture, then. Polaroids fade,” I remind her. We still have some photos from freshman year when one of the senior dressed up as Santa and the Drama club raised money for their production of something dumb like Kiss Me Kate by charging five bucks to have a photo with him. The photo had faded enough so you couldn’t see him cupping our butts as the two of us balanced on his knees. The memory had not faded.

“Actually, his dad already did. He wants to throw an engagement party for us this weekend at their restaurant  –  he’s so sweet, he said to invite all my friends and my whole family.”

 My ears perk up. “All your friends?”

“Yes, you’re invited,” she teases me. She can tell what I’m asking and she’s taking her sweet time toying with my emotions.

 “So, I mean, your friends from UCLA, your friends from home, your friends who are… both?”

“Well, that’s a small pool of people.”

“Yeah, it’s basically just me. And… 

She gives in. “I don’t really know if I’m going to invite Dominic, Harper.”

“Why?” I whine, just a little. “He’s one of your oldest friends!

“Oldest, not closest. Besides, it’s awkward how much my dad loves him.”

This was accurate. After the dentist-ring incident of kindergarten, Heather’s dad hadn’t ever given up on Dominic and Heather getting together one day. He used to introduce Dominic as “my future son-in-law” anytime he had the chance, and called Dominic’s father his “brother,” even though that made no sense with how in-laws worked. It was cute when they were younger, but Heather was totally over it. Her dad was not.

“But … but you have to invite him! Heather, it could totally be the perfect moment for us!” I plead. “Just imagine… love in the air, a party with good wine, everyone dressed up… 

“If he doesn’t wear his stupid Adidas sandals.” Heather shakes her head. “Honestly, Harper, I have no idea why you like him so much. He’s so bro-y.”

“He is not bro-y. He has the soul of a poet and the dimples of a Roman statue,” I sigh.

“Roman statues are not known for their dimples,” she points out.

“Yeah, wasn’t talking about his face.”

She swats me. I regret nothing.  

“Just think about it.” I make puppy-dog eyes at her. “Please, Heather? Please, please please, please?”

“Okay, okay, but honestly, Harper, if he comes to this party and nothing happens, maybe it isn’t that you haven’t been in the right place or the right time. Maybe it’s time to… you know, move on.” 

Yeah, right. How, exactly, does one move on from destiny?

Excerpt: The Accidental Pirate (Middle-Grade Adventure Fiction)

PART TWO, CHAPTER TWO: In Which Our Hero Survives His First Night On A Pirate Ship, Despite Being Woefully Unprepared, Given That He Is An Aspiring Opera Singer And Not At All A Pirate.

He must have slept, because the next time the barred window clanged open, it revealed blinding sunlight – and the barrel-chested form of Captain Carew.

“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty,” called the captain. “Did you survive the night?”

Had he? Everything around him was too strange to be real, and Leo wondered if he had died on the island after all. Perhaps the heat had gotten to him, or some kind of animal...

Crew rattled the bars. “I asked you a question.”

“Yes!” Leo said, his voice cracking. “I’m here.”

“Not anymore.” Swift as a sea breeze, Carew swept into the tiny room and grabbed Leo’s arm, digging his fingers into the flesh. He hoisted his prisoner up in the air, so that his toes barely brushed the floor – the captain’s preferred style, Leo realized – and began to walk.

Leo tripped along beside Carew, realizing, as his head ached and throbbed, that if he had indeed slept, it had not been for long enough. The salty wind stung his eyes, and as the ship pitched to and fro on the waves Leo was nearly grateful not to be supporting his own weight.

Blinking rapidly, Leo tried to take in the scene around him. The night before, he had been too convinced of his own death to focus on anything but the pounding of his own heart, trying to guess how many beats were left. But now that he had made it through at least one night, he tried harder to piece together his surroundings.

The ship had seemed massive when it was moored, swirling in the ghostly mist of the island’s shore. Here on the deck, though, it seemed almost crowded with seven crew members dashing to and fro, calling out and swearing and laughing. It was an impressive ship – smooth teak boards, pristine as if they’d been hewn the day before. He was being guided towards the stern, where two of the men were roughhousing.

The biggest, hairiest one – Bloodbroth, Leo remembered suddenly – brandished a potato peeler at the short, stocky sailor with a protuberant nose, who tried to knock it away with a cane-sword. The two men swiped back and forth, taking turns drawing small amounts of blood and laughing maniacally. A sheet of skin wafted to the floor, and the shorter man’s eyes darkened.

“I’ll carve you up, Bloodbroth, do you hear me?”

“Yars, yars, I hear yeh – I hear yeh and I dare yeh,” the grungy giant growled back.

“Bloodbroth! Birdbrain!” Carew snapped. “Please refrain from disemboweling each other before I’ve had my coffee, yes?”

The two men immediately dropped their weapons and looked down at the deck.

“Yes, Captain,” Birdbrain mumbled. Bloodbroth jabbed him with an elbow, but then saw the captain glare at him and added, “I’ll get yer coffee straigh’ away, Cap’n.”

Carew kept walking, and Leo tripped along after him. He felt Carew’s fingers knifing their way through his arm, edging between the muscles and burrowing into the marrow.

“This,” said Carew, not looking at Leo or betraying anything with his voice, “is where you will stay now.”

It’s a trick.

Leo knew it must be, because the room was too sumptuous and too light. It wasn’t all that much larger than the brig where he had just spent a damp, dark night, but instead of crates and casks lining the walls, there were rich crimson velvet drapes over stained-glass windows. An overstuffed feather bed lay directly before him, with a canopy that added even more unexpected elegance. Curio cabinets – many, many curio cabinets, all full – held bizarre trinkets and aggressively brilliant gems. The floor was absolutely stacked with exotic, plush rugs, patterned in geometric shapes with colors splashed about joyously. It was all so beautiful that Leo forgot where he was for one precious second.

Of course, Carew couldn’t let that happen. He shook Leo violently. “Nice, eh?”

“Yes.”

“That’s all you’ve got to say? It’s magnificent, isn’t it?” He stopped himself and turned to Leo. “And it’s mine.”

He let go of Leo’s arm suddenly, and Leo tumbled to the floor. Carew strode over to the curio cabinet and pulled out a dried puffer fish with emeralds where its eyes had once been.

“I made this myself, you know. I’m quite crafty – but, then, I assume you knew that.” Carew chuckled. Leo did not. Carew whipped his head around and stared Leo down until Leo let out a weak laugh.

“I’ve made many, many of these, but they get stolen or destroyed during our raids. People take the gems and don’t even stop to appreciate my work. Sad, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Leo felt the glare again. “It’s very, very sad.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking lately that I should have someone to protect all of the things that are mine and mine alone. Then you came along.”

“I thought -” Leo swallowed. Don’t say anything, don’t say anything, he willed himself, but his curiosity overcame him. “I thought you were going to kill me.”

Carew rolled his eyes. “My dear boy, if I let you live an hour, you’re going to live longer than that. Surely you could have guessed that.”

Leo hadn’t, but then, murder- and hostage- logic had always been hard for him to follow. He began to allow himself to breathe a bit more slowly and a bit more often.

Carew continued. “Last night, I locked you away, of course, so you wouldn’t go mad and try to kill us all. I’ve had that happen before; it’s a nasty business, really. So I thought perhaps I might have to kill you during the night, and I would have to get up when it was dark… I got so frustrated thinking of all the ways in which you could inconvenience me that I made up my mind to just kill you ahead of time.”

He stopped and snapped his head so he was looking right at Leo. “Do you remember the stew that you got last night?”

Leo’s stomach certainly did; it rumbled at the mere mention. “I – yes, I do.”

“Well, that was about the time when I came down to slash your throat. But!” Carew turned and stared out the window, a manic gleam in his eyes. “Then I thought of something! I had decided to get rid of you because you were dead useless, but I realized last night that you were even more useless dead. So I told Bloodbroth to make you something to eat so you would last until morning.”

He looked to Leo expectantly. Leo, not knowing how to react, didn’t move.

Carew continued, unperturbed. “I can’t have any of the men take care of my quarters – they’re too valuable, not to mention too untrustworthy. But you! You can stay in here and clean up and protect all of my belongings… it’s perfect!”

Leo eyed the man warily. There was something quite hopeful about the idea, but something quite unhinged in the delivery.

“How – uh, Captain, how shall I defend your quarters if there is an attack?” Leo asked. He had never shot a gun, never even picked up a real sword other than a wooden one he had played with as a child.

Carew threw his head back and guffawed. “Not with a weapon, if that’s what you’re thinking! Think you can outwit me, eh? Make me arm you for an attack? Give you the sword that will carve out my innards? Not a chance!”

“It wasn’t that!” Leo swore as Carew advanced. “I- I- I just didn’t- I don’t know how to shoot a gun, and I-”

“Never shot a gun?” Carew mock-shouted, stepping back. “What a dear little daisy you are. Well, perhaps one day you will. Until then-” he pointed at the red velvet curtains and, with his other hand, thrust a handkerchief into Leo’s hand- “-clean that window, won’t you?”

Leo accepted the handkerchief and walked over the window. He had never seen stained glass before, and he marveled at the way the sun cast such rich colors through the air. He held up one hand, and, though it was still etched with splinters and caked with droplets of dried blood, the ethereal rainbow-laden glow on his skin was soothing.

The scene on the window was of a knight and a dragon. The knight was brandishing a sword and holding up a shield bearing a red cross on a white background, blocking the dragon’s mighty breath. The effect of the fire was astonishing – jewel-bright flames licked the metal, creating a dazzling white-hot starburst, while the orange and red and yellow seemed to pulsate –

“SQUAAAAAWK!” Thud.

Reflexively, Leo jerked back from the window, catching his foot on the rug and falling rather heavily onto his back and letting out a gigantic “Oof!”

“Ah!” said Carew from his bed, where he lay polishing a pistol, “he’s home.”

Carew sauntered over to the window, stepping nimbly over Leo’s splayed-out legs He opened the latch and pushed against the dragon’s acid-green belly.

The window banged open, and a large gray flurry of feathers flew into the captain’s quarters, bounced off two curio cabinets, and tumbled violently onto a polished mahogany perch.

“Feathers. Feathers. Letters. Feathers. SQUAAAWK!”

“This is Merc. You’ll be taking care of him as well,” Carew said, striding over to the bird. His face melted into a cooing pout. “Who’s a pretty birdie? Who’s a pretty birdie?”

“SQUAAWK. Merc is. Merc is. Merc is pretty birdie,” the parrot replied, ruffling its ashy feathers and extending its misshapen head to be petted, which Carew obliged.

“Merc,” Carew said to the parrot, “I’d like you to meet someone.” He snapped his fingers and flapped them at Leo, who got up as quickly as he could, wincing as his back screamed bloody murder at him.

“This is-” Carew stopped. He turned to Leo. “Who are you?”

“Um-” Leo hesitated, not sure if he should be attempting some sort of secret identity. “Leonard Nordegraand, sir.”

“That’s a very long name for Merc to say. He will call you Leo,” Carew sniffed.

“If that’s what you want, sir,” said Leo, relieved.

Carew turned back to his avian companion. “Merc, say hello to Leo.”

“SQUAAAWK. HELLO LEO. HELLEO LO. LEOHEO,” the bird cawed.

Carew smoothed the bird’s rumpled neck feathers. “Good job, Merkie. Now,” he said to Leo, “Merc has been neglected lately, and he has a lot of needs. He should always have something to gnaw on, or he’ll start in on my cabinets. When he preens his feathers, you must pick up the ones that come loose and put them in this sack.”

He picked up a brown heap of burlap. “When the sack is full, you can make a pillow of it for yourself. You’d best hope he’s molting soon, because you’ll be sleeping on the floor right here,” he added, pointing to the floor by the foot of his bed.

“However.” Carew’s eyes darkened. “Do not let him pull out his feathers. And if I catch you pulling them out… well,” he grinned, “I can always let him gnaw on your bones.”

Leo gulped. “No feather-pulling.”

“Get closer. Say hello,” Carew ordered him.

Leo stepped towards the freakish-looking parrot. It fixed its beady little eyes on him, the irises flaring and shrinking in rapid succession. The effect was ghoulish.

Leo swallowed and tried to sound normal. “Hello, uh… Merc.”

Merc continued to stare, pupils pulsing. He began to bob his head, jerking it forward and back, until he stretched out nearly horizontal and vomited prodigiously all over Leo’s legs.

Carew smirked. “You’ll get along just fine.”