SIX

This time, when I dream, there is sound. As I fall through the darkness there’s a tinkly, jangly song playing, like the kind of music you hear in doctors’ offices and elevators, and without knowing how I know, I realize that the music is piping all the way from the guidance counselor’s office at Thomas Jefferson.

As soon as I realize this, little bright spots start exploding through the darkness, a zooming gallery of all the annoying inspirational posters my guidance counselor, Mrs. Gardner, keeps on her walls, except in my dream they’re all blown up by about a hundred times, each the size of a house. In one, Einstein is pictured over the words GRAVITY IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR FALLING IN LOVE. There’s a poster with Thomas Edison’s quote: GENIUS IS 1 PERCENT INSPIRATION AND 99 PERCENT PERSPIRATION. I’m thinking of trying to grab one of them and worrying about whether it will hold my weight when I spin past a picture of a striped cat hanging off the branch of a tree by its nails. It says HANG IN THERE .

And it’s the funniest thing: as soon as I see it, the whistling in my ears stops and the feeling of terror drains away, and I realize this whole time I haven’t been falling at all. I’ve been floating.

The alarm that wakes me is the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard. I sit up, a bubble of laughter rising inside me. I have the urge to touch everything in my room—the walls, the window, the collage, the photos cluttering my desk, the Tahari jeans strewn across my floor and my bio textbook and even the dull light just creeping over the windowsill. If I could cup it in my hands and kiss it, I would.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” my mom says when I come downstairs. Izzy’s at the table in front of her peanut butter bagel, taking slow, careful bites, as usual.

“Happy Cupid Day,” my father says. He’s standing at the stove burning eggs for my mom’s breakfast.

“My favorite,” I say, scooting in to steal a bite from Izzy’s bagel. Izzy squeals and slaps at my hand. I plant a big, sloppy kiss on her forehead.

“Stop slobbering on me,” she says.

“See you later, Fizzy Lizard,” I say.

“Don’t call me Lizard.” Izzy sticks a peanut butter–coated tongue out at me.

“You look like a lizard when you do that.”

“Do you want any breakfast, Sam?” my mom asks. I never eat breakfast at home, but my mom still asks me every day—when she catches me before I duck out, anyway—and in that moment I realize how much I love the little everyday routines of my life: the fact that she always asks, the fact that I always say no because there’s a sesame bagel waiting for me in Lindsay’s car, the fact that we always listen to “No More Drama” as we pull into the parking lot. The fact that my mom always cooks spaghetti and meatballs on Sunday, and the fact that once a month my dad takes over the kitchen and makes his “special stew,” which is just hot-dog pieces and baked beans and lots of extra ketchup and molasses, and I would never admit to liking it, but it’s actually one of my favorite meals. The details that are my life’s special pattern, like how in handwoven rugs what really makes them unique are the tiny flaws in the stitching, little gaps and jumps and stutters that can never be reproduced.

So many things become beautiful when you really look.

“No breakfast. Thanks, though.” I go to my mom and wrap my arms around her. She yelps, surprised. I guess it has been a couple of years since we’ve hugged, except the mandatory two-second squeeze on birthdays. “Love you.”

When I pull away she stares at me as though I’ve just announced I’m quitting school to become a contortionist in the circus.

“What?” my dad says, dumping a pan in the sink and wiping his hands on the dishtowel. “No love for your old man?”

I roll my eyes. I hate it when my dad tries to “teen-speak,” as he calls it, but I don’t call him out on it. Nothing can get me down today.

“Bye, Dad.” I let him wrap me in one of his infamous bear hugs. I’m filled with love from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes, a bubbly feeling like someone’s shaken my insides up like a Coke bottle. Everything—the dishes in the sink, Izzy’s bagel, my mom’s smile—looks sharp, like it’s made out of glass or like I’m seeing it for the first time. It’s dazzling, and again I have the desire to go around and touch it all, make sure that it’s real. If I had time I would, too. I would put my hands around the half-eaten grapefruit on the counter and smell it. I would run my fingers through Izzy’s hair.

But I don’t have time. It’s Cupid Day, and Lindsay’s outside, and I have business to take care of. Today I’m going to save two lives: Juliet Sykes’s, and mine.

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