I wasn’t always the kind of girl who wakes up on the first day of summer vacation to find herself on the receiving end of a temporary restraining order. But things got ugly when Joey, my ex, came to an end-of-the-school-year party on Friday night with his new girlfriend—the bleach-blond freshman ho bag he’d been cheating on me with. Until I saw them together, I didn’t know he and his indiscretion had become an actual item. It felt like someone had knocked all the air out of my lungs with a blunt object. What can I say? First I lost my heart. Then I lost my mind.
I stare out the screen door and watch as the patrol car drives away, my face burning with embarrassment. What if Mrs. Friedman is watching from across the street? She doesn’t miss a thing, ever. What a crappy start to a Monday morning.
“This cannot be happening,” I say.
“Rosie, you blew up your boyfriend’s car. What did you expect?” says Matty, our next-door neighbor.
“For the last time, I did not blow up Joey’s car. It caught fire!”
“What’s the difference?”
“Hello, there was no explosion. I was just burning all the stuff he gave me in his driveway.” Why doesn’t anyone understand this? I’ve spent all weekend trying to explain it. “The box wasn’t even near Joey’s car. He was standing right there. I don’t know how it happened.”
“Lighter fluid and stuffed animals. Bad combination,” Matty says.
“Shut up, Matty! I need to think.”
“The thinking ship sailed when you lit that match.”
“It was a lighter and—what are you doing in my house, anyway?” It’s like he doesn’t even pretend to go home anymore. When Matty was six, my mother offered to let him come over after school so his mom didn’t have to pay for child care. Apparently Matty thought that meant forever.
Matty extricates himself from the couch and walks toward the front door, where I’ve been rendered immobile by this latest turn of events. “Take it easy, all right? I’m not the problem, your bad temper is.”
“I don’t have a bad temper.” I look down at my purple toenails, away from Matty’s beady blue-eyed stare. “I’m passionate.”
“Call it whatever makes you feel better. I’ve grown immune to your acerbic wit and biting sarcasm, but lately it’s like you’re . . . I don’t know, hostile?”
Hostile? Where does he get hostile? Okay. Maybe I’m high-strung. I’ll give him that. But at our house, we yell when we’re happy, we yell when we’re upset, we yell when we want someone to pass the remote. It’s what we Catalanos do.
I look down at the paper in my hand. “I guess Joey must’ve called the cops.”
I feel like I’ve just done a belly flop on dry land. My parents are going to freak. They already grounded me, indefinitely, after Joey’s mom called Saturday morning to scream about the postparty car fire caused by yours truly. And now there’s a restraining order. At this point, my parents will lock me in a tower until I graduate from high school next June. For a brief second I wonder if I can keep the whole thing a secret. Yeah, right, like that’ll ever work. I couldn’t even burn a box of memories without the police getting involved. I don’t know what’s happening with me lately.
“Maybe it’s a mistake,” I say.
Matty grabs the three-page document from me. “Right. This is for the other Rosalita Ariana Catalano Joey dated, who also blew up his car.”
I cross my arms and scowl as Matty scans the page. “I’ve got to talk to him.”
“You’re to stay away from Joey’s house, his job. There’s to be no written, personal, or electronic communication with the complaining witness by you or anyone you know.” He pauses. “It actually says you are prohibited from returning to the scene of the violence.”
“I’ve got to talk to him,” I repeat.
“Have you been listening?” Matty waves the papers in my face. “Restraining order.”
“But if I can just explain—”
“Save it for your court date in two weeks.”
“What?” Court date? I snatch the papers from him and start flipping through the pages, but my eyes won’t settle on any words. Fruity Pebbles rise in my throat and I start to sweat. I suddenly want to throw something at the TV screen. The View is on—leave it to Matty. Now I have the urge to throw something at the whiny one’s head. Maybe I do have anger issues.
I hand the TRO back to Matty. “I can’t find it.”
“Right here,” he says, pointing to the correct page. “You’ve been ordered to appear before Superior Court Judge Tomlinson in Essex County, New Jersey, to address the allegations of, let’s see, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, harassment, and stalking. Stalking?”
I cover my eyes with both hands. I think I’m either going to vomit or cry. At the moment, I can’t decide which would make me feel better. I part my fingers to look at Matty. “It was only a few e-mails and texts.”
“And maybe I showed up at ShopRite once or twice when he was getting off work.”
“Good way to keep busy after a breakup. Hoping incarceration would fill those empty hours?” Matty says.
He looks as pained as I feel, which is why I need food. I walk into the kitchen and begin opening cabinets in search of the perfect snack to calm me down. Let’s see. Temporary restraining order . . . I bypass the pretzels and head straight for the Double Stuf Oreos. I tear open the new package, which rouses Pony, our ninety-pound Lab mix, who’d been sleeping under the kitchen’s central-air duct. I smile when he turns his head quizzically as if to say, “Did I hear food?”
“Some watchdog,” I say in the baby-talk voice I use when speaking to my pooch and for which Eddie, my brother, always makes fun of me. “Where were you ten minutes ago when the police were at the door? Cookies are a different story, huh?”
Pony saunters over to the counter and nudges my elbow with his big wet nose until I relent. Sugary foods are bad for dogs, but I can’t resist his pleading eyes. “Only one, big guy,” I say. He gently takes the Oreo and swallows it in a single gulp. Matty comes into the kitchen just as I’m about to pour myself some milk.
“I think I know how to handle this,” he says.
Matty is always trying to handle things. Most of the time, it makes me sad that he thinks he has to. I blame his absent father, not that Matty and I ever talk about him. Still, I know one of the reasons Matty likes hanging out at our house so much is that he gets to be a kid here. At sixteen, Matty is a year younger than me, the same age as my brother, and at least a foot taller than us both. When I was in middle school, Eddie and I finally stopped arguing about who Matty “belonged” to. He’s our Matty. I love him like a second brother, and unfortunately, sometimes I fight with him like he’s one too.
Lately, most of our spats are my fault. I know I’ve been impossible to be around since just after Memorial Day weekend. That’s when I went away with my family and Joey cheated on me with the freshman slut. To his credit, he told me. He begged me to forgive him. He said all they did was kiss. That it was a huge mistake, a onetime thing, blah, blah, blah. As much as I wanted to believe him, I was hurt, angry, and completely shocked. I couldn’t get over it and consequently, my entire relationship imploded. Since then, if I didn’t know me, I’d think I was a bitch too. And that’s why at this moment especially, it’s best if Matty leaves. I don’t want to cause an argument.
“I’m gonna call my girls,” I say. “Wait until they hear this.” My best friend, Lilliana, and the rest of our group will understand. I wasn’t stalking Joey—right? I honestly don’t know what I thought I was doing. Looking for evidence that Joey’s fling was a one-night stand? Hoping to find him moping around town wearing an I ROSIE T-shirt? Whatever it was, I certainly didn’t think it was illegal. If only it hadn’t culminated in an accidental car fire.
I swallow my last bite of Oreo and start dialing. Matty takes my phone from me.
“I think you need to get out of town for a while,” he says.
I grab my phone back. “I think you need to get out of my house for a while.”
“I’m serious. I’m leaving for Arizona on Saturday with Spencer and Logan. You should come.”
Okay. Here’s where my curiosity trumps my need for him to go home. “Who are Spencer and Logan?”
I know some of Matty’s friends, but not all. Matty goes to public school, the same school as my ex and his new chicken-head girlfriend. Oh, and my brother, Eddie, of course. My parents thought it was best for me to attend an all-girls Catholic high school because it’s every teenage girl’s dream to dress like a Scottish bagpipe player. All because I got busted at an eighth-grade graduation party playing seven minutes in heaven with Armand DelVecchio, who, by the way, kisses like a seal. It wasn’t even worth it.
“Spencer Davidson. We’re in robotics club together.”
“No surprise there.”
“Logan’s his older brother. He got accepted to ASU.”
“Okaay, so why’s he leaving now?”
“He has to be there for this special summer session. Logan wants his car in Tempe, so he figured he’d make a road trip out of it. Me and Spence are flying home.”
Has Matty told me all this before? Did the information get lost in my I-just-broke-up-with-my-boyfriend haze? I’m feeling a bit guilty.
“So, why did Spencer ask you to go?”
“He’s afraid to fly.”
Of course he is. So now I’m picturing the scene: me, trapped in a car with three nerds. Doubtful. “And I should go because—”
“It will keep you out of trouble for nine days. You can’t stalk anyone in New Jersey while traveling seventy-five miles per hour in a vehicle headed west.”
I pretend to think about this for a second. “Right. Sure, I’ll go.”
• • •
After filling in Lilliana on the whole restraining-order ordeal, I spend the rest of the day trying to distract myself, which is what I’ve been trying to do every day since Joey and I broke up. Today, it got a lot harder. I take Pony for a long walk before attempting to read one of my romance novels. Usually I plow through them to get to the happy ending, but today, only five pages in, I toss the book aside. Lately, everything—books, song lyrics, movies, even Yankee games—reminds me of Joey.
Eventually, I settle for mindless eating and cable TV. I just want to feel normal again. I love, love, love those shows where they help women find wedding dresses. The gowns are so gorgeous, and I always seem to know which dress the bride-to-be is going to pick. That inspired me to get a part-time summer job at Something New Bridal Boutique downtown. I start next weekend and I cannot wait. I’ve got a definite knack for knowing what people look good in and think I have untapped potential for designing clothes. I smile as I remember this fashion studio drawing set I had when I was a kid. It had a light board, colored pencils, and all these traceable patterns. I spent hours mixing and matching the templates for tops and bottoms, hairdos and shoes, to create my own sketches. I kept my designs in a folder. My mom, who used to pretend to be a client, wrote ROSIE COUTURE on it for me. I wonder if I still have that folder somewhere.
Around three in the afternoon, I decide to lay out on the deck. The whole world just seems better when I’m tan. I love how my skin smells after I come in from the sun. Pony whines to come outside with me—he always follows me around when I’m home. But after five minutes, he starts panting and stands by the back door.
That’s when I remember I forgot to put on sunscreen. I get up to let him in, find a bottle in the kitchen cabinet, and return to the deck. My olive skin is immune to sunburn, but I’m paranoid about skin cancer and premature wrinkling. As soon as I open the bottle, I wish that I had risked it and done without my SPF 50. The tropical scent immediately takes me back to the first time I saw Joey. He was standing on the boardwalk near the pirate-themed mini-golf course. It was September, a warm Indian summer day, and me and Lilliana’d crammed in one last beach day. I was balancing on one foot, dusting the sand off my toes so I could put my flip-flop back on, when I spotted him. He caught me staring, but I never even had a chance to be embarrassed.
“I’ve seen you before,” he said. I couldn’t believe this beautiful boy was talking to me. “Your brother goes to Chestnutville High, doesn’t he?” I was totally self-conscious because my long hair was all frizzy after a day of sun and salt water. I tried to casually smooth it down while I talked to him, but then he reached over and brushed a stray ringlet away from my eye, like he was already used to invading my personal space, and said: “I love your curls.”
A week later, we were a couple.
I think about our first date a lot, remembering how I watched from my bedroom window as he pulled into the driveway. I had been ready for an hour, but I figured I’d let Joey ring the bell and sweat out the first meeting with my family before I went downstairs. If he was going to be a keeper, my family needed to like him and he needed to like my family.
I stood on the upstairs landing, out of sight, and listened to the introductions, followed by easy laughter when my brother said, “There’s still time to back out, man. I don’t think Rosie knows you’re here.” When I walked down the stairs a few seconds later wearing a yellow silk tank top that contrasted nicely with my dark eyes and hair (I had worn it curly for him), I could tell he had no intention of bailing. He was all in. Neither of us said a word, but we were both smiling like it was yearbook picture day. People think those time-stands-still moments only happen in movies. They don’t. It sounds cheesy, but everyone else just faded away and it felt like we were alone.
“Do you two know each other?” my dad said, breaking the spell. Everyone laughed and then we walked out the door.
As Joey opened the car door for me, he leaned down and whispered in my ear: “You’re even prettier than I remembered.” A chill rippled from my neck and spread across my body.
Before my date, Matty and Eddie did try to warn me that Joey had a love-’em-and-leave-’em rep around school. But that night, Joey seemed more like an anxious little boy than some arrogant Casanova. He asked me a ton of questions and wanted to know everything about me. It was like I really, really mattered. And he seemed so worried about whether or not I was enjoying myself. I lost count of how many times he asked if my tortellini with pesto sauce was any good. When he spilled his water and his entire face turned red, my heart went out to him. I was making him nervous. Me. I didn’t care what Eddie and Matty said about how Joey treated girls in the past. I could tell I was going to be different.
Ha! What a joke. I put the cap back on my sunscreen, lie down, and close my eyes. Forget it. I already got burned.
• • •
At five o’clock, I change back into shorts and a tank top and brace myself for what’s coming. At dinner, the tiny lift I got from a healthy dose of vitamin D is gone. Probably because we’re having pork cutlets and salad with a heated family discussion about criminal mischief on the side.
“Say that again, Rosie,” Mom says. “It sounded like you said ‘restraining order.’”
“I did. ‘Temporary restraining order.’”
I hold out the document halfheartedly. My mother takes it from me, stares at it, closes her eyes, and passes it to my father.
“Oh, Dios mío,” Mom says. “Are you trying to kill your father and me? This business with Joey keeps getting worse.”
Here we go with the Spanglish. Worrying always transforms my mom into George Lopez. Predictably, the veins in my dad’s neck bulge out as he reads the restraining order. Let’s hope he doesn’t transform into the Incredible Hulk.
“I don’t know you anymore,” Dad says. He’s got the papers rolled up and waves them around like a light saber. “My daughter would never do these things.”
Well, your daughter did, apparently, says the Rosie in my head. He’s right, though. I hate to disappoint my dad. I pick at my food as he gets up and starts pacing. I waited until after he ate to tell everyone. Low blood sugar tends to fuel my father’s anger. My mother just rubs her temples. Pony, who had been under the table waiting for scraps, slinks out of the room. Smart dog.
“I’d better not find out you slept with this boy,” my father shouts.
“Oh my God, Dad! You did not just say that.” I cover my ears. Eddie looks mortified. So does Mom.
That’s when Matty materializes at the back door. I spot him first and can tell he’s afraid to knock. I’m guessing he’s waiting for a pause in my dad’s tirade. Finally, Matty taps on the door. His arrival is a welcome diversion—my parents adore Matty.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Matty says. “Did Rosie tell you about my plan?”
Wait, what? Why would I? I had practically forgotten until this very second that he’d gone all road trip on me. Okay, maybe Matty isn’t a good diversion, but it’s too late, he’s already pulling up a chair. So, ten minutes later, after he shares his whole getting-out-of-Dodge scheme (he actually calls it that), my parents have fallen into an eerie trance.
“Let me get this straight,” Eddie says. “Rosie blows up a car and now she’s going on vacation?”
“For the last time, it didn’t blow up,” I say. “And who says I even want to go?”
“Whatever,” Eddie says. “Then I’m going too.”
“As much as I’d like to send you along to watch out for your sister, you can’t,” Mom says. “You have to work.”
Eddie is lifeguarding at the town pool club this summer. This is the dream job he’s wanted since he was a kid and took swim lessons at the YMCA. There’s no way he’s giving it up. Furthermore, there’s no way I’m giving up my own summer plans. I’ve got the bridal shop gig on weekends and I was planning on supplementing that money by starting a dog-walking-slash-sitting business. I made up flyers and everything. Plus, at the end of August, I’m supposed to spend two weeks with Lilliana and her family at their beach house.
“Rosie’s not going either,” Dad says.
“That’s a relief,” I mumble.
“She’s going to work for me at the factory. That way, I can keep an eye on her.”
Uh-oh. I spoke too soon. My dad runs the family lampshade business with his brother, my uncle Dominic. Oh, I’ve done my time at the factory, cutting lampshades into three-by-five rectangular swatches, punching holes in the corners, and grouping the fabrics on binder rings as samples. I have to admit, I’ve got a gift for arranging certain colors and textures so they’re appealing to customers. More than samples, I create palettes.
Still, I am so over it. This summer, I wanted to try something different, even though I feel guilty for not helping Dad more. The business has taken a hit during the last few years with so much stuff being manufactured in countries like China and all, and my mom’s salary as an assistant bank manager doesn’t exactly make up for it. Now we’ve got to hire a lawyer. My parents don’t need to be shelling out that kind of money right now.
It’s official. I suck.
I promise myself I’ll be a better daughter, just as soon as I work out this megamess with Joey. Maybe we can both say we’re sorry and start over again. Is that what I want? That’s part of the problem. I don’t think I’ll know until I talk to Joey again. What I do know is that I want this conversation to be over. I look at the clock on the microwave. Lilliana and her cousin Marissa are picking me up down the street soon. If I can sneak out, we’re going to do a drive-by of Joey’s house and job.
“Maybe she should go away,” Mom says. She’s skimming Matty’s trip itinerary.
“What?!” Dad bellows. “We don’t even know these boys.”
“Well, of course we’ll need to call their parents, and Matty will be with her,” Mom says. I’m not sure I like where she’s going with this.
“Look,” Mom continues. “It’s not my first choice either. But it will keep Rosie out of trouble until her court date, and she might learn something.”
“You’re not serious!” Eddie shouts. His nose and forehead are pink, and he has white circles around his eyes in the shape of his sunglasses. He really needs to get some better sunscreen—it’s hard to take Raccoon Boy’s anger seriously. I stifle the urge to tell him that. I’m already in enough trouble.
“Stay out of this, Eddie,” Mom says. “In fact, go outside. All of you. I want to talk to your father.”
Outside, I plop my butt on the cushiony chaise lounge on the deck. Matty and Eddie walk down into the yard to shoot hoops. There’s a net mounted to our detached garage. It’s a good thing that in addition to being Super Dork, Matty is freaking excellent at basketball. He was the only sophomore on varsity. It no doubt saves him from many an ass kicking.
I close my eyes and try to pretend it’s a regular summer night. I’m kinda pissed because I’m realizing that blowing up your ex’s car and getting a restraining order really robs a person of the sympathy that is her due. I would never say this out loud, but I’m not even that sorry I did it. I’m still angry and hurt. I was in love with Joey, he was my first real boyfriend, and he cheated on me. Ever since we broke up, I’ve been harboring hope that he was telling the truth when he said that his one-night screwup meant nothing. So when I saw him with his new girl at Kevin’s party on Friday, it was like a bikini wax times ten. Even though I knew about her, I didn’t think they were dating. I didn’t think she could fit under his arm as well as I did. Seeing him with her . . . I came unglued.
But the really screwed-up part of all this is, I still love him. In my head, I had us married with two kids, living right here in town with the rest of my entire extended family. High school sweethearts. Happily ever after. The end. I know I’m supposed to have dreams about college and a career, but the truth is, I dream about my wedding day more. Neither of my parents went to college, and look at the life they built together. Sure, Eddie and I get on each other’s nerves sometimes, but for the most part, I’m pretty lucky. My family is close and there’s no question we love one another.
A car horn gives two quick beeps as it passes by the front of the house, waking me from my thoughts. I get up from the chaise and peek in through the screen door. My parents are locked in an exchange of intense whispers. I open the door and try to act super casual.
“I’m going upstairs,” I say. Neither parent acknowledges me. Cool. I make a point of running loudly upstairs before creeping silently back down, carrying my flip-flops. Luckily, the front door isn’t visible from the kitchen. Pony is asleep on the couch. I don’t want him waking up, running to the kitchen to grab his leash, and busting me. I turn the doorknob carefully and slip out, vowing to make it the last time I do something like this. For a while, at least.
I round the corner and see Lilliana’s car. She fist bumps me when I get in. “A restraining order. Nice.”
Lilliana and her younger cousin Marissa go to Sacred Heart with me. We despise plaid and have a shared, but silent, contempt for authority. We’ve never had detention, and we get along with mostly everyone. I’ve noticed that girls treat each other pretty good when there are no boys around to impress. All-girl schools still have their cliques, but my friends are the nonjoiners who feel too cool for student council and Spanish club. But the trouble I’m in doesn’t feel cool at all. I get light-headed every time I think about what people are saying about me. What’s going to happen when school starts again? Am I going to have one of those social outcast nicknames like “Psycho Torch Girl” or something?
“Let’s get the drive-by of the dirtbag’s house over with,” Lilliana says. “Then we’re taking you out.”
Lilliana is no longer hiding the fact that she never liked Joey. It’s only because she missed me. Joey and I were inseparable.
“I can’t go out. I’m grounded, remember?” I say. “It’s bad enough I’m sneaking out to do this.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t go,” Marissa says.
“Don’t be such a wuss,” Lilliana snaps.
“A restraining order is serious. Rosie can get in legal trouble if someone sees her near his house,” Marissa pleads.
I feel bad for making her nervous. I’m a good girl at heart. A few months ago, I would have felt the same way. Joey cheating on me has caused me to undergo some kind of psychological shift. Sure, I can be loud and dramatic, but flat-out rebellion was never my thing.
“No one will see me. I’ll hide back here, I promise,” I say, slouching down in the backseat.
I sound confident, but I know I can’t keep doing stuff like this. Do I really want to turn out like one of those reality-show freaks? My dad said he doesn’t know me anymore. That makes two of us.
We take Farms Road, which starts on my end of town where the older-style homes are only a driveway’s width apart, and wind through the small downtown area. We pass the corner deli where the skate kids are hanging out and continue on Farms until it brings us to Joey’s neighborhood, where the houses are newer and larger but more cookie cutter, right down to the identical play sets in nearly every yard. A month ago, this was my favorite route. Tonight, it makes me anxious and sick. When we pull into Elm Court, I duck.
“Tell me if you see him,” I say. “Is there anyone outside?”
“Nope,” Lilliana says.
“Is his car there? Does it look damaged?”
“No cars in the driveway,” Lilliana says. “No lights on either. It doesn’t look like anyone’s home.”
“He’s probably at work. Let’s drive by ShopRite next,” I say.
My phone rings while I’m still crouching down in the backseat. Shit! It’s my mother. She knows I left the house. She knows I’m up to something. She knows everything. Damn the Catalano sixth sense.
“Where are you?”
“I’m in Lilliana’s car.” This is not a lie.
“And where is Lilliana’s car, Rosie?”
“It’s at the diner. We’re about to go inside.” Of course, that is a lie.
“That’s it,” Mom snaps. “You’re coming home right now! Your father is furious.”
“I know I shouldn’t have left the house, but it’s just the diner and—”
“Look out the back window,” Mom says. I can hear her clenching her teeth.
“Uh-oh,” Lilliana says, glancing in her rearview mirror.
Slowly, I rise up off the floor and look out the back car window. Yep. There’s my mom in her SUV.
“You followed me?” I shriek into the phone, which is still at my ear.
“I didn’t need to. I knew where to find you.”
I squint in the low, dusk light. There’s someone in the passenger’s seat. Dad? Eddie? No effin’ way.
“Is that Matty?” It is. Traitor.
“He talked your father into staying home,” Mom says. “You should be happy you’ve got a friend like him.”
I should be, but at the moment, I’m not.