Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
Breakfast at the Taylor house was never boring. There was my father, standing in front of the open refrigerator in his robe, reading an email on his smartphone. There was my sister, sitting next to me at the table and posing while she tested her new selfie ring light on her phone. And then there was me, eating my cereal while trying to figure out why all the hard work I’d done the night before had been for absolutely nothing.
Yes, we had a “no screens at the table” rule in my family. And yes, when my mom came blowing in like a hurricane in a few minutes, we’d all be in trouble. But between homework and school, I hadn’t had enough time to figure out why the app I’d spent hours coding was completely broken.
Sure enough, my mom came breezing in when I was halfway through my bowl of Wheat-e-os. A great day starts with a healthy breakfast and all that. My goal was just to wolf it down so I could get back to my work, but if Mom saw me rushing, I wouldn’t be able to do that. Eating fast while trying to look like you weren’t was really, really hard.
“Phone down, Hope,” Mom said, tapping the button to warm up the coffee maker as she whipped past it on her way to the fridge. “And, Faith, a laptop? Really?”
My parents, in a complete fit of unoriginality, had named my older sister Hope, then named me Faith a couple of years later. Someone really should have stopped them.
“I worked for hours on this,” I said without taking my eyes off my screen. “I can’t figure out why it’s broken.”
My sister sighed. She didn’t get me. It was like we were from two completely different sets of parents. If I hadn’t looked so much like my dad and Hope hadn’t looked like a younger version of my mom, I’d have had to check to see if one of us was adopted.
“I don’t care if you have the winning lottery numbers. No screens at the table,” Mom said. She had already shooed Dad out of the way and was on her way back to the coffee maker with the soy milk. “It’s rude.”
I closed my laptop and slid it off to the side. If I speed-ate my Wheat-e-os, I could take my bowl to the sink and get back onto my laptop somewhere other than the table. Just a few more minutes of focus were all I needed.
“Is this the homework app?” Mom asked as the coffee maker noisily spat out her organic decaffeinated beverage. “The one your mentor wants to send to her friend?”
My coding club coach supposedly had a friend who worked for Google. And that friend was just going to love an app that let students help each other do homework. Google would buy it and pay me millions, and we’d get our Paris trip. Either that or my coding coach’s friend was, like, a guy who cleaned toilets at Google and wouldn’t care anything about my app. I wouldn’t know for sure until I finished the app and shared it.
“Yeah, that’s going to take a while,” I said. Staring longingly at the laptop I’d been forced to set aside, I shoved down as much cereal as I could fit into my mouth. Just a few more bites and I could get away from the table. It was all about getting back to my code at this point.
“What did I tell you about positive thinking?” Mom asked, walking to the table. She set her coffee cup down and pulled her chair out. “If you think it will take a while, it will. If you think you’ll be finished tomorrow, you’ll be finished tomorrow.”
I laughed at the same time that I swallowed, briefly feeling like I was going to choke. If I choked, Mom would make me slow down and eat like a civilized human being.
“I can assure you, it will not be finished tomorrow,” I finally said when I could once again take a breath. “But… if I could eat and work at the same time, maybe…”
“Nice try,” Mom said. “Craig, tell Faith about positive thoughts.”
Dad took his spot at the table. He was fully dressed in dark jeans and a golf shirt, his phone safely holstered in the case on his belt.
“Positive thoughts put positive energy into the universe,” Dad said. “Or something like that.”
I smiled. Dad and I were a lot alike. We were both practical and into science and math and all that brainy stuff. Hope was more like my mom, even though she didn’t eat as healthfully as Mom and I did. But she was a dedicated cheerleader who spent all her spare time taking gymnastics, so she had the physical fitness part of it down. She even took my mom’s yoga class on weekends sometimes.
Suddenly I looked down and found that my cereal bowl was all milk. I wanted to make sure I finished every bite so Mom would have no excuse to say that I couldn’t hop back onto my laptop.
I got up and walked to the sink, then dumped the remaining soy milk down the drain and put my dish and spoon into the dishwasher. No excuses.
“Who’s riding with me?” Dad asked, grabbing a cold coffee out of the refrigerator and unscrewing the cap.
Wait… what? It was time to go already? I weighed my options. I could stay home and try to get some time in on my laptop in the ten minutes it took for the bus to arrive. Or I could ride with Dad and smuggle my laptop into school and hide out in one of the empty classrooms, hoping my friends didn’t find me in there. Once they found me, I’d get no work done.
“Me!” I called out.
“I’ll take the bus,” Hope said. She was finishing up her banana while staring longingly at her phone.
“See you after school!” Mom called out to me. She always picked me up from school after her afternoon class, since I didn’t have after-school activities like Hope did. Sometimes we even stopped for frozen custard and fruit. Mom loved custard.
Dad always left his car parked in the driveway, letting Mom have the garage. He said it kept her from having to be out in the cold and heat and rain. I always made gagging noises when Mom and Dad were all romantic like that, but secretly I liked it that they were so sweet to each other.
“Your mom may be onto something,” Dad commented as he backed out of the driveway. “This app could be the big one.”
“I’m trying not to get my hopes up,” I said absently.
Dad always got his hopes up. As practical and analytical as he was, he was a dreamer. Which was an interesting contrast. He was sure he was going to come up with some invention that would make us all rich. That was why he spent most of his free time working in the tiny office that was also our guest bedroom. He was always gluing things together or building things out of parts.
“Can I ask you a question?” I asked Dad.
“You just did.”
That threw me for a second. Then I got it. My father had what you might call a dorky sense of humor. It was the kind of humor that made you groan because if anyone you knew overheard it, you’d be mortified. If nobody else heard it, it was admittedly kind of cute.
“When did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?” I asked.
Full disclosure: I had no idea what my dad did for a living. I mean, I knew he was a mechanical engineer, but I had no idea what that meant. Did he work on engines or something? Whatever he did, it was something that had him going to an office every day and sitting alone at a desk for hours. That was why he could wear jeans to work. I figured, when he wasn’t at his computer, he was writing on big whiteboards while other people sat around and oohed and aahed over how brilliant his ideas were.
Dad laughed. “I’m still not sure I know. When I was your age, I wanted to be a rock star.”
What? That was the freakiest thing I’d ever heard. Aside from his cheesy jokes, my father was all serious all the time.
“Like Ed Sheeran?” I asked. I could see a younger version of Dad with a beard and guitar. Add some tattoos, and he might look like a singer.
“More like Nickelback,” he said. “Ed Sheeran wasn’t a thing when I was a kid.”
I didn’t know who Nickelback was. I figured I probably didn’t want to know.
“So when did you know you wanted to be a mechanical engineer?”
“I always liked to build things,” he said with a shrug.
He launched into a long story about when he was five and he built a fake high-rise with a bunch of Legos. It only reinforced my idea that I’d gotten my coding skills from Dad. We both enjoyed building things.
He finished up his story with, “And when I got to college, I just took a bunch of engineering classes until I figured out what I wanted to do with my degree.”
I thought about that for a second. I’d known for a long time that I wanted to be a computer programmer. But sometimes I wondered if it might be nice to try something else. Maybe I could train to be an astronaut or study medicine and become a doctor. I didn’t have to decide right now, did I?
“Isn’t that your friend?” Dad asked, calling my attention to the fact that we were now pulling up to the front of the school. People were all around, walking toward the entrance, but I honed right in on Tierra Ford. The girl my dad had just called my “friend.”
The thing was, Tierra had been my friend. Only, Dad was off by a few months. When my family had first moved, Tierra had been the first friend I’d made. We sat next to each other in third grade, and soon we were doing everything together. We probably would have stayed BFFs until graduation if I hadn’t met Janelle in my mom’s yoga class over the summer. Janelle walked in, saw I was the only person her age, and plopped her mat down next to me. We eventually started hanging out after class, and soon she introduced me to her best friend, Adria.
I spent the summer hanging out with them, mostly, and started hanging out with Tierra less and less. By the time school started, Tierra and I hadn’t spoken in months. I did my best to ignore the hurt in her eyes, but she didn’t confront me on it. It was like we had an agreement that we weren’t friends anymore.
“Yeah,” I said. “See you after school.”
I opened the door and stepped out.
“Wait!” Dad called out.
I was all prepared to bolt for the school entrance, pretending I didn’t see Tierra sitting there, so I was already in “rush” mode. But I stopped myself just as I was about to slam the car door shut. I leaned in.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” he asked.
What? I didn’t get it. Was this some trick to get me to say I loved him or something?
“Your backpack,” he said, shifting his eyes toward the floorboard of the passenger seat. Sure enough, I’d completely forgotten my backpack.
“Thanks!” I said, grabbing it. Then I gave him a wave before swinging the door shut.
Now, to get past Tierra.
I slung my backpack over one shoulder and took off like a rocket. I could walk pretty fast when I set my mind to it. It didn’t hurt that it was super chilly outside, and nobody wanted to be out there longer than necessary. That thought brought an important question, though. Why was Tierra sitting on the bench outside the school, wearing nothing but a fleece jacket?
I kept my attention focused forward as I got closer, but out of the corner of my eye, I could see her. She pulled her feet up onto the bench, which put her knees close to her face. Then she seemed to hide behind her arms, which she folded over the tops of her knees.
She was hiding from me?
I saw her hand wipe over her cheek. She was crying.
My stomach flip-flopped. As great as it was to hang out with my new friends, it was just, like, a minute before that Tierra had been my best friend. That didn’t just go away because I was suddenly (kind of) part of the popular crowd.
Before I could even think about it, I started walking toward her. As I got closer, she put her feet back onto the ground and sat up straight, wiping both her cheeks with the back of her hand.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She looked up at me then, and I realized why I’d stopped to talk to her. There was a time in third grade when Tierra had been invited to a birthday party and I hadn’t been. Instead of going without me, she’d turned down the invite and taken me to get our nails done. That was what a real friend did.
And after that, I’d been a horrible, horrible friend.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Just go inside.”
I should have taken her up on her offer. I should have gotten out of there while I had the chance. But I kept thinking about all the other things she’d done for me too. The times she’d stood up for me when boys had been picking on me, or how she’d helped me fit in with other girls in our class.
I sat down on the bench next to her. I might have found new friends, but I wasn’t heartless. Tierra was a good person. We’d just drifted apart. That stuff happened in middle school. It happened after middle school too, I was pretty sure.
“Sometimes it feels good to cry,” I said. “It’s like you’re getting the pain out. Through your tears.”
That was easily the sappiest, most clichéd thing I’d ever said. But I had no idea what else to say. I should have been inside the school, finding an empty classroom where I could hide for the next half hour or so. Instead I was sitting there with someone who didn’t even want to talk about why she was crying.
“People just suck,” Tierra said. “That’s all.”
She wiped at her cheek again, and I realized the tears hadn’t stopped. That made me feel awkward all over again.
“They do,” I said. “Did someone say something mean to you? Do you want me to beat them up?”
“Why do you care?” she asked.
She had every right to be mad at me. I’d be mad at me too, if I were her. I sighed and said the only thing I could think to say.
“Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll pass,” I said. “You could just take the day off. Maybe play sick?”
She said nothing. Just sat there, staring straight ahead. I felt a pang I had no right to feel. A longing for the friendship we’d had just a few months earlier.
I looked around for a clue to what was going on. It was so early. How could something have already happened that upset her? I didn’t get it.
Then I noticed the phone next to her on the bench. Maybe someone had texted her something. Or someone had tagged her on Twitter or Instagram. Those were the only things I could imagine that would make her cry.
“I’m a good listener,” I reminded her.
To be honest, I kind of missed having a really good friend who got me. And I knew Tierra had every right to be furious at me. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d told me to leave her alone. I probably deserved that. But instead she sighed and picked up her phone, unlocking it with her thumb.
I looked past Tierra to see Adria standing near the entrance, holding the door to the school open.
I felt like I’d been caught doing something wrong. Like stealing. Or lying. Or sneaking my sister’s favorite ice cream from the freezer when I thought she was asleep. It was silly, but Janelle and Adria knew I’d once been friends with Tierra, and it didn’t stop them from making fun of her. All. The. Time.
“I have to go,” I said.
I felt like a completely horrible person as soon as the words were out of my mouth, but what else could I do? I needed my two BFFs. Janelle was the girl everyone wanted to be like. Everything she wore, said, and did was just perfect. Adria could be mean sometimes, but she was Janelle’s best friend, so they came as a package. If I wasn’t friends with Janelle, I’d go back to being a total nobody.
“Yeah, whatever,” Tierra said, staring intently at her screen.
I knew that the right thing to do would be to stay with Tierra and tell Adria I’d be right in. But I didn’t do that. Why? Because Adria was staring me down, and I got nervous. I hopped up and rushed toward the front door, tossing my backpack over my shoulder as I walked. Not a second to waste.
I didn’t dare look back at Tierra, and I tried not to think about what had made her cry. It was easier to just focus on hanging out with my friends and being happy.