“School just let out for summer only a half hour ago. The sidewalks of good old Doylestown, Pennsylvania are swarming…”
For those of you who are just out of school this week, here’s a sneak peek at the first chapter of OVER MY HEAD, the sequel to my novel WHAT I MEANT… (Random House). It takes place two years later, and Sang’s got some guy issues, especially with one 20-year-old lifeguard at Fanny Chapman Pool!
Over My Head
the new YA novel
by Marie Lamba
$12.99 paper, $2.99 ebook
*Update: Available for sale NOW! Click here.
He turns to me, his cool blue eyes heating me to the core. “Sang,” he says with real gravity. “I have something I have to tell you.”
THIS IS IT. Gary Westbrock is going to confess his undying passion for me, Sang Jumnal. Finally.
See? Good things do happen—even to me. It’s like all that positive karma I’ve been putting into the universe for years is finally flowing straight back to right here, right now.
We’re sitting side by side at a picnic table outside Planet Smoothie. I gaze at his blond eyelashes glittering in the noon sun. At the spray of freckles that stretch like a comet across his left cheek. At the long strawberry bangs dangling over his forehead.
“What is it, Gary?” I smile deeply so the dimple on my right cheek shows.
You are the woman of my dreams. Could you possibly ever care for me in the same way, Sang?
“Sang!” This interruption is from Megan, who’s by the parking lot waving her cell.
My fantasy evaporates as I blink at Gary, who hasn’t really told me anything yet.
“Sang. It’s your mom,” Megan calls. “She says it’s important.”
Talk about bad timing. “I’ll be just a minute,” I tell Gary. “Don’t move.”
I find Megan leaning against the side wall of Planet Smoothie with her boyfriend David Jovanovich. I can tell they’ve been making out because David’s lips are swollen. He suffers from sensitive skin, among other things.
“Sorry,” I say, taking Megan’s cell. My parents believe cell phones are a waste of money (in other words, my parents are cheap). I did have my own cell a few months ago, which I paid for, until I lost it. “Hey Mom,” I say into the phone.
“Sang, I need you home now.”
“Right now?” School just let out for summer only a half hour ago. The sidewalks of good old Doylestown, Pennsylvania are swarming with girls in shorts and camis, and guys in baggy shorts and T-shirts. On the streets, upperclassmen zoom by in cars, with windows down and music throbbing. Nobody has to rush home.
I glance over and see Gary leaning forward, hands clasped between his knees. “Mom,” I say, “can’t we just talk at dinner?”
“I’m sorry sweetie, but—”
There’s a shuffle and voices on the other end of the line. “Sangeet. This is your father. Get home now. No fuss.”
“But—” The line goes dead. I close the phone and bite my lip.
Something’s up at home. Something has been for some time. There have been lots of phone calls from relatives in India. A number of times I’ve seen the light under my parents’ bedroom door late at night, and heard them talking in worried tones. Last week when I asked my parents if anything was wrong, Dad said, “Nothing, why?” Then he gave me this horrible fake smile, showing more teeth than necessary.
Part of me wants to race back to see what’s going on. Most of me wants to stay put. But, as usual, Dad didn’t exactly give me a choice.
So much for karma. I hand Megan her phone. “I have to go.”
“And I gotta work.” Megan pulls a Planet Smoothie cap from her bag.
“Leaving me. Again,” David says dramatically. “Forever departing.” He spreads his arms like a Shakespearean actor. Despite the 85-degree weather, brainiac David is wearing his usual long corduroy pants and T-shirt. Today the shirt, which is sweat-stained, says “Happy Days” in script. Still, Megan looks at him adoringly.
“It’s just a few hours, my little David Duckie,” she says. She ties her shiny shoulder-length black hair into a bun and puts on her cap.
“Hours and hours, my dearest Mrs. Tiggy-winkle,” he says.
I try not to gag.
David turns to me. “Sang, you are the witness to our forced separation. ’Tis all a plot of her parents to keep young lovers apart.”
This sounds paranoid but he’s actually right. Megan’s parents—Drs. Chung and Chung, licensed psychologists—are brilliant masters of manipulation. First they present their daughter with a ticket to a two-week teen group trip to Europe in August. Then they ask her to pay for a portion of it by working, to which she eagerly agrees. So now, instead of being with David all the time, she’s going to be spending every waking hour crushing ice and fruit in a blender to make money. Clever. Clever indeed.
“Adieu,” David says. He kisses Megan on the cheek.
As soon as he wanders away, I say, “So? Did you tell David yet?”
“No, but I can’t blurt out ‘I love you’ just anywhere.”
“Megan Chung in love,” I say and sigh.
“Oh, Sang, didn’t Gary ask you out yet?” She’s staring at me with her large harp seal eyes. “What is with this guy? You two have been flirting for forever.”
“He’s just shy about taking that first step. Anyway, he’s really close to asking me. I can feel it.”
“Well if he waits any longer, you’re going to end up feeling what it’s like to go dateless to that party.”
“Bite your tongue.” Anna Kaprowski’s seventeenth birthday party is in a few weeks, it’s going to be elegant, and practically everyone is going with a date.
Including me. Right after Gary asks me out. And if he does it fast, I’ll have time to run home before my dad gets too annoyed. Then everyone will be happy. Especially me.
Megan says, “Why don’t you just tell Gary you’re crazy about him? Guys like that. Remember, I asked David out.”
Megan’s idea of asking David out was to say, ‘Would you kiss a girl who just ate cheese?’ Still, the answer was yes.
“No, I couldn’t,” I say and sneak a peek at Gary, who is now leaning back with his elbows on the table.
“You have to talk to him,” Megan says. “We’re technically seniors now, right? So stop being so passive.”
“I’m not passive.” I cross my arms.
“I’m sorry but you are. You’re always waiting for things to happen. Remember, she who hesitates is lost.”
“I’m not lost,” I say a bit too defensively.
“Oh, Sang. I just want you to be happy like David and me. It seems all wrong me feeling so wonderful when I sense you’re so…” Megan gives me this worried look and tucks a lock of hair into her cap.
“When I’m so what?”
“Well,” she says, wrinkling her brow, “so unloved and so very very alone.”
“Damn.” My own brow wrinkles. “But what do you want me to do? This isn’t some school project. I can’t just plan on falling in love this summer and then make it happen.”
Megan’s large eyes grow even larger. “But that’s brilliant! Just break it into steps and follow through, right? Step one: find a guy you like.” She shrugs. “Seems you’ve got that covered. Step two: make your move. Step three: say those three magic words.”
I laugh. “Sure, Megan.”
“I still got a minute. I’ll help you kick off step two right now. Wait here.”
“No!” I grab at her but she wriggles away, dashes over to Gary and immediately starts talking.
I cringe. Megan’s definitely not what you’d call smooth when it comes to dealing with guys. She blurts out the craziest things. Like asking them if their socks smell. Or if they shave under their arms. She’s a mess, which is partly why she and David are so perfect together. He’s too bizarre to care.
I get to Gary only a moment later. Megan is saying to him, “So feel stuff. Feel Sang.”
“What?” Gary grins.
“Oh, I don’t mean to feel her,” Megan says. “Not with your hands. Unless you want to. And she wants you to, of course.”
I close my eyes, pretending I’m somewhere else. Anywhere else.
“What I’m trying to say, Gary, is you must feel Sang deep inside.”
My eyes fly open. “Megan!”
“What’s wrong with that? I’m just trying to tell Gary to be sensitive to your needs. And right now you need him to walk you home.”
“No problem,” Gary says, standing. “I’ll walk with you part-way, Sang.”
“See? No problem,” Megan says. She winks at me as Gary and I head off into the sunset. Or rather, into the noontime glare of State Street.
We walk by places that over the past week I’d tried without success to get a job at: Nat’s Pizza, the Bagel Barrel, and a bunch of pricey restaurants. So far, the only job I’ve been able to line up this summer is dog sitting for my neighbor’s poodle. Not exactly the big bucks.
Gary lopes alongside me and he’s quiet quiet quiet. I begin to babble about my summer plans. Not the ridiculous “fall in love plan.” Instead I talk about the week with my family at the Shore. About planning to read everything in sight. Going to parties, swimming at friends’ houses. (Actually, I think to myself, sunbathing because I don’t swim—ever. And I don’t really sunbathe much. Since my dad is from India, all I have to do is step out the door and I instantly darken from a light chai color to toasty golden marshmallow to dark chocolate. I’m the United Nations of skin all in a matter of an hour or two.)
God. I’m still babbling. What am I saying? Something about us spending tons of time together? How is he ever going to ask me out if I never shut up?
Then I see THE dress in the window of the This Is It! boutique. I can’t believe it’s still there. It’s 1950s retro and strapless, with red fabric and a wide black sash. As soon as Gary asks me out, I’ll get my mom to buy it for me as an advance birthday present. I will wear it to Anna’s birthday, where everything will be perfect. I imagine myself on the dance floor with Gary. I can practically feel his arm around my waist and sense the warm passion as the two of us stare deeply into each other’s eyes.
“Nice,” Gary says with feeling.
I turn to him but his eyes aren’t on me. They’re not even on the dress. He’s looking at Trish Crowdly. She’s walking with her clones Meredith and Liselle.
Trish. Sort of rhymes with a choice B word. She’s spoiled. Going into twelfth grade too. But while I just got my permit in April (okay, so I applied for it really late), Trish already has had her driver’s license and her own car for forever. She has one of those early birthdays. She does everything early. Like guys. She has tanning salon-darkened skin, bleached teeth, and the rose tattoo on her hip is always exposed above her low-slung jeans.
From elementary school through middle school, Trish thoroughly enjoyed making my life miserable. Fortunately she’s not in any of my honors classes, so I rarely see her these days. Unfortunately, Gary seems to be getting a real good look at her right now. His eyes follow Trish as she continues strutting along the sidewalk.
I spot a rare “Help Wanted” sign in the window of Coffee & Cream and immediately pull Gary toward it. “Need to grab a job application,” I explain.
We climb the steps and I open the door to the tiny coffee shop. Inside is refreshing air conditioner cool and there’s the delicious scent of fresh coffee beans.
“Isn’t that Gina Baldarasi’s older sister behind the counter?” Gary asks.
I nod. Even after all this time, I still feel a pang of sadness hearing Gina’s name. I guess that’s just how it is with an ex-best friend.
“Oh, hey kid,” Michelle Baldarasi says as we approach her. She’s sporting a nose ring and wearing a blue apron over her camouflage pants and khaki T-shirt. She always looks like she’s ready for war. “How’s your brother? He around?” She waggles her eyebrows.
“Yeah. I’ll tell him you were asking for him.” Michelle graduated from high school with my brother Hari. I think they may have even gone out for a little while. I am so getting this job. “Could I have a job application?”
She shakes her head. “Sorry. All the regular spots are filled. Just a management position left. College age only.”
“Too bad you didn’t come in like two weeks ago. Hey! You. I told you to buzz off.” Michelle springs from behind the counter and swats a towel at a tall man in a tweed jacket. The man holds up his hands to ward off the attack and dashes out of the shop. Michelle walks back to us. “Sorry. That guy completely pisses me off. Twice in a row he ordered food and left without paying. And the owner took it out of my pay. Does that suck or what?”
Gary says, “You were amazing.”
Michelle grins. “True. Hey, power to the people.” She raises her fist like she’s just liberated the world.
“Power,” I say and partly raise my fist, but I feel more like a cheerleader than a conqueror.
Quick as a flash, Gary and I are back on the sidewalk in front of the store, and to my relief, Trish is nowhere in sight.
Gary says, “Michelle Baldarasi is awesome. So confident and sure, you know? I wish more girls were sure of themselves.”
I wish more guys were. Time ticks on. I imagine my dad waiting for me, tapping his toe, frowning. “Uh, Gary, didn’t you want to say something to me before? To ask me something?” I hate how pushy I sound.
“Um, well yeah, actually.” He runs his hands through his hair.
This, really, is it. I hold my breath.
“Sang,” he says, “do you think Michelle might go out with me?”