A sneak peek:
I cracked my eyes open to look out at the morning light. The window wasn’t there.
Untangling my legs from the sweaty sheet, I sat up to find that I wasn’t where I was
supposed to be. My head at the foot of the bed and the pillow on the floor told me I’d had
another one of those nights. The seven-year- old scenes reliving Mom’s death didn’t have to rush
back into my head all at once. They lived there. Always.
Tangled brown hair, puffy eyes and a zit the size of a stop sign reflected in the bathroom
mirror. I cranked the shower up to help beat out the bad dream and because I looked better in
Dressed in new jeans, I squeezed around piles of unpacked boxes in the hall. We’d
moved to Sonoma four days ago and only pulled out what we really needed. We were supposed
to arrive before school started back in September. Dad promised me a full year in one spot, but
he flaked and took a month-long job in Merced first.
So now it’s Monday, October tenth and I’m about to have my second uncomfortable first
day as the new girl this year. And, it’s my birthday. Sixteen. No mother. No real home. And I
could really use a first kiss.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Dad was fighting with a stack of coffee filters. The filters were
winning. His curly blond hair stuck out around his shirt collar at odd angles. He needed another
“Why are you up so early?” I asked.
“I never went to bed.”
“What happened to no more all-nighters?” I took the filters from his hand and got the
“I was working on the mural plans for the city council chambers.” He rubbed his eyes
with his freckled hands and watched me shake two aspirin from the bottle. “What are those for?”
“I woke up with a headache.” I quit trying to tell him about my nightmares a long time
ago. Watching him cry did not make me feel better.
“Do you want to stay home? I’ll be gone. You’d have the place to yourself.”
Tempting…I’d put off the “new school crap.” But I shook my head and swallowed the
pills with a quick gulp of water. It would just be there tomorrow. “Have you heard from
Gramma? She hasn’t returned my messages.”
“I bet she’s busy with their new catalog. Give her a few days to call.”
“Call? I’m expecting her to be here.”
“Today?” His back was turned to watch the coffee drip directly into his cup. I couldn’t
“You know,” I flapped my hands in the air, “for my birthday?” Did he forget his only
child turned sixteen today? Probably. It wasn’t like he cared about anything but his work
“Oh…hmm.” He kept his eyes on his coffee cup as he stirred in a spoonful of sugar. “Do
you want to go out for Chinese tonight or maybe invite some friends over and I’ll order pizza?”
Friends? Don’t say what you’re thinking Julie! I shivered as a whole bunch of
goosebumps cropped up on my arms. “Chinese,” I squeaked.
“Great. And did you get the laundry finished last night? I want to wear my blue shirt to
He walked back up the stairs without waiting for an answer, balancing his overfilled
coffee mug in one hand and a handful of freshly washed brushes in the other. I moved to the
washing machine and talked to the wet clothes as I stuffed them into the dryer. “Invite friends?
He dragged me here four days ago and he thinks I have friends? I haven’t had a friend in seven
I punched the start button, grabbed my backpack, and headed out the front door. The
ancient blue wood on the porch steps squealed and I realized I was stamping my feet. Not exactly
‘Sweet Sixteen.’ I stopped, took a deep breath, and tried to think of something good.
The sun was warm on my face. That was good. I’d spent the last year in Seattle. Record
rainfall. That was bad. Now I was wearing my first pair of low-rise jeans and a new pink shirt.
All good. I made a birthday pledge to myself: “I refuse to think about my bad dreams, my lack of
friends, or the next time I’ll be crammed into a U-Haul.”
There. I felt better. That is, until I noticed a woman pushing a stroller had stopped right in
front of our house. She was staring at me like I was whacko. Okay, so that’s not a big stretch. I
attempted a smile and gave one of those little waves like I was riding on a parade float. Mental
note: No talking to myself in public!
I hurried around her and made my way the four blocks to school. The tall, old two-story
building sat in front of the main quad area. It was scattered with lunch tables and winged by rows
of flat-roofed classrooms. Late Friday afternoon after school was out, I’d walked the quiet
yellow halls and found all my classes. Today the school was so crowded I could hardly see the
numbers on the doors.
At least I would know one person. My landlord was one of the sophomore English
teachers—my first class of the day. Not exactly a ticket to popularity, but I’d take what I could
I rubbed my damp palms on my jeans before walking into the room. The pimple was on
my left cheek, so I picked an empty desk on the left side a couple of rows from the front. I tried
to blend into the wall while I checked out the class.
The room was stacked with books and looked the same as my last English class. The
people were different yet somehow the same. It was too early to tell who the smart or nice ones
were, but it was a cinch to pick out the female pack leader. She stood four inches taller than the
other girls. Her tanned complexion was smooth and she waved a tiny pink pen in her manicured
hand as she told a group of girls some story about gymnastics camp. One girl—a stick so thin
that her head looked like it was too big for her body—called Miss Clear Face ‘Kelly’.
Kelly had on the same pink shirt I did. Only, her boobs filled it out much better. Bummer.
Perfect skin wasn’t enough? Kelly turned to sit and a pink thong strap peeked out from her
jeans. I grabbed at my hips and felt the top of my own plain white bikini bottoms. I pulled my
shirt down and hoped no one had noticed.
Ms. Donovan was taking roll at the front of the classroom. She had long blond hair that
hung in wild curls around her face. I would’ve killed for curly hair–probably because the hair
genes in my family grew more like uncooked spaghetti. Some guys in the class gave each other a
head nod when she turned to pick up a pencil off her desk. I guess a good body canceled out old
age for them. The woman was almost as old as my dad, thirty at least. But she was nice.
“Goodwin, Jewel Anne,” she called out.
“Just Julie please,” I rasped.
“That’s right,” Ms. Donovan looked up and smiled at me. “Are you and your dad all
“Yeah, I guess.” Did we have to talk about this now?
The door opened as the tardy bell rang and I watched a kid with shaggy blond hair walk
in. He stuck a thick drawing pencil like the kind my dad uses behind one ear. His grass-stained
pants slipped lower on his hips with each step. I hoped he’d get to a seat before they were around
“You’re late again, Eddie,” Ms. Donovan said. “Take your seat.” She pointed to the desk
He looked right at me and smiled. “Hey, new girl.”
I avoided eye contact and met Kelly’s gaze, which then dropped to my pink shirt. Her
look said we weren’t going to be friends.
Ms. Donovan continued with the roster and then started to talk about some book I hadn’t
At the end of the period, I took my time stuffing my backpack with three new books and
waited to be the last one out. But Kelly stood in the doorway.
“Hey, uh—Julie is it?” she said from the front of the small group of girls. “I’m Kelly and
these are some of my friends. We’ve staked out a table for lunch. Come sit with us and we’ll fill
you in on what’s up at this school.”
She was actually friendly. I must have read her wrong. But before I could think of some
cool response Kelly said, “I can help you with your color choices. Just between us, you might
want to stay away from pink. It really isn’t your color.”
I swallowed hard and tried to find my voice. Finally, I croaked, “Thanks. But I always do
my homework at lunch.”
“Whatever.” Kelly’s chin seemed to drop a little, then she looked right past me and a
huge smile appeared on her face. “Hi, Jason!” she yelled and walked around me, trailing little
I couldn’t help it. I turned to look. Wow! The cutest smile I’ve ever seen was attached to a
fabulous face and surrounded by wavy brown hair. I watched him pull a tube of lip balm out of
his pocket and slowly roll it over his mouth—careful to cover every spot. I wanted his kiss. Not
that it mattered. The hug Kelly gave him said she was his girlfriend. One of probably fifty
reasons why he’ll never even talk to me.
By the time I got to Spanish class, the only seat left was in the front row. The friendly
Senor Otero smiled kindly at everyone but spoke so fast, I couldn’t keep up with what he was
saying—in English. The headache came back during the last ten minutes of class. I gave up
listening and counted down the minutes on the wall clock. Finally Senor Otero said “Adios.”
In the library, I pulled out a book at random, then sat in a corner with my back to the
room and set up the props—the book Fun in New Zealand, my notebook and a pencil. I learned
one thing from Seattle, Merced, and all the other towns Dad dragged me to: It wasn’t as
important to belong as it was to look like I belonged.
Last year I picked up a book on crocheting and actually read it. In my spare time—which
was all the time—I taught myself how to crochet and ended the year with twenty-two scarves. I
don’t really wear scarves much, but I looked busy.
I leaned my elbows on the table and rubbed the headache at my temples. What a relief it
would be to stay in one town long enough to make a real friend. Someone who would hear my
life story and not think I’m a freak.
Icy goose bumps raced up my arms like park ducks after bread crumbs. What is with my
skin today? I was digging through my backpack for a sweater when a girl with light brown hair
and huge blue eyes plopped down at the table. She wore the widest straw hat I’d ever seen.
“Okay if I sit here?” she asked, then wrinkled her nose and leaned forward. “The guys on
the other side have awful B.O. My name’s Cathy—just plain old Cathy. I tried to change it to
Caitlyn last year, but everyone still called me Cathy. You’re Julie, right? You’re in my Spanish
“Oh.” I really need to work on my conversation skills. I pulled on the sweater and rubbed
at the goosebumps on my arms. “I don’t remember.”
“That’s because I sit in the back so I can see everyone. You can’t be cold. It’s roasting in
here.” Cathy took off the hat and played with the black ribbon. “Don’t you just love this? I
bought it at a vintage store for only a dollar.”
“Uh...it’s great. I think I’ll move out of the air conditioning.” I gave a smile that said
‘don’t waste your time talking to me’ before moving across the room. By the time I sat down at
another table my teeth were actually chattering.
“Is this warmer for you?” Cathy asked as she sat down and smiled, her lips forming a
I think I nodded. If I just don’t say anything she’ll go away. Opening my book to the first
page, I tried to turn the second page but my hands were shaking too fast to grasp the paper.
“Wow, you’re shivering,” Cathy babbled. “I remember being that cold before. My
brothers were trying to turn me into a living snowman.”
My ears started to ring as I looked from my dancing goose bumps to my shaking hands to
Cathy’s mouth moving. “I have to go!” The few steps to the girls’ bathroom felt like I was
walking the wrong way on an escalator.
For several minutes I sat shaking from cold and missing Mom all over again. “Crap.” I
left my backpack at the table.
“Are you okay?” came Cathy’s voice. “Wow, this is the nicest school bathroom I’ve ever
been in—and it’s so clean. It's my first time in the Library. The bathrooms at my last school were
so gross; I’d never drink anything so that I could hold it all day.”
She followed me into the bathroom? “What?”
“You’ve been in here a long time. I got worried,” Cathy said. “I’ve got your backpack
and your book. So why are you reading about New Zealand? Are you going there?”
I wiped the tears off my cheeks. I couldn’t think of an answer for the stranger on the
other side of the stall door who happened to have my backpack.
“Are you sick?” Cathy asked. “Should I get someone for you?”
“No-- no,” The last thing I need is more people in here. “I’m coming out.”
I avoided eye contact while I washed my hands in the incredibly warm water. When I
reached for my backpack I managed to drop it on the floor, my pencils and pens spilling across
the floor. I bent to pick them up. “You’d think on my birthday something would go right.”
“Your birthday? Wow. That’s great. Are you fifteen too? I’m fifteen and a quarter, but
I’m still waiting for my boobs,” she pulled her shirt tight and looked at her figure from the side.
“I’m still just an A. That’s okay though because I want to be a full B by my sixteenth birthday.”
“No, I’m sixteen.” I might as well say it now and get it over it. “I had to repeat fourth
grade.” That was the year Dad kept forgetting to take me to school.
“Sixteen, cool! Are you getting your license? Do you have a car to drive? We could go
This girl was bizarre. “I haven’t taken any of the driver’s training classes yet.” What I
didn’t say was that when your mom is killed by a hit and run driver, your Dad isn’t anxious to
get you behind the wheel.
“So today’s your birthday.” Cathy paused putting on lip gloss and caught my reflection in
the mirror. “That’s really great. I love my birthday. I like to stretch it out a whole week. What are
you going to do? Having a party?”
“If you call going out for Chinese food with my dad a party.”
“Just two of you? What’s up with that?”
I tried not to sound as pathetic as I was. “Well, my Gramma’s supposed to come too. I
just moved here. I haven’t met anyone yet.”
“I moved here last month! I’m the youngest of six kids.” Cathy rolled her eyes. “And the
last one at home. My folks made me retire with them. On my birthday my mom always makes
my favorite food for breakfast. What does your mom do?”
I hate this part. “My mom died when I was nine.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Cathy’s smile dropped and she squeezed my arm.
“Thanks.” Was there a rule on how long you had to keep up a conversation with someone
who saved your backpack?
The bell rang and I headed for the door.
“You still cold?” she asked.
“No, no I’m not. I feel okay now.” I was surprised it was true. I did feel okay.
By the time we stopped at Cathy’s algebra class, she had insisted we trade phone
numbers. It took me a minute to remember where I’d written it in my notebook.
“Hey,” she said, “I’m going with some friends to Mary’s Pizza Shack after school. Want
She already has friends? “No, I can’t. I have to get home and wait for my gramma.”
“Okay, we go a lot. You can come next time.” Cathy pulled open the door to her next
class. “And Happy Birthday!”
I ran off to P.E. glad I wasn’t required to dress on the first day. Just outside the double
doors leading into the gym, I stopped and stared at the large recycling bin. The torn sheet of
binder paper with Cathy’s number on it was still clutched in my right hand. I dropped it in. No
point making friends I’d just have to leave.
Heavy textbooks dug the straps into my shoulders after school. When I finally reached
home, the front door swung wide open and my Gramma Aurora wrapped her bracelet-covered
arms around me, backpack and all. “Gramma!” I missed these hugs and sunk into the scent that
always hung around her—like French vanilla and peppermint.
“Oh, my birthday girl.” Gramma stood back to take a good look at me. We were almost
the same height. “I’m so excited. Now I can finally tell you.”
“Tell me what?” I pushed myself free.
“I’ve sure missed you,” Gramma laughed and pulled me into the kitchen. “First tell me
how you felt today. Anything unusual?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Maybe a bad case of hiccups, uncontrollable sneezes, flatulence, hot flashes, severe
“Ahh, goosebumps. Just like your dear mother, rest her soul. I had hot flashes. That was
okay when I was young, but they threw me for a loop when I began menopause.” Gramma
leaned close and whispered, “Thought I had my powers back.”
“Powers? What are you talking about? Did you start on the Corona early today?”
“Shh,” Gramma hushed. “Your dad will be down any minute and he mustn’t hear.”
“Hear what? That my Gramma thinks she has powers? What powers do you have?”
“Oh, I know I don’t have special powers anymore.” Gramma looked quite serious. “Now
“Me?” The Oreo’s on the counter called to me so I grabbed a handful. “And what am I
going to do? Fly like Superman? Spit spider webs from my wrist? Cast magic spells?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Jewel Anne, and stop watching so much television.” Gramma
shook her head. “It’s better than that!”
I twisted one cookie open and popped the dry half into my mouth.
“You’re growing into your legacy,” she whispered and looked around like someone
might be spying on us. “You’re a Changer.”
Chocolate crumbs sputtered out over my shirt as I choked on her words. “A what?”
“Here comes your dad. We’ll talk more tonight.” She bent and started digging in the
cabinet under the sink.