READ THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The whole world has gone maroon. The bricks are maroon, the dress code is maroon, and even our peppy tour guide’s hair is dyed a deep maroon. -
“Hi, I’m Kiki, and I’m a real student here.” She grins from ear to ear as she walks backward across the giant lawn. “Welcome to the home of the Harvard Crimson.”
Pardon me. The whole world has gone crimson . The parents and prospective students around me press forward, following after our tour guide, but I slowly edge toward the back, hoping the rest of my family doesn’t notice.
The Great McGee Family College Tour is finally winding down, and not a moment too soon. We started off last week at Duke, then drove up to see Johns Hopkins, Penn, Princeton, Columbia, and Yale. This morning we got up early to do MIT, and if I can survive a little longer, we’ll check Harvard off the list and only have Cornell to go. Dad and I talked Mom out of Dartmouth. Way too much snow.
I thought it would be fun to tour colleges, but I didn’t realize everybody was going to ask me the same question again and again: “What do you want to do with your life, Riley?” Or sometimes they stick to, “What’s your passion, Riley?” And I haven’t figured out how to answer them. Somehow, “I have no earthly idea” doesn’t seem to be what they’re looking for.
“We are now entering the famous Harvard Yard.” The group falls silent, almost reverent, and Kiki stops on the other side of the crimson-bricked archway and waits while we file through. As she recaps the history of the university, which involves a bunch of dead white guys—just like every other school, Mom spies me slouching low at the back of the crowd.
“Isn’t this beautiful?” She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. “I could really see you being happy here, Riley.” I nod because it’s easier than trying to explain. “Did you know the Latin word veritas on the seal”—she holds out a brochure for me—“means truth?” She flips the brochure open and starts paging through photos of students sitting under autumn trees.
I put my pointer finger over my lips, then point at Kiki. Mom nods and jogs back to my brother, Michael, who has Asperger’s syndrome, or high-functioning autism. Mom and Dad have done a ton of work to help him with his social skills, but he’s still prone to legendary meltdowns. After the scene he caused at MIT this morning, she’s been watching him like a hawk.
“This really seems like a good one.” Dad comes up behind me in a sneak attack. I glance across the group and see Michael pulling on Mom’s hand, trying to get over to a statue of a seated man. “These kids seem like your kind of people.”
Dad and I look around the yard at the students hauling mattresses and carrying plastic crates stuffed with junk. A group lounges on the steps of one of the historic buildings, drinking from eco-friendly metal thermoses.
I shrug and pull my short hair into a pathetic ponytail. Not my best look, but it’s sweltering today.
“Do you like it better than Princeton?”
I try to avoid his stare, but he follows my eyes until I give in and focus on him. In the weak afternoon sunlight, I notice that the gray patches at his temples are spreading through his warm brown hair, like two silver streaks down his head.
“I don’t know. Princeton was fine.” Princeton is Ana’s thing, her dream. All I could think about the entire time I was there was, How did she choose this school? How did she know it was for her? Is there a feeling you get? Is it like how I knew about Tom?
Kiki climbs a few steps up to an old brick building and claps excitedly. “Massachusetts Hall is special for two reasons.” She beams at our group and holds up one finger. “First, it’s the oldest building on campus, dating back to 1720.” Everyone in our group oohs, and Mom whispers something to another mother. “And”—Kiki makes eye contact with the prospective students in her pack—“it’s a freshman dorm! Let’s go take a look, shall we?”
We walk in a tight-knit pack up the stairs and down the third-floor hallway. Loud music pours from the rooms, the beats clashing. Finally we stop at a dorm room with two neatly made beds and two tidy desks with crimson folders emblazoned with the Harvard seal. I realize there’s nothing real about this room or this choreographed moment, like almost every moment of every college tour we’ve taken. How am I supposed to get a feel for the campus with these phony experiences?
As Kiki begins explaining dorm security, I slip out of the room and try to collect my thoughts. This is merely a minor case of butterflies, nothing more. I’m sure everybody gets them when touring colleges. I’ll call Ana, and she’ll talk me through this.
I rummage through my purse, searching under all the brochures and school spirit junk until my fingers find my phone’s smooth edges.
Wait, I can’t call Ana. She loved every second of her college tour. When she came back from the East Coast a few weeks ago, she couldn’t stop talking about Princeton’s amazing science labs. Plus, she already knows beyond a shadow of a doubt she wants to be a neonatal surgeon. She had open-heart surgery as a baby and has always felt called to follow the path of the doctors who saved her life.
Zoe would totally get it. I scroll through my contacts, all the way down to Z .
But maybe it isn’t fair to call Zo. Her parents are doing a little better, but money is still tight. She didn’t get to go on a college tour this summer, and I’m not really sure there’s any money put aside for her education. I’d be a jerk to call and complain.
I scroll back up to Christine. She’s headed to New York next year to become a painter. All she’s ever wanted is to get out of Half Moon Bay. We’ve always understood each other in that way.
But as I’m pressing the button for her name, I remember that today is Tyler’s birthday and she was going to surprise him with a scavenger hunt through town.
That leaves one person. I find his name and quickly punch the button. “Pick up, pick up,” I chant quietly. A voice in my head reminds me I shouldn’t be calling my ex-boyfriend, the only guy I ever loved, the one who went off to college and left me behind, but I try to quiet it. All these months I’ve been strong and not e-mailed him, not called him, but I don’t have anyone else right now.
“Hey there.” Tom’s deep voice is a little scratchy, like he just woke up, and it sends a shiver down my spine. The guys at Marina Vista still sound like chipmunks. “How… What’s up?” he asks.
Technically the breakup a few months ago was mutual—technically. I want to talk to him, but it’s just as friends. He’s already gone through the whole college application process, so he’ll help me get my head on straight.
“I hate Harvard.” A woman glares at me as she passes down the hall. I lower my voice. “Well, I don’t hate Harvard—that’s not it. My parents love it, and the teachers all love it. Actually, everybody loves it except me.”
“What are you talking about?” He yawns loudly.
“I’m on my college tour, standing in the hallowed halls of Harvard right now. Well, a dorm hallway anyway.” Two girls pass me, talking loudly. “They want me to go here, but it doesn’t feel right.”
“So don’t apply. You’re not like everybody else.”
I bite my lip. It’s such a Tom thing to say and exactly what I need to hear. After months of not talking, he still knows how to make me feel better. Tom always put the Miracle Girls on edge, but they never got to see this side of him, the big heart hidden inside his chiseled chest.
The noisy tour group pours out of the dorm room, and Kiki ushers them toward the exit at the end of the hall, pointing at some posters on the wall. Mom spots me on the phone and motions for me to rejoin the group.
“It’s funny that you called,” Tom says. “I actually wanted to tell you something.”
The tour group files into the stairwell. Dad lingers for a moment, frowning, and then goes with them.
“I’m transferring to UCSF and moving back to San Francisco.”
“What?” I press my finger to my ear, trying to block out the noise in the hall. That can’t be right. I’ve just gotten used to him being in Santa Barbara, which isn’t that far, but far enough for him to feel really and truly gone from my life.
“Santa Barbara wasn’t working out, and now I can live at home and save some cash.”
My heart begins to pound.
“I miss my old friends, you know—crazy blond girls who call me out of the blue and stuff. I miss… talking.”
My pulse drums loudly in my ears.
Mom peeks her head back in the door and widens her eyes at me. “You’re missing everything!”
“I—” I wave at Mom. “I’ve got to run, but I’ll call you later.” I snap the phone shut before he can respond and chuck it back into my purse. He’s coming back? I lean my head against the wall to keep it from spinning.
“Riley!” Mom plants her hands on her hips.
“Coming.” I jog over to her lingering in the stairwell. I file in at the back of the group and wind down the few flights of stairs with Mom hot on my heels. I can’t think about Tom now. I’ll deal with that later, once I’m back home and I’ve had time to wrap my mind around the fact that he isn’t gone, that his voice almost sounded like it used to before we drifted apart.
We re-enter the Harvard Yard, the sun stinging my eyes, and Kiki yammers on and on about the different types of architecture, pointing out stuff like Doric columns and neoclassical facades.
It’s not that Harvard isn’t beautiful. The campus is historic and hallowed and dripping in ivy, and there’s no question that it’s one of the best colleges in the country. If I went here, I’d get a great education, have opportunities I’d never get anywhere else, and meet all kinds of new, fascinating friends….
My mind flashes to Half Moon Bay, the faces of the Miracle Girls.
I can’t believe that in a year this is going to be my life. This could be my freshman dorm, but looking out over this crowded lawn, I can’t picture it. I try to imagine myself lounging in the courtyard, heading to fascinating lectures, eating in the dining hall, but my brain refuses. The only life I can imagine is at Marina Vista, hanging out with the girls, being close when Michael needs me.
Mom grins at me as Kiki explains how the meal plans work.
They think I want to go to Harvard, but I don’t. They think I’m excited about this, but I’m scared out of my mind. They think they know the real Riley McGee, but even I haven’t met her. They think I have it all figured out, but I’m totally lost.
So much for veritas .
Copyright © 2010 by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt
Anne Dayton graduated from Princeton and has her MA in Literature from New York University. She lives in New York City. May Vanderbilt graduated from Baylor University and has an MA in Fiction from Johns Hopkins. She lives in San Francisco. Together, they are the authors of the Miracle Girls books, Emily Ever After, Consider Lily, and The Book of Jane.
Visit the authors’ website.
List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (April 30, 2010)
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
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and the book:
FaithWords (April 30, 2010)