The sharp, high-pitched sound cut through the whispers and set my heart racing. Natalie and I exchanged a glance, and Lukas pushed his lunch aside, preparing for the worst. Chairs scraped the floor, and a sudden hush fell. They all stood with blank expressions on their faces, looking almost militaristic in their school uniforms. On TV shows, when the girl is torn between her sweet best guy friend—who is not-so-secretly in love with her—and the standoffish bad boy, I always root for the best friend.
Oh my God. How could I have been so wrong about bad boys? Forget the best friend, I wanted this —the unpredictable charm, the danger, the heat. Did anything else matter? I closed my eyes and ran my fingers through his hair in the spinning darkness—then stopped when I heard a cough from the doorway. My eyes snapped open and I caught a glimpse of someone standing at the top of the attic stairs. It was Simon, peering inside. Emma …, he said. Before he answered, two people stepped into the room. Well-dressed, faintly familiar, and completely unamused.
This was one of those moments. This was the queen of all those moments. Well, yes, it was their house, but did they have to show up this very minute? Instead I was wearing a lacy white tank top, which no parent would deem modest. I considered whipping it on and disappearing in a cloud of ghostly embarrassment.
I mean, as much as I could impress them, given the whole making-out-with-their-son thing. I want you to meet Emma, he told them, as though there were nothing awkward happening. They just stood there, radiating disapproval, which gave me ample time to discover that Bennett got his looks from his mom, who was dark-haired and beautiful.
She had on an asymmetrical burgundy sweater over black fitted pants and low boots and wore her long hair slicked back in a ponytail. Carefully made up, her pursed lips caused the only apparent wrinkles. The Sterns just got back from Europe, Simon said into the silence. They arrived late last night. This is worse than I thought. Much worse. And these are my parents, Bennett told me. John and Alexandra. Simon took pity on me.
Bennett squeezed me tight before letting go. I crossed the room, and Simon slipped me a twenty. Go into town and get yourself a chai. I took the twenty and fled. I found Natalie sitting by herself in the solarium off the kitchen. In front of her was a mug drained of coffee and a half-empty bowl of soggy cereal. It was mid-December and the sky was radiant blue. I groaned and reversed my sweater. And your sweater was inside out, and— She cackled and started furiously texting again.
You and Bennett were getting all dirty , and they walked in on you?! The sun was shining, but a frozen wind whipped through the streets, stinging any exposed skin. Better to freeze. I stared at her. I thought he was still fighting with his parents. She shrugged. God, that still sounded ridiculous, even to me. This Christmas, I was living three thousand miles across the country, locked in an ongoing battle with an evil wraith master, and freezing my butt off.
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Race you! Not that I cared, as I trailed behind her. It was working—I could feel my feet again. We slid on a patch of ice, almost wiped out, and were giggling by the time we opened the door of the coffee shop.
Review: Surrender, Lee Nichols
There was a comforting blast of warmth and java smells, the sound of the milk steamer, and old movie posters decorating the walls. The fireplace nook was free, and we lounged in the ragged brown leather chairs, propping our feet on the brass grate next to the flames. As I took my first sip of chai, I thought about Lukas and his parents. Would they be happy to see him? He deserved that—for them to love him, no matter who he was.
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That we were worried about what to get each other for Christmas, not about Neos reappearing in a murderous rage. Do you miss your parents? I asked Natalie. If they lived closer, would you go see them? She swirled her chai, silent for a moment. It so does. At least this year it did. I had no idea what to get for Natalie, who was impossible to please, and Bennett, who had everything. And was I supposed to get something for Harry and Sara to stow in their castlelike mansions?
Plus your parents never get it right. You ask for the Glee box set and they get you High School Musical. And my sister is visiting with her husband—I hate him. Sara glanced around the coffee shop.
Where is he, anyway? I was caught in the middle of all the pointiness. On the other, Natalie was my best friend, and I wanted her to have someone as cool as Lukas. She needed that in her life. Life would be so much simpler if one of you fell for Harry, I said, wishing it were Natalie. Who cares about Harry?
Surrender (Haunting Emma) Lee Nichols: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Sara interrupted. I drained my chai. Do you think I should go back and see what happened to Bennett? There had been serious tension in that room, and I worried about what was being said.