Huntley Fitzpatrick

Author of What I Thought Was True and My Life Next Door

What I Thought Was True
On Sale Now

My Life Next Door

"One thing my mother never knew, and would disapprove of most of all, was that I watched the Garretts. All the time."

Listen to the Official Playlist

The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them…until one summer evening Jase Garrett climbs her trellis and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love and stumble through the awkwardness and awesomeness of first romance, Jase's family makes Samantha one of their own—even as she keeps him a secret from her disapproving mother and critical best friend. Then the unthinkable happens, and the bottom drops out of Samantha's world. She's suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

A debut novel about family, friendship, first romance, and how to be true to one person you love without betraying another.


Praise


Best First Book Finalist
for the Romance Writers
of America RITA Awards

YALSA Best Fiction
for Young Adults title

“Fitzpatrick's excellent first novel movingly captures the intensity of first love [and] the corrupting forces of power...”

Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Chemistry that crackles: it's the novel's tender, awkward, sexy, dizzy-happy portrayal of first love that really makes it soar.”

Horn Book

“The characters are dynamic and realistic. Strong narrative pacing adds to the whole sun-kissed package, which is on par with authors such as Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti.”

School Library Journal

“An almost perfect summer romance...[that] will have every girl who reads the novel wishing for a Jase of her own.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Fitzpatrick perfectly captures the heady joys of first love while still dealing with everyday realities.”

VOYA

“A heart-warming romance every girl will envy.”

—Simone Elkeles, New York Times bestselling author of the Perfect Chemistry series

“A wonderful read that will connect with your heart—guaranteed!”

—Lurlene McDaniel, bestselling author of Heart to Heart

“One of the best books I read this past year. . . . Wonderful, uplifting and beautifully written.”

—Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author

“A summer romance with depth.”

The Boston Sunday Globe

“MY LIFE NEXT DOOR is arguably one of the best young adult novels out there... Once you pick it up, you will not want to put it down”

Teen Reads

“Fitzpatrick perfectly captures the heady joys of first love while still dealing with everyday realities.”

VOYA

“Samantha's not a typical, angst-riddled teenager; she's mature, self-respecting and intelligent, as well as adorably dorky. I loved how the story unfolded and grew, taking on themes like acceptance, loyalty and responsibility in addition to the power of young love. A wonderful, uplifting and beautifully written book”

— Kristan Higgins, New York Times Best-selling author, 2 time RITA winner

“The characters are dynamic and realistic. Strong narrative pacing adds to the whole sun-kissed package, which is on par with authors such as Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti.”

School Library Journal

“Samantha and Jase have chemistry that crackles: it's the novel's tender, awkward, sexy, dizzy-happy portrayal of first love that really makes it soar.”

The Horn Book

Foreign Editions

Brazil

Czech Republic

Germany

Germany

Italy

Lithuania

Spain


An Excerpt from My Life Next Door

When I get home from work the next day, sticky from walking back in the summer heat, my eyes immediately turn to the Garretts'. The house seems unusually quiet. I stand there looking, then see Jase in the driveway, lying on his back, doing some kind of work on a huge black-and-silver motorcycle.

I want to say right here that I am by no means the kind of girl who finds motorcycles and leather jackets appealing. In the least. Michael Kristoff, with his dark turtlenecks and moody poetry, was as close as I've gotten to liking a "bad boy," and he was enough to put me off them for life. We dated almost all spring, till I realized he was less a tortured artist than just a torture. That said, without planning, I walk right to the end of our yard, around my mother's tall "good neighbor" fence—the six-foot stockade she installed a few months after the Garretts moved in—and up the driveway.

"Hi there," I say. Brilliant opener, Samantha.

Jase props himself up on an elbow, looking at me for a minute without saying anything. His face gets an unreadable expression, and I wish I could take back walking over.

Then he observes, "I'm guessing that's a uniform."

Crap. I'd forgotten I was still wearing it. I look down at myself, in my short blue skirt, puffy white sailor blouse, and jaunty red neck scarf.

"Bingo." I'm completely embarrassed.

He nods, then smiles broadly at me. "It didn't quite say Samantha Reed to me somehow. Where on earth do you work?" He clears his throat. "And why there?"

"Breakfast Ahoy. Near the dock. I'm saving up for a car."

"The uniform?"

"My boss designed it."

Jase scrutinizes me in silence for a minute or two, then says, "He must have a rich fantasy life."

What I Thought Was True
On Sale Now

What I Thought Was True

Gwen Castle's Biggest Mistake Ever, Cassidy Somers, is slumming it as a yard boy on her Nantucket-esque island this summer. He's a rich kid from across the bridge in Stony Bay, and she hails from a family of fishermen and housecleaners who keep the island's summer people happy. Gwen worries a life of cleaning houses will be her fate too, but just when it looks like she'll never escape her past—or the island—Gwen's dad gives her some shocking advice. Sparks fly and secret histories unspool as Gwen spends a gorgeous, restless summer struggling to resolve what she thought was true—about the place she lives, the people she loves, and even herself—with what really is.


Praise


“Fitzpatrick once again evokes the dizzying heights of adolescent passion while remaining down-to-earth.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A beautiful story of first love . . . Gwen's character has the kind of depth and voice that will enchant teens. Those with regrets of their own will find hope in this coming-of-age romance that will appeal to fans of Deb Caletti and Sara Zarr.”

School Library Journal

“Fitzpatrick beautifully portrays a teenager's wobbly foray into sex as well as her dawning awareness of the power that actions and incautiously chosen words have to hurt others. . . . Natural dialogue and authentic characters abound. Much deeper than the pretty cover lets on.”

Kirkus Reviews

“[Fitzpatrick] has smart storytelling abilities, and her novels have a yearned-for richness and depth . . . Watching Cass and Gwen fall in love is a true delight.”

Romantic Times

“A sometimes steamy and very believable account of how it feels to discover how important it is to take responsibility for oneself and the decisions that shape one's life. A must for collections that can't keep Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, or YA summer romance titles on the shelves.”

Booklist

“These are flawed people who battle their own self-conceptions and strive to discover themselves anew. Gwen learns much about her town, her family, and her future all in one summer . . . There is a tomorrow that these characters must confront, and while their tomorrow is brighter, their lives are not complete—just better. ”

—VOYA

“Utterly luminous . . . deftly balances the shimmering promise of summer, first, love, and yearning in an emotionally charged, beautifully written book.”

—Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author

“Hauntingly raw, romantic, and beautiful.”

—Katie McGarry, author of Crash Into You

“An exquisitely drawn portrait of what it means to be balanced on the line between what was and what may come. I was entranced.”

—Katja Millay, author of The Sea of Tranquility

“”

—Katie McGarry, author of Crash Into You

“Utterly luminous. Huntley Fitzpatrick deftly balances the shimmering promise of summer, first love and yearning in an emotionally charged, beautifully written book.”

—Kristan Higgins, NYT best-selling author

“What I Thought was True is hauntingly raw, romantic and beautiful.”

—Katie McGarry, author of Crash Into You

Foreign Editions

Czech Republic

Germany

Spain


An Excerpt from What I Thought Was True

"You're the yard boy on island this summer?" I blurt out. "Wouldn't you be better off—I don't know, caddying at the country club?"

Cass lifts two fingers to his forehead, saluting sardonically. "This year's flunky, at your service. I prefer yard man. But apparently I don't get a choice. My first name has also been changed against my will."

"You're all Jose to Mrs. Partridge. Unless you're a girl. Then you're Maria."

He folds his arms, leans back slightly, frowning. "Flexible of her."

I've barely spoken a word to Cass since those spring parties. Slipped around him in school, sat far away in classes and assemblies, shrugged off conversations. Easy when he's part of a crowd—that crowd—striding down the hallways at Stony Bay High like they own it all, or at Castle's yesterday. Not so simple when it's only Cass.

He's squinting at me now, absently rubbing his bottom lip with his thumb. I'm close enough to breathe in the salty ocean-scent of him, the faint trace of chlorine. Suddenly that cold spring day is vivid in my mind, closer than yesterday. Don't think about it. And definitely not about his lips.

He ducks his head to see my eyes. I don't know what mine show, so I direct my gaze at his legs. Strong calves, lightly dusted with springing blond hair. I'm more conscious of the ways he's changed since we were kids even than the ways I have. Good God. Stop it. I shift my gaze to the limitless blue of the sky, acutely aware of every sound—the sighing ocean, the hum of the bees in the beach plum bushes, the distant heartbeat throb of a speedboat.

He shifts from one leg to the other, clears his throat.

"I was wondering when I'd run into you," he offers, just as I ask, "Why are you here?"

The Boy Most Likely To
Available August 18, 2015

The Boy Most Likely To

Surprises abound and sparks ignite in the highly anticipated, utterly romantic companion to My Life Next Door.

Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To:

  • find the liquor cabinet blindfolded
  • need a liver transplant
  • drive his car into a house

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To:

  • well, not date her little brother's baggage-burdened best friend, for starters.

For Tim, it wouldn't be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the "smart" choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard.

Then the unexpected consequences of Tim's wild days come back to shock him. He finds himself in a situation that isn't all it appears to be, that he never could have predicted . . . but maybe should have.

And Alice is caught in the middle.

Told in Tim's and Alice's distinctive, disarming, entirely compelling voices, this return to the world of My Life Next Door is a story about failing first, trying again, and having to decide whether to risk it all once more.


Praise


“FA book everyone should read, regardless of age. Tim is a character you will keep in your heart forever. A big-hearted, brave story filled with keen emotional insight and struggle and utterly beautiful writing.”

—Kristan Higgins, author of IF YOU ONLY KNEW

BOY MOST LIKELY TO is a wild, chaotic, crazy, awesome ride with characters who feel as familiar as home. When I hit the end, I wanted to start over and read it again.”

—Trish Doller, author of The Devil You Know & Something Like Normal

The Boy Most Likely To is a love story you'll fall hard for—utterly irresistible.”

—Deb Caletti, author of The Last Forever

“A mesmerizing romance between two young adults, completely lost in opposite ways, who find themselves in each other. I couldn’t put it down.”

—Jennifer Echols, author of Such a Rush

“Oh, Huntley Fitzpatrick. You always know how to give my feminist heart a little romance. Thankfully we get to go back next door . . . with The Boy Most Likely To, a [companion] to the swoon-filled My Life Next Door.”

—Bustle

“Heartfelt . . . The well-defined characters, splashes of humor, and emotional entanglements of Fitzpatrick's previous works reappear in full force.”

Publishers Weekly

Foreign Editions

Spain


TIM'S PLAYLIST

Bad Kids: Blacks Lip To me, this sums up Tim’s attitude about his past life—and the way he thinks his family sees him--at the beginning of the story.

Naive: The Kooks. About the people in your life whom you just can’t be sure you can trust. Tim has such a divided attitude, protective, angry, confused, about several of the girls in his life—Nan, Hester…this song expressed all those feelings.

taring at the Stars: Passenger A song about not doing what you planned on doing what your life, with lines like “we could have done anything, we just never quite knew it was so” includes a lot of references to drugs and drinking.

Something Good Can Work: Two Door Cinema Club Tim’s such a mix of optimism & confidence & terror that he’ll let everyone, including himself, down.One of the things I like best about himis that he’s always hopeful. In that way, he has something to teach Alice.

On Top of the World: Imagine Dragons For me, this song embodies Tim’s feelings about recovery, and also about the unexpected twist his life takes early in the story.

Drift Away: Dobie Gray About wanting to drift away and relax—something Tim has to relearn how to do—part of figuring out what to “do with his hands”

It Ain’t Me, Babe: Bob Dylan This is the first song I associated with Tim, who had come to believe he couldn’t be counted on. I listened to it over and over, especially when I was writing the ‘my nose’ shower scene.

A Hard Rain’s A-gonna fall: Bob Dylan (here covered by George Harrison) I saw Tim as a Dylan fan—someone who would appreciate the edge and irony in his songs. Also the words “my blue-eyed son, my darling young one” have always touched me—I think of my own son, and all sons, everywhere

You Can’t Always Get What You Want: The Rolling Stones Tim references this classic in the “we want what we want when we want it” /Grape-nuts scene with Alice.

Dude (Looks Like a Lady): Aerosmith Just thought Tim would like this song.

Starting Over: Macklemore I played this over and over while writing both the Dark & Stormy scene early on and Tim’s ‘black moment’ in his father’s study near the end.

She’s Got You High: Mumm-ra Song that could relate to Tim and Alice and how he feels about her. Hope and love and optimism: Tim.

Ways to Go: Grouplove About turning your life around, and finding both yourself and someone who “gets” you.

She Moves In Her Own Way: The Kooks One of the things I love about Tim and Alice together is that they appreciate one another for who they are and challenge each other to be better. That’s true love, in my book.

Best Day of My Life: American Authors I first found this song when I was writing the “Goldilocks” scene where Tim finds Alice asleep in his bed—and then she watches his face the morning after—but it really works for their entire love affair.

Stressed Out: Twenty One Pilots A song about having to grow up fast, and missing being a kid. Focuses a lot on being nostalgic and being told to grow up. I feel Tim would really relate to this song, its got a catchy happy melody but sad lyrics. Not just Tim though, I think everyone who gets lost, for whatever reason and whatever length of time, can identify with this song. We all try to remember those halcyon days before all the stress came down, and dream of finding a way back there. The key, for Tim, and me, and maybe you too, is to find it ahead of you.

Cigarette Daydreams: Cage the Elephant To me, this is about all those lost nights when we wonder who we are and what it’s all about - a song that I would imagine Tim playing in his car, a song about having a crush on a girl but not doing anything about it. Describes the girl as “so sweet, with a mean streak” kinda fits Alice a bit.

Vienna: Billy Joel This song is basically about taking time to be where you are and enjoy life as it comes, instead of having to figure it all out by the time you are 18, or 28 or 58. It’s about how to live the opposite of a deadline. As Billy Joel said about his lyrics, “Slow down, you’re going to be fine. No matter what you do, be good at it, and whenever you get there, you get there.”

Mess is Mine: Vance Joy This was my writing-the-tent-scene song! Relationships, even the great ones, are a messy business, and loving someone means stepping into their mess and letting them into yours. It’s chaos, but it’s joy and intimacy—and pretty much what it’s all about. The kinda song that would play when Tim and Alice are at the beach or during a montage of breaking into the fairground. A song about going through hard times with another person, but helping them through it.

Lego House: Ed Sheeran "It's so hard to say it but I've been here before and I'll surrender up my heart and swap it for yours”. I think of this as Tim saying that when he’s tried before, he’s only gone back to his old ways, but he’s willing to do everything differently, stop protecting his heart, and trade it all for the things he wants to be able to say he cares about in the future.

3 a.m.: Gregory Alan Isako Kind of a late night self reflection song, would play during a sad moment in the book has a sort of lonely feel to it, but also sounds old fashioned.

Overjoyed: Bastille A song about having a really great connection with a person, with things like conversations and thinking about them. Kinda hard to describe. To me, it’s about that wonder you feel when someone listens to you, and really hears you. I thought of this during each of Tim and Alice’s deeper talks, but especially during the one in the rainy garage apartment, when she tells him what happened when she was 12.

If you want to sing out, sing out: Cat Stevens The ultimate “joy in accepting ups and downs and meeting them with hope” song. A good one for Tim’s final conclusions about life at book’s end.

ALICE'S PLAYLIST

Crave You: Flight Facilities An upbeat, a little bit electronic, song about wanting to be shown affection. This makes me think of the confusion, attraction and frustration Alice feels because Tim is just not like her “muscleheads” and how she’s torn between being thrilled he isn’t and wishes he were more “controllable”. I thought of this while writing the first beach scene when Tim is jogging barefoot.

Hurricane: MS MR About the insecurities and overthinking that go on in a relationship. Most likely an accurate summation of what Alice is feeling when she and Tim first begin getting closer.

Children and All that Jazz: Joan Baez Alice’s Facing Down Grace Reed song. A fantastic “I will survive” song, good for both Tim and Alice, fighters at heart.

I will not be broken: Bonnie Raitt Alice’s Facing Down Grace Reed song. A fantastic “I will survive” song, good for both Tim and Alice, fighters at heart.

There Goes the Fear: Doves About relaxing and not being afraid.

Magic: Coldplay Song about love. How Alice would feel when she finally gives in to her feelings; “I’m most likely in love with him.”

I Go Away: MNDR About being independent and staying true to yourself. Alice breaking up with Brad, even though she is confused about the right thing to do.

Let Me In: Grouplove About asking someone to show you their self and taking the plunge to show them you. Tim and Alice had quick heat together, but a slow build of trust. Somehow this song seemed to fit them.

I Want the World to Stop: Belle and Sebastian About wanting life to slow down. Speaks to where Alice is during the book—and how she and Tim do manage to find those timeless moments.

Pumpin Blood: NONONO About feeling exhilaration and excitement for being alive. Again, something that Alice and Tim give to one another.

Bubbly: Colbie Calliet Another great tent scene song. About that curl-your-toes can’t stop-smiling being-in-love feeling.

-1234: Feist Alice seeing the changes in Tim, bit by bit, all through the story, and her letting in the changes in her own feelings.

Big Black Car: Gregory Alan Isakov Good for the Ferris Wheel scene—where both Tim and Alice get a sense of how things have changed for them, and where they’ve been and could be going.

Bottle it Up: Sara Bareilles About needing the other person in the relationship to try just as hard as they are. Alice becoming willing to admit she has a heart and is willing to risk it.

Flapper Girl: The Lumineers A song that Alice just likes. About having a free spirit. About what you want from afar, and being out of time in various ways.

The Silence—Bastille Alice and her father have such a close bond. This made me think of how thrown she was by the accident and by the feeling as though he can’t quite be the man he was, at least for a while.

Flowers in your hair: The Lumineers About growing up and coming a long way to come together.

Passionate Kisses: Mary Chapin Carpenter A great “feeling triumphant about your choices and claiming them” song. Good for Alice’s last scenes, where she accepts what she can and can’t control in her family, and claims her feelings about Tim, and everything else.

Mess is Mine: Vance Joy This was my writing-the-tent-scene song! Relationships, even the great ones, are a messy business, and loving someone means stepping into their mess and letting them into yours. It’s chaos, but it’s joy and intimacy—and pretty much what it’s all about. The kinda song that would play when Tim and Alice are at the beach or during a montage of breaking into the fairground. A song about going through hard times with another person, but helping them through it.

Lego House: Ed Sheeran "It's so hard to say it but I've been here before and I'll surrender up my heart and swap it for yours”. I think of this as Tim saying that when he’s tried before, he’s only gone back to his old ways, but he’s willing to do everything differently, stop protecting his heart, and trade it all for the things he wants to be able to say he cares about in the future.

3 a.m.: Gregory Alan Isako Kind of a late night self reflection song, would play during a sad moment in the book has a sort of lonely feel to it, but also sounds old fashioned.

Overjoyed: Bastille A song about having a really great connection with a person, with things like conversations and thinking about them. Kinda hard to describe. To me, it’s about that wonder you feel when someone listens to you, and really hears you. I thought of this during each of Tim and Alice’s deeper talks, but especially during the one in the rainy garage apartment, when she tells him what happened when she was 12.

If you want to sing out, sing out: Cat Stevens The ultimate “joy in accepting ups and downs and meeting them with hope” song. A good one for Tim’s final conclusions about life at book’s end.

BONUS: Garrett Family Playlist

Teach Your Children well: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young This song is so Mr. and Mrs. Garrett to me. One the whole family would know, I think.

My Wish: Rascal Flatts Background music for the scene with Mr. Garrett and Alice

The Garden Song: David Mallett About growing up, science, nature, hoping the best for your children—all the stuff of life. George would like it. It always makes me cry, so my kids sing it to get that reaction. Bet the Garretts would do that to Mrs. G. too.


An Excerpt from The Boy Most Likely To

Chapter One

I’ve been summoned to see the Nowhere Man.

He’s at his desk when I step inside the gray cave of his office, his back turned.

“Uh, Pop?”

He holds up his hand, keeps scribbling on a blue-lined pad. Standard operating procedure.

I flick my eyes around the room: the mantel, the carpet, the bookshelves, the window; try to find a comfortable place to land.

No dice.

Ma’s fond of “cute”—teddy bears in seasonal outfits and pillows with little sayings and shit she gets on QVC. They’re everywhere. Except here, a room spliced out of John Grisham, all leather-bound, only muted light through the shades. August heat outdoors, but no hint of that allowed here. I face the rear of Pop’s neck, hunch further into the gray, granite-hard sofa, rub my eyes, sink back on my elbows.

On his desk, three pictures of Nan, my twin, at various ages—poofy red curls, missing teeth, then baring them in braces. Always worried eyes. Two more of her on the wall, straightened hair, expensive white smile, plus a framed newspaper clipping of her after delivering a speech at this summer’s

Stony Bay Fourth of July thing.

No pics of me.

Were there ever? Can’t remember. In the bad old days, I always got high before a father/son office visit.

Clear my throat. Crack my knuckles.

“Pop? You asked to see me?” He actually startles. “Tim?” “Yep.”

Swiveling the chair, he looks at me. His eyes, like Nan’s and my own, are gray. Match his hair. Match his office.

“So,” he says.

I wait. Try not to scope out the bottle of Macallan on the . . . what do you call it. Sidebar? Sideboard? Generally, Ma brings in the ice in the little silver bucket thing ten minutes after he gets home from work, six p.m., synched up like those weird-ass cuckoo clock people who pop out of their tiny wooden doors, dead on schedule when the clock strikes, so Pop can have the first of his two scotches ready to go.

Today must be special. It’s only three o’clock and there’s the bucket, oozing cool sweat like I am. Even when I was little I knew he’d leave the second drink half-finished. So I could slurp down the last of the scotchy ice water without him knowing while he was washing his hands before dinner. Can’t remember when I started doing that, but it was well before my balls dropped.

“Ma said you wanted to talk.”

He brushes some invisible whatever from his knee, like his attention’s already gone. “Did she say why?”

I clear my throat again. “Because I’m moving out? Planning to do that. Today.” Ten minutes ago, ideally.

His eyes return to mine. “Do you think this is the best choice for you?”

Classic Nowhere Man. Moving out was hardly my choice. His ultimatum, in fact. The only “best choice” I’ve made lately was to stop drinking. Etc.

But Pop likes to tack and turn, and no matter that this was his order, he can shove that rudder over without even looking and make me feel like shit.

“I asked you a question, Tim.” “It’s fine. It’s a good idea.”

Pop steeples his fingers, sets his chin on them, my chin, cleft and all. “How long has it been since you got kicked out of Ellery Prep?”

“Uh. Eight months.” Early December. Hadn’t even unpacked my suitcase from Thanksgiving break.

“Since then you’ve had how many jobs?”

Maybe he doesn’t remember. I fudge it. “Um. Three.” “Seven,” Pop corrects.

Damn.

“How many of those were you fired from?” “I still have the one at—”

He pivots in his chair, halfway back to his desk, frowns down at his cell phone. “How many?”

“Well, I quit the senator’s office, so really only five.”

Pop twists back around, lowers the phone, studies me over his reading glasses. “I’m very clear on the fact that you left that job. You say ‘only’ like it’s something to brag about. Fired from five out of seven jobs since February. Kicked out of three schools . . . Do you know that I’ve never been let go from a job in my life? Never gotten a bad performance review? A grade lower than a B? Neither has your sister.”

Right. Perfect old Nano. “My grades were always good,” I say. My eyes stray again to the Macallan. Need something to do with my hands. Rolling a joint would be good.

“Exactly,” Pop says. He jerks from the chair, nearly as angu- lar and almost as tall as me, drops his glasses on the desk with a clatter, runs his hands quickly through his short hair, then focuses on scooping out ice and measuring scotch.

I catch a musky, iodine-y whiff of it, and man, it smells good.

“You’re not stupid, Tim. But you sure act that way.”

Yo-kay . . . He’s barely spoken to me all summer. Now he’s on my nuts? But I should try. I drag my eyes off the caramel- colored liquid in his glass and back to his face.

“Pop. Dad. I know I’m not the son you would have . . . special ordered—”

“Would you like a drink?”

He sloshes more scotch into another glass, uncharacteristically careless, sets it out on the Columbia University coaster on the side table next to the couch, slides it toward me. He tips his own glass to his lips, then places it neatly on his coaster, almost completely chugged.

Well, this is fucked up.

“Uh, look.” My throat’s so tight, my voice comes out weird—husky, then high-pitched. “I haven’t had a drink or anything like that since the end of June, so that’s, uh, fifty-nine days, but who’s counting. I’m doing my best. And I’ll—”

Pop has steepled his hands and is scrutinizing the fish tank against the wall.

I’m boring him.

“And I’ll keep doin’ it . . .” I trail off.

There’s a long pause. During which I have no idea what he’s thinking. Only that my best friend is on his way over, and my Jetta in the driveway is seeming more and more like a getaway car.

“Four months,” Pop says, in this, like, flat voice, like he’s reading it off a piece of paper. Since he’s turned back to look down at his desk, it’s possible.

“Um . . . yes . . . What?”

“I’m giving you four months from today to pull your life together. You’ll be eighteen in December. A man. After that, unless I see you acting like one—in every way—I’m cutting off your allowance, I’ll no longer pay your health and car insur- ance, and I’ll transfer your college fund into your sister’s.”

Not as though there was ever a welcome mat under me, but whatever the fuck was there has been yanked out and I’m slammed down hard on my ass.

Wait . . . what?

A man by December. Like, poof, snap, shazam. Like there’s some expiration date on . . . where I am now.

“But—” I start.

He checks his Seiko, hitting a button, maybe starting the countdown. “Today is August twenty-fourth. That gives you until just before Christmas.”

“But—”

He holds up his hand, like he’s slapping the off button on my words. It’s ultimatum number two or nothing.

No clue what to say anyway, but it doesn’t matter, because the conversation is over.

We’re done here.

Unfold my legs, yank myself to my feet, and I head for the door on autopilot.

Can’t get out of the room fast enough. For either of us, apparently.

Ho, ho, ho to you too, Pop.

Chapter Two

“You’re really doing this?”

I’m shoving the last of my clothes into a cardboard box when my ma comes in, without knocking, because she never does. Risky as hell when you have a horny seventeen-year-old son. She hovers in the doorway, wearing a pink shirt and this denim skirt with—what are those? Crabs?—sewn all over it.

“Just following orders, Ma.” I cram flip-flops into the stuffed box, push down on them hard. “Pop’s wish is my command.” She takes a step back like I’ve slapped her. I guess it’s my tone. I’ve been sober nearly two months, but I have yet to gocold turkey on assholicism. Ha.

“You had so much I never had, Timothy . . .” Away we go.

“. . . private school, swimming lessons, tennis camp . . .” Yep, I’m an alcoholic high school dropout, but check out my backhand!

She shakes out the wrinkles in a blue blazer, one quick motion, flapping it into the air with an abrasive crack. “What are you going to do—keep working at that hardware store? Going to those meetings?”

She says “hardware store” like “strip club” and “going to those meetings” like “making those sex tapes.” “It’s a good job. And I need those meetings.”

Ma’s hands start smoothing my stack of folded clothes. Blue veins stand out on her freckled, pale arms. “I don’t see what strangers can do for you that your own family can’t.”

I open my mouth to say: “I know you don’t. That’s why I need the strangers.” Or: “Uncle Sean sure could have used those strangers.” But we don’t talk about that, or him.

I shove a pair of possibly too-small loafers in the box and go over to give her a hug.

She pats my back, quick and sharp, and pulls away.

“Cheer up, Ma. Nan’ll definitely get into Columbia. Only one of your children is a fuck-up.”

“Language, Tim.”

“Sorry. My bad. Cock-up.” “That,” she says, “is even worse.” Okeydokey. Whatever.

My bedroom door flies open—again no knock.

“Some girl who sounds like she has laryngitis is on the phone for you, Tim,” Nan says, eyeing my packing job. “God, everything’s going to be all wrinkly.”

“I don’t care—” But she’s already dumped the cardboard box onto my bed.

“Where’s your suitcase?” She starts dividing stuff into piles. “The blue plaid one with your monogram?”

“No clue.”

“I’ll check the basement,” Ma says, looking relieved to have a reason to head for the door. “This girl, Timothy? Should I bring you the phone?”

I can’t think of any girl I have a thing to say to. Except Alice Garrett. Who definitely would not be calling me. “Tell her I’m not home.”

Permanently.

Nan’s folding things rapidly, piling up my shirts in order of style. I reach out to still her hands. “Forget it. Not important.”

She looks up. Shit, she’s crying.

We Masons cry easily. Curse of the Irish (one of ’em). I loop one elbow around her neck, thump her on the back a little too hard. She starts coughing, chokes, gives a weak laugh.

“You can come visit me, Nano. Any time you need to . . . escape . . . or whatever.”

“Please. It won’t be the same,” Nan says, then blows her nose on the hem of my shirt.

It won’t. No more staying up till nearly dawn, watching old Steve McQueen movies because I think he’s badass and Nan thinks he’s hot. No Twizzlers and Twix and shit appearing in my room like magic because Nan knows massive sugar infu- sions are the only sure cure for drug addiction.

“Lucky for you. No more covering my lame ass when I stay out all night, no more getting creative with excuses when I don’t show for something, no more me bumming money off you constantly.”

Now she’s wiping her eyes with my shirt. I haul it off, hand it to her. “Something to remember me by.”

She actually folds that, then stares at the neat little square, all sad-faced. “Sometimes it’s like I’m missing everyone I ever met. I actually even miss Daniel. I miss Samantha.”

“Daniel was a pompous prickface and a crap boyfriend.

Samantha, your actual best friend, is ten blocks and ten min- utes away—shorter if you text her.”

She blows that off, hunkers down, pulling knobbly knees to her chest and lowering her forehead so her hair sweeps for- ward to cover her blotchy face. Nan and I are both ginger, but she got all the freckles, everywhere, while mine are only across my nose. She looks up at me with that face she does, all pathetic and quivery. I hate that face. It always wins.

“You’ll be fine, Nan.” I tap my temple. “You’re just as smart as me. Much less messed up. At least as far as most people know."

Nan twitches back. We lock eyes. The elephant in the room lies bleeding out on the floor between us. Then she looks away, gets busy picking up another T-shirt to fold expertly, like the only thing that matters in the world is for the sleeves to align.

“Not really,” she says in a subdued voice. Not taking the baitthere either, I guess.

I grope around the quilt on my bed, locate my cigs, light one, and take a deep drag. I know it’s all kinds of bad for me, but God, how does anyone get through the day without smoking? Setting the smoldering butt down in the ashtray, I tap her on the back again, gently this time.

“Hey now. Don’t stress. You know Pop. He wants to add it up and get a positive bottom line. Job. High school diploma. College-bound. Check, check, check. It only has to look good. I can pull that off.”

Don’t know if this is cheering my sister up, but as I talk, the squirming fireball in my stomach cools and settles. Fake it.That I can do.

Mom pops her head into the room. “That Garrett boy’s here. Heavens, put on a shirt, Tim.” She digs in a bureau drawer and thrusts a Camp Wyoda T-shirt I thought I’d ditched years ago at me. Nan leaps up, knuckling away her tears, pulling at her own shirt, wiping her palms on her shorts. She has a zillion twitchy habits—biting her nails, twisting her hair, tapping her pencils. I could always get by on a fake ID, a calm face, and a smile. My sister could look guilty saying her prayers. Feet on the stairs, staccato knock on the door—the one person who knocks!—and Jase comes in, swipes back his damp hair with the heel of one hand.

“Shit, man. We haven’t even started loading and you’re already sweating?”

“Ran here,” he says, hands planted hard his on kneecaps. He glances up. “Hey, Nan.”

Nan, who has turned her back, gives a quick, jerky nod. When she twists around to tumble more neatly balled socks into my cardboard box, her eyes stray to Jase, up, slowly down. He’s the guy girls always look at twice.

“You ran here? It’s like five miles from your house! Are you nuts?”

“Three, and nah.” Jase braces his forearm against the wall, bending his leg, holding his ankle, stretching out. “Seriously out of shape after sitting around the store all summer. Even after three weeks of training camp, I’m nowhere near up to speed.”

“You don’t seem out of shape,” Nan says, then shakes her head so her hair slips forward over her face. “Don’t leave with- out telling me, Tim.” She scoots out the door.

“You set?” Jase looks around the room, oblivious to my sis- ter’s hormone spike.

“Uh . . . I guess.” I look around too, frickin’ blank. All I can think to take is my clamshell ashtray. “The clothes, anyway. I suck at packing.”

“Toothbrush?” Jase suggests mildly. “Razor. Books, maybe? Sports stuff.”

“My lacrosse stick from Ellery Prep? Don’t think I’ll need it.” I tap out another cigarette.

“Bike? Skateboard? Swim gear?” Jase glances over at me, smile flashing in the flare of my lighter.

Mom barges back in so fast, the door knocks against the wall. An umbrella and a huge yellow slicker are draped over one arm, an iron in one hand. “You’ll want these. Should I pack you blankets? What happened to that nice boy you were going to move in with, anyway?”

“Didn’t work out.” As in: That nice boy, my AA buddy Con- nell, relapsed on both booze and crack, called me all slurry and screwed up, full of blurry suck-ass excuses, so he’s obviously out. The garage apartment is my best option.

“Is there even any heat in that ratty place?”

“Jesus God, Ma. You haven’t even seen the frickin’—”

“It’s pretty reliable,” Jase says, not even wincing. “It was my brother’s, and Joel likes his comforts.”

“All right. I’ll . . . leave you two boys to—carry on.” She pauses, runs her hand through her hair, showing half an inch of gray roots beneath the red. “Don’t forget to take the stenciled paper Aunt Nancy sent in case you need to write thank- you notes.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, Ma. Uh, forgetting, I mean.”

Jase bows his head, smiling, then shoulders the cardboard box. “What about pillows?” she says. “You can tuck those right under the other arm, can’t you, a big strapping boy like you?”

Christ.

He obediently raises an elbow and she rams two pillows into his armpit.

“I’ll throw all this in the Jetta. Take your time, Tim.”

I scan the room one last time. Tacked to the corkboard over my desk is a sheet of paper with the words THE BOY MOST LIKELY TO scrawled in red marker at the top. One of the few days last fall I remember clearly—hanging with a bunch of my (loser) friends at Ellery out by the boathouse where they stowed the kayaks (and the stoners). We came up with our antidote to those stupid yearbook lists: Most likely to be a millionaire by twen- ty-five. Most likely to star in her own reality show. Most likely to get an NFL contract. Don’t know why I kept the thing.

I pop the list off the wall, fold it carefully, jam it into my back pocket.

Nan emerges as soon as Jase, who’s been waiting for me in the foyer, opens the creaky front door to head out.

“Tim,” she whispers, cool hand wrapping around my fore- arm. “Don’t vanish.” As if when I leave our house I’ll evaporate like fog rising off the river.

Maybe I will.

By the time we pull into the Garretts’ driveway, I’ve burned through three cigarettes, hitting up the car lighter for the next before I’ve chucked the last. If I could have smoked all of them at once, I would’ve.

“You should kick those,” Jase says, looking out the window, not pinning me with some accusatory face.

I make to hurl the final butt, then stop myself.

Yeah, toss it next to little Patsy’s Cozy Coupe and four-year- old George’s midget baby blue bike with training wheels. Plus, George thinks I’ve quit.

“Can’t,” I tell him. “Tried. Besides, I’ve already given up drinking, drugs, and sex. Gotta have a few vices or I’d be too perfect.”

Jase snorts. “Sex? Don’t think you have to give that up.” He opens the passenger-side door, starts to slide out.

“The way I did it, I do. Gotta stop messing with any chick with a pulse.”

Now Jase looks uncomfortable. “That was an addiction too?” he asks, half in, half out the door, nudging the pile of old newspapers on the passenger side with the toe of one Con- verse.

“Not in the sense that I, like, had to have it, or whatever. It was just . . another way to blow stuff off. Numb out.”

He nods like he gets it, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. Gotta explain. “I’d get wasted at parties. Hook up with girls I didn’t like or even know. It was never all that great.”

“Guess not”—he slides out completely—“if you’re with someone you don’t even like or know. Might be different if you were sober and actually cared.”

“Yeah, well.” I light up one last cigarette. “Don’t hold your breath.”

Chapter Three

“There is,” I say through my teeth, “an owl in the freezer. Can any of you guys explain this to me?”

Three of my younger brothers stare back at me. Blank walls. My younger sister doesn’t look up from texting.

I repeat the question.

“Harry put it there,” Duff says. “Duff told me to,” Harry says.

George, my youngest brother, cranes his neck. “What kind of owl? Is it dead? Is it white like Hedwig?”

I poke at the rock-solid owl, which is wrapped in a frosty freezer bag. “Very dead. Not white. And someone ate all the fro- zen waffles and put the box back in empty again.”

They all shrug, as if this is as much of an unsolvable mystery as the owl.

“Let’s try again. Why is this owl in the freezer?”

“Harry’s going to bring it in for show-and-tell when school starts,” Duff says.

“Sanjay Sapati brought in a seal skull last year. This is way better. You can still see its eyeballs. They’re only a little rot- ted.” Harry stirs his oatmeal, frowning down at what I’ve tried to pass off as a fun “breakfast for lunch” occasion. He upturns the spoon, shakes it, but the glob of cereal sticks, thick as paste, stubborn as my brother. Harry holds the spoon out toward me, accusingly.

“You get what you get and you don’t get upset,” I say to him. “But I do. I do get upset. This is nasty, Alice.”

“Just eat it,” I say, clinging to patience with all my finger- nails. This is all temporary. Just until Dad gets a bit better, until Mom doesn’t have to be in three places at once. “It’s healthy,” I add, but I have to agree with my seven-year-old brother. We’re way overdue for a grocery run. The fridge has nothing but eggs, applesauce, and ketchup, the cabinet is bare of anything but Joel’s protein-enhanced oatmeal. And the only thing in the freezer is . . . a dead bird.

“We can’t have an owl in here, guys.” I scramble for Mom’s reasonable tone. “It’ll make the ice cream taste bad.”

“Can we have ice cream instead of this?” Harry pushes, stick- ing his spoon into the oatmeal, where it pokes out like a grave- stone on a gray hill.

I try to sell it as “the kind of porridge the Three Bears ate,” but George and Harry are skeptical, Duff, at eleven, is too old for all that, and Andy wrinkles her nose and says, “I’ll eat later. I’m too nervous now anyway.”

“It’s lame to be nervous about Kyle Comstock,” Duff says. “He’s a boob.”

“Boooooob,” Patsy repeats from her high chair, the eighteen- month-old copycat.

“You don’t understand anything,” Andy says, leaving the kitchen, no doubt to try on yet another outfit before sailing camp awards. Six hours away from now.

“Who cares what she wears? It’s the stupid sailing awards,” Duff grumbles. “This stuff is vomitous, Alice. It’s like gruel. Like what they make Oliver Twist eat.”

“He wanted more,” I point out. “He was starving,” Duff counters.

“Look, stop arguing and eat the damn stuff.”

George’s eyes go big. “Mommy doesn’t say that word. Daddy says not to.”

“Well, they aren’t here, are they?”

George looks mournfully down at his oatmeal, poking at it with his spoon like he might find Mom and Dad in there.

“Sorry, Georgie,” I say repentantly. “How about some eggs, guys?”

“No!” they all say at once. They’ve had my eggs before. Since Mom has been spending a lot of time at either doctors’ appoint- ments for herself or doctor and physical therapy consults for Dad, they’ve suffered through the full range of my limited culi- nary talents.

“I’ll get rid of the owl if you give us money to eat breakfast in town,” Duff says.

“Alice, look!” Andy says despairingly, “I knew this wouldn’t fit.” She hovers in the doorway in the sundress I loaned her, the front sagging. “When do I get off the itty-bitty-titty committee? You did before you were even thirteen.” She sounds accusatory, like I used up the last available bigger chest size in the family.

“Titty committee?” Duff starts laughing. “Who’s on that? I bet Joel is. And Tim.”

“You are so immature that listening to you actually makes me younger,” Andy tells him. “Alice, help! I love this dress. You never lend it to me. I’m going to die if I can’t wear it.” She looks wildly around the kitchen. “Do I stuff it? With what?”

“Breadcrumbs?” Duff is still cracking up. “Oatmeal? Owl feathers?”

I point the oatmeal spoon at her. “Never stuff. Own your size.” “I want to wear this dress.” Andy scowls at me. “It’s perfect. Except it doesn’t fit. There. Do you have anything else? That’s flatter?”

“Did you ask Samantha?” I glare at Duff, who is shoving sev- eral kitchen sponges down his shirt. Harry, who doesn’t get what’s going on—I hope—but is happy to join in on tormenting Andy, is wadding up some diapers from Patsy’s clean stack and following suit. My brother’s girlfriend has much more patience than I do. Maybe because Samantha only has one sibling to deal with.

“She’s helping her mom take her sister to college—she prob- ably won’t be back till tonight. Alice! What do I do?”

My jaw clenches at the mere mention of Grace Reed, Sam’s mom, the closest thing our family has to a nemesis. Or maybe it’s the owl. God. Get me out of here.

“I’m hungry,” Harry says. “I’m starving here. I’ll be dead by night.” “It takes three weeks to starve,” George tells him, his air of authority undermined by his hot cocoa mustache. “Ughhh. No one cares!” Andy storms away.

“She’s got the hormones going on,” Duff confides to Harry. Ever since hearing it from my mother, my little brothers treat “hormones” like a contagious disease.

My cell phone vibrates on the cluttered counter. Brad again. I ignore it, start banging open cabinets. “Look, guys, we’re out of everything, got it? We can’t go shopping until we get this week’s take-home from the store, and no one has time to go anyway. I’m not giving you money. So it’s oatmeal or empty stomachs. Unless you want peanut butter on toast.”

“Not again,” Duff groans, shoving away from the table and stalking out of the kitchen.

“Gross,” Harry says, doing the same, after accidentally knock- ing over his orange juice—and ignoring it.

How does Mom stand this? I pinch the muscles at the base of my neck, hard, close my eyes. Push away the most treacherous thought of all: Why does Mom stand this?

George is still doggedly trying to eat a spoonful of oatmeal, one rolled oat at a time.

“Don’t bother, G. You still like peanut butter, right?” Breathing out a long sigh, world-weary at four, George rests his freckled cheek against his hand, watching me with a focus that reminds me of Jase. “You can make diamonds out of peanut butter. I readed about it.”

Read,” I say automatically, replenishing the raisins I’d sprinkled on the tray of Patsy’s high chair.

“Yucks a dis,” she says, picking each raisin up with a delicate pincer grip and dropping it off the side of the high chair.

“Do you think we could make diamonds out of this peanut butter?” George asks hopefully as I open the jar of Jif.

“I wish, Georgie,” I say, looking at the empty cabinet over the window, and then noticing a dark blue Jetta pull into our drive- way, the door kick open, a tall figure climb out, the sun hitting his rusty hair, lighting it like a match.

Fabulous. Exactly what we need for the flammable family mix. Tim Mason. The human equivalent of C-4.

. . . .

We walk up the creaky garage stairs and Jase hauls a key out of his pocket, unlocks the door, flips on the lights. I brush past him and drop my cardboard box on the ground. Joel’s old apartment is low-ceilinged and decorated with milk crate bookcases, ugly couch, mini-fridge, microwave, denim bean- bag chair with Sox logo, walls covered in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and all that—tits everywhere—and a gigantic iron weight rack with a shit-ton of weights.

“This is where Joel took all those au pairs? I thought he had better game than this massive cliché.”

Jase grimaces. “Welcome to Bootytown. Supposedly the nannies never minded because they expected it of American boys. Want me to help yank ’em down?”

“Nah, I can always count body parts if I have trouble sleep- ing.”

After a brief scope-out of the apartment, during which he makes a face and empties a few trash cans, he asks, “This gonna work for you?”

“Absolutely.” I reach into my pocket, pull out the lined paper list I snatched off my bulletin board, and slap it on the refrigerator, adios-ing a babe in hot pink spandex.

Jase scans my sign, shakes his head. “Mase . . . you know you can come on over anytime.”

“I’ve been to boarding school, Garrett. Not like I’m afraid of the dark.”

“Don’t be a dick,” he says mildly. He points in the direction of the bathroom. “The plumbing backs up sometimes. If the plunger doesn’t work, text, I can fix it. I repeat, you’re always welcome to head to our house. Or join me on the pre-dawn job. I gotta pick up Samantha now. She ended up not going to Vermont. Ride along?”

“With the perfect high school sweethearts? Nah. I think I’ll stay and see if I can break the plunger. Then I’ll text you.”

He flips me off, grins, and leaves.

Time to get my ass to a meeting. Better that than alone with a ton of airbrushed boobs and my unfiltered thoughts.