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       Please Ignore Vera Dietz, p.1

           A. S. King
 
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Please Ignore Vera Dietz


  THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2010 by A.S. King

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

  Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  Visit us on the Web! www.randomhouse.com/teens

  Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at www.randomhouse.com/teachers

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  King, A. S. (Amy Sarig)

  Please ignore Vera Dietz / by A.S. King. — 1st ed.

  p. cm.

  Summary: When her best friend, whom she secretly loves, betrays her and then dies under mysterious circumstances, high school senior Vera Dietz struggles with secrets that could clear his name.

  eISBN: 978-0-375-89617-0

  [1. Best friends—Fiction. 2. Friendship—Fiction. 3. Secrets—Fiction. 4. Death—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.K5693Pl 2010

  [Fic]—dc22

  2010012730

  Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

  v3.1

  For my parents, who taught me about

  flow charts … and everything else.

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  Prologue

  Part One

  The Funeral

  Three and a Half Months Later—A Thursday in December

  You’re Wondering Where My Mother Is

  Thursday—Four to Close

  Thursday—Four to Close

  A Brief Word from Ken Dietz (Vera’s Dad)

  A Brief Word from the Pagoda

  Thursday—Four to Close

  The First Night It Happened

  History—Age Eleven

  History—Age Seven

  Friday—Four to Close

  History—Age Thirteen

  A Brief Word from the Dead Kid

  Friday—Four to Close

  Friday—Four to Close—Last Stop

  History—Age Twelve

  History—Age Twelve—Mid-August

  History—Age Thirteen—Summer

  Various Times Saturday Morning—Day Off

  Christmas Break

  Part Two

  New Year’s Eve

  New Year’s Day

  History—Age Fourteen

  New Year’s Day—Four to Close

  History—Age Fourteen

  History—Age Fourteen

  A Brief Word from the Pagoda

  New Year’s Day—After Work

  A Brief Word from the Dead Kid

  New Year’s Day (Night)

  A Brief Word from Ken Dietz (Vera’s Frustrated Dad)

  Monday, January 2nd

  History—Age Fourteen

  Part Three

  Monday, January 2nd—Night Off

  Four Weeks Later—Super Bowl Night—Four to Close

  Second Monday in February—Five Days Until Party Night

  Second Friday in February—Party Night

  History—Age Fifteen

  The Pagoda Pizza Christmas Party—Part 1

  History—Age Sixteen

  No Place, No Time

  History—Age Seventeen

  A Brief Word from the Dead Kid

  A Brief Word from the Pagoda

  The Pagoda Pizza Christmas Party—Part 2

  Part Four

  Grounded, Completely and Totally—Part 1

  A Brief Word from Ken Dietz (Vera’s Hateful Dad)

  History I’d Rather Forget—Age Seventeen—Spring

  Grounded, Completely and Totally—Part 2

  A Brief Word from the Dead Kid

  Three Weeks of Vocab Words and Other Makeup Homework

  Grounded, Completely and Totally—Part 3

  First Day Back in School—Monday

  History I’d Rather Forget—Age Seventeen—June

  A Brief Word from the Pagoda

  Monday—Four to Eight

  Part Five

  Second Day Back in School—Tuesday

  History I’d Rather Forget—Age Seventeen—August

  A Brief Word from Ken Dietz (Vera’s Proud Dad)

  Piggy’s Revenge—Tuesday

  History I’d Rather Forget—Age Seventeen—August

  Tuesday—Four to Eight

  A Brief Word from the Dead Kid

  Drive Car, Deliver Pizza—Tuesday—Four to Eight

  A Brief Word from the Pagoda

  What Really Happened to Charlie Kahn—Part 1

  History I’d Rather Forget—Age Seventeen—August (Last One)

  What Really Happened to Charlie Kahn—Part 2

  Live A Little—Wednesday

  Epilogue—Road Trip

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  What is your original face, before your mother and father were born?

  —Zen koan

  PROLOGUE

  Before I died, I hid my secrets in the Master Oak.

  This book is about my best friend, Vera Dietz, who eventually found them.

  —Charlie Kahn

  (the pickle on Vera’s Big Mac)

  To say my friend died is one thing.

  To say my friend screwed me over and then died five months later is another.

  —Vera Dietz

  (high school senior and pizza delivery technician)

  PART ONE

  THE FUNERAL

  The pastor is saying something about how Charlie was a free spirit. He was and he wasn’t. He was free because on the inside he was tied up in knots. He lived hard because inside he was dying. Charlie made inner conflict look delicious.

  The pastor is saying something about Charlie’s vivacious and intense personality. I picture Charlie inside the white coffin, McDonald’s napkin in one hand, felt-tipped pen in the other, scribbling, “Tell that guy to kiss my white vivacious ass. He never met me.” I picture him crumpling the note and eating it. I picture him reaching for his Zippo lighter and setting it alight, right there in the box. I see the congregation, teary-eyed, suddenly distracted by the rising smoke seeping through the seams.

  Is it okay to hate a dead kid? Even if I loved him once? Even if he was my best friend? Is it okay to hate him for being dead?

  • • •

  Dad doesn’t want me to see the burying part, but I make him walk to the cemetery with me, and he holds my hand for the first time since I was twelve. The pastor says something about how we return to the earth the way we came from the earth and I feel the grass under my feet grab my ankles and pull me down. I picture Charlie in his coffin, nodding, certain that the Great Hunter meant for everything to unfold as it has. I picture him laughing in there as the winch lowers him into the hole. I hear him saying, “Hey, Veer—it’s not every day you get lowered into a hole by a guy with a wart on his nose, right?” I look at the guy manning the winch. I look at the grass gripping my feet. I hear a handful of dirt hit the hollow-sounding coffin, and I bury my face in Dad’s side and cry quietly. I still can’t really believe Charlie is dead.

  The reception is divided into four factions. First, you have Charlie’s family. Mr. and Mrs. Kahn and their parents (Charlie’s grandparents), and Charlie’s aunts and uncles and seven cousins. Old friends of the family and
close neighbors are included here, too, so that’s where Dad and I end up. Dad, still awkward at social events without Mom, asks me forty-seven times between the church and the banquet hall if I’m okay. But really, he’s worse off than I am. Especially when talking to the Kahns. They know we know their secrets because we live next door. And they know we know they know.

  “I’m so sorry,” Dad says.

  “Thanks, Ken,” Mrs. Kahn answers. It’s hot outside—first day of September—and Mrs. Kahn is wearing long sleeves.

  They both look at me and I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. I am so mixed up about what I should be feeling, I throw myself into Mrs. Kahn’s arms and sob for a few seconds. Then I compose myself and wipe my wet cheeks with the back of my hands. Dad gives me a tissue from his blazer pocket.

  “Sorry,” I say.

  “It’s fine, Vera. You were his best friend. This must be awful hard on you,” Mrs. Kahn says.

  She has no idea how hard. I haven’t been Charlie’s best friend since April, when he totally screwed me over and started hanging out full-time with Jenny Flick and the Detentionhead losers. Let me tell you—if you think your best friend dying is a bitch, try your best friend dying after he screws you over. It’s a bitch like no other.

  To the right of the family corner, there’s the community corner. A mix of neighbors, teachers, and kids that had a study hall or two with him. A few kids from his fifth-grade Little League baseball team. Our childhood babysitter, who Charlie had an endless crush on, is here with her new husband.

  Beyond the community corner is the official-people area. Everyone there is in a black suit of some sort. The pastor is talking with the school principal, Charlie’s family doctor, and two guys I never saw before. After the initial reception stuff is over, one of the pastor’s helpers asks Mrs. Kahn if she needs anything. Mr. Kahn steps in and answers for her, sternly, and the helper then informs people that the buffet is open. It’s a slow process, but eventually, people find their way to the food.

  “You want anything?” Dad asks.

  I shake my head.

  “You sure?”

  I nod yes. He gets a plate and slops on some salad and cottage cheese.

  Across the room is the Detentionhead crowd—Charlie’s new best friends. They stay close to the door and go out in groups to smoke. The stoop is littered with butts, even though there’s one of those hourglass-shaped smokeless ashtrays there. For a while they were blocking the door, until the banquet hall manager asked them to move. So they did, and now they’re circled around Jenny Flick as if she’s Charlie’s hopeless widow rather than the reason he’s dead.

  An hour later, Dad and I are driving home and he asks, “Do you know anything about what happened Sunday night?”

  “Nope.” A lie. I do.

  “Because if you do, you need to say something.”

  “Yeah. I would if I did, but I don’t.” A lie. I do. I wouldn’t if I could. I haven’t. I won’t. I can’t yet.

  I take a shower when I get home because I can’t think of anything else to do. I put on my pajamas, even though it’s only seven-thirty, and I sit down in the den with Dad, who is reading the newspaper. But I can’t sit still, so I walk to the kitchen and slide the glass door open and close it behind me once I’m on the deck. There are a bunch of catbirds in the yard, squawking the way they do at dusk. I look into the woods, toward Charlie’s house, and walk back inside again.

  “You going to be okay with school tomorrow?” Dad asks.

  “No,” I say. “But I guess it’s the best thing to do, you know?”

  “Probably true,” he says. But he wasn’t there last Monday, in the parking lot, when Jenny and the Detentionheads, all dressed in black, gathered around her car and smoked. He wasn’t there when she wailed. She wailed so loud, I hated her more than I already hated her. Charlie’s own mother wasn’t wailing that much.

  “Yeah. It’s the first week. It’s all review anyway.”

  “You know, you could pick up a few more hours at work. That would probably keep your mind off things.”

  I think the number one thing to remember about my dad is that no matter the ailment, he will suggest working as a possible cure.

  THREE AND A HALF MONTHS LATER—A THURSDAY IN DECEMBER

  I turned eighteen in October and I went from pizza maker to pizza deliverer. I also went from twenty hours a week to forty, on top of my schoolwork. Though the only classes worth studying for are Modern Social Thought and Vocabulary. MST is easy homework—every day we discuss a different newspaper article. Vocab is ten words a week (with bonus points for additional words students find in their everyday reading), using each in a sentence.

  Here’s me using parsimonious in a sentence.

  My parsimonious father doesn’t understand that a senior in high school shouldn’t have a full-time job. He doesn’t listen when I explain that working as a pizza delivery girl from four until midnight every school night isn’t very good for my grades. Instead, my parsimonious father launches into a ten-minute-long lecture about how working for a living is hard and kids today don’t get it because they’re given allowances they don’t earn.

  Seemingly, this is character-building.

  Apparently, most kids would be thankful.

  Allegedly, I’m the only kid in my school who isn’t “spoiled by our culture of entitlement.”

  This was supposed to keep my mind off Charlie dying—which hasn’t worked so far. It’s only made it worse. The more I work, the more he follows me. The more he follows me, the more he nags me to clear his name. The more he nags me, the more I hate him for leaving me with this mess. Or for leaving me, period.

  I’m at the traffic light outside school and I slip the red Pagoda Pizza shirt over my head. I don’t care if it messes up my hair, because I need to look a mix of crazy, disheveled, and apathetic to maintain the balancing act of getting good tips and not getting robbed. I reach under my seat and feel around for the cold glass, and when I find it, I slide it between my legs and twist the metal cap off. Two gulps of vodka later, my eyes are watering and my throat automatically grumbles “Ahhhhh” to get rid of the burning. Don’t judge. I’m not getting drunk. I’m coping.

  I pop three pieces of Winterfresh gum into my mouth, slip the bottle back under my seat, and turn left into the Pagoda Pizza delivery parking lot.

  My boss at Pagoda is a really cool biker lady with crooked yellow teeth, named Marie. We have two other managers. Nathan (Nate) is a six-foot-five black guy with square 1980s glasses, and Steve is in his forties, drives a Porsche, and lives with his mom. One of the other drivers told me that he’s loaded and he only works here for fun, but I don’t believe what the other drivers say. Most of the time, they’re stoned. They tell me, when we’re mopping the floor or washing the dishes after closing, that when they’re high, they can’t look at Marie because her teeth freak them out.

  Marie is running the store tonight, and when I get in, she smiles at me, like a bagful of broken, sun-aged piano keys, and hands me my change envelope and my Pagoda Phone for the night. Nate is cashing out his day-shift receipts on the computer behind the stainless-steel toppings island. “Yo, Vera! What’s shakin’?”

  “Hey, Nate.”

  “Anyone ever tell you that you look fine in that uniform?” he asks. He asks this at least twice a week. It’s his idea of endearing small talk.

  “Only you,” I say.

  “It’s like you were destined to be a pizza delivery technician,” he adds, then slams the cash drawer shut and struts into the back room with me, where he slaps a deposit bag onto the old desk in the office and removes his hokey MC Hammer leather coat from the hook on the back of the door.

  “Destiny’s bullshit,” I answer. I should know. I’ve spent my whole life avoiding mine.

  YOU’RE WONDERING WHERE MY MOTHER IS

  My mother left us when I was twelve. She found a man who was not as parsimonious as my father and they moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, which i
s two thousand five hundred miles away. She doesn’t visit. She doesn’t call. She sends me a card on my birthday with fifty dollars in it, which my father nags me about until I finally go to the bank and deposit it. And so, for all six years she’s been gone, I have $337 to show for having a mother.

  Dad says that thirty-seven bucks is good interest. He doesn’t see the irony in that. He doesn’t see the word interest as anything not connected to money because he’s an accountant and to him, everything is a number.

  I think $37 and no mother and no visits or phone calls is shitty interest.

  She had me when she was seventeen. I guess I should feel lucky that she stuck around the twelve lousy years she did. I guess I should feel lucky she didn’t give me up for adoption or abort me at the clinic behind the bowling alley that no one thinks we know about.

  She and Dad grew up together, next-door neighbors. Just like Charlie and me. “I followed my heart,” he claims. Some good that did him. Now he’s stuck with me and three bookcases full of self-help Zen bullshit, has no friends, and maintains an amazing ability to blow off anything that’s remotely important.

 
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