The lonely hearts club, p.1
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       The Lonely Hearts Club, p.1

          
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The Lonely Hearts Club


  The Lonely Hearts Club

  Elizabeth Eulberg

  For my beloved EEC.

  Especially Dav Pilkey, who was the first person to encourage me to write.

  This is all his fault.

  I, Penny Lane Bloom, do solemnly swear to never date another boy for as long as I shall live.

  All right, maybe I'll reconsider it in ten years or so when I'm no longer living in Parkview, Illinois, or attending McKinley High School, but for now I'm done with guys. They're all lying, cheating scum of the earth.

  Yes, every last one of them. Pure evil.

  Sure, there are some that seem nice, but the second they get what they want, they'll dump you and move on to their next target.

  So I'm done.

  No more dating.

  The end.

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  [Page Blank]

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  Yesterday

  love was such an easy game to play ..."

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  [Page Blank]

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  Chapter one

  WHEN I WAS FIVE YEARS OLD, I walked down the aisle with the man of my dreams.

  Okay, make that boy. He was five, too.

  I'd known Nate Taylor pretty much since birth. Our fathers had been friends since childhood, and every year, Nate and his parents would spend the summer with my family. My baby book was filled with pictures of me and Nate -- taking a bath together as infants, playing in our tree house in the backyard, and -- my favorite -- dressed up as a miniature bride and groom at my cousins wedding. (Soon after, the picture of me in my white dress and Nate in his tux was hung proudly on my bedroom wall.)

  Everybody always joked that one day we'd get married for real. Nate and I used to think so, too. We thought we were the perfect couple. I didn't mind playing war with him, and he would even play with my dolls (although he'd never admit it). He'd push me on the swings and I'd help him organize his action figures. He thought I looked pretty with my hair in pigtails, and I thought he was cute (even during his brief pudgy stage). I liked his parents, and he liked my parents. I wanted an English Bulldog, and he wanted a Pug. Macaroni and cheese was my favorite food, and it was his favorite food, too.

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  What else could a girl want in a guy?

  To me, looking forward to summer was the same thing as looking forward to Nate. As a result, so many of my memories revolved around him:

  -My first kiss (in my tree house when we were eight; I punched, him, then cried afterward).

  -The first time I held hands (when we got lost during a third-grade scavenger hunt).

  -My first Valentine's Day card (a red construction-paper heart with my name on it).

  -My first camping trip (Nate and I put up a tent in our backyard when we were ten and spent the entire night out there by ourselves).

  -The first time I purposely deceived my parents (I took the train into Chicago by myself to see Nate last year; I told my parents I was spending the night at my best friend Tracy's).

  -Our first true kiss (fourteen; this time I didn't put up a fight).

  After that kiss, my anticipation for summer intensified. We weren't playing make-believe anymore. The feelings were real, they were different. The heart involved wasn't made from construction paper -- it was living, beating . . . real.

  When I thought about summer, I thought about Nate. When I thought about love, I thought about Nate. When I thought about anything, I thought about Nate.

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  I knew that this summer it would happen. Nate and I would be together.

  The last month of school was unbearable. I starred a countdown clock to his arrival. I took shopping trips with my friends to buy "Nate clothes." I even bought my first bikini with him in mind. I set my work schedule at my dad's dental office around Nates work schedule at the country club. I didn't want anything to get in our way.

  And then it happened.

  He was here.

  He was taller.

  He was older.

  He was no longer cute -- he was sexy.

  And he was mine.

  He wanted me. And I wanted him. It seemed that simple.

  Soon enough, we were together. Finally, really together.

  Only I didn't get the fairy tale I was hoping for.

  Because guys change.

  They lie.

  They stomp on your heart.

  I found out the hard way that fairy tales and true love don't exist.

  The perfect guy doesn't exist.

  And that adorable picture of the innocent miniature bride with the guy who would one day break her heart?

  That didn't exist anymore, either,

  I watched it burn in flames.

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  chapter Two

  It all happened so fast.

  It started like every other summer. The Taylors arrived, and the house was bustling with people. Nate and I flirted constantly ... it was the routine we'd been going through for the past few years. Only this time, there were things underneath the flirtation. Like desire. Like the future. Like sex.

  Everything I dreamed of started to happen. Nate was perfect to me. The guy I held everyone else up to. The one who always made my heart beat fast and my stomach flip.

  This was the summer that my feelings were finally returned.

  It started with a couple of dates, nothing big. Just movies, dinner, etc.

  Our parents had no idea what was going on, Nate didn't want to tell them, and I went along. He said they'd probably overreact, and I didn't disagree. Even though I knew our parents always wanted us to eventually end up together, I wasn't sure they would've been prepared for us to be together yet. Especially when he was sleeping downstairs in our soundproofed basement.

  It was all going so well. Nate said all of the things I wanted to hear. How I was beautiful and perfect, how I made him lose his breath when we kissed.

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  I was in heaven.

  We kissed. Then we kissed and kissed. Then we kissed some more. But soon that wasn't enough. Soon hands started wandering, clothes started coming off. This was everything that I'd been waiting for... but it seemed fast. Too fast. No matter what I gave him, he wanted more. And I was fighting it. Everything we did turned into a constant struggle over how far I'd go.

  It took so long to get to this place, I didn't want to rush it. I didn't understand why we couldn't just enjoy the moment, enjoy being together, and not hurry to the next step.

  And by next step, I meant physically.

  There wasn't a lot of discussion about next steps in terms of our relationship.

  After a couple of weeks, Nate started talking about how he felt that I was the one, his true love. It could all be so amazing, he said, if I just let him love me the way he wanted to.

  This was what I'd been fantasizing about for so long. This was what I'd always wanted. So I thought, Yes, I'll do it. Because it will be with him. And that's what matters.

  I decided to surprise him.

  I decided to trust him.

  I decided to go for it.

  I had everything planned, everything in place. Our parents were going to be out late and we'd have the house to ourselves.

  "Are you sure you want to do this, Pen?" Tracy asked me that morning.

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  "I know I don't want to lose him," I replied.

  That was my reasoning. This was for Nate. This had nothing to do with me and what I wanted. It was all for him,

  I wanted it all to be spontaneous, I wanted him to have no idea, and then be overwhelmed with how perfect it (I) was. He didn't even know I was home; I wanted him to think that I was gone for the evening, to make it even more of a surprise. I wanted to show him that I was ready. Willing. Able. I had it all figured out, except what I was going to wear. I snuck into my sister Rita's room and went through her drawers until I found a white silk camisole that didn't leave much to the imagination. I took her red lace robe as well.

  When I was finally ready, I crept down the stairs to Nate's room in our basement. I began to untie the robe, feeling a mixture of excitement and pure nervousness. I couldn't wait to see the look on Nate's face when he saw me. I couldn't wait to prove to him how I felt, so he would finally feel the same way.

  I started to smile as I turned the lights on.

  "Surprise!" I called out.

  Nate popped up from the couch with a look of panic on his face.

  "Hi ..." I said meekly as I dropped the robe on the floor.

  Then a second head popped up from the couch.

  A girl.

  With Nate,

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  I stood frozen, not believing my own eyes, I looked between the two of them as they fumbled for clothing. Finally, I reached for the robe and put it on, trying to cover as much of myself as possible.

  The girl started giggling. "I thought you said your sister was gone for the evening!"

  His sister? Nate didn't have a sister, I tried to tell myself there was a good explanation for what I was seeing. There was no way Nate would do something like this to me. Especially in my own house. Maybe this girl had been in a car accident right outside and Nate had brought her inside to .. . um, comfort her. Or they were just rehearsing a scene from a summer production of.. . Naked Romeo and Juliet Or maybe I had fallen asleep, and it was only a nightmare. .. . no.

  The girl finished putting on her clothes, and Nate, avoiding my eyes, walked her upstairs.

  Such a gentleman.

  After what seemed like an eternity, he returned.

  "Penny," he said, putting his arms around my waist, "I'm sorry that you had to see that."

  I tried to speak, but couldn't find my voice.

  He ran his arms up to my shoulders and started to rub them through the robe. "I'm sorry, Penny. So sorry. You have to believe me that this was something so stupid. I'm an idiot, A complete idiot."

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  I shook my head. "How could you?" The words were barely a whisper, my throat was tight.

  He leaned in. "Honestly, it will never happen again. I mean, nothing did happen. Nothing. It was nothing. She was nothing. You know how much you mean to me. You're the one I want to be with. You're the one I love." He moved his hands down my back. "Maybe this will make you feel better? Tell me what I can do, Penny. I would never want to hurt you."

  The shock was slowly wearing off, revealing the anger underneath. I pulled away. "How could you?" I said. "HOW COULD YOU?" (I screamed the last part.)

  "Look, I already apologized."

  "You APOLOGIZED?"

  "P enny, I'm so sorry."

  "SORRY?"

  "Please stop doing that and just listen to me, I can explain."

  "Fine, then." I sat down on the couch, "Explain."

  Nate glanced nervously at me -- clearly he hadn't expected me to actually sit down and listen to what he had to say.

  "Penny, that girl is nothing to me."

  "Didn't look like it was nothing." I tightened the belt around my robe and grabbed a couch cushion to cover my legs.

  Nate sighed. A full-blown sigh. "Oh, here we go with the dramatics," he said. Then he sat down next to me with his arms folded. "Fine -- i£ you aren't going to accept my apology, I don't know what I can do."

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  "Apology?" I laughed. "Do you think saying 'sorry' is going to erase this? I thought you said I was special." I looked down at the floor, ashamed of myself for even bringing it up.

  "Penny, you are special. But, c'mon, what did you think was going to happen?" Nate's face turned bright red. "I mean, here's the thing. You and I.. . were ... were. .. well, it is what it is ..."

  I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The Nate from just a few short days ago was gone and some ... beast had taken his place.

  "What does that mean?"

  "Jesus Christ." Nate got up from the couch and started to pace. "This is exactly what I'm talking about. Look at you, sitting there like you did when we were little and didn't get what you wanted. Well, I wanted you for a long time, Penny. A very long time. But even though you think you want me, you don't want me. You want your childhood sweetheart version of me. The holding-hands-kiss-on-the-cheek Nate. Well, that Nate grew up. Maybe you should, too."

  "But I..."

  "What? You what? Put your sisters nightie on? That's child's play, Penny. In your mind, its a perpetual wedding day, no honeymoon, no taking off the wedding dress, nothing. But guess what. People have sex. It's not a big deal."

  My body began to shake. It was hitting me.

  Nate shook his head. "I should've known better than to get

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  involved with you. What can I say? I was bored, and it was much easier to give in to your fantasy than to fight it. And, I will admit, you do have that cute little suburban thing going for you. I just never thought you'd turn out to be nothing but a tease."

  I felt sick. Tears started to streak down my face,

  "Oh, come on." Nate sat down and put his arm around me. "Just yell at me some more and you'll feel better. Then we can move on."

  I shook myself free and ran upstairs.

  Away from Nate.

  Away from the lies.

  Away from it all.

  But I couldn't run away. He was living in our house for two more weeks. Every morning I had to get up and face him. Watch him leave the house, knowing he was probably going out with her. Knowing that he had to look elsewhere because I wasn't good enough for him. He would never see me "that way,"

  Every day I was reminded of what a failure I was. How what I'd wanted for years had ended up hurting me more than I could imagine.

  My older sister Rita was the only one in my family that I told, and I swore her to secrecy. I knew this would hurt our parents' longest, deepest friendship, and it didn't seem fair for Nate to destroy that, too. Plus, I was embarrassed, I couldn't bear to let my parents find out how stupid I was.

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  Rita tried to comfort me. She even threatened Nate's life if he came within ten feet of me. But even a hundred feet would've been too close.

  "Penny, its going to be okay," Rita promised as she wrapped her arms around me. "We all run into a few speed bumps along the way."

  I didn't run into a speed bump. I ran into a brick wall.

  And I never wanted to feel that pain again.

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  chapter Three

  I FELT LOST. I NEEDED TO hide away. Escape.

  There was only one thing I could do to ease the pain. I turned to the only four guys who'd never let me down. The only four guys who'd never broken my heart, who'd never disappointed me,

  John, Paul, George, and Ringo,

  Anybody who has ever clung to a song like a musical life raft will understand. Or put on a song to bring out an emotion or a memory. Or had a soundtrack playing in their head to drown out a conversation or a scene.

  As soon as I got back to my room, devastated by Nate's rejection, I turned up the volume so loud on my stereo that my bed began to shake. The Beatles had always been my security blanket. They were a part of my life before I even existed. In fact, if it wasn't for the Beatles, I would've never been born.

  My parents met at a makeshift shrine in a Chicago park the night John Lennon was shot. Both were lifelong Beatles fanatics, and later on they felt they had no choice but to name their three daughters after Beatles songs: "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "Lovely Rita," and "Penny Lane."

  Of course, my older sisters were lucky enough to get normal middle names, but my parents gave me the full Lennon/

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  McCartney treatment: Penny Lane. I was even born on February 7 -- the anniversary of the Beatles arriving in the United States for the first time. I didn't believe it was a coincidence. I wouldn't have put it past my mother to have refused to push just so I could be born on that day.

  Most of our family vacations were spent in Liverpool, England. Every Christmas card we ever sent had us re-creating various Beatles album covers. Truth be told, I should have bated the Beatles, That should've been my rebellion. But instead, the Beatles became part of me. Whether I was happy or sad, I was comforted by their words, their music.

  Now, I tried to drown out Nate's words with a blast of "Help!" While I did, I reached for my journal. The leather-bound book felt heavy in my hands, the years of emotion inside weighing it down. I opened it up and scanned the entries, most of them filled with Beatles lyrics. To anybody else, it would seem like nonsensical associations, but to me, the lyrics meant so much more than their words. Snapshots of my life: the good, the bad, and the boy-related.

  So much heartache. I started to scan my past relationships.

  Dan Walker, senior and, according to Tracy, a "major hottie." We dated for four months at the beginning of sophomore year. Things started out decent enough -- if your definition of decent was going to the movies and then for pizza every Friday night with every other couple in town. Eventually, Dan started to mistake me for this character in the movie Almost Famous, also named Penny Lane, She was a glorified groupie,

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  so Dan got it in his thick head that if he played "Stairway to Heaven" on the guitar, I would give it up. I quickly learned: Looks does not a decent guitar player make. Once Dan realized my pants were staying on, he changed his tune.

  Then there was Derek Simpson, who I was pretty sure only dated me because he thought my pharmacist mother could get him drugs.

  Darren McWilliams wasn't much better. We started dating right before this summer's Nate-craziness set in. He seemed like a sweet guy, until he started hanging out with Laura Jaworski, who happened to be a good friend of mine. He ended up double booking us for the same day. Little did he realize we would compare our calendars.

 
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