Connect the stars, p.1
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       Connect the Stars, p.1

           Marisa de los Santos
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Connect the Stars


  DEDICATION

  For Susan Cooper and Elizabeth Enright,

  whose books we love

  CONTENTS

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  Back Ad

  About the Authors

  Books by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  CHAPTER ONE

  Audrey Alcott

  Harriet Tubman Middle School

  Greenwood, Delaware

  I WAS THIRTEEN YEARS OLD, and I could have written a book on lying. A Field Guide to Lies and Liars by Audrey Alcott. I never actually wrote it because that would have been just too depressing, but if such a book existed, it would include little facts like this:

  Drive-By Liars shoot out of nowhere and keep talking like it never happened. Red Carpet Liars dress up their lies in sparkles and accessories. Charity Liars are sure they’re doing you a favor. Auctioneer Liars talk fast. Helium Liars squeak. Poison Ivy Liars scratch. Sitcom Liars joke. Library Liars whisper. Toothache Liars wince. Underwater Liars take a deep breath first. Fishhook Liars like to watch you squirm. Lost Quarter Liars keep their eyes on the ground. Birdwatcher Liars keep their eyes on the skies.

  These examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

  Yes, I was an expert, possibly the world’s leading. Not because I did it, because I hadn’t lied in years. Not because I’d conducted a scientific study of it. I repeat: I was thirteen years old, a seventh grader; I barely had time to finish my homework, much less conduct scientific studies. I was just born with a gift, I guess you could call it. My parents, the only people besides me who knew about it, called it a superpower, but that was mostly just to make me laugh, and let me tell you, there was nothing super about it.

  I could tell when someone was lying.

  Not just someone. Anyone. To anyone. All the time. Every time. Without trying at all. I could tell if someone was lying the way your typical person can tell if someone is laughing or doing jumping jacks. And I’m talking about every kind of lie. Big, small, planned, spur-of-the-moment. White lies, half-truths, false compliments, faked emotions. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who think a gift like that would be awesome. How cool would it be to be a walking lie detector? Not cool at all. Especially if you happen to think it’s nice to like people, trust people, have friends.

  I mean, think about it: I knew every single time someone was lying. Sometimes I didn’t even have to see the person’s face. Sometimes I could be so far away that I couldn’t even hear the lie. I could just tell. I just knew. And for some reason, once we all hit middle school, kids seemed to lie ten times more than they ever had before.

  “I love your haircut.”

  “I got an A on my social studies test without even studying.”

  “I tried to call you, but my dumb phone wouldn’t work.”

  “Nice job on your presentation!”

  “I wanted to go, but my mom wouldn’t let me.”

  “Oops! I didn’t see you there!”

  “I love your sweater. Wish I had one just like it.”

  “Oh my gosh, I totally forgot it was due today!”

  “I would never say that about you.”

  “I am so sorry.”

  “I promise.”

  “I swear.”

  Most of these would slip right by the average person, but none of them slipped by me. I don’t even know how many I’d hear in a single school day, but if lies were rotten tomatoes splatting against me, I would have gone home stained every day. On especially bad days, I would have walked out of that school drenched, head to toe, in red. It’s why, once I was old enough to make resolutions and stick to them, I decided never to lie myself. It’s just too icky for everyone involved. I can’t say it was always easy to stick to this, especially when it came to white lies, but when a friend asked something like “Do these pants look bad on me?” I got pretty good at saying things like, “You should wear whatever makes you happy,” or “I wish I had hair like yours,” or, in especially desperate situations, “Whoa, look at that orange car over there! It’s like a giant tangerine!” I got some funny looks, along with some hurt ones; some people got downright insulted. But I knew that lying to your friends was the biggest insult of all.

  Then a day came that felt like a miracle, a day when I thought I might actually be doing it: getting through an entire day of school without witnessing or being told a single lie. A lie-free getaway! Just the thought of it filled me with hope. I flew breathlessly out of my last class to my locker and shoved my books into my backpack as fast as I could shove, and victory was just starting to well up inside me like trumpet music, when I slammed my locker door, and there was Lyza Turnbill where she must have been waiting for who knows how long, all moon-bright teeth and eyelashes.

  Lyza’s eyelashes were her trademark. She’d been fairly popular all along, but December of sixth grade, when she got a tube of mascara in her Christmas stocking, she hit new, dizzying, unforeseen heights of popularity. With a few expert sweeps of the mascara wand, she officially became That Girl. But as she stood there next to my locker, the thing I noticed most was not, for once, her lashes. It was her aura. Because Lyza Turnbill was a Migraine Liar.

  Ever since I could remember, my mom had gotten migraines, horrible, throbbing headaches that she swore she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy, even though I’m pretty sure she didn’t have even one enemy, much less a worst one. Sometimes, before an especially bad migraine hit, her senses sent her signals that it was coming. Weird flashing lights. The smell of rotten eggs. My mom called these signals an “aura.”

  Lyza’s aura didn’t smell like rotten eggs, although there would have been a kind of poetic justice in that, and I didn’t get a headache after hearing her lie, although I did feel pretty rotten. Lyza’s aura was just a feeling: tiny, electric prickles that ran, antlike, up and down my arms. Oh, come on, I thought, shivering, no, no, no, not today. Not when I was so close.

  “Audrey,” said Lyza with a moan, “I have some unbelievably bad news.”

  I didn’t say, “Oh, no, what?” The truth was that I had a pretty good idea of what Lyza was about to say, the gist of it anyway. I’d even kind of been expecting it.

  I had the crazy urge to yank the locker door back open and climb inside. My second favorite hermit, the poet Emily Dickinson, refused to speak with visitors to her home, unless it was through a closed door, and this suddenly struck me as a brilliant idea. Unfortunately, the lockers at Harriet Tubman Middle School were too small to hold even the tiniest sixth grader. In fact, they’d probably been designed to keep tiny sixth graders from getting shut inside. Which was reasonable, even kind. But right then, I wasn’t in a reasonable or kind mood. Right then, I silently cursed the locker designers for callously disregarding the needs of normal-sized seventh-grade girls who wanted to climb in on purpose.

  With regret, I turned away from my locker, sighed, and said, “Okay,” even though nothing was especially okay.

  “So you won’t believe this,” Lyza began.

  Hah. I already didn’t.

  “But my mom is making me cancel my birthday party because my grandmother from California decided at th
e very last minute to come visit me. God, she’s so annoying!”

  For a second I was so distracted by the fact that Lyza had not just lied but grandmother lied—it took a very special, extra-cold-blooded kind of liar to drag in a grandmother—that I almost didn’t notice that she was doing exactly what I’d suspected: uninviting me to her party.

  “She wants to surprise me,” said Lyza, rolling her eyes and waving her hands in the air in a mockery of happy surprise. “Except it’s obviously not a surprise anymore because my mom had to tell me so I could cancel my party.”

  How did I know she was lying? How did I know anyone was lying? How could I be so sure? It wasn’t something I could break into pieces and explain. I just knew, naturally, automatically. When Lyza lied, the lie was so much a part of her that it was her, in every breath, syllable, swallow, finger twitch. It went all the way through, from her invisible pores to her delicate bones. Like she’d been soaking in it. Like she was a lie pickle.

  I didn’t say anything, just looked at her with a gaze that I hoped was intimidating, an I-know-you’re-lying-but-I-don’t-really-care stare. Lyza didn’t seem to notice.

  “Leave it to my grandmother,” Lyza said, shaking her head in disgust, “to come all the way from California. California is just so far away.”

  “Yes, it is,” I said, because it was the first true thing she’d said.

  Then, like something melting, Lyza’s face went sad, her mouth pulling down at the corners, her eyes drooping with sorrow. She reached out and squeezed my arm. “I am so sorry. I was so looking forward to hanging out with you, Auds.”

  That’s when I felt a flash of anger. Because saying this to me was so extra, so totally unnecessary, so blatantly, stomach-souringly fake. She’d done what she came to do; she should have just walked away. I was so mad I almost blurted out, “News flash: I wasn’t going to go to your party anyway. I’d rather face a pack of wild hyenas than your stupid friends.”

  The first sentence would have been true. Lyza and I weren’t close. We weren’t anything close to close, and I was sure she’d only invited me because her mom had made her, which would have been the only reason I’d have invited her to my party, if I were still a person who had parties, which I wasn’t. Being at her birthday party when I didn’t even like her would have felt like a lie all by itself. Honestly, I wasn’t even especially upset that she’d uninvited me. I got it. I mean, the way she did it stank, but the act of uninviting was at least sincere. If she’d just come up and said, “Audrey, I didn’t really want to invite you to my party, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t show up,” I might even have been impressed.

  But anyway, the second sentence—“I’d rather face a pack of wild hyenas than your stupid friends”—that one would have been a lie. Not because of the hyenas. I mean, the hyena part wasn’t technically accurate, because I’d done a report on hyenas in fourth grade and knew that the spotted ones, at least, were scary and had no problem eating the occasional human, but the hyena part was so obviously hyperbole that it didn’t count as lying. It was the rest of the sentence that was a lie. I didn’t really think Lyza’s friends were stupid. Most of them were my friends too—or had been, before I decided to give up friends the way people give up smoking or chocolate (except for Janie, of course, my best friend in the world. I’d never give up Janie). But most of them were smart or funny or both. So I didn’t say that second sentence because, as I mentioned earlier, I never lie, and in the end, I didn’t say the first one either, because by the time I’d considered all of this, the angry feeling was gone. All I felt was tired and a little sad, because lies are exhausting and, yeah, a little sad.

  Quietly I said, “Well, if the party’s canceled, at least Boo-Dog will be happy. He won’t have to spend the whole night hiding under the dining room table.”

  I’m not sure why I said it. Maybe just to make the moment less awkward. Or to remind us both that we hadn’t always been who we were right then, the Liar and the Lied To; we’d been more. And then I saw it, so slight but unmistakable: a glimpse of the old, pre-mascara, pre-Y Liza Turnbill, the one who used to play on my and Janie’s soccer team when we were seven; who had, almost every day of the summer before third grade, split a blue raspberry Italian ice with me at the pool; and who owned a sweet, shy, slightly overweight pug named Boo-Dog.

  “Good old Boo-Dog,” said Lyza softly, and for a second, she sounded so much like Liza that I could almost see her blue-stained teeth.

  But then she straightened up, shrugged, and the real Lyza was back.

  “See ya, Audrey,” she said. And with a swing of her blond ponytail, she was gone.

  “Yeah. See ya, Lyza,” I said. I tugged my backpack onto my back and slid both straps over my shoulders, like I was going on a journey instead of just out to the bus line.

  I walked down the hallway and out the front doors of the school where the buses were waiting. But I didn’t get on mine. If I cut through the woods, my house was only a couple of miles away. I’d walked that way before, a lot actually. I knew that no one would be there, except trees, squirrels, and birds, chutes of sunlight slanting through the branches, bright sky overhead, and I knew all these things would be exactly what they seemed to be.

  A squirrel wouldn’t squeeze my arm and pretend to be my friend. A bird wouldn’t lie about its grandmother. The trees would stand tall and straight and honest. The sky would be one long, blue stretch of truth.

  Here are some bad things that might happen if you built a tiny cottage next to a pond in the middle of the woods and went to live in it all by yourself, like my first favorite hermit, Henry David Thoreau, did: blisters from hoeing your tiny, just-enough-beans-for-one-person bean field, beestings, sunburn, loneliness, Twizzlers withdrawal.

  Here are some bad things that would never happen.

  You wouldn’t come back to school the Monday after Lyza Turnbill’s party and have to listen to people blabbing their heads off about how fun it was, right in front of people who hadn’t been invited—or who had been invited and then uninvited, unnecessarily uninvited, since they wouldn’t have gone anyway, not if you paid them a thousand bucks.

  Lyza would not realize that you must have heard about the party, and she wouldn’t therefore feel the need to come up to you and say, “Oh, my gosh, Audrey! My grandmother got double pneumonia right before she was supposed to get on her airplane, and her doctor wouldn’t let her travel, so I had the party anyway, and I completely forgot to call you to tell you it was still happening, and I, like, didn’t even realize I forgot until right this second when I saw you, and I am so so so sorry!”

  If you were living in a house by a pond, you wouldn’t have an English project partner named Xander Fishburne who, just two minutes before Lyza told you this lie, handed you the copy of To Kill a Mockingbird you’d lent him, damp, bloated to twice its normal size, and totally destroyed, and lied to you (his eyes swiveled upward in perfect Birdwatcher Liar fashion) about how his “stupid little brother” had dropped it in the bathtub.

  And this lie would not have put you in a very bad, lie-intolerant mood, so that when Lyza told you her lie, you didn’t just walk away like you should have but instead stopped dead in the middle of the hallway and said, “You gave your grandmother double pneumonia? Double? Wow. That’s cold, even for you.”

  And Lyza would not have narrowed her eyes and said, “I didn’t give it to her. She lives three thousand miles away from me, at least. She just got it.”

  And you would not have said, “Did you ever consider, even for a second, just telling me the truth? Just saying, ‘Audrey, I uninvited you to my party because I didn’t really want you there because we aren’t really friends, and I thought that maybe you’d never find out I had it, but then everyone came back to school talking about how my dress matched the hot-pink icing on my three-tiered red velvet cake, and now you know I had the party, and I don’t care that much, but it is just a little bit awkward, so I think we should both just forget about it and move on.’
Did you ever think of just saying that? Instead of making up a lie about your grandmother having pneumonia in not one, but both lungs? Old people can die from that. Did you know that, Lyza?”

  And if you were hoeing your bean field in your straw hat and old clothes, miles away from Harriet Tubman Middle School, Lyza would not have started waving her arms around, her big, shiny, obviously new silver bracelet with the rhinestone cursive L dangling from it would not have been practically blinding you, and she would not have started shrieking indignantly, “How dare you call me a liar? Yeah, we’re not friends because—guess what?—you don’t have any friends anymore because you think you’re so great and no one can stand you!” so loudly that everyone in the entire school and possibly everyone in the entire town and possibly even Lyza’s grandmother in California could hear.

  And all of this is why I should have moved to that house in the woods before middle school even started.

  Because I had made a vow never to lie, I couldn’t say, even to myself, that what Lyza said to me didn’t hurt. It hurt a lot, and part of the reason it did is that it was—at least partly—true. I had decided weeks ago to just stop having friends (except Janie) because if you didn’t have any friends, you didn’t have to walk around worrying that one of them was going to lie to you. I’d stopped answering texts, stopped asking people over, stopped accepting invitations, and people noticed. They thought I was pushing them away, which I guess I was. Still, it hurt like a kick to the shins to hear Lyza say that I didn’t have friends. I stood there, pressing my books against my chest to keep from shaking as she stared at me triumphantly.

  “That’s not true,” I said. My voice came out so small, it was almost a whisper. “Janie’s my friend.”

  Lyza rolled her eyes and said, “Hah! Janie hardly ever even comes to school anymore, probably so she doesn’t have to see you. And when she does come, she hardly ever talks anymore, probably because she doesn’t want to talk to you.”

  “She’s been sick a lot lately,” I said.

  “Sick of you,” said Lyza.

 
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