Im not your other half a.., p.1

I'm Not Your Other Half: A Cooney Classic Romance, page 1


I'm Not Your Other Half: A Cooney Classic Romance

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I'm Not Your Other Half: A Cooney Classic Romance

  I’m Not Your Other Half

  The Cooney Classic Romances

  Caroline B. Cooney

  For Louisa, Sayre and Harold


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  A Biography of Caroline B. Cooney

  Chapter 1

  “DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?” I said to Annie. We kept laughing instead of talking. We’ve been telephone freaks for the past eight years, but never did we have a conversation with fewer words and more laughter.

  “It’s incredible,” agreed my best friend. “The last time we discussed life, Fraser, we weren’t too impressed.”

  I twirled my telephone cord like a jumprope. A rhyme I hadn’t thought of since Annie and I were nine ran through my head. Fraser and Michael, sitting in a tree, k, i, s, s, i, n, g. I giggled again. “Now look at us, Annie. Perfection times two.”

  But only I had perfection. Annie had gone and fallen for Price, which really was incredible, because Price was the most unsuitable person in all Chapman High. Whereas Michael—nobody could argue that Michael was anything less than perfect.

  “Imagine romance beginning with a little boy in horn-rimmed glasses asking for a submachine gun,” said Annie. “God works in mysterious ways, Fraser.”

  All good things in life are better when you can share them with a best friend. Thank you, God, for Annie, I thought. For crazy ideas like Toybrary and little girls like Kit, and most of all for wonderful handsome perfect boys like Michael.

  I revised the thought.

  It could not be plural. There was only one boy on earth as wonderful as Michael Hollander.

  Annie and I were in the library, as we were every Thursday afternoon. We had painted our corner orange, with rainbows soaring to the ceilings, but still, Toybrary was a dark place, and I was often surprised that the children found it so easily.

  “The submachine gun has been checked out,” I told the little boy. “How about a nice Nerf Ping-Pong ball set?”

  The kid was utterly disgusted. Here he came wanting war toys, and this dumb seventeen-year-old girl tried to make him settle for Nerfballs. Annie and I had said many times we should have had a peace-loving toy-lending library, but then we wouldn’t have had any little boy patrons. We showed him our war shelf (G.I. Joe, battery-operated tanks, plastic rifles), and for the next half hour Annie and I were stranded in this pile of arms and munitions while an eight-year-old made rifle noises and killed off his enemy.

  “Annie?” I said. “Do you ever think a serious mistake has been made? That some other girl is leading the life intended for you?”

  Annie was counting sea monsters in a returned Survive game. “Definitely,” she said. “God did not mean for me to be stranded at the library loaning out space killer wands.”

  We laughed, but mostly from habit. Annie and I always laugh together, even when we’re depressed. I was relieved when Kit Lipton came in. She was my absolute favorite Toybrary patron: a seven-year-old gap-toothed girl with a passion for Barbie Doll clothing. I helped Kit undo the tiny snaps on a Barbie safari outfit and tried to remember being seven. My second-grade teacher’s hoop earrings were always getting caught in her hair. They made me dive off the deep end in swimming class, and I cried. I was a sheep for Hallowe’en, and everybody said ba-a-a-a, ba-a-a-a, till I tore off the costume, stuffed it down a toilet and got in trouble with the principal.

  Kit sorted through miniature bridal gowns, ice-skating skirts and ski jackets. She was an awkward child, with lopsided brown pigtails and growing-out bangs which eluded the rubber bands. An adult came in for a difficult jigsaw puzzle, and two little boys wanted me to count their returned Legos and verify that all 498 pieces were there.

  “I am so thirsty,” announced Kit, “that my teeth itch.”

  Annie laughed and began pouring everybody apple juice. Naturally everybody spilled it, and then everybody fled before I could yell at them. Annie and I were left alone with 498 sticky Legos.

  Only half an hour till we close up, I thought gladly. Then I can go home to the really thrilling things in my life—homework; TV reruns; phone calls to organize the fund-raiser.

  I was in charge of the appliance booth. Old radios, used blow dryers, unwanted hair curlers.

  “If only,” I said to Annie, “there could be something in my life sufficiently exciting to make my hair curl.”

  And at that very moment, during that very thought, something sufficiently exciting walked into my life.

  Michael Hollander.

  When Annie and I were thirteen, we read nothing but romances. We read one a day, like apples. And if apples keep the doctors away, then romance novels keep the boys away. We went in and out of crushes as if we were charter members of the Crush-of-the-Month Club. But the right boy never came along, and we found early on that we disliked spending time with semi-right boys. Annie and I did everything up to and including making offerings to the Goddess of Love in Annie’s gazebo. It’s hard to believe now that we felt so romantic about that gazebo. It was a stage, I suppose, when the style of the car means more than arriving at the destination, when the brand of blue jeans is more important than the fit. All we wanted was boys. Our only specification was gender. But once we started dating, we realized that not just any boy would do. He has to have a good sense of humor, we’d tell each other, thus eliminating several hundred of the one thousand five hundred boys in Chapman High. He has to have brains, we’d add—which cut the number down by another several hundred.

  One night we were in Annie’s gazebo, giddy from the scent of climbing roses and lavender shrubs, and Annie said to me, “I hope you realize, Fraser, that we have it down to only five boys. And all of those five already have girl friends.”

  We laughed hysterically, not sure whether it was funny or awful.

  Now, on the telephone, we laughed some more, and it was neither hysteria nor grief. It was sheer delight.

  We discussed Price (for Annie) and Michael (for me). “The year Michael rode the school bus with us, he was a shrimp,” said Annie.

  “He’s six foot one and a half now,” I said. I knew because at Toybrary he stood with his back to the huge flowered How Tall Are You? poster that all our little kids measure themselves on.

  “I can’t wait for tomorrow,” said Annie.

  “Michael,” I breathed, as if his name were a password to romance.

  Most towns the size of Chapman would have two high schools, but we have one, and over three thousand of us attend. My own class has 719. I’ve lived in Chapman all my life and gone only to public schools, but I don’t know a third of the kids in my own class, let alone in the whole school.

  Michael was a junior like me, but we had never had a class together. If Michael played on any teams, it wasn’t for a sport I went to see. If he was in a club, it wasn’t one I had joined. I measured him—six feet one and a half inches high—and I grieved that we had no horizontal measuring stick for the breadth of his shoulders. I was rather surprised I even remembered his name. First and last names—wow, lady, I said to myself, staring up from my tiny Toybrary chair. What a memory. So how come you can’t zero in on chemistry like that?

  “Hi,” said Michael, drawing out the syllable to hide the fact that he could not remember our names.

  “Hi, Michael,” I said. Annie just looked up, her elfin smile sparkling in a cream-co
mplexioned face surrounded by puffs of short dark hair.

  “This is my little sister, Katurah,” said Michael. “She’d like to check out a toy, if that’s okay.”

  “That’s super,” I said, and I took my eyes off Michael to look at Katurah. It surprised me that it was quite hard to stop looking at Michael, and it surprised me even more that I had not noticed Katurah. This was due in part to Michael’s large frame, and the billowing effect of his huge padded ski vest, but it was also due to Katurah’s shyness. She was clinging to his legs. I’d have to peel her off even to look at toys.

  “Katurah,” I repeated. “That’s a lovely name. I like all the sounds in it.” I didn’t ask her to spell it, because she might not be able to, and we wouldn’t exactly win a new patron to Toybrary by publicly humiliating her. One of my first volunteers demanded of kids that they know their right hand from their left in order to use certain toys. Of course, they never could, and they’d flee in embarrassment rather than make the mistake. “I have an unusual name, too, Katurah. My name is Fraser. Fraser MacKendrick. Everybody who hears my name thinks I’m a boy. Every year when school begins, I have to go down and sign out of boys gym and into girls gym.”

  I said this to put Katurah at ease, and it worked, because she inched noticeably from behind Michael’s leg, but I had not really said it for Katurah. I said it for Michael. I wanted him to know my name. I wanted to get us chatting.

  “A shame to change that schedule,” remarked Michael. “If you’d stayed in boys gym, it would certainly have livened things up.”

  I was sitting on a very low chair: a chair meant for people three feet tall, and Michael was still standing. I flashed a smile at him, and he grinned back. The smile stuck on my face. I thought: I like this boy. His shoulders were so wide his ski jacket hung awkwardly. I yearned to tug it straight. “Well, Katurah,” I said, trying to remember the purpose of Toybrary, “how old are you?”

  Katurah clung to Michael’s legs and muttered.

  “Fine,” I said, though I hadn’t understood a syllable. “Then you’re old enough to check out toys. We’re open every Thursday. You borrow any toy you want for two weeks. Use your regular library card.”

  Katurah peeked out from behind Michael and whispered. Annie and I had been running Toybrary for seven months. It didn’t take a mental giant to know what she was saying, because all the little kids her age said it. “That’s all right,” I said. I’m not really the one with the comforting personality; Annie is. I just copy her technique. “It’s easy to get a library card,” I explained. “Michael will fill it out for you. Just sign it.”

  She gulped when I showed her the form. She was thin and wispy, with none of the charm Kit Lipton possessed. Katurah’s hair was limp and pale, “straw colored” if you were feeling generous. She looked as if she would grow into the kind of girl that drives me crazy: purposely weak and clinging.

  Katurah took the pencil I gave her and laboriously began writing out her name. Her printing was fat and cumbersome, and she ran out of space with two letters left over. “That’s okay,” I told her to prevent any tears. “Turn the card over and finish your name on the back.”

  Michael pulled up another tiny chair and sat down next to me. How do you expect me to function with you this close? I thought. But he disregarded my presence entirely and said to his sister, “Nice work, Katurah.” It was terrible work, but he seemed honest when he admired it. She smiled at him, and it warmed her face considerably.

  Annie got down on the floor with Katurah and began showing her what we had in her age group. Katurah was not interested in her age group. She wanted a calligraphy set, a Scrabble game and a relief-map globe that has a panel board so you can light up the country that interests you.

  Michael and I sat a millimeter away, our knees doubled up, our bottoms scarcely fitting on the tiny chairs. It was awkward enough to be funny, and we smiled at each other. Michael said, “You are certainly good with little kids.”

  “Thank you,” I said, although clearly it was Annie who was being good with this particular little kid. I was more in my element with kids Michael’s size. I loved organizing Toybrary, and I mildly like running it, but I don’t care for the actual pint-size patrons. In winter they always need a Kleenex and in summer they always have mud on their shoes. What I have learned most about Toybrary is that I had better not make a career in day-care nurseries.

  “You know, Michael,” I said, fishing for information, “I wasn’t aware you even had a little sister. I thought you were an only child.” I knew nothing whatsoever of Michael’s family, but it sounded good.

  “This is actually my stepsister,” said Michael. Katurah looked up and regarded him solemnly. “My father remarried last year and Katurah came with the package.”

  He and Katurah exchanged a long look and suddenly I liked both of them a lot more. You could feel in that look a lot of compromises—a decision to make the best of a less-than-perfect situation. In Katurah I saw a maturity that I’d never have suspected, and in Michael a generosity and patience that I found very attractive.

  I filled out the library information on the card.

  Michael talked about school. I was so interested in what he was saying that it was all I could do not to write “4th period, chemistry, Mr. Bermer,” when I meant to enter the phone number.

  Of course, Michael was in nothing that I was in. He took some of the same courses, but in a school as large as Chapman, there’s quite a selection of chemistry labs and American history classes. He was in Computer Club. I took the required half year of Computer Usage as a sophomore and although I enjoyed it, it certainly didn’t inspire me to repeat the experience voluntarily. He was in Cross Country Ski. I detest having cold feet hour after hour.

  In Chapman High, it’s hard to have overlap unless you plan it. I looked at Michael. The harsh wool of his hunting shirt was almost against my cheek. I thought, Maybe I’ll plan a little overlap.

  Katurah came over for her library card. “Welcome,” I said formally. “I hope we see you every Thursday.” And I hope it’s always Michael who brings you.

  “My name is from the Bible,” said Katurah solemnly. “What’s Fraser from?”

  Shy children hardly ever volunteer things that fast. I was quite complimented. And it gave me a chance to inform Michael without making a big deal of it.

  “Fraser,” I told her, “was my great-great-grandmother’s maiden name. My mother came upon it during a genealogy search. She thought it was very attractive, and I was the next child to be born, so I got saddled with it.” Actually it had been my father’s genealogy stage, but as usual in their relationship, Mom carried out the work. I doubt that my mother would care if all ancient graveyards were turned into parking lots—she just wanted to do whatever Dad was doing.

  “My name is boring,” said Michael. “But I like Fraser. How come your mother didn’t name you by your great-great-grandmother’s first name instead?”

  “Because her first name was Viola Maude. Even my mother realized that it would be hard to go through life in contemporary America with a name like Viola Maude.”

  “Viola Maude,” whispered Katurah. “I love that name, Fraser. If I get a new doll for Christmas, I’m going to call her Viola Maude.”

  Michael teased her gently about Christmas and Santa and the odds on getting a doll that could be named Viola Maude. I could not take my eyes off his sweet smile and his firm features. He had a longish nose, a rather dramatic profile for a soft-spoken person.

  I have hazel eyes, but last year I got green-tinted contact lenses. It makes my eyes startlingly bright, a green not found in nature. Although I like it (and I love contacts; they make me feel so much prettier than my old glasses), I’m sometimes embarrassed by my eyes.

  Michael glanced at me, and suddenly I felt like a doll named Viola Maude, a porcelain doll with eyes too green, staring glassily out from behind too-long black eyelashes.

  I began blushing. Must look like a Christmas tree, I thought. S
carlet and green.

  Michael said, “Are you going to the football game on the chartered bus Saturday?”

  Our high school sends a great many graduates on to State, and there’s quite a strong State following. Each home football game, the high school charters a bus. You can sign up for the season or for a single game. I don’t care enough for football to bother with the whole season, but Annie and I always go once. We had, indeed, chosen this Saturday. “Yes, I am,” I told him.

  Michael smiled again, and I drowned in the smile, but he didn’t notice. He stood up, taking Katurah’s hand. “That’ll be nice,” he said. “I’ll see you there. Thanks for helping my sister.”

  “You’re welcome,” I said.

  “Goodbye, Fraser.” He said it nicely, with the zh sound I use, instead of the z. Frazhure. It’s softer that way, less demanding of a person who expected you to be named Susan or Kimberley.

  A little girl took home a Noisy Number Robot Electronic Teacher, and a little boy went for a Rough Rider Impossible Super Devil Roadway Loop, and then it was time to close up. Annie was laughing a rippling chuckle that kept on going, like a brook. “Do you have a problem?” I said mildly.

  “No. You do. Your crush is developing like a car at the Indianapolis Speedway, Fraser. Zero to one hundred in sixty seconds.”

  “You know,” she said over the phone, “I was jealous that night.”

  “You were?” Impossible to imagine Annie having unpleasant thoughts about me or anyone else. “It didn’t show.”

  “I could just see you with the perfect boy. Off you’d go, dancing down the sand, your honey hair flying in the breeze, your hand in his, laughing together. I’d be stranded there without a boy. Alone and cold.”

  I shivered slightly before I laughed it off. More than once, the same scene had appeared in my mind. About our friendship and what could happen to it if one of us started dating and the other did not. All those offerings in the gazebo paid off, I thought. We’ve not only started dating terrific boys—we’re double dating them.

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