Imagine Us Happy, page 1
Some love stories aren’t meant to last
Stella lives with depression, and her goals for junior year are pretty much limited to surviving her classes, staying out of her parents’ constant fights and staving off unwanted feelings enough to hang out with her friends Lin and Katie.
Until Kevin. A quiet, wry senior who understands Stella and the lows she’s going through like no one else. With him, she feels less lonely, listened to—and hopeful for the first time since ever...
But to keep that feeling, Stella lets her grades go and her friendships slide. And soon she sees just how deep Kevin’s own scars go. Now little arguments are shattering. Major fights are catastrophic. And trying to hold it all together is exhausting Stella past the breaking point. With her life spinning out of control, she’s got to figure out what she truly needs, what’s worth saving—and what to let go.
Praise for Four Weeks, Five People:
“Moving.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Readers looking for contemporary fiction
that thoughtfully tackles the challenges inherent
to psychological and emotional disorders will
easily connect with this book.” —Booklist
Also by Jennifer Yu
Four Weeks, Five People
IMAGINE US HAPPY
without whom I could never have written a book about love & family.
Jennifer Yu is a Boston resident and recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied creative writing. In her free time, she enjoys reading books she’s too old for, roping unsuspecting friends into listening to her play the guitar and being far too invested in Boston sports teams. She is the author of Four Weeks, Five People. Find her online at byjenniferyu.Tumblr.com or on Twitter, @yuontop.
Reflections 1 of 9
Chapter 1: 68. The Last Time
Chapter 2: 0. A Memory
Reflections 2 of 9
Chapter 3: 1. Resolutions for Junior Year
Chapter 4: 2.
Chapter 5: 3.
Chapter 6: 4.
Chapter 7: 5. A Brief Explanation
Chapter 8: 6.
Chapter 9: 7.
Chapter 10: 8.
Chapter 11: 9. Why I Run
Chapter 12: 10.
Chapter 13: 11.
Chapter 14: 12.
Chapter 15: 48.
Chapter 16: 13.
Chapter 17: 14.
Chapter 18: 15.
Chapter 19: 16.
Chapter 20: 44. March
Chapter 21: 45.
Chapter 22: 17.
Chapter 23: 18.
Chapter 24: 19.
Chapter 25: 20.
Reflections 3 of 9
Chapter 26: 27.
Chapter 27: 30.
Reflections 4 of 9
Chapter 28: 21.
Chapter 29: 22.
Chapter 30: 23.
Chapter 31: 24.
Chapter 32: 25.
Chapter 33: 26.
Chapter 34: 28.
Chapter 35: 29.
Chapter 36: 31.
Reflections 5 of 9
Chapter 37: 60. April
Chapter 38: 32.
Chapter 39: 33.
Chapter 40: 34.
Chapter 41: 35.
Chapter 42: 57.
Chapter 43: 58.
Chapter 44: 37.
Reflections 6 of 9
Chapter 45: 36.
Reflections 7 of 9
Chapter 46: 39.
Chapter 47: 46.
Chapter 48: 40.
Chapter 49: 41.
Chapter 50: 38.
Chapter 51: 42.
Chapter 52: 43.
Chapter 53: 47.
Chapter 54: 59.
Reflections 8 of 9
Chapter 55: 49.
Chapter 56: 50.
Chapter 57: 51.
Chapter 58: 52.
Chapter 59: 53.
Chapter 60: 54.
Chapter 61: 55.
Chapter 62: 56.
Chapter 63: 61.
Chapter 64: 62. A Brief Interlude
Chapter 65: 63.
Chapter 66: 64.
Chapter 67: 65.
Chapter 68: 66.
Chapter 69: 67.
Reflections 9 of 9
Chapter 70: 69.
Chapter 71: 70.
Excerpt from Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu
Everyone always wants to know how it ends. That’s the best part of love stories, right? The part when the prince comes back to rescue the princess with a white horse and a sword that sparkles and a smile that sparkles even brighter. Or when the second suitor with the slicked-back hair who came out of nowhere turns out to be a total jerk, and our heroine’s love triangle resolves itself in a beautiful, heart-rending reconciliation with Mr. Right in the pouring rain. Or, if it’s not that kind of love story, it’s the part where our main character is left waiting outside in the rain all alone, cursing her naiveté and wishing she’d realized sooner that “true love” is nothing but Disney’s greatest, most profitable invention.
There are a thousand different love stories and a thousand different ways that each of them could end, and believe me, I know—there’s nothing worse than reading three hundred pages or watching two hours of a whirlwind romance expecting rose petals and wedding streamers only to get heartbreak instead.
I guess that’s why I’m starting at the end. I don’t want anyone to be confused about the type of love story I’m about to tell, or where it’s going, or what to expect. And I don’t want to disappoint anyone in search of a happy ending. I’ll say it from the start: this isn’t that kind of story.
68. The Last Time
The last time Kevin and I fight, it’s the second week of April. A week straight of seventy-plus-degree temperatures have finally coaxed the trees in my backyard into full bloom. I’m watching the leaves of the old oak tree sway as Kevin shouts at me for the last time.
“Goddamn it, Stella,” he says. “You can’t even look at me, can you?”
He’s wrong. It would be easy to look at him. It always has been. It would be easy to turn away from the window, to walk to where he stands across the room, to take his hands in mine and look him square in the eye. But then I would start crying, I know, and he would soften in the way he always does when he’s burned down the anger inside him and doesn’t have the energy to shout anymore, and then I would forget in the way I always do that it’s only a matter of time before something reignites it and we start all over again.
“Stella,” Kevin says. His voice cracks, and the sound of that is almost—almost—enough to break me. Even after all this time, after everything we’ve been through, after Jeremy and Columbia and the party in March, after all that, Kevin is still the only person who says my name like that. Like the key to something beautiful and secret is tucked between the syllables.
“I think you were right,” I respond quietly. “This isn’t going to work.”
“Come on, Stella, you know that I didn’t mean that,” Kevin says. And all of a sudden, he’s pissed again. I can hear it in the quickening of his breath, in the way his words start tumbling out of his mouth all at once, sharp like knives. “You’re really going to give up on this? On us? Over some stupid thing that I said? Stella, you know I only said that because you ditched m
It’s 4:05 in the afternoon. My mother will be home from the grocery store soon, and Kevin will have to leave.
It’s only a matter of time.
“Talk to me, Stella, please, come on,” Kevin says. And then, when I don’t: “You know what? Fine. I’m leaving. I’m not going to stay here and beg for something you obviously don’t give a shit about.”
Kevin pushes his chair back so violently that it falls over and hits the floor as he stands.
“I fucking love you,” he says loudly. “I’m sorry if that’s not enough for you.”
He grabs his backpack off my bed, knocking half of my books off my desk in the process. I suppose I should be thankful that no one has thrown anything yet, unlike when we fought a couple of weeks ago and shattered my window in the process. I hear him stomp across the room and pause in my doorway. He’s looking at me, I know. Waiting.
“You’re being a coward. You know that? You’re just fucking scared.”
I barely register the words. The wind outside has picked up again and I’m watching the branches of the oak tree arch gracefully in the wind, leaves fluttering into each other. By the time Kevin swears one last time, storms down the stairs and slams the front door shut behind him, it feels like I’m listening from a place very, very far away, where none of this really matters.
The last time Kevin and I fight, there’s a profound sense of anticlimax about the whole deal. The emotional pyrotechnics will come later, I know, but in the moment I am surprisingly calm. I do not yell. I do not cry. I do not run back into his arms and let myself fall headfirst, foolishly back in love with a mirage.
The last time Kevin and I fight, it is the second week of April. It’s seventy-five and perfect outside, and the afternoon sun makes every particle of dust drifting through my room look like a tiny speck of gold. I have known Kevin for eight months, have sworn up and down that I love him for five, have fought with and fought for and fought because of him so many times the mere thought of it exhausts me.
The last time that Kevin and I fight, I sit back and stare out the window and let him go. Because yes, I am scared, and yes, I am being a fucking coward. But there is nothing left here worth being brave for.
0. A Memory
When we first moved from Hartford to Wethersfield, my dad hung a tire swing from one of the branches of the old oak tree. To my six-year-old self, that swing was magic. A way of escaping gravity that the scientists, cooped up in their offices and boring laboratories, somehow missed. I would have sworn that I went faster on that swing than cars moved on the highway.
One afternoon, I fell off the swing and broke my arm. It hurt like hell, but what hurt more was getting back from the hospital and seeing that my dad had cut the tire swing down. I didn’t care that I had to wear a splint for two months, or that all the kids at school started making fun of me for being clumsy, or that I had to learn to write left-handed to take my spelling tests. I forgot the excruciating pain of hitting the ground with my arm bent the wrong way and the sickening crack of bone giving way underneath my weight the moment I saw that the swing was gone. Who cared about the pain? I just wanted to feel that magic again.
Sometimes I think of Kevin and all I can remember is that last fight. Kevin, calling me a coward and storming out of my house. And me, refusing to talk to or even look at him in a moment when the desperation in his voice could wring water from the desert. I remember that fight, and I wonder how two people who loved each other could grow to be so deliberately, vindictively cruel.
But I guess that to understand what happened that last day, you have to understand who Kevin and I were before—before he became a boy screaming at the girl he swore he loved, and before I became the girl loving him right back even though I knew I couldn’t. You have to understand everything that happened to us between August of 2016 and that day in April. You have to start at the beginning, to when that boy just wanted to read his copy of Modern Philosophy: An Anthology and get into Columbia and the girl was just trying to survive junior year with minimal emotional fallout. Back to the first day of school, to our first class with Dr. Mulland, to the first time I met Kevin.
1. Resolutions for Junior Year
Find somewhere to hang out with Lin and Katie in this town that ISN’T Porky’s Pizza, the roller rink or, for fuck’s sake, THE MALL.
Get an 1800 on the SATs, or whatever it takes to get into a school on the opposite side of this country.
Break twenty minutes in the 5K by our last cross-country meet of the season.
Convince Mom and Dad that if they’re going to scream at each other all the time, the least they can do is get me some nice speakers for Christmas.
Spend more time in therapy listening to Karen talk, and less time coming up with unlikely escape routes from her office.
Ditch Homecoming, on account of the fact that it is a glorified high school mating ritual.
Ditch prom, on account of the fact that it is a glorified high school mating ritual.
Convince Katie to ditch Ashley Kurtzmann’s house parties, on account of the fact that they are ALL GLORIFIED HIGH SCHOOL MATING RITUALS.
Hate people less, despite their unreasonable obsession with glorified high school mating rituals.
Lin, in typical Lin fashion, arrives at my house on the first day of school at 7:15 a.m. sharp.
I, in typical Stella fashion, spend fifteen minutes lying in bed after my alarm goes off trying to work up the motivation to get dressed instead of actually doing it, and don’t make it out the front door until 7:22 a.m.
Lin is wearing a black T-shirt that says:
Her long, brown hair is pulled into a high ponytail, and I notice as I clamber into shotgun that she’s put on eyeliner today, which is about as much makeup as Lin ever wears. That’s how I know that Lin is taking the first day of school Very Seriously.
“Stella!” Lin says, and wraps me in a hug. “God, it feels like it’s been forever. How are you?”
I can feel the grin spreading across my face before I even know why I’m smiling. Maybe it’s the fact that Lin looks so happy to see me that she doesn’t even say anything about how late I am. Maybe it’s that she’s forgotten to put the car in Park before reaching over to hug me, and we start rolling down the hill before she goes, “oh, shit,” and brakes hard. Maybe it’s that it really does feel like it’s been forever—it’s been a long morning, and an even longer summer—but now that I’m sitting in Lin’s car, half-terrified that her shitty 1996 Ford Taurus is going to roll right into my front porch, it also feels like nothing’s changed at all.
“I’m good,” I say automatically, because I’ve learned that responding to “How are you?” with any answer other than “Good” is a great way to find yourself trapped in conversations you don’t want to be having with people you don’t want to be having them with. Then I remember that Lin is one of my best friends—not my parents, not my therapist, not Ashley Kurtzmann making her best bid for Miss Congeniality—and I try to be a little bit more honest.
“Well, as good as anyone about to suffer through another year at Bridgemont could possibly be, anyway, which is maybe not-so-good,” I say. “And my parents are at each other’s throats, of course, but what else is new? What about you? How’s the college application struggle?”
Lin rolls her eyes as she pulls out of my neighborhood and starts driving toward Katie’s house. “I have written two hundred and fifty drafts of my supplementary essays for Brown,” she announces, “and every single one of them is terrible. Don’t even get me started on the common application essay.”
“Bleak,” I say. If Lin doesn’t think she can get into a good school, then I might as well just mail it in and take a full-time job at McDonald’s now.
“Not one Olympic medal?” I ask, faux-outraged.
Lin parks the car in Katie’s driveway and makes a face at me. “That’s not funny, Stella. Wait ’til you and Katie go through this when you’re seniors next year. Speaking of—holy shit. What has she done with her hair?”
I turn around to get a better look, but the only thing I manage to get a glimpse of before Katie climbs into the car behind us is a flash of bright, bright purple.
“I FUCKING MISSED YOU GUYS SO MUCH!” Katie shouts.
“Your hair,” Lin says, as we both crane our heads around our seats to stare at Katie. “It’s—wow.”
“Do you guys love it?” Katie asks. And then, before either of us can respond: “I think it really says—” she pauses, then adopts a bossy, confrontational tone and rolls her blue eyes upward “—‘I know what I want and I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks.’”
“Oh, that’s great,” I say. “Seriously, Katie, everyone who’s never had a conversation with you will be really convinced.”
“Shut up, Stella,” Katie says, laughing. “How was camp? How’s life? I have so much to tell you guys.”
The truth is, I am often completely bewildered as to how Katie and I are still friends. In the third grade, we were assigned to do a project on sequoia trees together, and I suppose the process of spending an entire afternoon drawing pictures of trees and pasting them onto a poster is the kind of lifelong bonding experience that’s strong enough to withstand vastly divergent personalities and completely incompatible definitions of appropriate speaking volume. If it were anyone other than Katie, I would hate her—but the power of the sequoia, apparently, is mighty indeed.
“Let’s not talk about camp,” I say as Lin starts driving toward school. “I was having such a nice morning and I’d hate to ruin it. Even managed to get out of bed and everything.”