Leap Day Read online

  “Thank you,” I tell him.

  I hand it to my father. “You look, I’m too scared.”

  “Hey, this is a great picture!” he says.

  “Really?” My heart leaps.

  “No,” he says, stifling a laugh.

  “No?” I grab the license from him and force myself to look. My face is flushed and one eye is half closed. My lips are kind of puckered. I look like a sick fish.

  “Hey, at least your hair looks pretty,” he says.

  I frown. “It’s really awful, isn’t it?” Then I start to laugh and my father leans over to look again.

  “I’ve seen worse,” he says as we head out to the car.


  He pretends not to hear me.

  On the way back to school I stare at the license, struck by how official it looks. It looks even cooler when I cover my picture with my thumb. “Hey Dad, if you want, I can drop you at home and take the car back to school with me.”

  “No thanks,” he says. “Besides, you’re only insured to drive Grandma’s car.”

  My parents still call the Shark Grandma’s car even though she died eight years ago. Sometimes, when it rains, I can still catch a whiff of her White Shoulders perfume. “You added me to the insurance before I passed the test?”

  “I told you I knew you could do it.”

  “I almost didn’t. Did you see that parallel parking job?”

  “I couldn’t watch.”

  “I wish the instructor hadn’t been watching.”

  We pull up to the school and I check my watch. Physics class should be almost over. “Thanks for taking me, Dad,” I tell him, jumping out of the car. “Let me know when you want to finish that conversation about the dreams.”

  “Soon,” he says. Then, “Wait, this came for you this morning from UPS.” He hands me a box about the size of a regular tube of toothpaste.

  I turn the box over in my hands. The postmark says “Boston.” It must be from my leapmate Niki. I shove it deep into my book-bag. I’ll open it at home. It will give me something to look forward to. As expected, the halls are empty when I get inside and it’s a little spooky. Just me and the ghosts of students past. Maybe even poor Hunter Jr., who was lost before his time. I stop at my locker and grab my lunch. The door to my physics class is open so I peer in. The class is gathered around Mr. Lipsky’s desk, watching some pulley-and-lever experiment. I enter as quietly as possible and set my bag down on my desk. I join the group and stand next to Zoey, who I am happy to see made it to school after all. I should probably tell her about the smudge of orange on the side of her neck, but I don’t want to upset her.

  As soon as she sees me she grabs my arm and asks in a loud whisper, “Did you get it?”

  I nod, and she grips my arm even tighter and starts jumping up and down. “So the lake is on for tonight!” Between her fingers are more orange streaks.

  “Yup.” I’m starting to wonder if my friends are looking forward to this initiation more than I am.

  “Can I see your license?” she asks when the experiment is over. I quickly change the subject. “So I hear there was a self-tanning incident this morning?”

  She nods. “I was as orange as, well, an orange. I looked like I came from another planet.”

  “Welcome to my driver’s license picture.”

  “I’m sure it’s not that bad.”

  “Trust me, it’s that bad.”

  I open my notebook to get out my homework when Jeff Grand comes over and says, “So?”

  I smile. “I passed.”

  He looks confused and then says, “Passed what?”

  “My driver’s test. What did you think I meant?”

  His cheeks redden. “Actually I was talking about Katy. Did you tell her I wanted to ask her to the prom?”

  Oops, I had totally forgotten about that. “I haven’t told her yet. But you should know that only juniors and seniors can ask someone to the prom.”

  Again, he looks confused. “Oh, I didn’t realize that.” “There’s always the Spring Dance if you like her that much.”

  “It’s not that I like her, exactly.”

  “Then why do you want to ask her to the prom?”

  Jeff is apparently stumped by what should be an easy question. He gives his head a little shake and goes back to his desk. And women are supposed to be hard to figure out?

  10:35 A.M. – 12:15 A.M.

  Chapter 4B: Everyone

  Jason Count likes to be the first person in the gym and is surprised to see Josie Taylor sitting alone on the bleachers. He smiles back at her because it’s the polite thing to do, but really he’s thinking that he wishes he was alone and that he doesn’t need one more girl to have a crush on him. Things are complicated enough with Emily. When they saw each other in the hall between first and second period, she barely spoke to him before running off with her friends. He can’t understand why she would do that after all they’d been through the night before. He hasn’t considered that she might be embarrassed. He thinks he must have done something wrong. He jogs around the perimeter of the gym, going over everything he has said to her since this morning on the bus. He is careful not to get too close to the bleachers so Josie won’t think he’s flirting with her. Twelve years later he will see Josie at their high school reunion, won’t recognize her, and will ask her out.

  Emily Caldwell’s math teacher holds out her hand and waits for Emily to place her homework in it. Emily shakes her head. “Tomorrow, I promise.”

  Her teacher moves down the row and Emily lets her eyes flutter closed for a minute. She should have asked Jason to let her copy his homework. He has the same class this afternoon. She feels bad for having blown him off in the hallway earlier, but sometimes she can’t stand the look in his eyes when he sees her. It’s a combination of pity for her situation, anger at her father, and possessiveness. She wishes he could just look at her with love like she was a normal girl from a normal family where people don’t get hit for spilling apple juice on the counter. She’s tempted to break up with Jason just so she doesn’t have to see that look anymore. But as much as she hates that look, she hates the idea of not having it more.

  Katy hastily pulls her gym shirt over her head and kicks off her sandals. She still hasn’t let go of the note Mrs. Lombardo returned to her. She keeps it in her hand while she slips her shorts on. When she’s the last one in the locker room she pushes it deep into her bag and locks it in her small gym locker. She can’t believe Mrs. Lombardo read it. Not that she did it on purpose, but it’s just too embarrassing for words. She had told Katy not to worry, that her secret was safe. Katy slips on one sneaker, grabs the other, and says a little prayer that Mrs. L doesn’t tell the person that the note concerns. She would just crawl into a hole and die.

  That night Mrs. Lombardo will go home and call her older sister Ann-Marie in Chicago, whom she’ll tell the whole story to. Together they will laugh until Ann-Marie threatens to pee in her pants. Mrs. Lombardo will never tell anyone else.

  Out in the gym, Katy slips on her other sneaker and assures Josie that she’ll definitely pass her driver’s test. She crosses her fingers behind her back so Josie won’t see that she’s actually not so sure of that fact. Josie is a great best friend, but she’s not such a great driver. The one time she rode in the back while Josie was practicing with her dad, Katy almost threw up from motion sickness. Josie tends to weave.

  In the front lobby Mike Difranco taps his fingers against the window to a tune that’s been running in his head all morning.

  I’m a cowboy

  on a steel horse I ride,

  ’cause I’m wanted,


  dead or alive.

  His older brother is a big Bon Jovi fan. The oldies. Mike likes them too, but he prefers music you can dance to. Not that he would ever be caught dead (or alive) listening to it anywhere else than through his earphones. He could just picture what his brother would say if he heard techno coming out of Mike’s stereo