Authors: Cyn Balog
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author ’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2011 by Cyn Balog
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Starstruck / Cyn Balog. — 1st ed.
Summary: On a barrier island off the coast of New Jersey, sixteen-year-old Dough is surprised when her long-distance boyfriend returns after four years and still finds her beautiful, despite her seventy-pound weight gain.
[1. Love—Fiction. 2. Astrology—Fiction. 3. Supernatural—Fiction. 4. Overweight persons—Fiction. 5. New Jersey—Fiction.] I. Title.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
To Brian, my sweetie
Sprinkle-covered donuts go out to my family, who puts up with my insanity. As always, to Mandy Hubbard, for her gentle but incisive critiques. To the crew at Random House, including the wonderful Stephanie Elliott and Krista Vitola. To my amazing agent, Jim McCarthy. To the children on Lydia Lane who invented Gone with the Wind. To the Park Bakery in Seaside Park, New Jersey, for giving me a sweet way to spend the summer. And lastly, most importantly, thank you to my beautiful, lovely fans, who are more than the icing on the cake. They are the flour and the sugar and the eggs. As the old bakery shop wisdom goes:
As you ramble on through life, brother,
Whatever be your goal,
Keep your eye on the donut
And not upon the hole.
HEY! How’s everything back east?!? Things are so WEIRD here. Grandma Bertha put a prune under my bed to give me GOOD KARMA!!?????? I thought it was a cockroach and now I have a BIG purple BLOTCH on the bottom of my shoe.
School is EVEN WEIRDER, believe it or not!!!! People are CRAZY. They are all so FULL of themselves. I miss hanging out with U. I will NEVER EVER find another U.
I WISH I could be with U at Cellar this year. DON’T let any of them put U down!!!!!!!! UR worth MORE than ALL of them COMBINED!!!!!!!
GWEN, I wanted to ask you SO MANY TIMES before I went away if you would EVER consider me as your boyfiend instead of your boy fiend???? Write back soon.
OR THE FIRST TIME
in four years, I’ve lost my appetite.
I mean, how can I think of eating when I can’t even breathe?
“Look at her,” my little sister, Evie, sings. “She’s lost in love.”
Evie has obviously been listening to my mother’s eighties tapes too much. Love is the last thing on my mind. The first thing is sheer terror. Second is hopelessness. Third is a desire to run away, far away, into the night, screaming like a banshee.
I stare at the screen of my computer. My hands shake on the keyboard. I can just make out a bit of my reflection: my cheeks look like two fat red balloons, glistening in the sunlight slashing through my bedroom window. Evie and my mom hover above me, peering over my shoulders at another daily email from Wish. Normally I’d never let them within a five-mile radius of one of our top secret lovefests, but the five-alarm wail that escaped from my mouth must have made them think I’d just read that the island of Cellar Bay was sinking into the ocean.
At this point, that would be happy news.
MOM got a condo in Cellarton! Guess she couldn’t STAND to be on the same island as MY DAD, ha ha! It’s right by the bridge to Cellar Bay, though.
“Why didn’t you tell us Wish is coming back here?” my mom asks, kneading my shoulder like I’m one of her famous breads.
If I had known, she would have, too. It would have been obvious. I would have sworn off white cream donuts and Tae-Boed myself into a stupor. Squirreled away some of my earnings from the bakery to buy a hot new wardrobe, and invested the rest in that miracle acne cure celebrities are always peddling on infomercials. Now there’s no time. I’d need a year to get back to my twelve-year-old self. And a fairy godmother. Instead, my long-distance boyfriend, Philip P. Wishman III, will be on a collision course with planet Gwendolyn, all 234 pounds of her, in, oh, t minus seventy-six hours.
My mom studies the email. “Does it say why he’s coming back?”
I shrug, numb. Because he wants to prove to me that just when you think your life is at its absolute suckiest, it can always get worse?
“We’ll have him over for dinner,” she says, completely oblivious to my meltdown.
“Ma, you want to welcome him, not kill him,” Evie points out.
Though my mom knows everything about baking, that’s where her knowledge of food ends. My mom’s fanciest dinners are really prepared by Mrs. Paul or the Gorton’s fisherman. But her culinary skills, or lack thereof, are the least of my concerns. I read the last line again:
I can’t wait to see you IN PERSON finally and KISS my BEAUTIFUL GIRLFRIEND. It’s been like a DREAM for me for SO LONG!!!
Wish has a knack for unnecessarily capitalizing everything and overusing exclamation points, like a ten-year-old girl, which is something I never realized until we started emailing back and forth each day. At first, I didn’t mind it, but now it annoys me. Of course, maybe I wouldn’t be annoyed if I wasn’t so sure his enthusiasm was going to totally deflate within seconds of seeing me. He doesn’t know I’m not worthy of three exclamation points. I’m probably not even worthy of a measly comma. The only recent pictures I’ve sent him were from the neck up, or so fuzzed out that I looked like the Blob in drag. But none of this is my fault. It’s his fault for deciding to let his mother take him across the country to L.A. to live with his wacko grandmother when his parents split up. It’s his fault for leaving me so heartbroken and alone that the first thing I did after watching his mother’s BMW pull away was sit in the back room of the bakery and eat an entire tray of cannoli. His fault for sending me a daily email for the past four years, making me salivate so much for a kiss from him that all I could do to tell my mouth to behave was fill it with jelly donuts.
“He can’t come back here,” I say, digging my fingernails into the skin of my fleshy thighs, which somehow seem even bigger than they did when I woke up this morning. “Our relationship is perfect the way it is.”
Evie snorts. “You’re so weird, Dough.”
I bury my face in my hands. That’s another thing. I have no social life. No friends. Nothing normal, non-weird people have. Nothing, except him.
And twenty bucks says soon I won’t even have that.
IRST LET ME EXPLAIN
something about the kissing, or lack thereof. Wish and I have been best friends ever since first grade, when we fought over Curious George at Cellar Bay Elementary School, this little brick building on Main where we were two of a handful of students. But a love for that cheeky monkey wasn’t the only thing we had in common, we realized. Soon we were the complete-each-other’s-sentences kind of friends. We were always together, like peanut butter and jelly.
We stayed best friends until right before junior high, when he moved away. That was when his parents split up and his mom took him to live with her mother, Grandma Bertha, this real nutcase of a woman who always used to talk about auras and astrology and that kind of crap. The one time she visited Jersey, she told me that my aura was black and dead and that I was invading her peace, which was just fine with me, because she was obviously insane. I felt bad that a normal guy like Wish had to live with such a creepy old lady.
So anyway, our relationship didn’t develop into a boyfriend-girlfriend thing until he’d been in California for a while. After we’d emailed back and forth for two months, he asked me out. In real life, Wish is a total wuss when it comes to his feelings, like most guys, but he turned out to be a lot more confident in email. I could tell he was lonely at his new swanky private school in L.A., because he kept saying how much he missed me and how he would never find another girl like me. I’m sure it didn’t help that Grandma Bertha kept putting things like dead moths and dried prunes under his pillow at night to “clear away the evil spirits.”
And it wasn’t much better for me; there was no junior high on the island of Cellar Bay, so I was suddenly thrust into a big school on the mainland, Cellarton Junior High, where everybody knew each other and nobody knew me. Though he was three thousand miles away, even Wish knew all the students better than I did, because his family had been in some exclusive country club with them. They were all rich, and, well, I come from a coupon-clipping, water-down-the-ketchup-to-make-it-last-longer kind of family. They respected him, and they still do, because his Facebook page is filled with a slew of “What’s up on the West Coast, W?” comments daily from classmates who don’t even know I exist. If Wish had been with me, I think I would have been accepted, because they would have accepted him. But as it was, I was an outcast the day I stepped off the island, into their world.
Luckily, Wish’s emails always cheered me up. “Don’t let them put you down,” he’d say, followed by fourteen exclamation points. “You’re worth more than all of them combined.” Then he wrote—and I remember it like it was yesterday—“Gwen,” using my real name instead of my nickname, so I knew it was serious, “I wanted to ask you so many times before I went away if you would ever consider me as your boyfriend instead of your boy friend.” But he misspelled “friend” as “fiend” and for some reason I found that so funny that I snorted Pepsi out my nose. I wrote back some stupid flowery thing about how I would love for him to be my fiend, and it was on.
Still, for four years, our romance has only consisted of email, IMs, and the occasional phone call. He writes on my wall a lot, too; I wouldn’t even be on Facebook if it weren’t for him, because he is the only one who does. But no kisses. No hugs. Not even hand-holding, and yes, I realize that makes us the most pathetic couple in North America.
But it can only get worse when he sees me in the flesh. He goes on and on about his baseball games, the wild parties, and all the other things happening in his life, so much so that L.A. seems like a completely different, sexier world. He sends me pictures, too, of himself and his friends, and they all look like they could be on their own prime-time television show on the CW. I’m sure there was a progression, but when I look back, it seems like almost overnight he went from gangly, goofy, and whining about how conceited and self-absorbed everyone was, to tan, easy on the eyes, and just plain nothing like me. I knew that he was in danger of lapsing into a coma while reading my amazing news, which usually consisted of whatever new donut flavor we were rolling out that week. I’d thought about lying, making up stories about how I was traveling to the Amazon or auditioning for
America’s Next Top Model.
I’d come pretty close to it a few times—not auditioning; I’m not out of my mind. Lying.
Now I’m really, really glad I didn’t.
I’m standing behind the counter, right over a tray of freshly baked elephant ears, not even sure how I got here or how I managed to make it through the morning without losing a finger or two in the bread slicer. I push a white paper bag across the counter to a prune-faced old lady and say, “That’ll be fifty-eight. Um, dollars.”
Her eyes get even more squinty. “For three donuts?”
Hmm, come to think of it, even though Reilly’s Irish Bakery is the only place to get food on the island besides the 7-E, we don’t price-gouge that much. Fifty-eight is, at last count, the number of hours separating me from a reunion that could only be made more painful if I decided to sit on him. I do the calculation again. “Three twenty. Um, three dollars and twenty cents,” I say lightly, thumping the side of my head as if to say, “What was I thinking?”
She reaches into one of those tiny needlepoint change purses that it seems like all the rich ladies on the island walk around with, though they probably only hold one-zillionth of their net worth, and pulls out a few wrinkled dollars and two dimes. “That’s a little better,” she snaps, giving me a severe “I’m keeping my eye on you” glare.
Someone taps me on the shoulder. I jump almost high enough to take out the ceiling fan above, then spin around and nearly whack Evie in her newly sprouted rack, which, incidentally, is already bigger than mine, though I outweigh her by over one hundred pounds. Where’s the justice in that? “What?” I growl, turning to the manual cash register and stuffing the money inside.
She rolls her eyes and inspects her manicure. “Dough, you are so weird.”
“Shouldn’t you be upstairs, sleeping?”
She rolls her eyes again. “No, you should be. It’s ten after one.”
I look at the clock on the wall over the freezer case. It is. Never has my shift at the bakery gone so quickly. I wonder if I can go upstairs and lipo my thighs with a vacuum, or if that would leave a scar.
Evie looks bright and cheerful and beautiful, as usual. Talking about justice—between Evie and me, there is none. I was the firstborn, and my father, when he was still in the picture, insisted that I be named after his great-grandmother Gwendolyn, who had a mustache and whose name, ironically, could be shortened to Dough. According to my mother, he insisted on a lot of things, which is why they never got along. Then, two years later, my mother inherited the bakery from her parents and decided to leave my father even though she was six months pregnant. She liked the name Evan—a name that would work for a boy or a girl—because a supermodel of the time had it. Maybe it was prophetic, because thirteen years later, Evie began to look like a fashion model, and I started to resemble the Pillsbury Doughboy.
Another injustice is that at sixteen, as the eldest and “most responsible,” I’m stuck with the crazy morning shift, and Evie gets the leisurely afternoon shift. I have to wake up at three-thirty, trudge downstairs, and help the baker, Hans, then help my mom load the trays, stock the shelves, and get all prepared so that we’re ready to go when the store opens at five and the throngs of wealthy Cellar Bay residents come to get their breakfast. Then, after the store is nearly sold out and the crowds have gone, I trudge upstairs, looking like the undead, and take a nap while Evie begins her shift, which involves sitting in the back room and reading
while she waits for her one customer of the afternoon to arrive.
But enough about Princess Evie. I’m just starting to untie my apron strings, which Evie can thread around her waist three times and tie in the front but I can barely get behind me, when the bell on the door jingles and in walks my worst nightmare. Actually, three of them.
It’s Rick Rothman, king of the egos, and two of his buddies, Narcissistic and Big Head. They’re barefoot, but unfortunately, we allow that, because we’re a beach establishment. Otherwise I would love an excuse to kick them out. They have on Oakley blades and wet suits unzipped down the front to bare their bronzed chests. I know they’ve left their longboards out on the front walk for old ladies to trip over, like they usually do. I grunt and try to escape into the back room, but not before I hear Rick’s nasally voice:
“Look, guys, it’s the number ten.”
Narc and B.H. guffaw like gorillas, which is the required practice of a Rothman Disciple. I half expect them to start beating their chests. Evie just sits there, looking embarrassed for me. She’s never been queen of the comeback; fortunately, though, after four years of school with these guys, I’ve had a lot of practice. Like I’ve never heard people refer to me and my skinny sister standing next to me as the number ten. Totally unoriginal, but Rick doesn’t need originality to have the zombies of Cellarton High hang on his every word. I stop untying my apron and saunter up to the cabinet. “Look, Evie, it’s the number zero.”
He acts like he didn’t hear me, then props his elbows up on the counter, as if he’s deciding what he wants to order. Which is totally stupid, since he’s been coming here with his boys for years and always orders the same thing.
Evie clears her throat. “Can I get you guys something?”
He eyes my sister. “Yeah, baby. You can get me to understand how the same parents produced this tub of lard”—he points to me, then points to her—“and such a beautiful creature as you.”
I guess if Evie had not just come into that incredible rack and transformed from Awkward Gangly Evie into Show-stopping Gorgeous Evie over the summer, she might have realized that Rick, for all his good looks, is the biggest player on the Eastern Seaboard. She might have seen through his act. Poor Nai-Evie. She melts into a puddle right before our eyes. I can’t blame her; Rick is easily the hottest guy in the school. And the biggest jerk, too, but when he aims those giant blue eyes in your direction, it’s hard to see that. Not that it’s ever happened to me, but I’ve heard enough talk in the girls’ locker room to know that he has taken dozens of victims.
“Excuse me while I vomit,” I mutter.
He ignores me. “You coming to Cellarton High this year?”
She nods and squeaks out, “I’ll be a freshman.”
“Fantastic. I’ll keep an eye out for you.”
I head into the back room and get a bag, consider puking in it, then fill it up with two white creams, one Boston cream, and a sugar ring. When I come back into the front, Rick is leaning so far over the counter toward Evie that he could quite possibly stick his tongue in her ear if he so chose. She’s blushing, which on me looks like I have hives, but on her looks irresistible.
“Your order,” I say, holding the bag up to him to break up the lovefest. “With the chocolate milk it comes to five, even.”
He turns to look at me, a question on his face.
“You guys get the same thing every time you come in here,” I explain.
He reaches into the pocket of his wet suit and pulls out the money. “Thanks, Dough.”
He doesn’t seem quite so mean now. It almost makes me feel bad for smearing his donuts on the floor in the back room before placing them in the bag.