Firstly, I apologize for being so inactive lately! I’m trying to get out of my slumps, so hopefully I will succeed soon. Secondly, Hi! It’s been a while and I hope you’ll forgive me.
For now, I have this post for you and hopefully om of you might find it interesting
Title: How to Make Out
Author: Brianna Shrum
Pub. Date: September 6th, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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Sixteen-year-old Renley needs three thousand dollars for the math club’s trip to New York City, and she knows exactly how to get it: she’s going to start a how-to blog where people pay for answers to all of life’s questions from a “certified expert.” The only problems: 1) She doesn’t know how to do anything but long division and calculus. 2) She’s totally invisible to people at school. And not in a cool Gossip Girl kind of way.
So, she decides to learn to do . . . well . . . everything. When her anonymous blog shifts in a more scandalous direction and the questions (and money) start rolling in, she has to learn not just how to do waterfall braids and cat-eye makeup, but a few other things, like how to cure a hangover, how to flirt, and how to make out (something her very experienced, and very in-love-with-her neighbor, Drew, is more than willing to help with).
As her blog’s reputation skyrockets, so does “new and improved” Renley’s popularity. She’s not only nabbed the attention of the entire school, but also the eye of Seth Levine, the hot culinary wizard she’s admired from across the home-ec classroom all year.
Soon, caught up in the thrill of popularity both in and out of cyberspace, her secrets start to spiral, and she finds that she’s forgotten the most important how-to: how to be herself. When her online and real lives converge, Renley will have to make a choice: lose everything she loves in her new life, or everyone she loves in the life she left behind.
EXCERPT: First Chapter
1. How to Do Long Division
I prefer classrooms I can’t set on fire. Not that I’ve started a slew of classroom fires in the recent past, but if I have to pick between solving for x or setting off the smoke alarms in home ec, I’m going with the numbers. So while every¬one else is stirring batter the teacher constantly refers to as “beautiful,” I’m chewing a whole finger off and praying to the culinary gods that somehow this gel in front of me will transform into a cake.
Mr. Cole harrumphs as he hurries past me. Like he’s afraid if he lingers, my cooking-AIDS will infect him and he will be banished to the woodshop forever.
“That is Jell-O,” someone says beside me.
I frown, but don’t turn my head. “Thanks.”
“I’m just saying, if you’re trying to get a passing grade, that’s not the way to do it.”
My teeth grind against each other. “I’d like to see you do better.” I rip my eyes away from the substance that can only be described as gloop and turn to face my heckler. He raises an eyebrow and my mouth goes totally dry, so what comes out next is pretty much a croak. “Oh. Seth, right?”
This is a ridiculous thing to say. We’ve talked here and there in class; it’s obvious I know who he is. But he nods, pretending he thinks my question is serious.
“So you probably did do better,” I say under my breath, and he chuckles. Of course he did. Seth Levine could blink at raw eggs and flour and turn them instantly into a three-tiered feat of caketacular engineering. (And he could probably blink at just about any girl in the school and turn her instantly naked. Myself included. I’ve had this terrible low-level crush on him from afar since like the ninth grade.)
“It looks . . . salvageable.”
I laugh out loud. “Is that what you’d call it?”
“You just need, like, two more cups of flour.” He reaches for a bag across the table and rips it open. “And maybe—”
I snatch the bag away from him. “Thanks. But I think I can make a cake.”
He rolls his eyes (his beautiful brown eyes) and steps backward, holding up his hands in a mock gesture of sur¬render. “Bake away. Sorry I said anything.”
I snort and turn back to my bowl, annoyed at the flour. But he’s right. So I tip the bag, and a steady stream flows into the . . . fine, Jell-O.
I hear the tiny sound of doom before I see it. A rip. And the whole thing tears. A flood of white powder assaults the bowl and puffs up in a cloud, coating the entire table. I just stand there, holding the empty bag, blinking at the bowl, which used to be green.
From the corner of my eye, I see Seth snickering and tapping his flour-coated fingers on the counter. I look over at him and sigh.
“You win,” I say. “And I’m going to fail. I have a 98 percent in freaking calculus, but I’m going to fail cooking.”
He narrows his eyes and glances over my shoulder. I follow his gaze and see Mr. Cole making his way through the rows of students, marking a piece of paper as he goes. This is it.
When I turn back around, the bowl in front of me is . . . green. And the batter is perfect. I blink at it several times and think for a moment that maybe the cooking gods have heard my plea. But then I see Seth’s bowl, look¬ing suspiciously white and flour-mountain-laden. I shoot him a look as Mr. Cole rounds the corner and he shakes his head minutely.
“Renley,” I hear behind me. The way Mr. Cole says my name is similar to the way one would say “sewer rat.” I turn and stare up at him, holding out my green bowl like a peace offering.
“Oh!” he says and smiles, scribbling on his paper. “Beautiful!” Of course it’s beautiful. “Perhaps, Miss Eisler, baking is where your heart truly lies.”
I blink, trying to avoid looking at Seth, who is barely holding back a snicker. “I—yes. Cakes and pastries are my passion.”
“Mmhmm.” He takes a step farther and raises an eye¬brow at Seth. “Mr. Levine. What have we here?”
“Broken flour bag. I’m much better friends with a skil¬let than a mixing bowl, sir.”
“Apparently.” He jots down a few things but keeps a pleasant smile on his face. No sense upsetting the only culinary wizard in his class, I’m sure.
When he scuttles out of earshot, I lean over and whis¬per, “You didn’t have to do that. I could have handled it.”
Seth laughs and stirs the flour clump absently.
“I mean, I would have failed. But . . . well . . .”
“You’re welcome,” he says, grinning.
I roll my eyes.
“Really, though, I have ulterior motives,” he says quietly.
My heart thumps suddenly and wildly. Is he kind of hitting on me? Is this flirting? This is totally flirting.
“Oh yeah?” I say. “What are those?” Keep your sentences short. Don’t say anything stupid.
“Well, I figure since I helped you out, you might be able to help me out with something.”
My mind comes up with all manner of dirty responses as he reaches into his backpack. He pulls out a folded piece of paper and sets it on the desk. I’m trying not to hope for some sort of Check Yes or No scenario while he unfolds it.
And it’s . . . a trig paper. With an unimpressive number circled in red at the top.
“You’re into math.” It’s not a question, just a statement under the guise of being one.
“See, I just—”
I can feel myself relax almost immediately as I scan the numbers. Shoulders fall, head clears. Here. Here is my nirvana. “I see your problem right now. Your formula’s off. A-squared plus b-squared equals c-squared, not c.”
He just blinks at me. I’m surprised I’m not naked, given my prior theory on the Seth-blinking-at-a-girl thing. I point at something he’s scrawled at the top. “See? C should be 4, not 16. 16 is c-squared. And 4 is the root.”
“Ohhh,” he says, taking the paper back. “So like, this one would be 7.”
“You got it,” I say with a smile that is surprisingly laid back, given the person I’m smiling at. But math is magic. To me, anyway.
He grins and tucks it back into his backpack. “You’re good at this. You should tutor or something.”
I nod. “Yeah, maybe.” While I’m busy trying to discern if a conversation involving tutoring and the Pythagorean Theorem can possibly be construed as flirtatious, Mr. Cole signals for us to stick our bowls in the refrigerators lining the room and clean up. So that ends that musing.
A couple uneventful minutes later, the bell rings, and I head out with the throng of students into the hallway just in time to see Seth throw his arm around his ten-foot-tall Barbie of a girlfriend and saunter away.
He was not hitting on me.
Thankfully, I don’t have much time left to embarrass myself with flirting/not flirting since school is over and the halls are rapidly emptying. I lean up against the wall, running a hand through my hair, attempting to rid it of what I’m sure is a coating of flour. I clutch my backpack to my chest, waiting for April to show.
She prances through the hallway and links her arm through mine, straight black hair swishing just below her chin, and I swing my backpack over my shoulder.
“Did you see this?” She thrusts a powder blue sheet of paper in my face and I have to stumble back just to get far enough away to read it.
“Math Club: NYC Trip.” There is a light pang in my chest at the mention of New York, but I force it down and fake-smile at April. It’s something she would usually catch, but she’s crazy-excited. She snatches the flyer back and gestures so wildly, I have to duck every five seconds for fear she’ll slash my face open with paper cuts.
“Yes! It’s going to be so awesome. The Hayden Planetarium, the Museum of Mathematics, a couple college tours. And then, you know, the regular touristy things. Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building . . .”
Gag. On the one hand, yay, New York. On the other, my mom lives there with her new beautiful and perfect uber-family. And no thank you.
I swallow down the conflict playing out in my head and say, “It sounds fantastic. And expensive. It’s $3,000.”
“So you do the fund-raiser.”
I shake my head. “Yeah. That’ll about cover the cost of the in-flight meal. I can’t do it.”
And I’m not entirely sure I can hack the thought of going to New York, and being 96 percent sure Mom won’t take a couple hours out of a day to see her estranged offspring. But also, yeah, money.
She frowns and starts to power-walk toward the door. “You could at least consider it,” she huffs. “Don’t just shoot it down after five seconds.”
“April, come on. My dad’s not a lawyer; you know that. He can’t pay for this.”
She slows down a little and pushes open the front door. Then she sighs. “I know. It’s just, I don’t want to do this trip at all if my best friend’s not gonna be there. You have to at least think about it.”
“Fine,” I say, more to get her off my back than because I’m actually considering it. Drew is waving at me from the sidewalk, so I give April a quick hug and run off. I don’t slow down when I reach Drew; he just starts running beside me.
“Survive Cole?” he asks.
Our feet pound against the pavement. His lope is easy, more of a jog than a run, and mine is hurried. I have to take two times the steps he does to keep up.
“Hear about New York?”
“Yeah. April’s begging me to go.”
He hesitates. “You going to?”
Heavy breathing between every stilted sentence.
“Doubt it.” I rub my fingers against each other in the universal moneybags signal, and he nods, a little furrow in his brow he only gets when he’s thinking hard. We run the rest of the way in silence.
By the time we get to his house, we’re both dripping with sweat. His hair is sticking to his forehead and the back of his neck, and I’m sure mine is equally attractive.
I lean forward and put my hands on my knees, breathing in and out. “Sure.”
After a minute or two, I straighten and follow him in through the front door.
“Mom’s still at work,” he says with a wink.
I roll my eyes and head into his room. We’ve lived next door to each other for ten years and have never been anything more than friends. But one errant eleven-year-old kiss down by the creek and he’s still convinced it’s going to happen again.
“I’m gonna go have a shower,” I say. “I’m completely disgusting. And no, you can’t join me.”
“Go for it.” He strips off his shirt and falls back onto his bed, reaching for his earbuds.
“Can I borrow a T-shirt?”
“I’ll get one for you. And I think you left these here the other day.” He holds up a skanky pair of pink shorts I’m certain aren’t mine. I shake my head.
“Not yours?” He grins devilishly. “Well. Someone else’s then. They’ll fit.”
“And that, Drew, is precisely why I’m never letting you join me in the shower.”
He laughs. “You’d never let me touch you even if it weren’t for all my . . . extracurricular activities.”
I head into his bathroom and close the door behind me. Every time I’m in here (which is approximately every day), I’m distinctly reminded that it is a boy’s bathroom. Mildew on the shower curtain. Toothpaste stains all over the sink. But the shower is clean enough to rinse off the sweat.
I strip down and hop in, coating myself in boy body wash and combination shampoo/conditioner I know can’t be doing great things to my hair. When I get out, I smell pretty much exactly like Drew. He’s left his over¬sized band T-shirt and the short shorts on the toilet for me.
I slip on the shorts and pull the shirt on over my head. It’s so long, you can’t really see the shorts beneath the hem. Drew won’t mind. In a way.
A prickle of guilt sticks my stomach and I wait in the bathroom for just a breath. He says he doesn’t care, that it’s fine. And what’s the alternative? Stop hanging out with the only constant in a life of nothing but variables just because he’s noticed I have boobs? No. Neither of us wants that. He says it’s fine.
I head out into his room and sit next to him on the bed. He looks away for a second.
“Get under the covers.”
“Excuse me?” I ask, brows raised.
He stares back at me. “I cannot handle looking at you wet, in my T-shirt, with your legs looking like that. Get under the covers. I’ll stay on top of them. I swear.”
I don’t say a word. I can’t, without making it more awkward than it already is. So I do as he asks, prickle of guilt turned into a full-fledged flood. He flips on the TV to something stupid—The Twilight Zone, like always, and leans back, putting his arm around me.
“So,” I say, eager to change the topic from my legs, “your mom still with—”
“Nope. New guy. He’ll stay over tonight probably.”
“We’ll just turn the volume up when she gets here then,” I offer.
He chuckles, in a way that is darker, I think, than he intends it to be. “Yeah. That’ll help.”
We sit there for a while, watching dumb stuff on TV, not really talking. At one point, he goes to the kitchen and heats up some Chinese food, which we eat together on the bed. After a few hours, it’s dark.
“The whole New York thing?” he says.
“I think you should go.”
“It’d be good for you. Get some school spirit and stuff,” he laughs. I punch him.
“Seriously, you should.”
I stare straight ahead at the stupid TV show, trying to keep the emotion from my voice. “I don’t know.”
He’s quiet for a minute. Then, “Her? You don’t want to see her?”
“I don’t want to not see her.”
We lie there side by side, my head on his arm, and he shifts and kisses me on the top of my head. “Sucks.”
“Whatever,” I say.
“But you’re gonna let a dickhead parent stop you from going to New York? April will kill you.”
I laugh. I know. “Even if it weren’t for my mom, I can’t afford it, Drew,” I say, laying my head on his bare chest.
“Eh, you’re resourceful. You’d come up with some¬thing. If you really wanted to.”
I think about it for a while. The emotional sucker punch I’m guaranteeing myself by going to the place my Deadbeat Mom lives, just to get blown off when I’m there because she can’t look at me without thinking of Dad— that would blow. But I’m basically used to it by now, and Times Square . . . I’d kill to see Times Square. Plus, seriously, April’s head would explode if I didn’t at least try.
Maybe I will try. Just, like, without a firm commitment. But what can I do, really?
Tutor. You’re good at that.
I cock my head, considering. “Maybe I’ll start a blog.”
“No, like, what if I started a blog, like a paid thing?” I sit up, and fiddle with the edge of the blanket so it rests just past my knees. Drew purses his lips and looks away. I let go of it and it slides back down my thighs and settles at my waist. “Like, a how-to thing. People say I’m a good tutor.” People. By people, I mean one person ever. “People could send in questions and stuff and I’ll answer for a dollar or something.”
“Workin’ for dolla’ bills. I never thought I’d see the day,” he teases, shaking his head in fake disgust.
“Seriously though. It could maybe earn me some¬thing.”
“Why don’t you just pick up a part-time job? Bunch of places at the mall are hiring.”
I shrug. “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have a car, which would be kind of a major pain. Plus taxes? If I can do it this way, it’d be easier, I think.”
“Sure. Why not?”
He relaxes again, so I lie back on him and focus on the TV.
I wake up in his bed, which is only surprising because I had no idea I’d fallen asleep. It’s early, and it’s Saturday, so I feel no need to rush next door to my house. It’s not like Dad or Stacey will care, since I’m here more often than home. Instead, I tiptoe over to his computer, shaking my head at myself. This does not mean I’m going for sure.
But I start typing anyway: How to Do Long Division.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brianna Shrum has been writing since she could scrawl letters and has worked with teens since she graduated, either in the writing classes she taught or within youth groups. Brianna digs all things YA, as well as all things geeky, superhero-y, gamer-y, magical, and strange. She lives in Englewood, Colorado, with her high-school-sweetheart-turned-husband and her two little boys.