When seventeen-year-old Melissa Torani falls for cute but nerdy newcomer Daniel Florez, she has no idea that meeting him, and sharing a deep soul kiss, will change her life forever. No longer an ordinary girl, she’s plunged into a world of gang-bangers, Cuban exiles, and FBI agents. And what’s going on with her brain? How come she’s suddenly so much smarter than she used to be?
Just one kiss from Daniel plunges Melissa into a science fiction world-- have Daniel’s brain cells been leaking into her? How can that be possible? And yet she’s reading faster than she ever has before, scoring higher on school tests, and even helping her parents understand what’s wrong with her brother, the Big Mistake.
Melissa’s wry, funny take on adolescence, falling love and getting out from under her parents will draw you in. Fans of Richelle Mead and Stephenie Meyer will fall in love with Melissa and Daniel as they depend on their brains and their deep emotional connection to survive-- and maybe even graduate from high school along the way.
This title is published by Neil S. Plakcy and distributed by Untreed Reads Publishing.
The sun shone on a beautiful country meadow. I walked across luxuriant green grass, wearing a halter-top navy print dress that swirled around my legs in the light breeze. My curly brown hair was cooperating for once, piled up on my head with only a few wisps dangling attractively over my forehead.
An incredibly handsome guy walked toward me. He looked like a composite of every movie star I’d ever had a crush on—broad shoulders, narrow waist, luxurious dark hair, and piercing green eyes. “You are so beautiful, Melissa,” he said. “I want to kiss you so very much.”
Just as his lips came close to mine, some idiot playing the bagpipes jerked me awake, my dream faded, and I realized it was the first day of my senior year in high school.
The steady drone of the harsh notes blasted into my bedroom and shook me out of bed. I screamed, “Turn that crap off!”
My father is half-Italian and half a lot of other things, but my mother is full Scots. Her maiden name is Macgregor, and we have this huge needlepoint of the family crest in the living room -- a shield with orange and red stripes, surrounded by orange and red feathers and a metal war helmet. The family motto is Aonaibh ri cheile, which as far as I can tell translates to “Your mother is a big dork.”
She gets some evil pleasure from blasting bagpipe music at my brother and me through the living room stereo when she wants us to wake up. She says it will make us appreciate our “heritage,” basically a bunch of sheep-huggers from some godforsaken rocky hillsides who at least had the good sense to get the hell out of there.
I looked at the clock and yawned. It was six-thirty in the morning, and the pipe band segued into some kind of jig. I imagined my mom kicking up her heels in the kitchen as she pulled the cereal boxes from the cabinet. Then I heard noises coming from the room next to mine—furniture moving, a belch, a fart. I scrambled to get into the bathroom before the Big Mistake got in there and stunk the place up.
My brother Robbie, aka the Big Mistake, was born two years after me. Everything was fine, honestly; there was no need for another kid, especially not one as huge and stupid and with so many weird problems.
My earliest memories of the Big Mistake are of him wailing his lungs out, running around the house like that bunny in the TV commercial, only without the drum. Robbie was annoying all by himself. He kicked everybody, spit all the time, hit me and my parents, wouldn’t eat, even refused to wear clothes sometimes. I swear, it was like he sucked all the oxygen from the room. Everything was about Robbie, twenty-four seven, or else there was hell to pay.
I jumped into the shower, staying there extra long just to annoy the Big Mistake, who was pounding on the bathroom door. “Come on, Melissa, I need to take a crap!”
“Take it in the hallway!” I yelled back as I rinsed my hair, combing the individual strands with my fingers in the faint hope that when they dried they would be less curly than corkscrews. I peered into the mirror, afraid that a zit might have blossomed on my forehead during the night—that was generally the way my life went. Luckily my skin was clear, though I wished I had more of a summer tan. It’s hard to turn color when the only place you can sunbathe is in the backyard, with your mother constantly harping about SPF 50 sun cream.
By the time I opened the door and the Big Mistake barged past me, the bagpipe music had shut down and the house was quiet, except for the sound of my mother banging around the kitchen. My father was already gone; he left before we woke up and didn’t get home till dinner time, probably just to avoid having to deal with the madness around him.
I scanned through my closet looking for something appropriate to wear for the first day of school. That blue dress from my dream was hanging at one end of the closet, but it was way too dressy. Save that for the next time I was out walking through a country meadow scanning for cute guys.
“Hurry up, Melissa, or you’ll miss the bus, and I’m not driving you,” my mother called. Like she hadn’t said that same thing a thousand times since I started taking the lousy bus in elementary school. I mean, jeez, get some new lines already.
I settled on a pair of skinny jeans and a cotton print blouse I’d picked up at the Franklin Mills outlet mall with my best friend Brie. It had the kind of fancy designer label that my classmates could recognize, but I had the satisfaction of knowing that I had paid half of what they did. Ever since my parents started making me buy my clothes from my allowance I’ve become quite the little shopper. Cork-soled espadrilles, a couple of long silver chains, and an armful of bangle bracelets completed the look. Now if I could only get my hair to behave like it did in the dream, I’d be completely happy.
Well, maybe not. I doubt there is any place more boring than Stewart’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, where I have lived my whole entire life. The prospect of one more year in high school, shared with twelve hundred other losers, including at least twenty or thirty I’ve known since kindergarten, did not thrill me. I wanted to get out on my own, away from parents who ignored me, a brother who annoyed me, and people who were my friends just because we’d known each other forever.
The only activity I participated in was the literary magazine. You can just tell that Miss Margolis, our advisor, was a tortured soul in high school too, from the way she let us publish whatever we wanted, our suicidal poetry, gloomy black and white photos, our poorly edited rants against the suburban lifestyle that spawned us.
By the time I got to the kitchen, my mom had the cereal poured for us, granola for me and some gluten-free crap for the Big Mistake. She was already dressed for selling real estate, in a pair of black silk slacks and a scoop-neck silk T-shirt. She had her light-brown hair twisted back in a French braid that just screamed “professional woman” to me.
“Your first day of senior year!” she crowed, as I slid into my chair. “How exciting!”
“Yeah, I just hope I win homecoming queen or my life will be totally ruined.” I picked up the milk and poured it over the nuts and sticks in my bowl.
“You need a more cheerful attitude, Missy. If you were nicer to people, you really could run for homecoming queen.”
“And die. And don’t call me Missy. My name is Melissa.”
“I know what your name is. I gave it to you. After eighteen hours in labor.”
I groaned. She loved to have these mother-daughter pictures taken of us, our heads pointed the same way so you could see that we have the same chin. It’s so weird that you can be a mix of both your parents but look like each one in different ways. My father and I have the same nose, a big Italian schnozzola, and he and I have the same hazel eyes. But in every other way I look like my mother, except for my curly hair. She’s always saying that she can’t wait for the day when people mistake us for sisters instead of mother and daughter. As if.
I wished I could inhale the granola so I could get out of the house faster, but if you tip the bowl into your mouth and pour, the little clumps of oat and bran get stuck in your throat and then the milk spills out the sides of your mouth. I know. I’ve tried it.
Fortunately my mother got distracted by the appearance of the Big Mistake. He was already taller than me, nearly six feet, though he was only fifteen. He had huge feet and hands and he walked around like an uncoordinated puppy, all jerky movements and crashing into things. The worst part was that his hair was as straight as a member of the junior chamber of commerce. I could just kill him.
“Good morning, Robbie!” my mother bubbled.
He grunted in return, banging into the table as he sat and making the bowls bounce. “Can’t you make us pancakes or something?” he asked, staring at the bowl. “You have that gluten-free flour, don’t you? You could put blueberries in them. With maple syrup. And maybe bacon strips, and some hash browns.”
“Do I look like a waitress at Denny’s?” my mother asked.
I refrained from answering that.
The Big Mistake’s full name is Rob Roy Macgregor Torani, after some major Scots hero, and we all have sweaters in the clan tartan pattern -- green squares on a red background with a yellow border. It so does not go with my coloring, but at least I don’t have to wear a kilt. She bought one of those for my father and made him wear it to a family reunion, even though he was only a Macgregor by marriage.
The Mistake is good with his hands, and I keep asking him to do something to rig the stereo to explode when bagpipe music plays, but so far he hasn’t done it. He gobbled his cereal like a dog, and we both finished at the same time, bumping our chairs against each other as we got up. “Watch it, you clumsy ox,” I said.
“Ooh, poor Missy,” he said.
I raised my fist to him as my mother intervened. “Go. Both of you. Or you’ll miss your bus.”
We grabbed our backpacks, mercifully light for the first day of school, and ran down the driveway and around the corner to our bus stop. A couple of Robbie’s friends were already there and he did his stupid ritual with them, bumping heads and fists. I waited by the street sign until Brie appeared from her front door, sailing out peacefully like only a girl with no younger brothers can do.
The bus rattled and clattered up and we climbed on. Robbie and his friends went immediately for the rear of the bus, and Brie and I shared a bench halfway back. As the manicured lawns, novelty mailboxes and cul-de-sacs spiraled past, we talked about the day ahead. We had almost identical schedules, taking as many AP courses as the school offered. We also had the coveted third lunch period, though we had different gym and study hall.
“I can’t believe we have Iccanello for calculus,” Brie said. “I hear he makes you memorize big chunks of the textbook.” She looked sideways at me. “But that shouldn’t be a problem for you.”
“At least we’re done with chemistry. Remember how much we hated that? And that horrible job I had at the florist’s?”
For a few ill-fated weeks during the winter, I had a part-time job at the florist’s shop in the center of Stewart’s Crossing. I was desperate for an iPod Touch and my parents wouldn’t give it to me, so I decided to work for it. The only job I could get was watering plants in the greenhouse at the back of the florist’s. No brainer, huh? Only you had to figure out all these complicated mixtures of fertilizer to put in the water. The rose bushes got one kind of food, the succulents another.
By the way, I loved that word, succulent. It represented the whole experience to me, the way the job totally sucked.
After I nearly killed a whole rack of orchids by giving them too much water and too little food, I got sacked. Fortunately I had earned exactly as much as I needed. Coincidence? Perhaps.
“You can memorize anything,” Brie said. “You always have those—what do you call them? Memorics?”
“Mnemonics. Kings play chess on fat girls’ stomachs.”
She looked at me like I had just parachuted in from some distant planet where they speak English but all the words mean different things.
“You take a list of things you need to remember, particularly when they’re in some kind of order, and come up with a different word with the same first letter for each one. So KPCOFGS helps you remember that it’s kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.”
Brie shook her head.
“Come on, you must have learned mnemonics when you started playing the piano.” Brie is a little musical protégé, playing Mozart and Brahms and all these other dead European guys. I had played the flute for two years in middle school, because it was the tiniest instrument to carry around. “Empty garbage before daddy flips?”
“The lines of the treble clef,” she said.
“Exactly. EGBDF. So if you need to remember something you just look for a mnemonic.”
She shrugged. “Too close to moronic for me.”
I elbowed her.
“I got an e-mail from that kid I met down the shore,” she said, looking out the window. We had left the flowerbeds and single-family houses of Stewart’s Crossing by then and were driving through the commercial clutter of Fairless Hills, the town where the high school is.
“That guy? The one who kissed you?”
“Shh,” she said. “Yeah.”
Brie’s family spent a week every summer in Wildwood Crest, a funky town on the Jersey shore filled with weird-looking motels and big stretches of beach.
“And? What did he say?”
“He’s back in military school,” she said, sighing. “His parents so do not understand him.”
“And you do. After a week together under the boardwalk.”
“The boardwalk is in Atlantic City, doof, not in Wildwood. And besides, sometimes you just click, you know?”
Her eyes got that spacey look, and I knew the conversation was pretty much over. The bus cruised past the high school’s front lawn, with its solitary flagpole in the middle, where we sometimes had social studies class on nice days. Our bus joined a line of others pulling into the school parking lot, which was lined with rows of faculty cars and SUVs and sedans driven by kids whose parents were generous enough to buy them.
While we waited for everyone in front of us to get off, I daydreamed about meeting a boy like the one Brie had met, someone who could see into my soul. That great-looking guy in my dream, for example, who was out there strolling through the meadow and just waiting for me to walk by. I know, it’s a very pedestrian and un-feminist dream, but what the hell, I was only going to be seventeen once, right? I figured I might as well wallow in it.
Then I met Daniel Florez, and everything changed.
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