Sometimes "auld acquaintance" should be forgot.
"More mock-n-cheese, honey?"
Haley Miller watched as Mrs. Armstrong plopped a mound of macaroni and tofu concoction onto her husband's plate. Dinner had ended for everyone else, but Doug Armstrong clearly couldn't get enough of this gelatinous stuff. And apparently, neither could Annie Armstrong's boyfriend, Dave Metzger.
"I'll take some more too, please, Mrs. Armstrong," Dave said, holding out his plate. "There's nothing like a big helping of mock-n-cheese. Mock cheese tastes better than real cheese any day, I think."
"I totally agree," Mr. Armstrong said. Dave beamed at him. And Annie smiled at the two of them, obviously pleased to see them getting along so well.
Haley shifted uncomfortably in her seat. It was weird to see just how alike Annie's father and her boyfriend were. They both had wiry, frizzy hair and bad skin. Even their names--Doug and Dave--were quite similar. The thought that Annie might like Dave because he was so much like her dad made Haley suddenly queasy--though the rumbling in her tumbling could have been the mock-n-cheese. It was probably both.
"It's almost time for the ball to drop," Haley said. Any excuse to get away from the faux gras. "Shouldn't we move into the living room and turn on the TV?"
"The city of New York wastes so much energy lighting up that silly ball," Haley's mother, Joan Miller, said. "I don't know whether to feel guilty for watching it and therefore supporting it, or guilty for depriving my kids of the communal experience."
"I know what you mean, Joan," Blythe Armstrong said. "But if they're going to use the energy, we might as well enjoy it."
The entire group stood up and waddled, full of vegetables and tofu, into the living room. It was New Year's Eve, and the Miller family--Haley, her seven-year-old brother, Mitchell, and their parents, Joan and Perry--were celebrating quietly with Annie Armstrong's family and a few friends. Annie's mother, Blythe, was an environmental lawyer at Armstrong & White, the firm where Joan worked, so the conversation was never lacking on the granola front.
Blythe Armstrong poured champagne for Haley's parents and sparkling apple cider for the minors while Annie turned on the TV. It wasn't the most exciting New Year's Eve Haley could imagine--far from it--but she tried to make the best of it. At least she had some friends with her, even if they were mostly of the brainiac variety: Annie, Dave, their classmate Hannah Moss and star debater and politico Alex Martin, who cochaired the debate team with Annie. Alex stood out, even in this supersmart and superambitious crowd, but it was mostly for his conservative political views. He worked as an intern for New Jersey's Republican governor-elect, Eleanor Eton, known in the Miller household as Public Enemy Number One.
Haley didn't agree with Alex's politics, but she found him the most interesting person at the party to talk to. And, in his bookish way, he was also the cutest.
"Maybe they should light the ball with nuclear power," Doug Armstrong said. "That would save a lot of energy, uh-heh, uh-heh." That odd pseudo-laugh he tacked onto the end of his sentence struck Haley as strangely familiar. She didn't have to wait long to figure out why.
"Sure--and possibly blow the city to smithereens," Dave said. "That'd be cool, uh-heh, uh-heh."
"Nuclear power? Not that again," Perry said. "I did a doc on no-nukes fifteen years ago. I thought we'd settled the whole nuclear thing, and if Washington hadn't been too mired in lobbyist politics to push forward on greener technology, it would have stayed settled."
Haley's father, Perry, was a documentary filmmaker who taught at Columbia and shared a liberal activist bent with his wife. Haley was all for liberal activism too; she just didn't find it scintillating party chat. She slid a silver elastic off her wrist and pulled her shoulder-length auburn hair into a loose ponytail. Why even bother looking glam for this crowd? Might as well get comfortable, since it looked as if she was in for a long night of discussing the pros and cons of clean energy sources.
"Nuclear power is a lot safer than it used to be," Alex protested. "And it's way cleaner than oil."
"Nuclear power will never be safe enough for me," Perry said. "What do we do with the waste?"
"What do you suggest we use instead, Perry?" Blythe said. "So-called clean coal?"
"I think clean coal's not a bad way to go, actually," Doug chimed in.
"There's no such thing," Joan said. "It's an oxymoron, like healthy cigarettes. Al Gore is right about that, at least."
"You should see what coal mining does to the Appalachians, too," Perry said. "It's like an open wound on the land, and the people who live there deal with all kinds of contamination. . . ."
"Well, we've got to use something to fuel our economy," Doug said. "I don't suppose anybody here is in favor of offshore drilling for more oil."
"No!" Perry, Joan and Blythe shouted at once.
"Uh, it's New Year's Eve," Haley said. "Do you think we could talk about something a little more . . . festive?"
"Like what?" Annie said.
"How about Mrs. Eton's upcoming inauguration?" Alex suggested.
Joan Miller looked horrified. "Look, Alex, you're a nice boy--a little misguided, maybe, but nice. What are you trying to do here, start a fistfight?"
"There's no issue more compelling to me right now than the environment," Blythe said. "I'd say this is our World War Three."
"I'll settle this," Haley said. "The obvious compromise is a blend of traditional and alternative-energy sources. End of discussion. See how easy that was?"
"My practical daughter," Joan said. "We forgot about solar."
Doug scoffed. "Please. Next you'll be telling me to convert my diesel car to vegetable oil."
"That really works, you know, Dad," Annie said.
"Haley will be getting her driver's license soon," Perry said. "Only a month and a half from now. I have to admit that thought scares me a little."
Haley was offended. "I'll be a good driver, Dad."
"I'm sure you will," Perry said. "It just gives us another thing to worry about: car accidents."
"Will you be getting a car for your birthday, Haley?" Alex asked.
"I don't know," Haley replied, nodding toward her parents. "Ask them."
"She might be," Joan said with a knowing smirk.
"There may be a little surprise in the driveway come February fourteenth," Perry added, a little too confidently.
"Really?" Haley smiled. A lot of her friends had gotten cars for their seventeenth birthdays, but she hadn't expected her own parents to buy one for her. As far as Joan and Perry were concerned, mass transit was always the best way to travel, and Haley could take the bus. Or so she thought anyway. The idea that they might be softening in their old age and that she might actually get a car of her very own was the most exciting news she'd heard all night. In fact, it almost made up for the mock-n-cheese.
Excerpted from What If . . . All Your Friends Turned on You by Liz Ruckdeschel and Sara James. Copyright © 2009 by Liz Ruckdeschel. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.