There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
“Anthem,” song by Leonard Cohen, songwriter
The best part about living on Twenty-fifth Avenue in Flushing, Queens, is that Bobby Kaufman is three blocks away on Twenty-seventh. Three blocks, not two, because there is also Twenty-fifth Road, then Twenty-sixth Avenue and Twenty-seventh. By some wonderful fluke of nature, Twenty-seventh Avenue is where the cutest boys from P.S. 79 ended up. About a half a dozen girls around my age—twelve—live on mine, including Elana Michaels. Everyone calls her Lainie. She wears fluffy vintage angora sweaters from the sixties that she found in thrift stores in the East Village, pretends that the rhinestone heart around her neck is real diamonds, and has been modeling since she was in diapers. The fancy photograph of her face hanging over the white upright piano in her living room—a piano that is rarely played—is called a “head shot.” Only her first name, Elana, and her agent’s phone number are on the bottom. (Her agent is really her mother.) Nobody in their right mind needs a Lainie living on their block.
My two best friends since the fourth grade are Sandy Doyle and Gina Deluca. Sandy and I ride our bikes every weekend. We pick up Gina along the way and head toward Twenty-seventh Avenue, which we call “the block.” Going there is more exciting than going to any other part of the neighborhood, even Carmine’s Ices, where Gina’s uncle gives us free samples of Lemon Zest and Tutti Frutti.
Just as we get to the beginning of the block, my head and chest begin to throb, half hoping the boys will be outside, the other half praying they’re not. I always do this Zen thing—take a deep breath and say to myself, Krista Harris, stay cool—but it never works. If we see any of them, instead of slowing down we pedal faster. What if one of them waved? Or actually talked to us? Still, that doesn’t stop us from going over there. Pretending we don’t notice them has become a game.
In the second half of third grade, Bobby K. noticed me. Well, maybe. On Valentine’s Day, when I came back from recess, a giant heart-shaped box of chocolates was on my chair. Bobby didn’t actually hand it to me. He stood off to the side, smiling, as if he had a secret. So how could I be 100 percent sure? It had the name Kaufman’s Fine Handmade Chocolates glimmering in gold script across the red silk lid. Bobby Kaufman’s grandfather owns a candy store on Northern Boulevard where he hand-dips chocolates as well as fruit, nuts, and almost anything else edible that doesn’t squirm. He’d probably hand-dip my little brother, Matt, if he stayed in one spot long enough.
Matt and I went through the entire two layers, biting most of them in half and putting the uneaten halves back in their little silver foil cups. We fought over the last mocha marshmallow covered in bittersweet chocolate, but I got it and didn’t split it with him. Matt was stuck with the cherry cordial, syrup oozing down his chubby chin. Even he knew at age four that kind was as disgusting as marzipan. And I knew that Bobby was as smooth as that creamy mocha one.
I saved the candy box, lining it with scrap fabric left over from a quilt my mother had been making. In it I put all my jewelry, my grandfather’s engraved pocket watch Grandma had given me after he died, and the precious note I had found hidden under the candy box lid. It was an unsigned valentine written on a piece of paper ripped from a notebook, part of a math problem scribbled at the top, folded into a small square. On a single blue line in the center, written in pencil, was one sentence: Do you love me? Next to the question were two tiny boxes. I added an x in the yes box. Was it Bobby’s handwriting? We had just learned script. What if it wasn’t? What if it was Harry Peters, who wore his retainer in school with neon rubber bands on his front teeth, slurping his s’s? And anyone who sat next to him needed heavy-duty rain gear good enough for the Amazon rain forest. Or worse, Jeremy Wainraff, who smelled like blue cheese from the lotion he applied on his dry reptilian skin. I kept the note in the candy box where I found it, the answer undelivered, so I never discovered for sure who my true secret admirer really was. If it turns out to be Bobby, I will die. I never told anyone. Not even Sandy or Gina. And I tell them everything.
Now, two and a half years later, I still have this big crush on Bobby that I can’t make go away no matter how hard I try, and trust me, I’ve tried. Big-time. If Daniel and I were still close, I might have stuffed the note in his face. I’d have asked, “Is this from your best friend?” But I can’t.
Since Daniel and I stopped being friends, there are images of him I can’t get out of my head. Daniel is sitting next to me in the sandbox on our first day of kindergarten. Someone spills sand on me and I begin to cry. Daniel leans over, flicks the grains away from my eyelids with his finger, finds a used tissue in the pocket of his overalls, and wipes the tears streaming down my cheeks. I’m impressed even at five years old. So we become inseparable. We eat lunch together. Have play dates. Pick each other for teams. By fourth grade, though, the boys began to tease him about his best friend being a girl. And the last thing Daniel wanted was to be called a sissy.
They shouted in the schoolyard, “Are you getting any? Is she your girlfriend?”
At the bus stop they poked each other in the side. “Do you do it?” I didn’t think they even knew what “it” was.
So when Coach told Daniel in gym, “Pick someone to be on your soccer team,” and Daniel walked straight past me—like I didn’t even exist, as if I were a bug to be flung off someone’s arm—and said, “Bobby,” simply because he was a boy, that was the beginning of our end. I cried myself to sleep that night. Who would I take turns with buying the next number in the mystery series we had been collecting? Match backpacks with each fall? Who would be my swim buddy at the pool club under the Whitestone Bridge? Who would be honest enough to tell me when my breath smelled like a dog? Or that I had a poppy seed from a bagel stuck in a front tooth?
The final picture I have in my mind of Daniel is a few weeks before fifth-grade graduation. It’s three o’clock. He’s surrounded by friends. His long black hair—silken as a raven’s wing—tosses in front of his eyes as he zooms past Jack’s Stationery Store on his skateboard. Daniel’s whirling, wearing his iPod. The sun is shining. Blazing on the pavement.
The next day there were the phone calls, parents trying to find out details as the news spread. With more and more calls, the story got gorier and changed from call to call.
What happened? Is it true? Is Daniel going to be okay?
My mother cried after she found out. At the dinner table. Stacking the dishes in the dishwasher. Staring out the window as she tried to draw or paint or sew.
That night as I lay in bed pretending to be asleep, I overheard my parents talking.
“He’s so talented. And bright. He had everything going for him.”
Well, he still does, doesn’t he? It’s not like Daniel’s dead or something.
A few minutes later Mom tiptoed into my room, waiting to hear me breathe like she did when I was little. Finally I said, “Ma, it’s not like it happened to me or Matt.”
“I know,” she sobbed as she sat down on the edge of my bed. A soaked handkerchief was balled up in the palm of her hand. “A single moment, and a person’s whole life can turn around.”
She held me and wouldn’t let go. That was when I felt her fear. For me, not Daniel.
And I knew I had to do something.
Top Ten List
1. Help Daniel
(without taking sides and pissing Bobby off).
2. Discover who gave me the love note—this century.
3. Find out who Bobby likes.
(Keep your fingers crossed!)
4. Try to stop the B obsession
(see numbers 1 through 3).
5. Learn to be a nicer person.
(Lain rhymes with pain.)
6. Lose at least five pounds
(even though the magazines claim #9, they say how to do #6).
7. Kiss a boy on the lips.
(Spin the Bottle at camp doesn’t count.)
8. Find out what I want most in life. Who am I?
(Simple question? Not!)
9. Accept what is.
(Yeah, right. Who came up with that big idea?)
10. Delete #9. Change.
(Easier said than done.)From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Leap by Jane Breskin Zalben. Copyright © 2007 by Zalben J. Breskin. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.