Happy Birthday to You, Very LeFreak
It wasn’t the fact that Starbucks did not—would not—serve Guinness with a raw egg followed by an espresso chaser that was ruining Very’s hangover. Nor was Very concerned that she had stumbled into her campus Starbucks on the morning after an overnight “study session” with the beautiful engineering major from Ghana whose name eluded her, although Very knew there were many hard consonants involved. Hey, she wasn’t even bothered that yesterday she’d been fired from her work-study “security” job checking student IDs—a feat that, contrary to her university career services advisor, was not, like, impossible to pull off—yet Very probably could be counted on later today to blow the remaining credit on her maxed-out card for primary wants like new headphones rather than for secondary needs such as food and tuition.
The fact was, Very wasn’t even technically hungover, unless a sugar coma from late-night Cap’n Crunch consumption, along with several rounds of Red Bull, qualified. It was the excessive inhale of birthday cake and cereal that had done Very in. Like the mild, fully clothed spooning session—rather, study session—with Ghana that had closed out the birthday party her dorm had thrown her, the sugar infusion had felt so comforting in the moment. It was the after that felt so empty, the Red Bulls ’n’ Cap’n fallout headache, the uncomfortable wake-up with Ghana, two strangers with stale morning breath gazing into one another’s eyes, each silently begging the other: Yo, let’s pretend this never happened?
Ghana had a girlfriend who was away for a semester abroad, and Very had no intention of getting in the way there. Her random act of intimacy hadn’t been quite as dangerous, she assured herself. It wasn’t like she’d cheated on either her real or her imagined boyfriend with Ghana. Bryan had been her best guy friend before becoming her real boyfriend, but, once their relationship had advanced to that level—when Very and Bryan were two of the only holdouts in their dorm not to go away for Spring Break—it had lasted only a day before she’d been forced to dump him. Bryan was just too good to be true: his own fault. El Virus, Very’s imagined boyfriend, he of the passionate e-mails and IMs and text messages, he who taunted her every thought and feeling by existing in the electronic ether yet who refused to appear in live, physical form before her, had suddenly dropped out of the ether; she hadn’t heard from him since what felt like an eternity (but technically, according to his last text message, since the week prior to Spring Break). The problem with an imaginary boyfriend was, if he chose not to answer her electronic missives, Very had no idea where else to find him. She had no way of knowing whether the “facts” he’d given her about himself were, in fact, true. Maybe El Virus was an engineering student at MIT in Boston; maybe he was a CIA spy on a secret mission to ferret out Al Qaeda moles stashed away on whaling ships off the coast of Nova Scotia; maybe he was an insurance appraiser in Des Moines with a wife, two kids, and a kitten afflicted with cerebral palsy and that was why he could never sacrifice his home for his happiness to leave the family for Very; or maybe he was a bored and restless hacker up in Scarsdale, possibly within breathing distance of her. God, what if El Virus turned out to be some punk thirteen-year-old with a hard-on?
“Guinness with a raw egg?” the Starbucks counter person repeated back to Very. “I don’t understand.”
Very didn’t understand, either. The concoction promised to be horrific, but her mother had sworn by this hangover remedy, and while Very had no intention of, like Cat, losing her life to chemical effects, she had to believe that her mother would most reliably have known the best chemistry for curing the after-coma.
“Just please may I have a latte.” Very sighed. “Triple shot. Whole milk.” What could ruin her kind-of hangover, she realized as she pulled her wallet from her jeans pocket, was that . . . fuck, she had no cash, and her credit card and Starbucks birthday gift cards were tucked away in her dorm room.
“Broke again?” a familiar voice from behind her in line piped in.
Very turned around. Lavinia. Very had never been so happy to see her roommate’s disapproving gaze.
“Got a fiver you can loan me, Lavinia?” Very asked Lavinia.
“Jennifer,” Lavinia said. “My name is Jennifer. Here, borrow five dollars. Again. Happy birthday to you, Very LeFreak.”
That was it! Today’s primary playlist, Very decided, would be called, simply, “Happy Birthday to You, Very LeFreak.” Very’s top personal goal, beyond mythic goals like eating more protein and vegetables or volunteering to teach mobile-electronic-communication skills to the elderly, was to make a music mix to commemorate each and every mood that should strike her. To seek spiritual enlightenment and physical well-being in life was challenging enough, but to exist within one’s soul without proper musical inspiration for each day’s quest was just plain pathetic, an existence not worth living. While some chose to write in journals or blogs to record the loves, losses, obsessions, and miscellaneous musings of their daily lives, Very chose to remember hers via music mixes, her form of daily diary.
When she died, the future biographer(s) of her Very Unextraordinary Life would only have to unarchive and research her playlists to unearth the everyday secrets of her heart and mind. Very decided this year’s commemorative b-day list would include “The Ballad of Cap’n’ Crunch” by Pirates R Us, covers of “Happy Birthday” by Loretta Lynn, New Kids on the Block, and “Weird Al” Yankovic, plus an assortment of moody boy-trouble songs TBD some Irish-pub drinking songs, and conclude with Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” (obviously).
Excerpted from Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn. Copyright © 2010 by Rachel Cohn. 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.