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A Heart Divided
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A Heart Divided

Written by Cherie BennettAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Cherie Bennett and Jeff GottesfeldAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jeff Gottesfeld


· Delacorte Books for Young Readers
· eBook · May 6, 2009 · $5.99 · 978-0-307-55665-3 (0-307-55665-4)


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1



My knees were scrunched to my chest, palms sweaty, stomach churning, heart pounding. Panic attack. It happened every time something I wrote was about to be performed. It was happening now.

It had been five years since my epiphany during The Crucible. That night, I'd fallen in love with plays the way some girls fall in love with horses or dolphins. If I could have moved a cot into the back of a theater and lived there, I would have been perfectly happy.

After I declared my goal in life, my mother immediately enrolled me in a junior writing workshop at the Public Theater. Then, to nurture my nascent muse, my parents took me to a play almost every single weekend. Since they believed that anything shocking I might see onstage could act as a catalyst for discussion about societal values in general, and our family's values in particular, we went to everything. The first time I actually saw a completely naked man was in a drama about gay lovers, at an off-off-Broadway loft theater in TriBeCa.

I also read every play I could get my hands on--Shakespeare, Chekhov, Lillian Hellman, August Wilson, and so many more. I'd lie in bed at night, trying to peel back layers of meaning, only to find new layers. I'd wonder if I'd ever be able to write like they did, with lives fully explored in the world of the play itself.

Now, in the Public Theater's high school playwrights' lab, I sat in the back row of the same space where I'd seen The Crucible and tried not to hyperventilate. My friend BB slid into the seat next to me. BB--short for Byron Bruin--lived in Harlem and went to Bronx Science. His mom was a jazz composer born in Suriname, and his father was a Swedish diplomat. In the looks department, BB got the best of both worlds.

"Deep breaths," BB instructed, taking in the sweat on my forehead. He'd seen me in this state too many times.

"I'd settle for breathing at all," I managed.

He reached into his backpack. "I know just what you need."

"I don't do drugs."

"Ow!" A sharp pain throbbed in my upper arm. "What the--"

BB held up the metal ruler he'd just thwacked against my bicep.

"Jerk!" I smacked his arm. "That hurt."

He smiled smugly. "But notice you're breathing almost normally. The actual pain-transmission neurons in your arm override the psychosomatic symptoms of panic," he explained. "I'm running trials for a p-chem lab."

That was just so Bronx Science.

Finally, the actors took their places; the house lights dimmed and the audience hushed. As BB gave my hand an encouraging squeeze, the stage manager read the title of my piece.



PLAYED

- a short play by Kate Pride -

At rise: The ladies' room at a hipper-than-thou club. KIM and DAWN, both sixteen, run in, breathless. They're clad in the latest everything, all the trappings of beauty without achieving it.

KIM

Oh my G--

DAWN

I saw him and I'm like, whoa--

KIM

He never brought me here. He said the cover was too high. And he brings her. Was I okay?

DAWN

Totally. You were all like, (blase) Oh, hi, Kevin.

KIM

Like, (equally blase) Oh, I see you're with your new girlfriend, Mia.

DAWN

Right, you're all like, Kevin who?

They crack up and fist-bump each other, then check themselves out in the mirror and methodically pull out an arsenal of beauty products. They primp throughout the scene, often speaking to each other's reflections. Kim checks out her rear view.

KIM

Okay, I am a total cow. You could snort lines off my ass.

DAWN

Shut up! You are so hot.

KIM

Hotter than--?

DAWN

Totally! Did you check out those thighs? Every time she takes a step, they like, suffocate each other.

KIM

And what is up with that do?

DAWN

Hello, Chia Pet?

KIM

And that uni!

DAWN

I should have been all like, Oh, cute outfit. My mother has it.

They crack up and trade another fist bump.

DAWN

I know people at her old school. The girl is played.

KIM

Really?

DAWN

Seriously mattress tested.

KIM

Well, Kevin and I never--you know--so if that's what he wants, then whatever. Because I am totally over--

They're interrupted when the girl they're dissing enters. MIA, also sixteen, is effortlessly beautiful and knows it. She joins them at the mirror, fixing her makeup.

MIA

(too cool)

Oh. Hi. Having fun?

KIM

Not really. This club is so played. There are like, twelve-year-olds here with fake ID.

MIA

Kevin and I are so into each other, we didn't notice. So, we should hang sometime. I'll call you.

KIM

I'll hold my breath.

Mia scrutinizes Kim.

MIA

(snarky) Cute outfit. My mother has it.

Triumphant, she exits. Kim is humiliated. A long, awkward beat as she tries to deal.

DAWN

Okay, she totally rides a broom.

KIM

At least her ass fits on one.

DAWN

Kimmy. The boy was never in your league.

KIM

Really?

DAWN

Really.

They methodically throw all their cosmetics back into their purses, cross to the door, and stop.

KIM

Dawnie. Thanks.

DAWN

For what?

KIM

The courtesy clueless. It's like she's so . . . and I'm so--

DAWN

Not. She's not.

KIM

Hot, you mean.

DAWN

She's not.

KIM

Really?

DAWN

Really.

Really, they both know this is a lie. And they both know they know. They share a final best-friend fist bump, take a deep breath, and laugh ostentatiously to ensure that anyone who sees them will think they're having a fabulous time. As they exit into the club, the lights fade.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from A Heart Divided by Cherie Bennett Copyright © 2004 by Cherie Bennett & Jeff Gottesfeld. 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.