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One Lonely Degree
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One Lonely Degree

Written by C. K. Kelly MartinAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by C. K. Kelly Martin

· Random House Books for Young Readers
· eBook · May 26, 2009 · $7.99 · 978-0-375-85392-0 (0-375-85392-8)

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Chapter One

Things don't always change with a bang. Sometimes they change so gradually that you can't clearly pinpoint the last moment they were truly the same. That's the way it was with my parents. I know they were happy--but I couldn't tell you exactly when.

Audrey says they could just be going through a bad patch and that things could start changing back when I least expect it. Anything is possible. That's almost the truth, but it doesn't fill me with hope. Anything is possible makes me feel like someone's scraping at the inside of my rib cage with dull scissors. If you kept that idea in your head, you'd never leave the house for fear you'd be crushed by a runaway bus or gunned down in the mall parking lot.

Anything is possible is something I prefer not to think about, but I don't always have a choice. Some nights are just like that. The sick feelings creep up on me until I want to shout so loud that it would make my parents come running. I never do, of course. It wouldn't help, and my parents would cart me off to some highly recommended shrink that would want to know everything.

And there are things I could say, but not anything that I actually want anyone to hear. There are thoughts in my head that I can't get out, but I have my own trick for dealing with them, which is to let other things in, as loud and furious as I can.

Tonight, for instance, I have to keep pulling off my earphones to listen for my dad's key in the front door. Raine Maida screams "Naveed" in my ears. Listen. Then it's "Where Are You," "Innocent," and "Yellow Brick Road." Listen. The pounding in my ears, the sound of Raine's voice like burning gold, and the blanket pulled all the way up to my chin is the nearest thing I know to an antidote, but if Dad hears the music he'll open the door and ask why I'm still awake. It's happened before. I used to keep the bedside lamp on, and a couple months ago, around two in the morning, he tapped at my door and asked if I was sick.

"No," I told him. "Just a little insomnia." My face felt like a bleached white sheet, and I was scared that he'd sense my bad feelings and try to put them into words.

"You could try turning down the volume," he said, smiling.

A guitar riff was screeching out of the earphones around my neck, and I furrowed my eyebrows, puffed out my cheeks, and said, "Ha. Ha." Everyone is so sarcastic these days that it's practically boring, but I need all the crutches I can get.

"And turning off the light," he added, still hovering in the doorway in his plaid pajamas and slippers, looking like a sitcom TV father that can solve any problem within thirty minutes.

"You're funny, Dad." I pulled an impatient face. "Anyone ever tell you you're a funny guy?"

"Not my teenage daughter," he said, smile as wide as ever. "Don't go deaf tonight, Finn. You have school in the morning."

I nodded and watched him shut the door, the sickness stretching tight across my face the moment he was gone. My skin feels that same way now. Like a mask that doesn't fit anymore. Like I'm not the person anyone thinks I am--not even Audrey. But if I'm not that person, just who am I instead? I'm not the girl who slinks soundlessly through the school hall pretending nothing can touch her. That much I do know.

Listen, I tell myself. Just listen. Listen. Everything will be all right, as long as you stop your mind and listen.

And this is the way it goes for a while. Me listening to Raine's voice in my ear. Me waiting for Dad's key in the door. My heels are itchy dry in my socks. My lips are cracking and my fingertips will be next. The air in my room is colder than anywhere else in the house except the basement. My mother says she doesn't know how I can stand it, but I like the contrast. This is me in bed in the middle of winter.

Everything will be all right.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from One Lonely Degree by C. K. Kelly Martin Copyright © 2009 by C. K. Kelly Martin. Excerpted by permission of Random House 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.