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If I Stay (If I Stay #1)

By´╝ÜGayle Forman

rked at a record store.

Dad grins at Teddy's noise, and seeing that, I feel a familiar pang. I know it's silly but I have always wondered if Dad is disappointed that I didn't become a rock chick. I'd meant to. Then, in third grade, I'd wandered over to the cello in music class-it looked almost human to me. It looked like if you played it, it would tell you secrets, so I started playing. It's been almost ten years now and I haven't stopped.




"So much for going back to sleep," Mom yells over Teddy's noise.

"What do you know, the snow's already melting." Dad says, puffing on his pipe. I go to the back door and peek outside. A patch of sunlight has broken through the clouds, and I can hear the hiss of the ice melting. I close the door and go back to the table.

"I think the county overreacted," I say.

"Maybe. But they can't un-cancel school. Horse is already out of the barn, and I already called in for the day off," Mom says.

"Indeed. But we might take advantage of this unexpected boon and go somewhere," Dad says. "Take a drive. Visit Henry and Willow." Henry and Willow are some of Mom and Dad's old music friends who'd also had a kid and decided to start behaving like grown-ups. They live in a big old farmhouse. Henry does Web stuff from the barn they converted into a home office and Willow works at a nearby hospital. They have a baby girl. That's the real reason Mom and Dad want to go out there. Teddy having just turned eight and me being seventeen means that we are long past giving off that sour-milk smell that makes adults melt.

"We can stop at BookBarn on the way back," Mom says, as if to entice me. BookBarn is a giant, dusty old used-book store. In the back they keep a stash of twenty-five-cent classical records that nobody ever seems to buy except me. I keep a pile of them hidden under my bed. A collection of classical records is not the kind of thing you advertise.

I've shown them to Adam, but that was only after we'd already been together for five months. I'd expected him to laugh. He's such the cool guy with his pegged jeans and black low-tops, his effortlessly beat-up punk-rock tees and his subtle tattoos. He is so not the kind of guy to end up with someone like me. Which was why when I'd first spotted him watching me at the music studios at school two years ago, I'd been convinced he was making fun of me and I'd hidden from him. Anyhow, he hadn't laughed. It turned out he had a dusty collection of punk-rock records under his bed.

"We can also stop by Gran and Gramps for an early dinner," Dad says, already reaching for the phone. "We'll have you back in plenty of time to get to Portland," he adds as he dials.

"I'm in," I say. It isn't the lure of BookBarn, or the fact that Adam is on tour, or that my best friend, Kim, is busy doing yearbook stuff. It isn't even that my cello is at school or that I could stay home and watch TV or sleep. I'd actually rather go off with my family. This is another thing you don't advertise about yourself, but Adam gets that, too.

"Teddy," Dad calls. "Get dressed. We're going on an adventure."

Teddy finishes off his drum solo with a crash of cymbals. A moment later he's bounding into the kitchen fully dressed, as if he'd pulled on his clothes while careening down the steep wooden staircase of our drafty Victorian house. "School's out for summer . . ." he sings.

"Alice Cooper?" Dad asks. "Have we no standards? At least sing the Ramones."

"School's out forever," Teddy sings over Dad's protests.

"Ever the optimist," I say.

Mom laughs. She puts a plate of slightly charred pancakes down on the kitchen table. "Eat up, family."

8:17 A.M.

We pile into the car, a rusting Buick that was already old when Gran gave it to us after Teddy was born. Mom and Dad offer to let me drive, but I say no. Dad slips behind the wheel. He likes to drive now. He'd stubbornly refused to get a license for years, insisting on riding his bike everywhere. Back when he played music, his ban on driving meant that his bandmates were the ones stuck behind the wheel on tours. They used to roll their eyes at him. Mom had done more than that. She'd pestered, cajoled, and sometimes yelled at Dad to get a license, but he'd insisted that he preferred pedal power. "Well, then you better get to work on building a bike that can hold a family of three and keep us dry when it rains," she'd demanded. To which Dad always had laughed and said that he'd get on that.

But when Mom had gotten pregnant with Teddy, she'd put her foot down. Enough, she said. Dad seemed to understand that something had changed. He'd stopped arguing and had gotten a driver's license. He'd also gone back to school to get his teaching certificate. I guess it was okay to be in arrested development with one kid. But with two, time to grow up. Time to start wearing a bow tie.

He has one on this morning, along with a flecked sport coat and vintage wingtips. "Dressed for the snow, I see," I say.

"I'm like the post office," Dad replies, scraping the snow off the car with one of Teddy's plastic dinosaurs that are scattered on the lawn. "Neither sleet nor rain nor a half inch of snow will compel me to dress like a lumberjack."

"Hey, my relatives were lumberjacks," Mom warns. "No making fun of the white-trash woodsmen."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Dad replies. "Just making stylistic contrasts."

Dad has to turn the ignition over a few times before the car chokes to life. As usual, there is a battle for stereo dominance. Mom wants NPR. Dad wants Frank Sinatra. Teddy wants SpongeBob SquarePants. I want the classical-music station, but recognizing that I'm the only classical fan in the family, I am willing to compromise with Shooting Star.

Dad brokers the deal. "Seeing as we're missing school today, we ought to listen to the news for a while so we don't become ignoramuses-"

"I believe that's ignoramusi," Mom says

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