Excerpt: Just Like a Dream

“Freddy DiHaurentus is going to fall in love with me,” I say, feeling just a little foolish as I lay in my bed in the dark, alone.

I repeat it. “Freddy DiHaurentus is going to fall in love with me.”

How many times did she tell me to say it? Five? I double check the perfect blue flower tucked under my pillow—it’s still not squashed, it looks like a calla lily—and say the words a third time.

“Freddy DiHaurentus is going to fall in love with me.”

It feels like a mantra, an exercise in willpower—like if I just want it badly enough, it’ll happen. But that’s ridiculous because if that were the case, Freddy DiHaurentus would have fallen in love with me years ago.

I almost can’t remember a time I wasn’t in love with Freddy DiHaurentus, truth be told. Ever since the first day of freshmen algebra—he’d sat behind me, tapped me on the shoulder, and whispered that the teacher looked like a mole. I’d laughed, looked at his blue eyes, chiseled jaw, and swooping brown hair, and I’ve been crazy about him ever since. We’re soulmates, meant to be. We’ll end up living happily ever after, someday. White picket fence and all that.

There is the small problem of him currently being in love with my sister Viola. But she has a boyfriend, and they’re in love, so it’s really only a matter of time before Freddy realizes he’s actually in love with me, and then our future bliss will commence.

“Freddy DiHaurentus is going to fall in love with me,” I say for a fourth time, with confidence because I know it’s meant to be. Maybe the key combination is the mantra, plus the willpower, plus the seemingly-immortal flower given to me by a magic fairy.

Today started—and almost ended—just like any other. My sister Viola and I got up, had breakfast with Mom, and went shopping. I went to my summer job as an assistant coach for the freshmen of my old high school’s cross-country team, then reunited with Viola, her boyfriend Pedro, and Freddy, for our typical Friday night at Puck’s Coffee House. Pedro read some of his own bad poetry for the Open Mic night, Vi was supportive, and Freddy and I convinced the baristas to give us free food.

While there, I took a moment to look at the bulletin board, admiring this year’s flyer for the annual Midsummer Night Bash at Puck’s, which was scheduled for tomorrow night. My eyes followed the curling vines down the edge of the page, landing on a sign that I had never seen before. The new sign was just a small piece of white paper with black text that said, “Love trouble? Call a Hero: 1-800-THE-HERO.” I’d frowned at it, unable to tell whether it was implying that I had trouble in love or that I loved to make trouble, and put it out of my mind.

Around eleven, Viola kissed Pedro goodbye and we left Puck’s, with me trying to ignore the fact that both boys, not just Pedro, were watching Viola longingly as the two of us left.

I mean, I understood—Viola got the looks and the popular gene, while I got the one that makes you like crosswords and reorganizing the pantry. She has gorgeous olive skin, thick brown hair and dark brown eyes, a straight nose, good cheekbones and eyebrows—and she’s always so put together. Like tonight, she was dressed to go out, in a cute shirt and high-waisted shorts that showed off her long legs, whereas I was dressed like I’d come from cross country practice. Which I had.

She’d talked to me in the car about the possibility of asking Freddy out, which she did on the regular. “He’s too dense to make the first move, Jules,” she’d said, “and it’s the twenty-first century or whatever, so just do it.” I’d mumbled something in response and stared moodily out the window.

We got home and were surprised to find Mom on the couch. She was supposed to be out on a date with our old history teacher, Mr. Oberon, but this was the third time he’d blown her off. Mom seemed down, but when we sat to join her in watching a Buffy marathon, she cheered up considerably.

After that, we all went up to our rooms to go to bed. Instead of going to sleep, though, I’d sat at my desk and opened my laptop. I visited Freddy’s social media pages like they were old friends, but there was nothing new for me to see, so I got on my blog instead, and there it was again—a plain white ad, telling me to “CALL A HERO.”

Ignoring it, I continued to scroll past fandom pictures and funny text posts, but I started thinking about Freddy and me, and how Freddy has always neglected to see how wonderful we could be together. And then I started thinking about Mom and Mr. Oberon, and how he could be stringing her along. How both men have been refusing to give us a chance. And so, when the ad popped up again on my feed, I clicked on it because really, what was the worst that could happen?

The link redirected me to another page, just black text on a white screen. “Trouble in paradise? Trouble finding the one? Call Hero, and we’ll find you a solution.” Unfortunately, it didn’t look like there was anything I could do online; there was nowhere to submit a request. I picked up my phone with reluctance, but before I’d even decided whether to dial, I noticed there was a text waiting for me from Freddy.

My heart sped up and I practically dropped the phone, fumbling it as I opened the message. It said: “How was your mom’s date with Mr. O?”

Beaming because he cared, I typed out, “No-go, he bailed on her again,” and hit send.

Within moments he’d responded, “That asshole,” with an angry face emoji.

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