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Parallel Parking

Natalie Standiford


  Copyright © 2006 by Parachute Publishing, L.L.C. All right reserved.

  First eBook Edition: October 2009

  Little, Brown and Company

  Hachette Book Group

  237 Park Avenue

  New York, NY 10017

  Visit our website at

  The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Cover photos from top left,

  © PhotoAlto/Veer, © Digital Vision/Veer, © PhotoAlto/Veer,

  © Ryan McVay/Getty Images, © Stockbyte/Getty Images,

  © Stockbyte/Getty Images, © Katrina Wittkamp/Getty Images.

  ISBN: 978-0-316-08903-6

  For John, Jim, Sam, Willard,

  and Dad, who taught me to drive a stick shift.



  1 Autumn in the Spring

  2 Rules of the Road

  3 Missed Connections

  4 Look Out, We’re All Going to Die

  5 Sean Tries Again

  6 Dear Missed Connections Boy

  7 High - Low

  8 Vehicular Manslaughter

  9 Ramona and Rex

  10 Back to the Pinetop

  11 Unteachable

  12 Shirtless

  13 The King of Parking

  14 The Price of Nice

  15 Slurpees

  16 Stuffed Hamster

  17 Confession Time

  18 Zombie Days

  19 Bitter Clarity

  20 The Tater Tot Treaty

  21 Head Case

  22 Kicks

  23 What’s Happening?

  1 Autumn in the Spring

  * * *

  To: hollygolitely

  From: your daily horoscope

  HERE IS TODAY’S HOROSCOPE: CAPRICORN: Open your mouth and close your eyes, and you will get a big surprise….

  * * *

  Welcome! Happy birthday to me!” Autumn squealed.

  “Happy Sweet Sixteen, Autumn,” Holly Anderson said, dodging a balloon.

  Autumn Nelson had transformed the ballroom of the Carlton Bay Country Club into a shrine to herself. A rock band was setting up on a stage in the back of the room while a DJ spun tunes in a corner. Also onstage were two giant blown-up photos of the glory that was Autumn, past and present: a baby picture and a recent glamour shot, with full makeup and long brown hair blown back by a fan. Each table was adorned with a large photo of Autumn at a different age.

  “Let’s see…” Autumn led Holly and her two best friends, Lina Ozu and Madison Markowitz, to their assigned seats. “You’re all together at table six—which you can recognize by this adorable picture of me at age six, missing my front teeth. Is that not the cutest?”

  Holly looked at the picture and shuddered. Hair in braids, nose covered with freckles, mouth gaping wide to show off the missing teeth, Autumn looked like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz… as a vampire.

  Two thin, lanky boys, Walker Moore and Stephen Costello, joined them at the table. Walker, with spiky brown hair and an easygoing smile, was Lina’s boyfriend. Stephen, pale and serious, was Mads’.

  “This party wins ‘Most Self-Indulgent Sweet Sixteen of the Year,’” Stephen said. “So far.”

  “We’ve got a long way to go,” Holly said. “Lina and Mads turn sixteen this summer.”

  “This bash will be hard to top,” Walker said. He lay the giant photo of Autumn, age six, facedown on the table. “I can’t eat with that thing staring at me.”

  “My parents can’t afford anything like this,” Mads said.

  “And mine would rather die than be so splashy,” Lina said.

  Autumn climbed up onto the stage and took over the mike. “Hi, everybody! Thanks for coming to my party. Please sit at your assigned table, and don’t switch around! I hate it when people do that. The band had this great idea, where every guest can come up and sing a song dedicated to me, if you feel like it. They can play practically any request, so don’t be shy! And don’t try to slip out into the parking lot to sneak smokes or drinks, because Chloe will be out there for half the party—my dad’s trying to get her to cut down on smoking, so she has to do it behind his back. And if she sees you, she’ll probably tell on you, because that’s the kind of person she is. Just thought I’d warn you. More later!”

  She left the stage. Holly glanced at Autumn’s father and his girlfriend, Chloe. Chloe, red-faced, yammered something into Mr. Nelson’s ear. He put an arm around Chloe, trying to comfort her. Autumn regularly ranted about her in her blog, Nuclear Autumn.

  The band played a rocked-out version of “Autumn in New York.” They were already pushing the Autumn theme a little hard. Stephen and Mads danced. Holly, Lina, and Walker drank ginger ales and ate crab balls and shrimp cocktail. The sixth person assigned to their table was Holly’s locker neighbor, Sebastiano Altman-Peck.

  “I’m going up there,” Sebastiano said. “I’ve got a special song I want to sing to the birthday girl.”

  “What is it?” Holly asked.

  “You’ll see.” Sebastiano got up on stage and spoke to the band’s lead guitarist. “Okay, Autumn,” he said, taking the microphone. “This is for you. Happy birthday!”

  The band burst into “American Idiot.” Sebastiano belted it out. Holly looked to see if Autumn was offended, but she laughed and took it as a joke.

  “Sebastiano’s pretty good,” Lina said.

  Mads tugged on Stephen’s sleeve. “Let’s go up and sing a duet. How about, ‘You’re the One That I Want’?”

  “Uh, nah.” Stephen looked uncomfortable. “You go up and sing. You don’t need me.”

  “Sure, I do,” Mads said. “Come on.”

  Stephen shook his head.

  “Why not, Stephen?” Holly said. “You can’t be any worse than Ingrid, and she’s up next.”

  “I can’t sing in front of people,” Stephen said. “It’s physically painful for me.”

  “Really?” Holly said. “Physically painful?”

  He nodded. “Please don’t try to make me, because I won’t.”

  “I’ll let you off the hook this time,” Mads said. “But you can’t stay this way the rest of your life. Singing is fun!” She stood up. “I think I’ll do something from Grease,” she said.

  Up on the stage Ingrid finished singing “And I Love You So.” A tall, lean guy with shaggy blond hair took her place at the mike. He wore a tie knotted over a T-shirt, punk rock style, and black sunglasses. A hush fell over the room. It was Sean Benedetto.

  Mads sat down. “I’ll sing later,” she said.

  Mads, as Holly knew, had a wicked crush on Sean. Stephen or no Stephen.

  Sean sang an old Aerosmith song, “Dream On.” His voice wasn’t that great, but his stage presence was stunning. Unlike most of the other kids, he had no self-consciousness whatsoever. He sang full throttle but held back just enough to maintain a sense of mystery, to leave the listeners wondering what was on his mind. He rocked his hips, keeping the mike close to his lips. The girls in the audience swooned and screamed as if he were a real rock star. And Holly had to admit, watching him onstage, that he could be a rock star.

  She’d always considered Sean a little silly and kind of full of himself. She never quite got why Mads was so obsessed with him. But now, seeing him sing, she had an inkling. She couldn’t help swooning a little bit herself.

  She glanced at Mads, who looked as if she were in a trance. Her shining eyes followed Sean’s every thrust and spin. Holly felt sorry for Stephen, who sat beside Mads, good-naturedly bopping along with the song. Every once in a while he loo
ked at Mads, who seemed to have forgotten he existed. Then he looked away, as if he wanted to pretend that whatever it was he saw in her face wasn’t there.

  Sean left the stage and was immediately mobbed by girls. Holly didn’t see his girlfriend, Jane Cotham, among them. In fact, Jane wasn’t anywhere in the room.

  The band took a break, the DJ came on duty, and Mads pulled Stephen onto the dance floor as if nothing had happened. Maybe that was why Stephen was so cool about Mads’ obvious crush on Sean. Either he didn’t notice it, or he did, but realized that it didn’t affect her feelings for him or get in the way of their relationship. It was like a movie star crush, totally unrealistic.

  Holly danced with Sebastiano, which made her thirsty, so she went to the bar for a glass of water. Sean came up beside her and ordered a beer, which the bartender refused to give him. Sean took it in stride and changed his order to Red Bull.

  “Want to step outside for a smoke?” Sean asked Holly. “That chick Chloe is busy choking down shrimp, so the coast is clear.”

  “I don’t smoke,” Holly said.

  “Me neither,” Sean said. “At least, not very often. But I feel like stepping outside anyway.”

  Holly shrugged. “Okay. Some fresh air would be nice.”

  Sean pushed open a door marked EMERGENCY EXIT. Holly braced herself for the blare of a fire alarm, but it didn’t come. They found themselves in the club parking lot, surrounded by fancy cars.

  “So where’s your girlfriend?” Holly asked.

  “We broke up,” Sean said. “It was getting to be a real drag, you know?”

  “Who dumped who?” Holly asked. She knew it was none of her business, but something about Sean made her bold—and she was pretty bold to start with.

  “Hey, who do you think you’re talking to?” Sean asked.

  Holly just grinned and shrugged.

  “All right, she dumped me,” Sean said. “Don’t tell anybody.”

  Holly laughed. “I won’t. Why did she dump you?”

  “Who knows? She said it was because I was too young for her. That didn’t bother her two months ago. I think she likes some other dude. That’s cool. It happens. Good luck, whatever.”

  Holly remembered Mads telling her that she’d seen Jane kiss another guy more than once. So Sean’s theory was probably right. Her heart went out to him. Jane must have hurt him, but he was trying to cover it up.

  “Is that your Bug?” Sean nodded at Holly’s yellow Volkswagen Beetle across the parking lot.

  “Yeah,” Holly said. “How did you know?”

  “I’ve seen it around school. And it’s got a Rosewood parking sticker on it. And you look like the Bug type.”

  “Really? What type is that?”

  “Usually a girl,” Sean said. “They go for those ‘cute’ cars in pretty colors. But also kind of funky and not stuck on status and all that bull. Plus there’s that built-in vase with the flower on the dashboard. That’s pretty femme.”

  “Somebody stole my flower,” Holly said. “I loved that purple daisy.”

  “Really? That’s not cool.”

  “I made the mistake of leaving my car unlocked at school,” Holly said. “I didn’t know an RSAGEr would stoop so low.”

  “Now you know,” Sean said. “They’re just as wack as anybody else. Now me, I drive a Jeep. Black.” He pointed to it. “What do you think that says about me?”

  “Definitely masculine,” Holly said. “Simple, functional, yet fun. Ready for action. Up for anything.”

  “That’s me,” Sean said. “On the nose.” He tapped his nose, then hers. His fingertip was warm and fleshy. “Did you see what Autumn’s dad gave her for her birthday?”

  “How could I miss it?” Autumn’s birthday present was parked in the club driveway—a BMW convertible with a big red bow on top. “What do you think that says about her? Or her dad?”

  “That he’s got money and he wants everybody to know it,” Sean said. “And he’d rather give Autumn stuff than pay attention to her. Not that I don’t sympathize. The girl can talk forever, and maybe one percent of what she says is interesting.”

  Holly laughed again.

  “And if Autumn likes her ride, it says she’s a showoff and likes attention,” Sean said.

  “Which we already knew,” Holly said.

  “Sure, but now other people will know it, too,” Sean said. “I’m really into cars. Maybe you can tell. I think they’re like a language. Someone should make up a philosophy or something, like, The Benedetto Theory of Cars, where the whole world is described in car terms. I think I’d get the Nobel Prize.”

  “Or at least a People’s Choice Award,” Holly said.

  “Go ahead, make fun of me. I can handle anything you throw my way.”

  “I believe it,” Holly said.

  “Had enough fresh air?” he asked.

  “We should probably go back inside,” Holly said.

  He reached out to open the emergency exit door, but it was locked from the inside. “Guess we’ve got to go around to the front,” he said to Holly.

  When they returned to the ballroom, everyone was dancing. Sean led her to the dance floor.

  “Come on, let’s see how a VW driver moves,” he said.

  They danced for one song, and then dinner was served. Holly went back to her table.

  “Dancing with Sean—how’d that happen?” Lina whispered to her.

  “Did Mads notice?” Holly asked.

  “She was in the bathroom with me,” Lina said. “I walked back in here first, saw you two on the dance floor, and turned Mads around, saying she had crab in her teeth.”

  Holly thought it was a little silly that Mads had to be protected from seeing her dance with Sean. It was just a dance. It didn’t mean anything.

  Still, for the rest of the night Holly found herself catching Sean’s eye from across the room. They didn’t dance together again or say anything to each other. But whenever she looked at him, he was looking at her.

  Toward the end of the evening Autumn lost patience with dancing and the band and sat down to tear open her presents.

  “Let’s get out of here,” Holly said to Sebastiano. “Do you need a ride?” Walker and Stephen were taking Lina and Mads home, so Holly would be driving home by herself.

  “Sure,” Sebastiano said. “Let me just say good-bye to a few people.”

  “Okay,” Holly said. “I’ll meet you out by the car.” She said good-bye to Mads and Lina and Autumn, who was so busy shredding metallic paper, she barely looked up. Holly went outside and found Sean leaning against her car.

  “Heading home?” he said.

  “Yep,” Holly said. She put her key into the door.

  Sean took her by the elbow. “Hey,” he said. “I really like you.”

  Startled, she turned toward him and looked up. He kissed her.

  When she’d recovered, Holly glanced around. Did anyone see that? Did Mads? People all around were getting into their cars, but no one seemed to have noticed Sean and Holly.

  “What are you doing tomorrow night?” Sean asked.

  Holly couldn’t remember if she had plans or not. “I don’t know….”

  “Want to go do something?” he asked.

  She needed a moment to take this in. Was Sean Benedetto asking her out? It looked that way. After talking to him that night, she liked him more than she’d thought she would. And she was curious to find out more about him.

  But Mads’ face loomed in her mind. What would she think if Holly went out with Sean, her eternal crush, her personal rock star? Would she be upset? Holly wasn’t sure, but she really loved Mads and wouldn’t do anything to hurt her. That overrode any curiosity she had about Sean.

  “Sorry, I can’t,” she told him. “But thanks.”

  “No problem,” Sean said. “See you around.”

  She watched him walk to his Jeep. Then she got into her car, started it up, and waited for Sebastiano to come find her.

  I just kissed Sean, sh
e thought over and over again. Or, rather, he kissed me. She had to admit, it wasn’t bad. He’d obviously had a lot of practice.

  Should she tell Mads about it? Holly didn’t want to upset her. But keeping such big news from her seemed wrong.

  Sebastiano came out and jumped into the front seat. “Did I miss anything?” he joked, as if nothing could possibly have happened in the last ten minutes in the parking lot of the Carlton Bay Country Club.

  “Miss anything?” Holly said. “We’re in the parking lot of the Carlton Bay Country Club. What could have happened?”

  2 Rules of the Road

  * * *

  To: mad4u

  From: your daily horoscope

  HERE IS TODAY’S HOROSCOPE: VIRGO: I see carnage and mayhem in your future. Oh, wait, that’s just the next episode of Laguna Beach.

  * * *

  The rules of the road.” Ginny the Gym Teacher—in her new role as Ginny the Driver’s Ed Teacher—passed out a booklet of traffic rules and safety tips. “We’ll go over them in class, but study them well. You’ll be tested on them in your written exam for this course… and on the big day down at the DMV.”

  “I told you this class would be a breeze,” Mads whispered to Lina.

  Driver’s ed met last period Wednesday afternoons. Goth poetess Ramona Fernandez and her acolyte Siobhan Gallagher haunted the back row, while Autumn sat front and center with her friend Ingrid Bauman. Mads hoped she’d never have to share the road with Ramona or Autumn. Autumn struck her as a multi-tasking driver, the type who talks on the phone, applies mascara, fiddles with the stereo, and keeps a lookout for cute guys all at the same time. Ramona was a flirt-with-death sort, and that was one flirtation Mads didn’t want to be part of.

  “We’ll spend some class time learning the rules and the basics,” Ginny said. “Then you’ll be assigned to practice cars in groups of four with your driving instructor.” She indicated the two women and two men leaning against the chalkboard at the front of the room. “This is Jen, Kathy, Doug, and Mitchell.”