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The Seven Torments of Amy and Craig (A Love Story)
By Don Zolidis
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The best thing that’s ever happened to Craig is also the worst: Amy. Amy and Craig never should’ve gotten together. Craig is an awkward Dungeons & Dragons-playing geek, and Amy is the beautiful, fiercely intelligent student-body president of their high school.
Yet somehow they did until Amy dumped him. Then got back together with him. Then dumped him again. Then got back together with him again. Over and over and over.
Unfolding during their senior year, Amy and Craig’s exhilarating, tumultuous relationship is a kaleidoscope of joy, pain, and laughter as an uncertain future-and adult responsibility-loom on the horizon.
Craig fights for his dream of escaping Janesville and finding his place at a quirky college, while Amy’s quest to uncover her true self sometimes involves being Craig’s girlfriend and sometimes doesn’t.
Seven heartbreaks. Seven joys. Told nonsequentially, acclaimed playwright Don Zolidis’s debut novel is a brutally funny, bittersweet taste of the utterly unique and universal experience of first love.
Copyright © 2018 by Don Zoldis
Designed by Tyler Nevins
Title lettering and design by Liz Casal
Cover design by Tyler Nevins and Liz Casal
Cover photos © 2018 by Michael Frost
Cover art Liz Casal
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
I know it says A Love Story on the cover of this book. And it is a love story. But I want to mentally prepare you for it. The couple doesn’t get together at the end. There is no happy ending. Spoiler alert.
I guess I probably should’ve said “spoiler alert” first instead of including it after I just revealed the spoiler, but what are you going to do? Not read the next sentence?
So, yeah. Prepare yourselves.
I didn’t see this one coming either.
We were sitting in her car. She drove a 1980-something Subaru hatchback. Light silver. Spots of rust. The best thing about it was the four-wheel drive, which allowed Amy to navigate the icy roads of southern Wisconsin. It also had heat, which was a particular bonus. There was virtually no way to turn off the heat, however, so now it was emitting a blast of hot air reminiscent of the open mouth of hell.
I didn’t really care about that, although it did make things more awkward and smelly than usual as we made out.
We were still wearing our winter coats. She had on a puffy green fuzzy thing that I always thought looked like a field of moss, and I was wearing my black I’m-troubled-and-artistic woolen trench coat, which stretched down over my knees and got tangled in our legs.
There was also the matter of the gearshift—the Subaru was manual, so as we groped over six or seven layers of clothing, we’ d occasionally get stabbed in the ribs.
Basically, it was awesome. Even though I wasn’t exactly sure whether I had just felt her boob or a strange bunch in her sweater.
The windows had fogged up, and we separated, gasping for breath, a hot sticky, sweaty mess of raging hormones. If anyone was outside the car, it would be pretty obvious what was going on. Of course, seeing as how it was near midnight in late January in the most heavily forested part of Palmer Park, the only likely pedestrian would be the abominable snowman.
R.E.M. was on the radio. It was that song “Everybody Hurts,” which was being played every hour by every radio station like some kind of horrible curse. It was about as romantic as a song about preventing suicide could possibly be.
“This song just pretends it’s deep,” I grumbled.
Amy pulled some of her blond hair out of her mouth, while I kept going.
“Everybody hurts sometimes? Wow. I never would have guessed. Thank you, Michael Stipe.”
Amy didn’t say anything, which was probably good because I was about to get on a roll. I have to say, though, that my thoughts about R.E.M. weren’t entirely spontaneous—I had practiced this speech before in the shower. I was sure it was hilarious and would improve her mood if the kissing hadn’t done the trick.
“Like, are there people out there who think this is a revelation? Like they’re going through life, Huh, I bet those people never hurt, and then this song comes on and they’re like, enlightened? Oh, I guess everybody does hurt. Please. The whole theme of the song is like, Sometimes things are bad. R.E.M. should be working as guest artists in a kindergarten.” That was my favorite part of this bit. Imagining the quintessential college band of the ’80s showing up and teaching five-year-olds about colors.
Amy wasn’t laughing.
She was looking down at her hands. Her hair fell in a yellow curtain around the sides of her face.
My stomach started twisting up into knots. I broke into a cold sweat. These moments had been happening more frequently lately—Amy would stop, her eyes would glaze over, and you could tell that she was contemplating my utter destruction. At least that was my assumption.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said finally.
“Wait. Hold on. I won’t talk about R.E.M. anymore. I’m sure they’re cool.”
“That’s not what—”
“Is it the coat? Is that the problem?”
“Craig.” She said it like my sister said it. Like Shut up, Craig. I shut up. “I don’t know that I can do this.”
But I knew what. Amy turned just a bit to look at me and I could see the tears forming in her eyes. Down came the knife into my heart. Stab. Stab. Stab.
“I don’t think I can be your girlfriend.” Her words hung in the air for a moment. R.E.M. continued to whine forlornly on the radio. I no longer noticed the heat pouring out of the vent.
I had tried two different approaches to the Amy-dumping-me problem previously. Those two approaches were
- Cry and
- Cry more, then hug her mom. (Don’t ask.)
So it was time to try something new: arguing.
“Wait a minute. You said you weren’t going to break up with me anymore!”
“I know….” She fumbled for a Kleenex.
“But now you’re breaking up with me?! This is not cool! You didn’t want me to be clingy, so I’m not clingy, I did that—”
“I’m wearing the hat! Look at this!” I yanked the hat she had given me off my head. “I’m not even a hat person, and I’m still wearing this! For you! I’m wearing this hat for you!”
(Okay, I admit, my arguing technique was not technically the best.)
“Can I say something?” she sputtered. “I don’t care about the hat.”
“Clearly,” I fumed.
She looked up at the ceiling of the car, exasperated. “There are things going on that I can’t tell you about….”
“Oh, like before?”
The air froze between us. That was mean. I knew it was mean.
Amy disintegrated. She chewed on her bottom lip and I could see the tears running down her face now.
“Was this your plan?” I said. “Bring me out here into the middle of the woods like a mafia killing or something?”
“No witnesses. No one will ever find my body.”
“Why were you making me out with me first if you were gonna dump me?”
“I’m not dumping you.”
“We were going out earlier tonight, and now, apparently, we’re not! That’s a dumping.”
“Okay, maybe a little,” she conceded.
“I’m sorry I made the comments about R.E.M.”
“I’m not dumping you because you don’t like this song!”
“Well, I don’t see why you’re dumping me at all.”
Amy pulled her hair behind her ears. “I just can’t do this.”
It felt like a dozen boa constrictors had slithered into the car and were crushing my chest. I reached for anything that could save me. “Like, think about how great we are. We don’t ever fight, we don’t—”
“We fight all the time.”
“No we don’t!”
“We’re fighting right now!”
“This isn’t a fight. This is a discussion. It’s a thoughtful discussion. You’re discussing doing something stupid, and I’m explaining to you why it’s a bad idea.”
“Craig,” she said gently, “I don’t want to hurt you.” This is what she always said while she was hurting me. It was as if someone was taking an ice pick and stabbing it through my eye. I don’t want to hurt you. Stab. Stab. Stab. You’re only making it worse by screaming and crying. Stab. Stab. Stab. This will feel much better when I do the other eye.
“If you don’t want to hurt me, why are you hurting me?!”
“I don’t want to hurt you more. In the future.” She stopped for a second. Her blue eyes looked silver in the dim light. “I’m sorry.”
There was no arguing my way out of this. The snakes were breaking my ribs.
The reality of the situation sucked the air out of my lungs. We were breaking up. Again. For the third time. No more Amy. My senior year in high school had been utterly consumed by her and now it was evaporating. My plan for prom was gone; no more seeing her Monday morning at school, when I would look out at the sea of heavy jackets and try to spot her hair. No more talking about deeply philosophical things late at night. No more making out after we talked about the deeply philosophical things. No more deeply philosophical things at all. Goddamn it, R.E.M. We were over.
“Just…uggg…” I opened the door and stomped out into the snow.
The first thing you realize when you step outside in the middle of a January night in Wisconsin is that you’re stupid. It was cold. Not cold in the sense that something in your freezer is cold but cold in the sense that there is no God. Negative-twenty-degree cold. It was snowing just a bit, drifting down in little flakes of death.
The upper part of Palmer Park was really just a forest with a parking lot. Oh, sure, there was a swing set in there somewhere, and if you fell down the hill you’d eventually end up in a frozen kiddie pool, but apparently the people of Janesville just gave up on this part. They probably had better things to do. Like fighting for their daily survival since they’d stupidly decided to settle in a frozen wasteland where the only food available was cheese curds.
We were up on the hill, and the dark trees around me were all bare. Their trunks were black in the night, in contrast to the foot of white snow that lay on the ground like a dream.
When it’s below zero degrees, the air stings. It felt like a million little lumberjacks were chopping away at my exposed skin, probably because I was wearing a stupid coat that wasn’t even all that warm, and had somehow abandoned the hat Amy had given me.
I stumbled away from the car, my tennis shoes punching through the upper crust of the snow and sinking into the loose freezing drift beneath.
Please follow me. Please follow me.
I should not have left the hat in the car. That was dumb. I am dumb.
I weighed the possible results of my action:
- She runs after me and admits she was wrong, and we go back in the car and make out more and pretend this never happened.
- She runs after me and admits she was wrong, and it is too late because I have already frozen to death.
- She runs after me in order to admit she was wrong, and she ironically freezes to death before she can reach me.
- Yetis eat me.
“Craig!” she yelled.
“Get back in the car! It’s cold as hell as out here!”
Stopping just long enough to put on her giant red mittens that looked like feminine lobster claws, Amy got out of the car. Amy was dressed far more sensibly for the cold since she was far more sensible than me. She had her green fuzzy parka thing, her mittens, and a bluish hat that smelled like her hair and was probably the greatest thing in the universe. I had no hat, no gloves, and my jeans had holes in the knees.
“Goddamn it, it’s cold!” she shrieked.
“I know! What was wrong with the people who settled here?!”
The other thing about cold this wretched is that it swallows sound, which was one of the many reasons I was shouting. Fun fact.
And then she was right next to me, hugging me like we were giant toddlers in snowsuits.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. Her hair smelled like sunshine, and I let myself hug her back.
I have no girlfriend echoed through my mind. It was especially awful, since Amy was the only girlfriend I’d ever had, the only girl I’d ever kissed, and the only girl I’d ever fallen in love with.
And now we were apart again, even though we were standing as close as possible in the dark, freezing, bitter awfulness that is Wisconsin in January. I stayed there for two or three seconds, which is about the amount of time before frostbite sets in. My tears, if I’d had any, would have frozen on my face.
She pushed the hat back into my hands.
“I’m gonna need a ride home,” I said.
It was my ninth birthday party, which I shared with my sister, Kaitlyn, who also happened to have the same birthday.
We’re twins, although, as you probably figured out, not identical ones. She definitely got the better deal in the genetic lottery. For most of my life I was scrawny, undersized, and had an unfortunate cowlick that looked as if some part of my brown hair had to jump for joy all the time. In middle school I took a pair of scissors to it in what has come to be known as the hair incident. I had a year-round tan and was all of five foot one until my sophomore year of high school. Kaitlyn, on the other hand, figured out the mysteries of hair care early on. Her auburn hair had a natural wave to it, like undulating sea-foam fanned by water nymphs. All of my friends thought she was hot. She was naturally athletic, like she had transplanted genes from an antelope or something—she was a star forward for the soccer team and ran track in the spring. She was also the devil.
It’s kind of awful having a twin sister who’s a hundred times cooler than you, and even worse is the period of time from age nine to fourteen or so when she’s taller than you and can kick your ass. (Granted, even in high school, she could still kick my ass on account of her innate fierceness, but at least I was taller.)
The conflict between us probably started in utero (somehow I imagine her fetus forming a middle finger very early on), but it really began with our pets. Actually, it began with her pets.
I don’t know who cursed our family, but from a very early stage it was clear that someone had stolen an unholy amulet from a sarcophagus or something and called doom upon us.
First, I killed her sea monkeys. Then I killed two or three jars of lightning bugs we’ d collected in the summer (although that might have been the result of not putting air holes in the jars, but she never wasted an opportunity to blame me for the carnage). Even the pets I didn’t directly slaughter met horrible ends. Things got bad when we got guinea pigs. Kaitlyn went through four of them: Muffin, Bo-Dag, Son of Bo-Dag, and Bo-Dag Three. Son of Bo-Dag escaped from his guinea-pig hutch and was not discovered until five days later when his corpse began to send off quite strong smells from our basement. He had gotten trapped behind our couch, which was unhappily situated on a hot air vent. Son of Bo-Dag had baked to death in furry terror. That was the worst pet death until I accidentally sat on Bo-Dag Three after a particularly brutal game of Sorry. I wasn’t looking, and he had been let out of his home for a breath of fresh air only to find my butt descending on him, crushing him like a tiny, furry éclair.
She also had a hamster named Giggles that committed suicide. He put his little head in his hamster wheel and pushed.
And then there was Stephen.
We never should’ve got Stephen. My parents should’ve realized we were cursed and declared that no pet was safe.
But Kaitlyn was unstoppable when she wanted a pet. She made posters. She sang songs. She cut out pictures from magazines and made detailed presentations to Mom and Dad. And when I say she sang songs about getting a pet, I mean she continuously sang songs for three or four hours at a time. It was enough to make a hamster commit suicide.
Anyway, Stephen was a Persian cat we got from the Humane Society. He was a big white fluff ball. You could only see his little smashed-up face if you looked directly at him; otherwise, he looked like a snowball had grown little legs and was wandering around, pissed off.
If you’ve ever met a Persian cat, you know what I’m talking about. They’re assholes.
Kaitlyn loved everything about Stephen. She loved the low growling sound he made whenever I came near him. She loved the way he’d let you pet him for three or four seconds before biting the crap out of your hand and trying to claw you apart.
She was also extremely protective of him—especially with me, as she blamed me for the slaughter of every animal she had ever loved, even the ones I didn’t sit on or suffocate. (Although, to be fair, sea monkeys are not animals. They’re shrimp, and they are also the lamest “pet” ever.)
Anyway, all of this is to set the scene for our ninth birthday party, which was fated to be the last birthday party we’ d have together.
In previous years, our mom had managed to get us to agree to gender-neutral themes like “Muppets” or “balloon fun,” but this year we were irreconcilable. I had chosen The Hobbit as my theme, which drove my mom into a worrying stress spiral, not least for the fact that I had demanded giant spider decorations. Kaitlyn, for her part, had chosen the exact opposite: Barbie.
As you can imagine, there was no universe in which Barbie and hobbits coexisted. (Either Barbie would be put on the front lines to be eaten by the giant spiders, or the hobbits would get new, snazzy outfits—either way it made no sense.) My parents had tried—well, actually, my mom had tried. My dad had thrown up his hands and offered “lions” as a possible solution, which was to say, he was going to take us to the zoo and feed us to lions if we couldn’t compromise. His plan failed because we were at least half-sure he was joking. So there was a dividing line in our backyard—on one side, the denizens of Middle-earth, and the other side, totally unrealistic plastic women.
“They can’t even stand,” I said to her.
“Shut up,” said Kaitlyn. “Go play with your dwarves.”
“Hobbits. Dwarves are a different race.”
“There is something wrong with you. Really wrong.”
We had each invited the same number of people, but I had three acquaintances show up, and she had about thirty-seven girls there. From orbit, you could tell the difference between our parties. What’s worse is that my friends, sensing that something like the plague was affecting my side of the yard, had gravitated over to the Barbie side because they were traitors.
“Let’s put the parties together,” offered my mom. “I feel like there’s room for magic in the Barbie universe.”
We both rolled our eyes at that.
Kaitlyn offered no concessions to my side of the yard, and went out of her way to show just how much more fun she was having than me. Equally horrible was the fact that each person at the party brought a present for one of us, all of which were now located on a “present table” that was 90 percent pink. It was all going horribly wrong.
This is where Stephen comes in.
All my life I have been afflicted by a lack of common sense, and it was particularly noticeable on this day. Here was my thought process:
I need to get girls to come over here. What do girls like? Cats. We have a cat. I’ll bring him outside and carry him around. Then all will be well and we can play pin the scale on the dragon.
I found Stephen in his usual place, sitting under my parents’ bed, pissed off and hating the world. I crawled on my stomach, fended off his claws, and managed to grab his back. He emitted the low, mournful growl that was his way of saying Hello—please get the hell away from me.
But I was undeterred, and managed to scramble out from under the bed and scoop Stephen into my arms like a white, puffy ball of evil.
Stephen was an indoor cat; my dad had long argued that he was an animal and needed to hunt, but he had been overruled by the fact that Stephen showed no inclination to ever go outside or do anything to acquire food for himself. He was pretty useless as a cat.
I brought him outside, feeling his furry body tremble in rage and panic.
“Look what I’ve got over here,” I said in a singsong voice from my abandoned hobbit side of the yard.
Bringing something cute and fluffy into a group of thirty third-grade girls is a recipe for a stampede. Just as I imagined, they dropped their Barbie activities and rushed me.
Stephen’s evil cat eyes went wide when he spotted the flood of girls. He braced his back claws against my sternum, tore through my shirt, and sprang away from me like he had been fired from one of my dad’s guns. He shot to the ground and raced through the gaggle of girls like a thunderbolt. I had never seen him move that fast in his life.
He shot around the house and headed for the street.
I know what you’re thinking. A car ran him over, didn’t it?
There was no car, but there was a giant German shepherd puppy that spotted a lightning-fast ball of white fur and thought it looked like a super-fun chew toy. By the time we reached the front yard, there was blood and fur and an adorable German shepherd being restrained by its horrified owner.
Death had come to our ninth birthday party. J. R. R. Tolkien would have been proud.
In my mind, I think of Stephen like the eternal pessimist. Every day I bet he thought, I’m going to die today. I hate these people. And at last, he was right.
Anyway, that was me in a nutshell. Trying to impress people the wrong way, only to have it end in horrible tragedy.
As I got older, I slowly conquered the entire basement of our house. At some point, it had been imagined as a family rec room, but the creeping tide of my nerdishness forced the rest of the family out due to sheer embarrassment. The fact that Kaitlyn and I had been largely at war for the past eight years had something to do with it as well. The faux-wood paneling my dad had installed in the late ’70s was perfect for tacking up posters of dragons and aliens. I had transformed one of the old coffee tables into a diorama, which was complete with metal miniatures of wizards and dwarves. I had even found a couple of crappy old bookshelves and had filled them with an endless supply of fantasy novels. In short, it was a space designed to repulse females.
And yet I had brought Amy into it, and, miraculously, she hadn’t run for the hills. She didn’t mind sitting on the couch; she didn’t mind the faint smell of death that still hung in the air from Son of Bo-Dag’s immolation. She was cool with all of it.
We had set up an old television down there and spent much of the last month watching movies while buried beneath blankets. It was an exercise in escapism, of course, as both of our lives were in the process of falling apart. Hers was collapsing, while mine was merely deteriorating, and like good Wisconsin people we had both made the unspoken pledge not to talk about any of it and watch horror films instead.
Should we talk about our feelings regarding the ongoing tragedies in our lives? Oh look, Critters 3 is on. I sure hope that will answer all the unresolved questions from both Critters 1 and 2.
It wasn’t a perfect system, and where there had once been long, deeply philosophical talks that lasted all night, there was now a sinister cloud of silence. It wasn’t the best way to run a relationship, but it was a model that seemed to work for everyone’s parents, so we were giving it a shot.
Anyway, we had just finished Hellraiser II, which was a lot worse than the original Hellraiser, so it was a lot more fun to watch. I had mastered the art of making funny voices during the entire movie (or at least, I thought I had mastered it; I probably annoyed the hell out of her, which might have been one of the reasons for the breakup, but who knows?), and I was on a particular roll that evening.
If you’re not familiar with the Hellraiser series of movies, congratulations. Basically it’s about a weird guy who wears black leather and has pins in his face. Like, three hundred pins in his face. He’s named, surprisingly enough, Pinhead. Pinhead is summoned by demons every once in a while and sends people to hell, where they don’t have a good time. Every once in a while he says, We have such sights to show you.
I had a great time imagining alternate employment options for Pinhead.
“What if he was, like, a tour guide?” and
“Wouldn’t it be awesome if Disney bought the rights to this and put him in Disney World?” and
- "A charming, funny love story."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Appealingly realistic... Outrageously funny... Full of humor and heart, this refreshingly unromantic romance is highly recommended for most collections."—School Library Journal
- "Craig's dryly witty narration adds humor... and the nonlinear narration keeps things interesting. A coming-of-age romance with bittersweet tones for fans of John Green-style jocularity."—Booklist
- "Craig's wry, self-absorbed, and self-deprecating voice carries this slice-of-life love story to a higher plane. Readers, like Amy, will fall in love with him even as they want to shake him... Packed with fantastic dialogue and vivid staging... A thoroughly absorbing, authentic and entertaining read."—Shelf Awareness
- "Funny, painful, and starry-eyed. A must-read book for anyone who has ever been in love."—Jenny Boylan, author of The Long Black Veil and She's Not There
- "Paying light homage to John Hughes movies via a mid-'90s setting, Zolidis handles the on-and-off relationship with humor and heart while deftly weaving through the more difficult subject matter."—Publishers Weekly
Accolades2018 Cybils Award, Young Adult Fiction NomineeBustle: 11 Upcoming Romantic YA Novels That Might Just Be Your New Favorite Rom-Com, selection (2018)BookRiot: 125+ Upcoming YA Books You'll Want on Your October to December Radar, selection (2018)BookRiot: Breaking Up is Hard to Do: 21 YA Books About Heartbreak and Breakups, selection (2019)
- On Sale
- Oct 4, 2018
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers