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This Is What Happy Looks Like
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When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.
Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between
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Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2013 12:42 PM
Subject: Re: hi
Don't you hate it when people use smiley faces in their e-mails?
Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2013 12:59 PM
Subject: not really
Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2013 1:04 PM
Subject: Re: not really
I'm going to ignore that.
I read once that in Russia, they usually end the salutation of a letter with an exclamation point. Isn't that funny? It must always seem like they're shouting at each other. Or that they're really surprised to find themselves in touch.
Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2013 1:07 PM
Subject: not a chance
Or maybe they're just really happy to be writing to that person…
Like I am: !
Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2013 1:11 PM
Subject: Re: not a chance
Well, thank you. But that's not what happy looks like.
Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2013 1:12 PM
Subject: Re: not a chance
What does it look like, then?
Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2013 1:18 PM
Subject: what happy looks like
Sunrises over the harbor. Ice cream on a hot day. The sound of the waves down the street. The way my dog curls up next to me on the couch. Evening strolls. Great movies. Thunderstorms. A good cheeseburger. Fridays. Saturdays. Wednesdays, even. Sticking your toes in the water. Pajama pants. Flip-flops. Swimming. Poetry. The absence of smiley faces in an e-mail.
What does it look like to you?
It was not all that different from the circus, and it came to town in much the same way. Only instead of elephants and giraffes, there were cameras and microphones. Instead of clowns and cages and tightropes, there were production assistants and trailers and yards upon yards of thick cables.
There was a sense of magic in the way it appeared as if from nowhere, cropping up so quickly that even those who had been expecting it were taken by surprise. And as the people of Henley showed up to watch, even the most jaded members of the film crew couldn't help feeling a slight shiver of anticipation, a low current of electricity that seemed to pulse through the town. They were used to filming in locations like Los Angeles and New York, cities where the locals gave them a wide berth, grumbling about the traffic and the disappearance of parking spots, shaking their heads at the huge lights that snuffed out the darkness. There were places in the world where a movie shoot was nothing more than a nuisance, a bothersome interruption of real life.
But Henley, Maine, was not one of them.
It was June, so the crowds that had gathered to watch the men unload the trucks were fairly large. The size of the town rose and fell like the tides. Through the winter, the full-timers rattled around the empty shops, bundled against the frost coming off the water. But as soon as summer rolled around, the population swelled to four or five times its usual size, a stream of tourists once again filling the gift shops and cottages and B&Bs that lined the coast. Henley was like a great hibernating bear, dozing through the long winters before coming back to life again at the same time each year.
Most everyone in town waited eagerly for Memorial Day, when the seasons clicked forward and the usual three-month frenzy of boaters and fishermen and honeymooners and vacationers invaded. But Ellie O'Neill had always dreaded it, and now, as she tried to pick her way through the thick knots of people in the village square, she was reminded of why. In the off-season, the town was hers. But on this blisteringly hot day at the start of June, it belonged to strangers again.
And this summer would be worse than ever.
Because this summer, there would be a movie too.
A few seagulls wheeled overheard, and from some distant boat a bell began to clang. Ellie hurried past the gawking tourists and away from the trailers, which now lined the harbor road like a gypsy caravan. There was a sharp tang of salt in the air, and the smell of frying fish was already drifting out of the town's oldest restaurant, the Lobster Pot. Its owner, Joe Gabriele, was leaning against the doorframe, his eyes trained on the flurry of activity down the street.
"Kind of crazy, huh?" he said, and Ellie paused to follow his gaze. As they watched, a long black limo glided up to the main production tent, followed by a van and two motorcycles. "And now photographers too," he muttered.
Ellie couldn't help frowning as she watched the explosion of flashes that accompanied the opening of the limo door.
Joe sighed. "All I can say is, they better eat a lot of lobster."
"And ice cream," Ellie added.
"Right," he said, nodding at the blue T-shirt with her name stitched to the pocket. "And ice cream too."
By the time she reached the little yellow shop with the green awning that read SPRINKLES in faded letters, Ellie was already ten minutes late. But she didn't have to worry; the only person inside was Quinn—her very best friend and the world's very worst employee—who was hunched over the ice-cream counter, flipping through the pages of a magazine.
"Can you believe we're stuck in here today?" she asked as Ellie walked in, the bell above the door jangling.
The inside of the shop was wonderfully cool and smelled like spun sugar, and as always, there was something about it that made the years recede for Ellie, peeling them back one at a time like the layers of an onion. She had been only four when she and her mom moved here, and after the long drive up from Washington, D.C.—the car heavy because of all they'd taken with them and silent because of all they had not—they'd stopped in town to ask for directions to the cottage they'd rented for the summer. Mom had been in a rush, eager to finish the journey that had started well before the ten-hour drive. But Ellie had walked right through the front door and pushed her freckled nose against the domed glass, and so her first memory of their new life would always be the black-and-white tiles, the cool air on her face, and the sweet taste of orange sherbet.
Now she ducked beneath the counter and grabbed an apron from the hook. "Trust me," she said to Quinn, "you don't want to be out there right now. It's a total zoo."
"Of course it is," she said, twisting around and then hoisting herself up so that she was sitting beside the cash register, her feet dangling well above the floor. Quinn had always been tiny, and even when they were younger, Ellie used to feel like a giant beside her, tall and gawky and entirely too noticeable with her red hair. The Bean and the Beanpole, Mom used to call them, and Ellie always wondered how it was fair that the only thing she'd inherited from her father was his ridiculous height, especially when her only goal in life was to stay under the radar.
"This is probably the biggest thing that's ever happened here," Quinn was saying, her eyes bright. "It would be like something out of the movies if it wasn't literally a movie." She grabbed the magazine and held it up. "And it isn't some little dinky art-house film either. I mean, there are huge stars in this thing. Olivia Brooks and Graham Larkin. Graham Larkin. Here for a whole month."
Ellie squinted at the photo being dangled in front of her, which showed a face she'd seen a thousand times before, a dark-haired guy with even darker sunglasses, scowling as he muscled his way through a group of photographers. She knew he was right around their age, but there was something about him that made him seem older. Ellie tried to picture him here in Henley, dodging paparazzi, signing autographs, chatting with his beautiful costar between takes, but she couldn't seem to make her imagination cooperate in that way.
"Everyone thinks he and Olivia are dating, or will be soon," Quinn said. "But you never know. Maybe small-town girls are more his type. Do you think he'll come in here at all?"
"There are only like twelve shops in the whole town," Ellie said. "So the odds are probably in your favor."
Quinn watched as she began rinsing the ice-cream scoops in the sink. "How can you not care about this stuff at all?" she asked. "It's exciting."
"It's a pain," Ellie said without looking up.
"It's good for business."
"It's like a carnival."
"Exactly," Quinn said, looking triumphant. "And carnivals are fun."
"Not if you hate roller coasters."
"Well, you're stuck on this one whether you like it or not," Quinn said with a laugh. "So you better buckle up."
Mornings were always quiet at the shop; the real rush didn't start until after lunchtime, but because the town was so busy today, a few people trickled in to buy bags of penny candy from the jars on the shelves, or to cool off with an early cone. Just before the end of her shift, Ellie was helping a little boy pick out a flavor while Quinn made a chocolate milkshake for his mother, who was busy on her cell phone.
"What about mint chip?" Ellie suggested, leaning over the cool glass as the boy—probably no more than three years old—stood on his tiptoes in an effort to survey the various flavors. "Or cookie dough?"
He shook his head, his hair falling across his eyes. "I want pig."
"Pig," he said again, but less certainly.
"Strawberry?" Ellie asked, pointing at the pink container, and the boy nodded.
"Pigs are pink," he explained to her as she scooped some into a small cup for him.
"That's true," she said, handing him the cup. But her mind was already elsewhere; she was thinking about an e-mail she'd gotten a couple weeks ago from—well, she didn't quite know who it was from; not really, anyway. But it had been about his pig, Wilbur, who had apparently, to his horror, gotten hold of a hot dog during a barbeque.
My pig, the e-mail had read, is now officially a cannibal.
That's okay, Ellie had written back. I'd be surprised if there was any real meat in that hot dog at all.
This had been followed by a lengthy exchange about what exactly was in hot dogs, which had then, of course, spun off into other topics, from favorite foods to best holiday meals, and before she knew it, the clock was showing that it was nearly two in the morning. Once again, they'd managed to talk about everything without really talking about anything at all, and once again, Ellie had stayed up way too late.
But it was worth it.
Even now, she could feel herself smiling at the memory of those e-mails, which felt as real and honest as any conversation she'd ever had face-to-face. She was practically on California time now, staying up late to wait for his address to appear on her screen, her thoughts constantly drifting across the country to the other coast. She knew it was ridiculous. They didn't even know each other's names. But the morning after that first e-mail went astray, she'd woken up to find another note from him.
Good morning, E, he'd written. It's late here, and I just got home to find Wilbur asleep in my closet. He generally stays in the laundry room when I'm out, but his "dogwalker" must have forgotten to shut the gate. If you'd been nearby, I'm sure you'd have done a much better job…
Ellie had only just gotten out of bed, and she sat there at her desk with the morning light streaming in through the window, blinking and yawning and smiling without quite knowing why. She closed her eyes. Good morning, E.
Was there any better way to greet the day?
Sitting there, thinking back to the previous night's correspondence, she'd felt a rush of exhilaration. And though it seemed odd that she still didn't know his name, something kept her from asking. Those two little words, she knew, would inevitably set off a chain reaction: first Google, then Facebook, then Twitter, and on and on, mining the twists and turns of the Internet until all the mystery had been wrung out of the thing.
Maybe the facts weren't as important as the rest of it: this feeling of anticipation as her fingers hovered over the keyboard, or the way the lingering question mark that had pulsed inside her all night had been so quickly replaced by an exclamation point at the sight of his e-mail. Maybe there was something safe in the not knowing, something that made it feel like all the mundane questions you were usually required to ask were not all that important after all.
She considered the screen for another moment, then lowered her hands to the keys. Dear G, she'd written, and so it had gone.
Theirs was a partnership of details rather than facts. And the details were the best part. Ellie knew, for example, that GDL—as she'd taken to thinking of him—once cut open his forehead while attempting to jump off the roof of his family's van as a kid. Another time, he'd pretended to drown in a neighbor's pool, and then scared the hell out of everyone when they tried to rescue him. He liked to draw buildings—high-rises and brownstones and skyscrapers with rows upon rows of windows—and when he was anxious, he'd sketch out entire cities. He played the guitar, but not well. He wanted to live in Colorado someday. The only thing he could cook was grilled cheese sandwiches. He hated e-mailing most people, but not her.
Are you any good at keeping secrets? she'd written to him once, because it was something she felt was important to know. It seemed to Ellie that you could tell a lot about someone by the way they carried a secret—by how safe they kept it, how soon they told, the way they acted when they were trying to keep it from spilling out.
Yes, he'd replied. Are you?
Yes, she'd said simply, and they left it at that.
All her life, secrets had been things that were heavy and burdensome. But this? This was different. It was like a bubble inside her, light and buoyant and fizzy enough to make her feel like she was floating through each day.
It had been only three months since that first e-mail, but it felt like much longer. If Mom noticed a difference, she didn't say anything. If Quinn thought she was acting funny, she made no mention of it. The only person who could probably tell was the one on the other end of all those e-mails.
Now she found herself grinning at the cup of pink ice cream as she handed it to the boy. Behind her, there was a loud click and a sputter, followed by a thick glugging sound, and when Ellie spun to see what was happening, it was to find the aftermath of a chocolate milkshake explosion. It was everywhere, on the walls and the counter and the floor, but mostly all over Quinn, who blinked twice, then wiped her face with the back of her arm.
For a moment, Ellie was sure Quinn was about to cry. Her entire shirt was soaked with chocolate, and there was more of it stuck in her hair. She looked like she'd just been mud wrestling—and lost.
But then her face split into a grin. "Think Graham Larkin would like this look?"
Ellie laughed. "Who doesn't like chocolate milkshakes?"
The boy's mother had lowered her cell phone, her mouth open, but now she dug for her wallet and placed a few bills on the counter. "I think we'll just take the ice cream," she said, shepherding her son out the front door, glancing back only once at Quinn, who was still dripping.
"More for us," Ellie said, and they began to laugh all over again.
By the time they'd gotten the mess cleaned up, Ellie's shift was almost over.
Quinn glanced up at the clock, then down at her shirt. "Lucky you. I've got two more hours to stand around looking like something that crawled out of Willy Wonka's factory."
"I've got a tank top on underneath," Ellie said, peeling off her blue T-shirt and handing it over. "Wear mine."
"Thanks," Quinn muttered, ducking into the tiny bathroom near the freezers in the back of the store. "I think I've even got chocolate in my ears."
"It'll help you survive the noise when things start getting busy," Ellie called back. "Want me to wait with you till Devon gets here? I can be late for Mom's."
"That's okay," Quinn said, and when she emerged again, she was wearing Ellie's shirt as if it were a dress. "It's a little long," she admitted, trying to tuck in all the extra material. "But I'll make it work. I can stop by the shop when I'm done to give it back."
"Great," Ellie said. "See you then."
"Hey," Quinn called, just as Ellie was about to walk out the door, her shoulders now bare except for the thin straps of her tank top. "Sunscreen?"
"I'm fine," she said, rolling her eyes. It was just the second week of summer vacation and already Quinn had a deep tan. Ellie, on the other hand, was only ever one of two shades: very white or very pink. When they were little, she'd landed in the hospital with a bad case of sun poisoning after a trip to the beach, and ever since then, Quinn had taken it upon herself to enforce the liberal use of sunblock. It was a habit that Ellie found simultaneously endearing and annoying—after all, she already had a mother—but nevertheless, Quinn was unrelenting in her duties.
Outside, Ellie paused to study the movie set being assembled down the street. There was less of a crowd now; people must have grown tired of watching the teams of men in black shirts rushing around with heavy trunks of equipment. But just as she was about to head up toward the gift shop, she noticed a guy in a Dodgers cap approaching the ice-cream parlor.
His head was low and his hands were in his pockets, but everything about his casual posture suggested a kind of effort; he was trying so hard to blend in that he ended up sticking out all the more. Part of her was thinking that he could be anyone—he was, after all, just a guy; just a boy, really—but she knew immediately that he wasn't. She knew exactly who he was. There was something too sharply defined about him, like he was walking across a billboard or a stage rather than a small street in Maine. The whole thing was oddly surreal, and for a moment, Ellie could almost see the magic in it; she could almost understand why someone might fall under his spell.
When he was just a few feet away from her, he glanced up, and she was startled by his eyes, a blue so deep she'd always half assumed they were touched up in the magazines. But even from beneath the brim of his cap, they were penetrating, and she pulled in a sharp breath as they landed on her briefly before sliding over to the awning of the shop.
The thought occurred to her with surprising force: He's sad. She wasn't sure how she knew this, but she was suddenly certain that it was true. Underneath all the rest of it—an unexpected nervousness, a hint of caution, a bit of wariness—there was also a sadness so deep it startled her. It was there in his eyes, which were so much older than the rest of him, and in the practiced blankness of his gaze.
She'd read about him, of course, and seemed to recall that he wasn't one of those celebrities always in and out of rehab. As far as she knew, he didn't have financial troubles or nightmare parents. He hadn't been brought up as one of those poor child stars either; his big break had happened only a couple of years ago. She'd heard he celebrated his sixteenth birthday by flying the entire cast of his last movie to Switzerland to go skiing in the Alps. And he'd been linked to several of the most sought-after young actresses in Hollywood.
There was no reason Graham Larkin should be sad.
But he is, Ellie thought.
He'd come to a stop outside the ice-cream parlor and seemed to be weighing something as he stood there. To her surprise, his eyes drifted over to her one more time, and she smiled reflexively. But he only gazed at her for a long moment, his face unchanged beneath the low brim of his cap, and the smile slid from her face again.
As she watched, he squared his shoulders and stepped up to the door of the shop, and Ellie's eyes caught Quinn's through the window. She mouthed something that Ellie couldn't make out, her face a picture of disbelief, and then turned her attention back to the entrance as the bell rang out and Graham Larkin made his way inside.
It was only then that the photographers appeared, seemingly from nowhere, six of them, with enormous black cameras and bags strung over their shoulders, each of them rushing to press against the window, where they began to snap photos with frantic intensity. From inside the store, Graham Larkin didn't even turn around.
Ellie stood there for another moment, her eyes flicking between the window, where Quinn was smiling behind the counter as he approached, and the photographers, who were jostling one another for better angles. Those milling around in the streets nearby started to drift closer, drawn to the scene by some sort of magnetic pull, an irresistible mixture of celebrity and spectacle. But as the crowd grew, Ellie took a few steps backward, making her escape around the side of the building before anyone could notice she was gone.
Sent: Sunday, June 9, 2013 10:24 AM
Subject: Re: what happy looks like
Visiting new places.
Graham had been visualizing this moment for weeks now. And so the way it was all unfolding—the town looking just as he'd imagined it, the rows of shops and the salty breeze at his back—almost made it feel like he was in a dream.
The sun was gauzy behind a thin film of clouds, and his head was pounding. He'd taken the red-eye to Portland and, as usual, hadn't slept at all. Graham had never flown when he was growing up, and even with things like first-class seating and private jets, he was still restless and anxious in the air, unaccustomed to the rhythms of this type of travel, no matter how much of his life seemed to be spent on a plane.
But it didn't matter now. As he walked to the shop, he felt more alert than he had in ages, wide awake and burning with conviction. It had been a long time since he'd felt this way. In the past two years, as his life had become increasingly unrecognizable, Graham had grown as malleable as a piece of clay. He was now accustomed to being told what to do, how to act, who to see, and what to say when he saw them. Casual-seeming conversations on the couches of talk shows were pre-scripted. Dates were set up for him by his people. His clothes were chosen by a stylist who was forever trying to wrangle him into V-neck shirts and skinny jeans, things he'd never have been caught dead in before.
But before felt like a million years ago.
And this is how things were in the after.
If someone had told him two years ago that he'd be living on his own at seventeen—in a house three times the size of the one he'd grown up in, complete with a pool and a game room and the necessary precaution of a state-of-the-art security system—Graham would have laughed. But like everything else that came on the heels of his first movie role and the unexpected feeding frenzy that followed it, this just seemed like the next logical step. There had been a momentum to the whole chain of events that struck him as inevitable. First there was a new agent, then a new publicist; a new house and a new car; new ways of acting in public and new tutors to help him finish high school while filming; new rules for social engagements; and, of course, new and previously unimagined possibilities for getting into trouble.
* "Engaging from the first page."—VOYA, starred review
"Like Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, this sweet novel has a premise worthy of the movies...[The] charming leads, smalltown backdrop, and absurdly romantic conceit will win hearts."—Publishers Weekly
"Utterly convincing...a cast of vivid, sympathetic characters whose fate matters to readers and keeps them turning the pages."—Kirkus Reviews
"The blend of celebrity glitz and small-town coziness gives this summer love story a pleasant frame, and it will leave readers wishing for more time with this endearing couple as the sun rises on their last morning together."—Booklist
"Ellie and Graham sustain a sweet and genuine romance. Their chemistry is undeniable, and readers will wonder about their love story long after the last page."—School Library Journal
"Undeniable chemistry...Ellie and Graham's connection, 'like the pull of a magnet, powerful and inevitable,' lingers on beyond their wistful but optimistic goodbye."—The Horn Book
- On Sale
- Dec 24, 2013
- Page Count
- 432 pages