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Keeping You a Secret
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With a steady boyfriend, the position of Student Council President, and a chance to go to an Ivy League college, high school life is just fine for Holland Jaeger. At least, it seems to be.
But when Cece Goddard comes to school, everything changes. Cece and Holland have undeniable feelings for each other, but how will others react to their developing relationship?
This moving love story is for fans of Nancy Garden's classic young adult coming out novel, Annie on My Mind. With her characteristic humor and breezy style, Peters has captured the compelling emotions of young love.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Lies My Girlfriend Told Me
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To Sherri for always
And to those who are living out and proud. You are a beacon for others to find their way home.
First time I saw her was in the mirror on my locker door. I'd kicked my swim gear onto the bottom shelf and was reaching to the top for my calc book when she opened her locker across the hall. She had a streaked blond ponytail dangling out the back of her baseball cap.
Great. Now I was obligated to rag on her for violating the new dress code. Forget it, I decided. My vote—the only dissenting one in the whole student council—still counted. With me, anyway. People could come to school buck naked for all I cared. It wasn't about clothes.
We slammed our lockers in unison and turned. Her eyes met mine. "Hi," she said, smiling.
My stomach fluttered. "Hi," I answered automatically. She was new. Had to be. I would've noticed her.
She sauntered away, but not before I caught a glimpse of her T-shirt. It said: IMRU?
Am I what?
She glanced back over her shoulder, the way you do when you know someone's watching. That's when it registered—the rainbow triangle below the message. My eyes dropped. Kept her in sight, though, as she disappeared around the corner.
I shifted my attention to my schedule. Brit Lit, calc, U.S. History, then art and econ after lunch. Was I out of my mind? Why was I taking a full load my last semester of high school? Weren't we supposed to revel in this time, embrace our friends, screw around until graduation? At some pivotal point, of course, we'd decide the direction our lives were going to take. A derisive laugh might've escaped my lips. Like I got to decide anything about my life.
I headed down the deserted hallway, clutching my books to my chest. This is insane, I thought. I don't even need the credits. I'd gotten to choose the early track—first class at seven, last class at one—but then I added econ at the last minute so I'd be finishing the day with everyone else. I drew a deep breath—and coughed. Who needed to get stoned before school when you got a free ride from the carpet-cleaning fumes?
Morning was a blur. As I stumbled to lunch, my head reeling from the volume of homework I'd already accumulated, my anxiety mounted. I'd be up till midnight, easy.
"Babe!" Seth called across the crowded cafeteria. He loped to the double doorway to meet me. Kiss me. "We're over here." He thumbed toward the vending machines, snaking an arm around my waist and steering me along.
"Hi, Holland. Hey, Seth," a few people greeted us as we weaved between tables. I assumed my oh-so-happy face. Plaster-casted smile. What was wrong with me? I loved school. I couldn't wait to get back after winter break.
"Holland, did you see Mrs. Lucas? She was looking for you," Leah said as she cleared a place beside her for me to sit. "She said to tell you to drop into the career center sometime today."
Today, tomorrow, never. Popping the top on a can of Pepsi Twist that Seth had set in front of me, I said to Kirsten across the table, "How was Christmas in Texas?"
Leah kicked my shin.
Kirsten sighed theatrically. "You had to ask." She launched into a psychodrama about how her mother was a raving lunatic the whole two weeks and all they did was scream at each other.
Seth split his fries with me and I zoned. He said in my ear, "You want ketchup?" I must've nodded because he got up and left.
Leah and Kirsten began to talk about college—again. Could we get through one whole day without bringing up the subject? Kirsten said, "Mom wants me to commute to Metro Urban and live at home. Like that's going to happen." She rolled her eyes. "All I want to do is graduate and get the hell out of this rat hole."
I checked out again. At some point Seth returned with the ketchup and I swabbed a greasy fry through the watery blob. Round and round it goes; where it stops, nobody knows. Seth nudged me. "You okay?"
I glanced up to find everyone staring at me. Was I chanting out loud? Relinquishing my hold on the mutilated fry, I crossed my eyes and said, "I got Arbuthnot for Brit Lit."
They all went, "Eeooh." Leah added, "Don't ever be late. She'll ream you out in front of everyone."
I grimaced. I hated when teachers did that. "You know," I said, picking up my cheeseburger, "all these anti-bullying policies should apply to teachers. I mean, corporal punishment is illegal." I chomped into my burger and chewed. "Public humiliation," I said with my mouth full, "is a form of psychological abuse."
By their bobbing heads, I assumed they all agreed. What were we going to do about it? Nothing. Even though I was president of student council, I felt powerless to effect change of any social significance at our school.
I take that back. We now had a pop machine in the hall.
Drawing Level I was, as Seth referred to it, a bullshit class. But I needed to fill time between lunch and econ. As I wandered down the arts wing, feeling totally out of my element, I wondered what mental aberration had possessed me when I chose an art elective. Drawing, no less, which probably required talent. More than doodling in notebooks.
The assigned studio, 212A, had four rows of tables set end-toend with chairs arranged haphazardly. No semblance of order. I slid into a plasti-seat in the back. My uneasiness grew as I studied the crowd clogging the doorway and milling around the display cases. Not the kind of people I usually associated with—which was okay. I didn't have a problem with diversity. It was just… I don't know. I felt weird. I decided to drop the class. Maybe add another study hall. I was going to need it.
A man's voice in the hallway herded everyone inside. As people filed across the threshold, I caught sight of her. The baseball cap was gone; now her hair flowed around her shoulders.Her eyes darted across the studio and stopped on me. I wanted to look away, but couldn't. She held me somehow, spellbound.
The instructor bustled in and broke the connection. Oh, God. He looked like Einstein on ecstasy. "Just find a seat anywhere," he said to the stragglers. As he turned to write his name on the board, I flipped open a spiral. When I glanced over surreptitiously, she'd slipped into a seat up front. Another girl slid in beside her. I knew that girl—Randi or Brandi. She was on swim team last year for about a week. Right about the time Seth and I hooked up. Brandi.
"I realize you can't read this," the instructor said as he ran a palm over his cotton candy hair, "but it says 'Jonathan McElwain.' " He was right. His handwriting was gorgeous, all loopy and bold, but you'd need clearer vision than mine to decipher it. I squinted through my contacts—that was an M? He brushed chalk off his hands and added, "You can call me Mackel."
I wrote down, Mr. McElwain. Then drew a line through it and printed, Mackel.
"If I want to get paid, I have to turn this in." He flapped a computer printout at us. Hopping onto the desk, he curled cross-legged and uncapped a Flair. "Anderson, Michaela."
"Present." A girl at the end of my row raised her hand, and Mackel scratched a checkmark.
A few people I did actually know. It's inevitable when you've lived in the same place your whole life. The guy with the serious orange spikes and nostril ring was in my calc class. Winslow Demming. I remembered him from computer science sophomore year, except back then Winslow was a geek. Brilliant, though. And sweet. Another reminder why people shouldn't be judged on appearance.
Mr. McElwain—Mackel—progressed through the list. For some reason I was focusing on the back of the blond girl's head, only half listening for my name. "Cecelia Goddard," Mackel read. Her hand shot up and she said, "It's Cece."
I wrote it down. Cecelia Goddard. CC? Cece?
Cece, I decided and drew a box around it.
A couple of heads swiveled. "What?" I blinked up.
"Oh, here." I raised my hand. Added in a mutter, "Apparently not all here."
She twisted around and smiled. My stomach lurched. I shielded my face with my hand and pretended to scribble notes.
Mackel handed out a supplies list. It was long. There were pencils, ink, charcoal, erasers, markers, pens, two sizes of drawing tablets. God, I'd have to work a month of overtime to afford all this stuff. Mackel said, "I know it's a short week, but I'd appreciate it if you could get your supplies in the next couple of days. Go to Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart for the best prices. If anyone has real financial need, come see me after class. That doesn't mean you'd rather spend your money on a kegger." He eagle-eyed the room. "But I have a starving artist fund, so don't be shy."
I liked that. He was understanding. Maybe I'd wait to drop.
At two-fifteen the bell rang and I gathered my books and notes from econ, feeling totally brain-dead. Lockers banged open and closed as I trudged down the hall. "Hi, Holland. Have a good break?" someone called.
"Great, thanks." I waved, plastering on The Smile. Get me out of here, I thought. Static crackled in my head like a radio stuck between stations. The halls began to clear and my locker materialized—finally. As I twisted the combination lock, I heard across the way, "So, you just transferred? Where'd you go before here?"
I opened the door and captured Brandi and Cece in my mirror.
Cece said, "Washington Central."
Brandi said, "Oh, yeah? Do you know Joanie? She's one of us. Joanie Fowler."
"Doesn't sound familiar."
"You have to know her."
"I said I don't." The sharpness of Cece's voice made me turn around. Brandi caught my eye and I turned back. In my mirror I watched as Cece shoved a book into her backpack and removed a fleece vest off the hook. She let out a long breath and said, "Sorry," to Brandi. "It's been a rough day."
"I can imagine." Brandi smiled knowingly. I wondered what she knew. Brandi held the backpack while Cece put on her vest. Their conversation muted as a herd of people stampeded past. I caught the tail end of Brandi's "… go for a Coke or something?"
"I can't," Cece said. "I have to work." She retrieved the pack from Brandi and slung it over her shoulder. I realized I was eavesdropping shamelessly and squatted to unzip my swimming duffel.
"How come you transferred?" Brandi asked.
"Health reasons." Cece slammed her locker. "My car wouldn't start this morning and I don't really want to wait here for my brother to pick me up. Do you think you could give me a ride to work?"
"Sure," Brandi chirped. "No problem." They headed out together.
Brandi had said, "One of us." Did that mean she was gay? Huh. I didn't think we had any gays in our school. Until now. I loaded up my backpack and grabbed my duffel, thinking, I guess it pays to advertise.
As I dragged in the back door at home, Mom called, "Holl, is that you? I need you." I dumped my stash on the landing and followed her voice to the living room. "Oh, good," Mom said. "Could you finish feeding Hannah for me? I have got to pee."
I relieved her of the baby and the bottle. "Hello, Hannie," I cooed, lifting her in the air so she'd grin dimples at me. So cute. Settling her in the crook of my arm, I inserted the nipple between her gooey lips, then crossed the room to sprawl on the sofa. I propped Hannah against my bent knees. She suckled and flapped her chubby arms, making me laugh. God, she was precious. Sometimes it felt as if she were mine.
Mom padded in, breathing relief and refastening the jaw clip in the back of her hair. Flopping into the armchair, she asked, "How was your day?"
"Good." I let Hannah's tiny fingers curl around my thumb. "How was yours?"
"Exhausting. Did you stop in to see Bonnie Lucas? I asked her to get you a few more catalogs and applications—just in case."
"Oh, damn." My head fell back against the armrest. "Sorry, I forgot." "In case" meant in case Vassar and Brown rejected me like Harvard had. Those colleges were way out of my league, but try to tell my mother that. She forced me to apply for early decision, even though I could've told her what the decision would be. Early or late.
"The deadline for filing applications at most other schools is February first, Holland," she said. "That doesn't give us much time. And you don't want to settle for some in-state school like Metro Urban." She wrinkled her nose.
"I'll go in tomorrow. Would you toss me that towel?" Hannah's drool was stringing to her chest.
Mom got up and handed me the towel off her shoulder. "Faith is coming this weekend."
"Again? We just got rid of her."
"Holland," Mom chided.
"Well, I'm sorry but—" I bit my tongue. She'd heard it all before. Faith was my wicked stepsister, if I had to claim her as a relative. She was a walking freakshow. Currently, she was into Goth, which was just sick after Columbine. We'd bonded like repelling magnetic poles. Neal, my new stepdad, introduced us only a few weeks before his and Mom's wedding, and I knew instantly we weren't going to be playing one-big-happy. I could tolerate Faith, barely, every other weekend, but after Hannah arrived and Mom converted my bedroom into a nursery, Faith and I had to share bedroom space downstairs. At my murder trial, the jury would find that the defendant had a case for justifiable homicide.
Not a lot of people got under my skin, but Faith did and she knew it. Knew it and used it.
I ran my knuckles across Hannah's silky cheek, wondering if I'd ever had such flawless skin.
Mom perched on the sofa arm, fanning her fingers up through my bangs. "I know how you feel about Faith, but she's young."
"She's fifteen." Under my breath, I added, "Going on six." Mom sighed. "I appreciate your patience with her."
Like I had any.
"It won't be long now. You'll be leaving soon enough for college. Too soon." Mom tweaked my nose. She reached over to pluck Hannah off my stomach and asked, "Where's Seth going? Has he decided?"
"Stanford, last I heard." It was a subject we avoided like the plague. Seth wanted us to go to the same college, the probability of which was less than zero given the fact he could pick and choose. Seth had goals. He was going to be a microbiologist. By age twenty-five he'd be happily married with two point five kids, a dog, a three-car garage—the whole Big Mac with cheese. He said he couldn't stand the thought of us being separated for four years, that even if we didn't get into the same college we should try to stay close. As in proximity. He'd been pressing me to commit. To something, anything.
I rolled off the sofa and pushed to my feet. Stretched my back and yawned.
Mom said, "Did you get a new work schedule?"
"Not yet. I need to find out about swim team practices. I'll do that tomorrow, too." Trailing Mom and Hannah to the kitchen, I thought out loud, "God, I have a shitload of homework."
Mom twisted and frowned at me.
"Sorry, Hannie." I cupped my hands over her tiny ears. "You didn't hear Sissy's gutter mouth."
Mom evil-eyed me, but couldn't suppress her grin.
"Tell me again why I have to take so much crap this semester?" I lugged my duffel up to one stiff shoulder, my backpack to the other.
"Because you're going to need a scholarship. It isn't fair to expect Neal to pay for your college education, and what I've saved wouldn't cover one semester at Harvard."
Which she didn't have to worry about, since they declined my offer to sweep their hallowed halls for a mere forty grand a year.
"Those classes will look good on your transcript," Mom said. "Show you're serious."
"About majoring in masochism?"
She ignored me. "It'll put you that much further ahead. Oh, and ask Bonnie to loan you that book on private scholarships again, will you? Just in case."
Just in case I'm a universal reject.
"Holland?" Mom called at my back. "I was at the pharmacy picking up my prescription and they gave me yours by mistake."
My face flared.
"It's on your desk. You can pay me back out of your next paycheck."
I mumbled, "Okay, thanks," and sprinted down the stairs. If she had her suspicions about Seth and me before, they were now confirmed. The crypt, otherwise known as my basement bedroom, was dim even with all the lights on. Mom and Neal had tried to transform it into a cozy little cubbyhole, with curtains and bookshelves and partitions between our bedrooms. But it'd always be "the unfinished basement" to me.
It wasn't that I resented giving my old room to Hannah; it was having to share my privacy with the goddess of Goth. "Every other weekend," I reminded the holy rafters, drafty though they were. If Faith was going to be hanging around here that often, my friends would get their fill of me.
Sighing, I flung my pack on the bed and started stripping. The white pharmacy bag on the desk begged attention, so I snatched it up and carted it to the bathroom, ripping it open. Wow, I'd even forgotten to stop by after school and pick up my pills. I didn't remember calling in the refill, and my period ended two days ago. I was a wastoid.
I popped out Monday and Tuesday. Caught up. Wouldn't Mom have a hemorrhage if I got pregnant in high school, too? She'd kill me. She had plans for Holland Jaeger. And they didn't include what Holland Jaeger wanted. Whatever that was. I threw on my grubby sweats and settled in for the duration.
The ringing of my cell phone jerked me out of Beowulf. I dog-eared the page and riffled through my bag, catching the phone on the fourth ring. "Hello?"
"Babe, you need a study break?" Seth said in his most suggestive voice.
"Yeah, but if we do that, I'll never get back into it."
He chuckled. "Can I come over?"
I checked the time. Twenty to eleven. "For a little while. I haven't even started my calc problems."
"See you in ten," he said and hung up.
I refolded the phone and resumed reading. A few minutes later, a rap sounded on the basement window. I leapt off the bed and sprinted up the stairs, where Seth's face materialized in the back door window.
He took one step inside and peered into the kitchen. "Is Neal here?" he whispered.
"No, he's in Baltimore on business," I whispered back.
"The dragon lady asleep?"
Seth wiggled his eyebrows.
"I mean it, Seth. Not long, okay?"
He tiptoed down the stairs behind me.
We'd gotten very good at fast and soundless sex. Maybe after a year it was supposed to be that way. Easy. Rehearsed. He took off a little before midnight, leaving me with another two hours of homework. New rule, I decided. Not on a school night. And that included Sunday. Wouldn't my mother be proud?
Somebody splashed acid in my eyes—at least that's what it felt like. I dug around in my duffel for the case and removed my contacts. Sure, you could swim with contacts in, if you didn't mind going blind. Shit. Now I'd have to wear my glasses all day. I should've searched harder for my goggles this morning.
The locker across from me clanged open and I blinked up to my mirror. There she was, clutching a mega cup of coffee in her left hand, a donut between her teeth. As she reached down for something in her locker, she disappeared from view.
"Ow, ow, shit!"
I whirled. The plastic lid on her cup had fallen off and scalding coffee had poured down her arm. She was hopping around, holding her wrist. I unzipped my duffel and yanked out the first wet thing on top, then charged over and slapped it up against her arm. "Here, use this."
"Owww," she yowled.
I winced, knowing how that hurts. "Let me see. You could have third-degree burns."
She loosened the makeshift bandage and peered at her arm. Good, no blisters. Rash red, though. She smelled spicy, like cinnamon.
I glanced up to see her looking at me, hard. "Do you always carry around a wet swimsuit?" she asked. She indicated her arm, where I'd rewrapped my Speedo.
"You never know when you might need one."
She laughed. Infectious.
"Thanks, Holland." She removed the suit. Tried to. My hands were gripping her arm so hard she had to pry them loose.
"Sorry." I let go fast. Rewind. Replay. She knows my name.
"I can't believe I did that." She rubbed her arm. "How am I going to get through the morning without coffee?" Holding the now empty cup, she retrieved chunks of coffee-soaked donut and dropped the soggy mess into the cup.
"There's a coffee machine in the cafeteria," I told her.
"Yeah?" Her eyes lit up. "Thanks. You're a lifesaver." She plucked my swimsuit off the floor and held it up by the crotch. "Literally."
I snatched it away and she smirked. Returning to my locker, I jammed the suit into the duffel and rezipped it.
"Where do you swim?"
I sprang upright. She'd followed me and was leaning against the locker next to mine.
"In the pool." Well, duh, Holland. Dazzle her with your brilliant repartee. "The school's pool. Downstairs. Open swim begins at six and I can get a few laps in before first hour. My morning cup of coffee."
Her eyebrows arched. "You're seriously demented."
My stomach jumped. I wished it'd stop doing that.
"I'm Cece Goddard." She stuck out her hand.
"I know. Holland—"
"Jaeger. I know." We both let out little laughs, nervous like, then shook hands. She said, "You're student body president."
"How did you know that?"
She shrugged. "I asked around."
"Babe, hey." Seth's voice echoed down the hall. I realized I was still holding Cece's hand and dropped it fast. Why? We were just getting acquainted. He sauntered down the hall, a tower of books under his arm. His free hand snaked around my waist and pulled me into him. "Long time no do this." He bent down and kissed me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cece push off.
Seth finished with me and said, "Come on. I'll walk you to class."
I hauled down my lit and calc books, which Seth took and added to his stack. At the end of the hall, I glanced back over my shoulder to see her headed in the opposite direction.
She'd asked around. Huh. Why would she do that?
We headed toward the parking lot at lunchtime to rendezvous with everyone else at my Jeep. We'd decided to eat off campus at least a couple of days a week. On the way, I informed Seth of my no-school-night rule. He wasn't pleased. "I'll see what I can do about borrowing the Regal Friday night," he said.
"No, Seth. You know I hate doing it in your dad's car." "Okay, I'll check to see if the villa's free."
He was mad. Great. "I'm sorry, but it's just gross."
"Then your place."
"Neal's coming back tomorrow," I told him.
Seth sulked all the way to Taco Bell. He didn't mind doing it right under my mother's nose, but horrors my stepfather should catch us. What was that, some kind of guy thing? Granted, Neal was the size of a linebacker, but underneath the blubber, he was a big teddy bear. Seth knew that.
He was still sullen half an hour later when we got back to school. "I hate this," he said, stalling at the door after the others had gone in.
"Yeah, me too."
He lifted my chin with a finger. "Let's just get married." "Okay. After econ, though, because I have an assignment to turn in. And we're not consummating the union in your dad's Regal."
Seth blinked. "You're assuming we'd make it out of the church."
I kicked him and he wrestled me into his arms.
I resumed my same seat in art. I always do that, pick a spot the first day and never move. What does that say about me? Boring and predictable. Everyone else had shifted around. Winslow, geek-cum-punk, slid in beside me. "Yo," he said.
"Yo yourself," I said back.
She wasn't in her seat. I scanned the studio and located her a couple of tables over, by the picture window. She was turned away from me, gazing outside.
Look at me, I thought. Look at me, look at me, LOOKATME.
God, Holland. Shut it off. What was that about? I concentrated on doodling in my spiral. Concentrated on not looking at her.
Mackel rushed in, balancing a stack of videotapes on a slide carousel. "Sorry I'm late." He dumped the load on his desk. "Roll call. Everyone here? Good." He opened a drawer and pulled out a ream of blank newsprint. "Pass these around," he said, splitting the paper between the front two tables. "My stash of pencils has gone AWOL, so use whatever you've got. Pencil, pen, lipstick."
As Winslow passed me a sheet of paper, I saw Mackel drag a tall stool over to the front and set an apple on the seat. "Draw this," he said, spreading his arms dramatically over the stool.
I panicked. If this is a test, I thought, I'm toast. It took a while to focus my attention on the task at hand, distracted as I was by Brandi passing Cece a pencil and Cece smiling thanks. She had a nice smile. I wondered how her arm was, if I should ask. Ask why she asked around about me. I studied the assignment. Granny Smith apple. Sour. My mouth watered. The best ones for pies, though, Mom always said.
A few minutes into it, my cell rang. "Shit," I hissed under my breath. I must've forgotten to turn it off. Naturally, the phone had fallen to the bottom of my bag, under layers of detritus. It rang and rang. I finally fished it out. "What?"
"Seth, I'm in class," I whispered and ducked my head, as if that was going to make me invisible.
"So am I," he whispered back. "I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry about earlier. About being such a grump."
"It's all right."
"I love you."
"Yeah, me too. Hang up, goon." I folded the phone. "Sorry," I said to Mackel, and all the other people around me who were gawking. Including Cece. I rolled my eyes and she grinned.
- On Sale
- May 4, 2005
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers