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A Blind Spot for Boys
By Justina Chen
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Format:ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 12, 2014. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Table of Contents
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Nothing condemns a photograph more than a blazingly bright sky.
—Annie Griffiths, photographer
If you want to see the world with fresh eyes, haul yourself off to the Gum Wall in Pike Place Market. At least that's what Dad said twelve years ago when he brought me to the brick wall studded with spat-out, stretched-thin, and air-hardened wads of gum. Thousands of pieces. Hundreds of thousands. Both of us were armed with cameras for my first photo safari. His was a heavy Leica with a powerful telephoto lens, mine a red point-and-shoot I'd inherited from him, not some chubby plastic toy.
Back for what must have been my thirty-sixth trip to this weirdly mesmerizing wall, I still felt vaguely nauseous as I looked at all that petrified gum. I sighed, restless from fifteen minutes of positioning my tripod and another five waiting around for the perfect light. Last night, Dad had suggested the wall might make the perfect addition to my college application portfolio. He was right. After all, what's more unique and memorable than the Gum Wall? But then Dad begged off this morning—yet another panicked SOS call to our family business, Paradise Pest Control—leaving me to face the gum alone.
The morning sun had yet to trace its way over the alley. I shifted my weight and fiddled with my camera some more. Patience has never been my virtue, which could be a slight problem. My favorite photographers talk about being on constant alert for that split second when the ordinary transforms into the extraordinary. Until my portfolio review a few months ago, I thought I'd captured plenty of those moments: my grandparents holding hands, gnarled fingers interlaced, during their fifty-sixth and final anniversary together. The sunburst of disbelief on my mother's face a moment after her only game-winning goal in her adult soccer league. The first grin from the guy who stole my heart…
Stop, I told myself whenever my thoughts slid back to the boy who ruined me for love: Dominick Adler, Crew Boy, Mr. Yesterday. Stop.
As if my thought had conjured Dom himself, my heart lurched as it had done for the past year whenever I glimpsed a black Gore-Tex jacket. Always thinking, hoping, believing it might be—
I lifted my camera, tripod and all, and zoomed in on disappointment.
Just a balding middle-aged man venturing down to the market for first dibs on fresh fish and flowers. Of course. Dom, a.k.a. Mr. Wrong—wrong boy, wrong time, wrong place—was in California, interrupting the best years of his post-college life, not to mention my love life, to create some rescue-the-rat cell phone game. A game, excuse me, I had inspired after telling him about an impossibly huge alpha rat that had outwitted Dad's traps and bait for months. A drop of rain hit my head as if I needed a reminder that Crew Boy had washed himself of me seven months ago. And that was precisely what I should do with this inscrutable Sphinx of a Gum Wall, all come hither but never revealing its secrets.
But I couldn't bail on the wall, not when I needed an iconic shot. The associate director of admissions at Cornish College had said as much with my portfolio laid flat in front of her. "Your photos of street fashion are really good, and good makes you pause," she had said after a close look at nine of what I thought were my best shots. "But a great photo knocks your heart open. So give some thought to that. What knocks your heart open?"
I didn't have to think; I knew. But it wasn't like I could exactly call Dom up and ask to take a series of portraits of him, not when he'd been black-ops incommunicado for more than half a year.
The Gum Wall, I figured, at least forced a reaction. So I spent another couple of minutes fussing with my tripod. The sky, though, remained stubbornly dark.
Time to face facts: This scouting trip, like every other boy after Dom, was a total bust. I was about to lean down to unscrew my camera off the tripod when the clouds parted. Through the cracked gray sky came a luminous ray of sunlight. The Gum Wall glowed with an otherworldly translucence. Right then, I could almost believe in miracles.
The decisive moment, that's what Henri Cartier-Bresson, who pioneered street photography, called it. The fractional instant when a moment's significance comes into sharp focus. And there it was at last: my decisive moment.
I crouched down to my tripod, perfectly and painstakingly positioned, already savoring my photograph.
"Whoa! Behind you!" a voice called above the whirring of bicycle wheels that turned to a squeal of mad braking.
Startled, I lost my balance, jostled the tripod, and only at the last second caught one of its legs before my camera could smash onto the asphalt. I wasn't so lucky. My elbows broke my fall. I gasped in pain. Not that I cared, because a cloud scuttled across the sky. The fleeting light vanished. The colors of the Gum Wall muted. My knock-your-heart-open moment was gone.
"Are you kidding me?" I wailed in earsplitting frustration as I scrambled off the ground and checked my camera—thankfully, fine. My elbows, not so much. They burned. Even worse, the fall had ripped a hole in my favorite sweater, cashmere and scavenged for three bucks at a rummage sale.
"You okay?" asked the moment destroyer.
Only then did I lift my glare to a dark-haired boy with Mount Everest for a nose, jagged as if the bridge had been broken and haphazardly reset. Twice. I pointed the tripod accusingly at him. Everest was about to see some volcanic action. "You ruined my shot. Didn't you see me?"
"I thought I had enough clearance, but then you… and your…" said the guy, waving at the general vicinity of my bottom.
"Well"—he cleared his throat and shifted on his mountain bike—"you got in my way."
My eyebrows lifted. I got in his way?
He rubbed the side of his nose. "Can you take it now?"
I jabbed the tripod toward the cloud-filled sky. "The sun's gone."
"It'll be back."
"You're not from around here, are you?"
"Not yet. I'm Quattro."
Quattro, what kind of name was that? Then, I guessed, "Oh, the fourth."
A startled look crossed his face as though he wasn't used to girls with healthy gray matter. I smiled sweetly back at him. Hello, yes, welcome to my brain. With slightly narrowed eyes, Quattro inspected me as though he was recalibrating his first impression of me. I stared back at him. Mistake. He swung one leg over the bike, propping up the kickstand as if he'd been invited to stay.
I sighed. Here we go again. Why does the right trifecta of hair, height, and hamstrings give me the illusion of being more attractive than I am? It was more than a little annoying, especially after last night, when Brian Winston—senior at a rival high school and latest post-Dom conquest—lunged at me as if three dates qualified him for a free pass to my paradise. Sorry, despite my ever-changing stable of guys, I am virginal as fresh snow. Shocking, isn't it? It was to Brian. And to Dom. And all the boys in between.
I quickly unscrewed my camera off the tripod, which should have been universal sign language for Sorry, but this chicky babe isn't interested. But did Quattro catch the hint? No. He said, "I'm visiting UW. What do you think about it?"
This guy was harder to lose than a case of lice. But thanks to hot summers toiling at my family business, deploying pest control techniques on rats, wasps, bedbugs, and other vermin alongside my twin brothers and Dad, I knew exactly how to handle this situation.
I assessed Quattro with an expert and clinical eye: nearly my height, at just over five seven. Brown hair streaked with gold. The poor guy must have been color-blind. What other possible explanation could there have been for pairing purple shorts with red sneakers from Japan and an orange Polarfleece pullover? It was almost tragic how much he clashed. My eyes widened. The pullover hugged the lines of his V-shaped torso closely. Much too closely for an off-the-rack purchase.
"You didn't actually have that tailored, did you?" I couldn't help asking him, as I gestured at his chest. His barrel-shaped chest.
Quattro had the grace to flush as he plucked at the fabric. "Oh, this? Let's just say my kid sister's life goal is to be on Project Runway. She raids my closet for"—he made quote marks with his fingers—"'practice.' You should see what she's done to some of my jeans."
In spite of myself, I laughed and watched his eyes slide down to my mouth as I knew they would. I could practically hear my best friend, Reb, teasing me: Man magnet! Quattro was more appealing than I had first thought. Just as I was trying to decide whether to retort or retreat, the sun reappeared.
"Lo and behold," said Quattro, his eyes gleaming with a decidedly self-satisfied look. The light illuminated his cheekbones, so chiseled Michelangelo might have used him as a model. I blinked, stunned.
Lo and behold, indeed.
Lifting the camera before the quirk in his lips could vanish, I zoomed in on hazel eyes that tilted at a beguiling angle that I hadn't noticed either. Hazel eyes framed in criminally long lashes. Hazel eyes that were rapidly narrowing at me.
I snapped a few shots in quick succession.
"Hey, who said you could take my picture?" Quattro demanded before he wrenched around to face the wall.
But he owed me. I moved in to capture his profile. He was the one who'd ruined my perfect shot, gone in a flash of an instant.
"I hate having my picture taken," he confessed, his steady gaze meeting mine through the viewfinder.
Damn it if I didn't see a hairline crack of vulnerability when he self-consciously rubbed his nose. His beakish nose. A flush of embarrassment colored his cheeks. Guilt flushed mine. I lowered my camera. I could empathize. When I was in second grade, my feet sprouted to women's size eights, which was traumatic enough since I kept tripping over them. I didn't need my older brothers to call me Bigfoot or joke that I had mistakenly swallowed one of Jack's magic beans to make me more self-conscious than I already was.
"I wasn't taking a picture of you," I said before adding guiltily, "per se."
I held my camera in front of my chest. "It's for my blog."
"A blog? Don't you need some kind of a release form? Or my consent?"
"I've never needed—"
His expression began at startled and skidded toward fascinated. A girl could float away from an admiring look like that. The set of his lips softened. "No kidding."
Him? A follower of street fashion? Not a chance. He was obviously about to feed me a line. Even though I'd pretty much heard them all, I leaned my weight back on one foot and waited. Impress me, O Color-Challenged One.
But then Quattro said unexpectedly, "My sister reads you. Religiously."
"Really?" I frowned.
"Seriously. Kylie's going to think I met a rock star. But I wouldn't have guessed you'd be into fashion."
I crossed my arms over my chest, now acutely aware of the hole in my oversize sweater and the messy ponytail I'd tucked into a faded black baseball cap. While this was my uniform as a photographer, nothing flashy to draw attention to me, Quattro with his precious watch and designer sneakers would never understand that I had to go thrifting for my wardrobe. Trolling Goodwill and garage sales for clothes is much cooler when it's a choice, not a necessity. So I've made it my personal mission to help girls see that style has nothing to do with the shopping mall. Not quite a save-the-world ambition, but it was mine. I tightened my grip on the camera.
Lifting my chin, I clarified, "Street fashion."
I appreciated that he didn't ply me with a lame compliment, especially the one usually dropped on me: You should be in front of the camera, not behind it.
Instead, Quattro said, "Bacon maple bars."
"My modeling fee." His expression was dead serious. "They've got to be on the menu wherever you're taking me."
"I don't pay modeling fees. And gross, you don't actually eat those, do you?"
"Well, yeah. Bacon. Maple syrup. Deep-fried dough. You know you want one. So…?"
"I'm not hunting for doughnuts with you."
"Nothing to hunt. Voodoo Doughnut in Portland."
Voodoo. A small smile played on my lips as I recognized the name. More accurately, I recognized their most infamous offering, shaped like a certain male appendage. Luckily, before I could point that out, Quattro jabbed his thumb southward and asked, "Want to go?"
"It's a three-hour drive each way. Seriously?"
He looked stricken. "It's not a drive. It's a pilgrimage."
Despite my best intentions, his words made me laugh again. Then I scrutinized him, really scrutinized him: His fashion taste was questionable, but he was funny, smart, and buff—his-muscles-had-muscles kind of buff. A sly whisper insinuated itself into my head: And best of all, he's from out of town. Which meant there'd be no possibility of a relationship, no drama, no trauma. I was officially between boys. So what was wrong with a little harmless flirting?
"Afraid?" he challenged me, lifting his eyebrows.
That did it. No boy was calling me a boot-quaker. So I said, "You're on. Voodoo Doughnut. Tomorrow."
That ever-so-slight shake of his head like he'd just been tackled was almost worth six hours of my time. For the record: There is absolutely nothing so satisfying as throwing a confident guy for a loop. My answering grin was powered by delicious smugness, just the way I liked it. That is, until I heard Dad call from down the street, "Hey, Shana!"
My grin disappeared. Dad and his canine sidekick, decked out in their matching Paradise Pest Control uniforms, strolled toward us. I cringed—not just at the sight of so much yardage of khaki polyester but at the thought that Quattro would be condescending. I'd seen plenty of that from a few of the wealthier parents, who snubbed Dad at school functions once they learned he was in pest control.
But Quattro shook Dad's hand before scratching our dog in the soft spot behind her ears. Miracle of miracles, she didn't shy from him the way she did with most men. Quattro asked, "Who's this big guy?"
"Auggie," I said, before correcting him while our dog practically purred. "She's the world's best bedbug-sniffing dog."
"Wait, you weren't working at the Four Seasons, were you?" Quattro asked, glancing up at Dad. "Corner room. Fifth floor? My dad woke with a couple of bites."
"I can't say," said Dad, who may have had confidentiality agreements with all his clients, but his lifted eyebrows basically confirmed that he had, in fact, been working at the hotel. Then he scratched his stomach like it was his skin that had become an all-you-can-eat buffet for bedbugs.
I coughed, because I knew what Reb would say about this synchronicity between his dad and mine at the Four Seasons, me and Quattro at the Gum Wall. She'd quote her psychic of a grandmother: This is fate. My heart raced as I rebelled against that thought. I'd had my fill of Don Juans and Doms. No more boyfriends, older or otherwise. I could have kissed Dad on the cheek when he told me that we should get going, since Mom was waiting for him.
Quattro shook hands with Dad again and stroked Auggie's head one final time before he hopped onto his bike. As Dad and Auggie strolled toward the street, Quattro raised his eyebrows at me, daring me to chicken out. "So, tomorrow?"
I snapped the latch on my messenger bag shut and told him, "Ten. I'll meet you in the lobby. Don't be late."
"I wouldn't dare."
Halfway down the block, I caught up to Dad and Auggie. The tiniest inkling of foreboding stirred inside my stomach. A six-hour road trip with a perfect stranger? What had I done? I breathed in a deep calming breath: Dad had talked to him, and Auggie had allowed Quattro to pet her. Those were two good signs. Still, I couldn't help glancing over my shoulder at Quattro as he pedaled in the opposite direction. Without turning, he lifted his hand to wave, as if he knew I would be watching him. I swung back around. After tomorrow, Quattro would be just another small, forgettable footnote in my love life, never to be seen again.
Here it was, bright and early on a crisp Sunday morning, a time when most normal girls were hard at work on their beauty sleep. Me? Not only couldn't I sleep last night, since my traitorous mind kept rewinding to mental snapshots of Quattro, but then I had to go and download the pictures from yesterday's photo safari. Quattro's flaming orange Polarfleece added the missing vitality from all my previous shots of the Gum Wall. Stunned, I must have studied the series for a good hour. One photo was even portfolio worthy. Sleep was pretty much impossible after that, so I was awake when Dad switched on the overhead light, blinding me in my tiny bedroom.
"Good," he said, "you're up."
"Dad," I groaned, since awake didn't mean alert.
He waggled a glass vial enticingly as if it contained a magical elixir. I knew better: The stoppered test tube was filled with bedbugs—ugly, crawling bloodsuckers he had scooped out of an apartment complex two days ago. "You mind hiding this?"
From down in the kitchen, I heard Auggie bark, high-pitched and happy, which meant that my mom was up, fixing the first of her three daily Americanos sweetened with both chocolate and vanilla syrup. Before Auggie could eat her own breakfast, though, she had to complete her sniff-and-search exercise. She yipped again, raring to work. I hadn't been bragging emptily to Quattro yesterday: Auggie truly was the best canine bedbug patroller in the Northwest, a high-energy mutt we'd rescued from a pound two years ago.
"Hey, kiddo," said Dad, leaning against the doorjamb, "I'm really sorry about missing our photo safari. Next weekend, we'll go."
"Yeah," I said, nodding. He turned to leave. Given Dad's spotty track record, I had my doubts. If it weren't for his pictures hanging on our walls, I'd wonder if he actually looked for excuses not to photograph. His commitment to customers had trumped birthday parties, soccer play-offs, and even one of my cousins' weddings. My brothers had a bet riding on Dad missing our long-awaited climb of Mount Rainier this summer and wanted me in on it. But I hadn't answered any of Max's texts since my breakup with Dom, and I wasn't going to start now.
I yawned. Around four in the morning, I had done some serious online ogling of a professional-grade camera, the same one that my favorite National Geographic photographer had raved about in an interview. After three years of shooting senior portraits and children's birthday parties, I could finally afford to buy the camera, but I still hadn't. Couldn't.
Afraid? I heard Quattro ask.
Frugal and discriminating, I retorted in my head now, as I swung my feet to the floor.
"Hide it in a really good spot. She's been getting sloppy lately," Dad called on his way downstairs.
As hard as I tried to ignore the bugs inside the glass vial, I couldn't help looking. While you might think bedbugs are microscopic, allow me to educate you: They are not. Bedbugs aren't just visible to the human eye; you could go mano a mano with one as it plunged its outstretched pincers into a particularly succulent patch of your skin. So that flimsy silk cloth, cut from one of Mom's discarded scarves and clamped on top of the vial with a metal ring? That insubstantial barrier made me nervous, but Auggie needed to be able to sniff out their pheromones.
"Um, Dad, these are the dead ones," I called, frowning, as I trotted down the staircase. Dad usually kept a decoy vial to test Auggie, since she was only rewarded for finding live bedbugs. This was the second time in a week Dad had made that mistake.
He dug into his fanny pack for the right vial, shaking his head as we swapped. He said, "Old age."
I gripped the container tight because the worst thing I could do now was drop it. Do that, and bedbugs would infiltrate our home like an underground spy cell, lurking, lurking, lurking before attacking. Once entrenched, they were a pain to eradicate, even with a bedbug-sniffing dog.
While Mom took Auggie outside, I scouted the living room for a tough hiding place. Torrid romance novels—Mom's version of Prozac—teetered precariously next to her armchair, a sign that she was under extreme pressure at work. I swear, she must have been stressed when she was pregnant. That was the only logical explanation for how she'd managed to persuade Dad to name us after her favorite characters: Ash and Max for the twins, Shana for me. Always the lifesaver, Dad had insisted on altering the spellings of our names in case word ever leaked out about their steamy origins.
My gaze landed on the bulbous floor lamp that Mom had found at a recent garage sale. If I unscrewed the thick base, there might be room for the vial.…
"Okay, ready!" I called as I widened the front door, then retreated to the kitchen. Auggie darted into the living room, nose to the floor, with Mom holding her leash. In one minute flat, she parked herself in front of the lamp, head cocked to the side: That's the best you can do?
Training done, Mom sang out Dad's name—"Gregor!"—en route to the kitchen, where the table was already set with a neat stack of unopened bills and a platter of cookies for their biweekly budgeting ritual. Five years ago, on her fiftieth birthday, Mom had let her hair go silvery gray—why fight it? she had told her longtime hairdresser. But because her blue eyes sparkle as they did now, Mom is often mistaken for being years younger. "Guess what time it is?"
"Oh, baby!" Dad immediately drew to her side from where he was stretching in the hallway and planted a kiss on her lips.
"Dad! Shower!" I protested, waving my hand in front of my nose. "Mom, how can you stand it?"
Dad dropped his arm around Mom's shoulders and answered, "True love."
"Speaking of which…" Mom said a bit too casually. "Brian's mother called last night."
"You're kidding." I stopped midstride from going to the sink to get Dad and myself water. "About what?"
Mom's mouth pursed. "To discuss her 'concern' and 'dismay' over your 'pathology' of abruptly ending relationships."
"This," I said, wrapping my arms around myself, "is a nightmare."
"Just for the record," Dad said, grabbing a cookie before Mom moved the platter out of his reach, "we'd be more 'concerned' and 'dismayed' if you stayed with that mama's boy."
"Oh, that's good," Mom crowed, proud of their riff on my love life. "Sine qua non, honey!"
"I'm so glad you find my life amusing," I told them as I helped myself to a glass of water.
And my friends think my parents are cool? Really, Mom ought to have those Latin words tattooed on her ankle. It's her sweet nothing to Dad and cautionary tale to my brothers and me to hold out for that one necessary condition, that absolutely essential quality that we couldn't live without in a person. Without that sine qua non, says Mom, every relationship is doomed to fail, no matter how smart the girl is, how good looking the guy, how much attraction there might be in the beginning.
Dad's phone rang, and I plucked the cookie out of his hand as he walked past me toward the porch to take the call.
"So, honey," Mom said when we were alone in the kitchen, casting me a sidelong glance, "maybe you should spend some time thinking about your sine qua non?"
"Or take a break from boys for a little while."
"A no-boy diet for a couple of months. Really, you should consider it."
"Hang on," I protested, taking a large bite of the cookie. "You're the one who told me you'd shave my head if I got married before I'm thirty. So why should I get serious about anyone when I'm sixteen?"
With a rueful laugh, Mom said, "True, but maybe you'd go easier on their hearts if you knew what you wanted."
"I was wrong about Brian's mom. This is the nightmare."
Not a moment too soon, Dad returned to the kitchen, grinning as he held out his cell phone toward me. "You want to see what's really nightmarish?"
"No!" I rushed toward the stairs. "I don't!"
History had taught me that whatever disgustingness my father was going to share would rattle around uncomfortably in my head for days. Given a different life, Dad would have been a photojournalist for National Geographic, but he'd settled for photographing vermin, their dwellings, and his favorite subject: their droppings.
Dad closed the distance between us. "A hundred pounds of fresh bat guano."
Luckily, his phone rang again before he could show me the mountain of bat dung, and I raced up the stairs, dodging the tall stacks of our library books, and retreated to my bathroom. As I stepped into the shower, more than water rained on me. So did Mom's words. Deep down, I knew she was preaching the truth about her sine qua non theory, which she had discovered from one of her self-help reads. Adventure first attracted my parents to each other when she flew past Dad on Mount Si, both of them on training runs. Kindness clinched it for them on their first real date when Dad sealed her house from future rat invasion. But it was their sense of humor that made them last twenty-six years of happily ever after.
I turned the water even hotter. As much as I hated admitting it, Mom was right: After seven months—count them, seven—of frenetic dating since Dom broke up with me, I was striking out on the sine qua non front. How hard could it be to find a replacement guy—one guy, that's all—who could make me fall even harder than I had for Dom? But no matter how fast I cycled through boys, no one came remotely close.
Overheating, I shut the water off, cracked the bathroom door open for fresh air, and toweled dry. Downstairs, I heard Dad telling Mom, "Looks like Auggie didn't find all the bedbugs at that new condo. I've got to go back."
"But it's Bill Day," Mom protested.
"I know, but we can't have them cancel the contract. Otherwise, Rainier will be a pipe dream."
- "A Blind Spot for Boys uses sarcasm and humor to address the age-old conflict of love and trust. Told from Shana's perspective, readers gain insight into the fears and insecurities that plague adolescents after traumatic break-ups."—VOYA
- "Chen, author of the smart and serious North of Beautiful, finds similar ground here: an emotional and beautiful story, with hints of budding romance mixed in with the touching realism."—Booklist
- "Chen created the kind of vivid characters and strong emotion that featured so prominently inNorth of Beautiful, along with unexpected moments of action and danger, and descriptions that make the Andean setting come to life."—Publishers Weekly
- "A book that will appeal to readers who enjoy a side of adventure with their heartache."—School Library Journal
- On Sale
- Aug 12, 2014
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers