Fade to Blue

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By Sean Beaudoin

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Sophie Blue started wearing a black skirt and Midnight Noir lipstick on her last birthday. It was also the day her father disappeared. Or spontaneously combusted. Which is sort of bad timing, since a Popsicle truck with tinted windows has started circling the house.

Kenny Fade is a basketball god. His sneakers cost more than his Jeep. He’s the guy all the ladies (and their mommas) want. Bad.

Sophie Blue and Kenny Fade don’t have a thing in common. Aside from being reasonably sure they’re losing their minds.

Acclaimed author Sean Beadoin’s wildly innovative novel combines uproarious humor with enough plot twists to fill a tube sock. Park thriller, part darkly comic philosophical discussion, and accompanied by a comic book interstitial, Fade to Blue is a whip-smart romp that keeps readers guessing until the last paragraph.

Excerpt

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Table of Contents

A Preview of You Killed Wesley Payne

Q&A with author Sean Beaudoin

Copyright Page




CHAPTER NONE

SOPHIE BLUE

THE TOWN POOL, THE SNACK BAR, THE DEEP END, THE BIRTHDAY GIRL

The place was packed. I was in a lounge chair, Herb lay sprawled on the crusty cement, and Lake was wheeled between us, adjusting her tire pressure with little pfft, pfft sounds. In the parking lot, minivans pulled up in rows, disgorging knock-knees and beach towels and sloshy coolers. The lifeguard repeatedly blew his whistle. Candy wrappers fluttered like moths. The water shimmered and the sun beamed and a breeze softly blew.

It was a perfect day.

Except something bad was coming.

I could smell it in the chlorine. I could see it in the piles of abandoned flip-flops and skids of egg salad. It was in every yell and every shove and every stubbed toe. It was right there, on the tip of my tongue, just beneath the surface.

Which makes a ton of sense.

I popped my second can of Diet Crank (triple the caffeine, four times the aspartame), which tended to give me a definite style: Early Impressionist Panic Attack. My pad was filled with shaky portraits and possible tattoos: Godzilla playing bass, Caligula drinking a latte, Conan the librarian.

"What're you drawing?" Lake asked.

I was sketching her father in big swirly lines. He had a mound of hair in the center of his chest and lines of lesser fluff running from his neck to his toes. It was doubly obvious because he wore a pinstripe Speedo.

"Herb's chest-fro and banana sling."

Lake laughed. "Maybe someone should take a gander at their own ensemble?"

I was wearing a black bikini. Black Wayfarers. Black cowboy hat. Black boots, unlaced, no socks, and a black sweatband on my left wrist. My look was sort of Dead Southern Rocker, mixed with a studied nonchalance. A maybe-Aaron-Agar-will-show-up-chalance.

"Aaron Agar is not coming," Lake said, lighting a cigarette. I waved at the smoke with a sketch of an unhappy lung. The lifeguard blew his whistle, Hey you! Put that out!

"So, Herb?"

Herb raised his head, peering at me above the rim of his aviator shades. His nose was covered in zinc, glasses carving a line in the white goop.

"Yes, ma'am?"

"You're a few days early, but I love my present."

Herb had baked me a big round birthday cookie and shoved a drippy candle into the center. It sat on a napkin next to my leather jacket.

"You pretty much only turn eighteen once," he said. He'd just lost his job. We came to the pool because it was free. "Was I going to spare any expense?"

I gave him a big thumbs-up. He gave me the double thumbs-up back.

Bryce Ballar ran past us, yelled, "Test tube!" and belly flopped into the shallow end, splashing annoyed moms and uncovered snacks. The lifeguard blew his whistle. Bryce Ballar gave the lifeguard the finger.

"Do you hear that?" I asked.

Lake sighed. "Don't listen to anything Bryce—"

"No," I said. "That."

There was a faint whispery clanging, like the buzz coming from someone's headphones. Gotothelabgotothelabgotothelab.

I stood up on the deck chair to hear better.

"What are you doing?" Lake asked.

"No standing on the deck chair!" the lifeguard yelled.

I could see my brother on the other side of the pool, near the Dumpster. He was reading a comic book, cross-legged on a yellow towel that looked suspiciously like a washcloth.

Gotothelabgotothelagotothelab.

"Um, Sophie?" Lake said.

I got on my tiptoes and waved but O.S. ignored me, glasses two inches from the page. Behind him, an ice-cream truck was coming down the hill. It had bullhorns mounted on the roof. Bells clanged and clown music jangled.

"That's weird," I said, my elbow suddenly numb.

"Yeah, it is," Lake said. "Sit down."

The truck's windows were tinted black, Snap O' Matic painted across the hood. It didn't slow down as it entered the parking lot, front wheels jumping the curb, dragging shrubbery. Gears ground, causing a series of backfires. The truck slammed through a big sign that said Thank You Fade Labs, Pool Construction Complete! Ice cream flew everywhere. Popsicles left melty trails of red. Kirsty Wells picked at her toes. Kirsty Rogers smoothed her towel. Floaty toys popped and burst. I looked at Lake, who didn't move. I looked at Herb, who yawned and rolled onto his belly. The truck veered left, aiming straight for the Dumpster.

I jumped off the chair and ran across the wet tiles, slap, slap, slap.

Thirty feet.

I knocked over benches, scrambling between tables.

Ten feet.

I slid sideways, windmilling for balance, and stood in front of my brother.

Impact.

The frozen metal grill connected with my chest, vertical imprints seared into me like barcode.

I am so Goth, I'm roadkill.




CHAPTER ONE

SOPHIE AND MR. PUGLISI

TARDY? I DON'T FEEL TARDY

Mr. Puglisi and I looked at each other for about twenty minutes. He had a big head and a big, square face. He smelled like cigars and had a nose like a veiny gourd. On the wall behind him was a poster of a sad-eyed basset hound wearing an orange clown wig. Underneath it said Happiness Is Relatively Relative. I was supposed to meet Mr. Puglisi every day after lunch.

"What's your first name?" I asked, pointing to his nameplate.

"Mister," he said.

He was wearing an old sweater. There was a hole in the shoulder that looked ripped on purpose, like he was the kind of guy who made a great omelet and would take you fishing to teach you about life in the way he knotted worms on his hook.

"So how's Sophie today?" he asked.

Sophie has bad dreams about her brother. Sophie's house keeps being broken into. Pretty much around the clock Sophie's scared shitless. Also, Sophie's stuck in a tiny office with Mr. Sweater while he keeps referring to her in the third person.

"Pretty great," I said.

Mr. Puglisi searched my eyes for sarcasm and found it. He shuffled his notes. "A year ago you put a rather abrupt halt to your athletic career. I understand you were part of the soccer team?"

It was amazing how long ago that seemed. Running up and down a field. Kicking a ball and yelling and sweating and having fun.

"Sad, but true."

"Any particulars spur your change of heart?"

"The uniforms were ugly."

"Ugly in what way?"

"Pink."

"I wonder," Mr. Puglisi said, clearly not wondering, "what you make of the events that transpired on your seventeenth birthday?"

"Is this going to take much longer?" I asked. "Miss Last says we're doing conjunctive verbs today."

Mr. Puglisi frowned. "You may think flippancy shields you from having to deal with your feelings, Sophie, but it doesn't. It pushes us further away."

"Us?"

"Tell me about the name Test Tube," he said.

It was like having a freezing shower turned on. It was like being slapped by your best friend, out of nowhere, for borrowing a pair of socks.

"Have you ever been run over by a truck, Mr. P?"

"Puglisi," he said, and popped open a can of Sour White. "Did you at least bring your assignment?"

Each meeting, I was supposed to hand in an essay. The essay was supposed to list the things I remembered about the day my father left. Or disappeared. Or whatever. I'd already told him I didn't remember anything. He thought if we broke the day into bite-size chunks, it would all come rushing back, a slo-mo revelation with strummy guitars. I slid the paper across his desk. He licked his lips, reading aloud.

The Day My Father Disappeared, Essay #1

My father pulled onto the highway ramp.

"You ready to show them who's best, Soph?"

I knocked my cleats together, unloosening old mud. We were on our way to a soccer game, the second of the season. The week before, I'd scored a goal.

"You're staying for the game, right?"

"Absolutely," my father said. He pulled a pager off his belt, which jingled and then buzzed. "The whole game."

When the game was over, my father wasn't in the stands. All the other girls were laughing and slapping five, Kirsty Beck drinking juice boxes and Kirsty Zorn massaging her shins.

I walked up to the car. The engine was ticking. My father was leaning against the door, looking at his pager. "Great game!" he said.

"Did you see my goal?"

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Amazing!"

I hadn't scored a goal. "Thanks."

"Hop in, kiddo," my father said. "We need to make a quick stop at the lab."

We parked behind White, Fade, Templeton, and Sour. My father buttoned and straightened his lab coat. His name tag read ALBERT in big block letters.

"Why don't you come in a minute? I've just got to get something from my desk."

"I'm in shorts," I said, pretending to sniff my armpit. "I'm all sweaty."

"C'mon, Soph," he said, his glasses reflecting an oval of sun onto my knee. The building was squat and dark. We walked past cubicles, with a million tubes and pipettes and beakers. Dad told me to sit in the waiting room. I picked an orange plastic chair from a row of orange plastic chairs. There were the world's boringest magazines fanned on the coffee table, like Genetics Today and Gene Splice Digest and European Vacuum Quarterly. My father knocked on a steel door. A woman's voice ushered him through. Their conversation was muffled, but I could make out the occasional word, like must, won't, ready, and code. Then trail, nurse, dream, loop, and begin. A loud voice came over the intercom.

"Officer Goethe? Officer Goethe, please report to the testing area."

Footsteps double-timed down the hallway. A man in a security uniform clomped into the waiting room. His name tag said GOETHE—SECURITY OPS. He was big and slope-shouldered. There was a gun on his belt and a chrome briefcase in his hand. He stood in the doorway, and then a woman in a nurse's uniform came out of the office. She was beyond old, ancient, fossilized. She was wearing a heavily starched skirt so white it hurt my eyes.

"Hi, honey. I'm The Nurse," she croaked. "Do you like ice cream?"

"Where's my father?"

"This won't take a sec."

"What won't?"

"Go ahead and hold out your arm for me."

I kicked my cleats against the bottom of the chair. Blades of dried grass helicoptered to the floor. The Nurse glanced at the officer. He tried on a fake smile, teeth lined with a high brown watermark, then grabbed my wrist. The Nurse held a syringe. I tried to pull away, but she jabbed it into the crook of my arm. The pain rolled up from my toes. It was like slipping into a frozen pond, shards of black ice cutting along my sides. I tried to breathe but couldn't. I tried to move but couldn't. After a long time, The Nurse pulled the needle out and replaced it in the chrome briefcase, spinning an elaborate lock.

"Everything seems worse than it really is," she said, her breath like dust. Then she leaned close, crumbs in the tiny hairs on her chin, whispering, "You're going to have beautiful dreams. Don't fight them. I'll see you soon, birthday girl."

I looked down at my arm, positive there'd be a gaping wound, but it was only a tiny red mark, which immediately began to itch. I slumped in the orange chair. A swirl of nausea rose in my stomach. I closed my eyes as a series of numbers began to flash, from left to right, like a stock ticker. Ones and zeros, zeros and ones, faster and faster until they blurred into a long white line.

Mr. Puglisi harrumphed. It sounded like a big, tired animal that spent a lot of time grinding roots with its molars. "So, that is an interesting essay. Very interesting."

Hearing it out loud was weird, like it was someone else's story. I felt bad for the girl and had to keep reminding myself it was me.

"You have quite an imagination," Mr. Puglisi said.

I opened my pad and started drawing Mr. Puglisi stuffing himself into a blender.

"Am I to judge by your expression that you wish me to believe this story is, in fact, an accurate representation of events?"

In the drawing, Mr. Puglisi added ice and fruit.

"Let's go that route then, shall we? This injection. Can you show me the mark?"

I gave him a long look. Then pulled up my sleeve. There was a sore in the crook of my elbow, ugly and red. His pen scratched across the page. I knew it was something like Self-inflicted, or Recommend immediate removal of all sharp objects.

"What's it say?"

Mr. Puglisi held up his pad. Visual evidence of arm trauma.

I nodded, surprised.

"Have you spoken to your mother about this?"

"No."

"Why not?"

It was a thirty-hour answer. It was a weekend symposium.

"Because I didn't think she'd believe me. The police didn't."

"The police?"

"After Dad, there were interviews and stuff. A detective. Missing person report, the cop all like, 'Office? Show me this office. Needle? Show me this needle.' I could tell he thought, Here's a girl collects paper clips. Here's a girl calls bomb threats in to the supermarket. He goes, 'Here's my card, don't call me.' He goes, 'I'll get back to you if I hear anything, which I won't, so don't hold your breath.' Trish slept through most of it."

"Trish?"

"Mom."

"You refer to your mother by her first name?"

I did. She insisted. It was kind of like hanging around with your cool aunt who actually wasn't your aunt and really wasn't all that cool.

"There's not much logic in Trish-world," I said.

"For instance?"

"For instance, I'm not allowed to have a cell phone. Or drive. It's like we're Amish. Except we're not."

"Well, lots of parents don't…"

I stopped listening, his voice all, Mwaw, mwaw, mwaw. Sophie mwaw mom mwaw teens mwaw test-kit mwaw future mwaw electives mwaw.

He reached over and snatched the notebook from my hand.

"Hey!"

Next to the drawing of him pureeing himself, I'd written:

I'm so Goth, bats pick up my sonar.

I am so Goth, I sprinkle staples on my Special K.

I'm so Goth, I keep toenail clippings in a mason jar.

I am so Goth, my black sweatband wears a black sweatband.

I'm so Goth, when I get my period, I bleed tiny mascara'd guitar players.

Mr. Puglisi sighed and handed me a detention slip. "Keep it up," he said. "I have more time than you can possibly imagine."

The principal's office was empty. His secretary was this anorexic lady with flaky skin who was knitting and putting on makeup at the same time. She pointed to the punishment bench.

"Thanks. I forgot where it was."

She dialed up her lipstick and pointed at a poster on the wall. It was a picture of Einstein making a face and sticking out his tongue. Underneath it said Sarcasm Is the Retreat of Small Minds.

"The secretary last year had a poster with a kitten stuck in a tree," I told her, scratching my elbow. "It said Hang On in There."

"I am not the last secretary," the new secretary said.

I sketched her knitting herself a new personality. I sketched a giant hammer crushing the school like a naughty walnut. I sketched my father, holding my hand, as we walked forever away from here.




CHAPTER TWO

KENNY FADE

BITE ME, FOR I AM FULL OF CREAMY NOUGAT

Kenny Fade took the ball from the ref and lobbed it to Aaron Agar, who everyone called Freckle. Freckle dribbled upcourt and passed it back. Kenny spun by his man like the guy was stapled to the floor and slammed it. The crowd jumped and howled. A group of girls in the bleachers sucked on Popsicles, screaming K-E-N-N-Y. By the time they'd reached the second N, most of the parents joined in as well. The gym was a rumbling cannon, BLAM-BOM BLAM-BOM BLAM! Dayna Daynes, head cheerleader, bounced in time, some parts bouncing more in time than others. Her long tan legs kicked and scissored and leaped. Kirsty Minor followed her lead, completing the routine: "Go, Kenny, Fade's our man, if he can't do it, nobody can! Fade, Fade, Fade, FA-DAY!" Kenny winked. Flashbulbs popped. He stole the ball, took three slow dribbles, and drained a rainbow three.

"Way to go, Fade!" Coach Dhushbak yelled, in his tight shirt and nylon sweatpants. "Keep 'em guessing!"

"Fa-day, Nice play! Fa-day, Hoo-ray! Fa-day, Hot-tay!"

In the locker room at halftime, one of the assistant coaches brought over cookies and cans of Sour White. Kenny popped one but could barely swallow. The soda tasted foul, a pig's tail of nausea curling through his stomach. He gagged and tossed the can at a trash barrel across the room, dead center.

"Three-pointer!" someone yelled. Everyone laughed. Coach Dhushbak heard it and tore out of his office. On the wall behind him was a poster of a football player helping an old woman and her groceries across the street. Underneath it said Sports Don't Build Character, They Reveal It.

"All right, ladies, listen good!" Coach Dhushbak yelled, kicking a few chairs before giving one of his three speeches: Injured Teammate, God and Country, or Mel Gibson Wearing Kilt. The team barely paid attention. Everyone knew the game was already locked. And even if it wasn't, they had Fade. Some miracle comeback? They had Fade. Meteor attack? They had Fade. What was there to worry about?

Only the numbers racing through my head, Kenny thought. Only the dead raccoon in my stomach and the rotting mayo in my veins.

In the hallway outside the locker room, Dan Sellers's mother reached over and slapped Kenny's butt. Then she tried to hand him a slip of paper with her phone number on it. Coach Dhushbak frowned, hustling the team back into the gym. At the end of the bench, Kenny put his hand on Dan Sellers's shoulder. "Hey, don't worry about it."

"I can't believe her," Dan Sellers said. "Okay, for one thing? My father's funeral was six months ago."

"I remember."

But did he remember? Kenny wasn't sure. He might have been there in a suit, head down, nodding with the eulogy. He might have sneezed because of the freshly cut grass. On the other hand, maybe he was never there at all. Kenny's brain felt like a gray sponge. If you squeezed it with two hands, a bunch of dirty water would come out. Sometimes when he blinked there were double exposures, scratchy film of someone else's vacation playing behind his eyes. Still, he felt bad for the Sellers kid. "Listen, you want to come by the house sometime and talk, you're always welcome."

Dan Sellers looked up and sniffed. "Really?"

"Sure thing," Kenny said, scratching his elbow.

Dan Sellers wiped snot with the back of his hand. "Wow, I—"

"Besides, if you're really feeling bad, check that out." Kenny pointed to the wheelchair chick, sitting by herself under the bleachers smoking. "Remember her? Back when she was hot?"

Dan Sellers nodded.

"There's always someone else got it harder, you know?"

The whistle tweeted and the crowd cheered. Kenny gave Dan Sellers's shoulder a little punch and ran onto the floor. By the end of the third quarter Upheare High was ahead by thirty-three and Freckle Agar was dribbling in circles, running out the clock. When Coach Dhushbak pulled Kenny from the game, the crowd stood and clapped in unison. Dayna, absurdly pneumatic, blew kisses like an Italian starlet boarding a cruise ship. Coach Dhushbak slapped Kenny five and the guys on the bench slapped him five and all the dads in the first row slapped him five. Kenny belched greenly before parking it between Freckle and Zac, his two best friends. He'd finished with thirty-nine points.

"Could have had sixty if you wanted," Freckle said, a wisp of stubble on his chin.

"It's just sound marketing," Zac said, his gelled hair standing straight up. "K-dog knows scouts like to see a team player. A man who shares the ball and scores? That's a man belongs in Division One. Or hell, maybe just straight pro."

"C'mon," Kenny said, unlacing his size thirteen Dikes. Zac had the same pair. Freckle had the same pair. "Don't be a renob."

Zac raised an eyebrow. "Renob?"

"Will you remember us?" Freckle asked, leaning over and pretending to fawn. "When your limo pulls up outside the LA clubs and Zac and I shuffle by for autographs? Will you at least let us touch your sweats?"

"Dude," Kenny said.

"Dude," Zac said.

"Seriously, dude?" Freckle said. "How 'bout you front us a couple supermodels?"

"You asshats already got girlfriends."

"Not like Dayna, we don't," Zac said.

"It's Fade's world," Freckle agreed. "We just live in it."

Kenny sat back, scratching his elbow, which had gone numb. It could have been a good game if he hadn't spent it riding out waves of queasy foam.

"Hey, you look a little green there, Kenny," Freckle said, lowering his voice. "Maybe you should go see the nurse?"




CHAPTER THREE

SOPHIE BLUE

IT'S JUST LIKE A HORROR MOVIE, EXCEPT NO CAMERAS OR LIGHTS OR ACTORS, AND ALSO, IT GOES ON FOREVER

Ring. Ring. Ring.

Sophie (whispering): "Hello?"

Lake (whispering): "Hey, it's me."

Sophie: "Thank God, I was lying here so not sleeping. You wouldn't believe what…"

Lake (yawning): "Me, too. What's that noise?"

Sophie: "Trish's flat screen."

Lake: "They have game shows on at midnight?"

Sophie: "I guess there's lonely people in every time zone."

Lake: "It's true. Dad's downstairs reading Siddhartha or something."

Sophie: "Wouldn't it be funny if we hooked Herb and Trish up? Then we'd be half sisters. Or stepsisters."

Lake: "I don't, ah… I don't think Dad's quite ready for Trish."

Sophie: "Yeah. Even with a six-month crash course, he'd still—"

Trish (picking up the extension and breaking in): "What a surprise. And with school tomorrow. Say goodnight, ladies."

Lake: "Sorry, Miss Blue."

Trish: "Sorry, my dear, is in the ear of the beholder."

Click.

Lake (whispering): "What does that even mean?"

Sophie: "It means someone's dosage needs to be upped."

Lake (giggling): "G'night."

Sophie: "Wait, I—"

Click.

Genre:

  • "A fast, highly entertaining read, this novel will appeal to graphic-novel enthusiasts, techies, and anyone looking for a cleverly written, inventive romp in which every detail counts."—School Library Journal
  • "The language and sophisticated wit are a tasty treat even for those not fluent in geek."—BCCB
  • "There is a vacuum repair shop in space (think Douglas Adams), a barrage of absurdist pop-culture send-ups (think Neal Shusterman), and some yodeling (think...original emerging voice in young adult fiction)."—The Horn Book
  • "A slim Infinite Jest for teens."
    Booklist

On Sale
Feb 1, 2011
Page Count
224 pages
ISBN-13
9780316014182

Sean Beaudoin

About the Author

Sean Beaudoin is the author of five young adult novels, including The Infects and Wise Young Fool. He is also a founding editor of the arts and culture website TheWeeklings.com, for which he has written more than fifty essays. Sean’s stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including the Onion, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Salon. He lives in Seattle with his wife and daughter.

Learn more about this author