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Maybe We're Electric
By Val Emmich
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- Trade Paperback $10.99 $14.99 CAD
- ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
- Hardcover $17.99 $22.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 11, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Tegan Everly is quiet. Known around school simply as the girl with the hand, she's usually only her most outspoken self with her friend Neel, and right now they're not exactly talking. When Tegan is ambushed by her mom with a truth she can't face, she flees home in a snowstorm, finding refuge at a forgotten local attraction—the tiny Thomas Edison museum.
She's not alone for long. In walks Mac Durant. Striking, magnetic, a gifted athlete, Mac Durant is the classmate adored by all. Tegan can't stand him. Even his name sounds fake. Except the Mac Durant she thinks she knows isn't the one before her now—this Mac is rattled and asking her for help.
Over one unforgettable night spent consuming antique records and corner-shop provisions, Tegan and Mac cast aside their public personas and family pressures long enough to forge an unexpectedly charged bond and—in the very spot in New Jersey that inspired Edison's boldest creations—totally reinvent themselves. But could Tegan's most shameful secret destroy what they've built?
Emotionally vivid and endlessly charming, Maybe We're Electric is an artfully woven meditation on how pain can connect us—we can carry it alone in darkness or share the burden and watch the world light up again.
You don’t want to be a monster. Not anymore. You don’t want to feel ugly. Inside or out.
Thomas Edison said that failure is guaranteed. The part that matters is what you do after. You used to doubt this, but now you believe. Which is why you’re going back to retrace your steps. Maybe there’s still a way to fix the damage you’ve done. To face the ugly and make a more beautiful after.
I’m huddled on the hard floor of the museum, back pressed to a slow-warming baseboard, waiting for the shivering to stop.
The checkered floor beneath me is cracked in places, and this cracks me in places, the reminder that everything begins new and near perfect but eventually cracks in places.
Around me are a hundred faces, each in black and white, most belonging to the man of honor, the inventor who once turned this unremarkable spot in New Jersey into a worldwide destination and later had the whole town named after him.
Along with these photos of Thomas Edison are working models of his many inventions. Incandescent bulbs. Sound devices. Telephone transmitters. A dozen of the four hundred patents developed in Menlo Park cover the wall. Inside a glass tank is a model of the laboratory that once stood on these grounds. It’s all crammed into a space no bigger than my living room.
But it’s better than my living room. I don’t want to be anywhere near home right now. I just wish I had grabbed a few essentials before storming out of the house earlier. Mainly my phone. A jacket, too, would have been smart.
I compose an email in my head to my dad: She’s the worst. I mean it. She ruined everything. Please don’t take her side right now. I don’t need that. I can imagine his reply: Mom’s doing her best. Not taking her side, I promise. Yes, she can be the worst. We all can be.
I hug my knees and drop my wet face into the abyss I’ve made in between. I shake quietly—for a minute, an hour.
I’m startled by a familiar beep. Everyone who works here knows that annoying beep. It yanks our attention away from whatever we’re doing and alerts us that someone has entered the museum.
I forgot to lock the door behind me.
Maybe Mom chased after me in the snow. It can’t be Charlie; he already left for his gig and missed the drama at home. If it is Mom, she’s got me cornered. The Thomas Edison Center possesses a lot of things, but space isn’t one of them. There’s the front room, back room (where I am now), bathroom, and tiny utility closet. A back door leads outside, to a shed and the memorial tower, but opening it will sound another beep.
“Hello?” says a voice that definitely isn’t my mom’s.
I keep still, hoping the voice and whomever it belongs to will leave as quickly as they came.
A shadow spreads down the hall and into the back room. It stops, and I lift my eyes. A hooded figure looms above. Snow sheds onto the floor as the hood comes off.
I know him. He’s in my grade, a fellow sophomore. His name is Mac Durant. Mac Durant, as in list whatever desirable attribute you can think of—gorgeous, bright, charming, popular, star athlete, too-good-to-be-true heartthrob cliché from every teenage rom-com you’ve ever seen—with the absurdly appropriate name to go with it, Mac Durant. What the hell is he doing here?
I’m a hot mess. I’m two-day-old hair. I’m a ratty sweatshirt. I’m worn-out leggings and mismatched socks. It’s not like I’m super thrilled with my presentation even on full-effort days, when I’m actually expecting to be seen, but this look I’ve got going on right now, complete with puffy red eyes, is next-level tragic.
I wipe my face with my sleeve and do my best impersonation of a stable person. His giant golden eyes stare in confusion. He’s probably trying to remember my name. Who is this girl I pass by daily but with whom I never interact? And why is she curled up in a shaky ball on this dirty cracked floor?
“I need your phone,” Mac Durant says. “It’s an emergency.”
These are not the words I prepared for, or the voice I imagined delivering them. Hearing distress in a person who only ever oozes confidence rattles me even more.
The museum is closed, I want to say. He’s not supposed to be here, and neither am I.
“Please,” Mac says, polite but desperate.
My right hand rises and my finger points. He turns in a hurry, his shadow trailing. I get up and step into the hallway, a spy at the corner. He reaches for the old phone, but he doesn’t lift the receiver. That’s when I notice the blood on his hand.
He looks up and sees me.
“You do it,” he says.
I struggle to speak.
He lifts the receiver. “I need you to make the call. I’ll tell you what to say.”
His eyes show no malice, only urgency.
I watch his bloody hand press three numbers. Any call that can be made with just three numbers is a call I want no part of.
I’m about to advise him of this new and unwritten policy of mine, but he beckons me with rapid waving and the use of my name. “Tegan,” he says. His saying my name, knowing my name—it’s too much.
I let him pass me the receiver.
A faint voice: “911. What’s your emergency?”
Mac gestures for me to lift the receiver to my ear. It’s like he has to teach me how to use a device I’ve never seen before, as if I’m back in Edison’s time. This is what a person does when making a call on a telephone. She places the top of the receiver to her ear and the bottom to her mouth and she speaks.
But what does she say?
“I’d like to report something,” Mac whispers, instructing me what to tell the dispatcher.
I can’t. I’m mute. He implores me with his giant stare, and sure enough I hear myself repeat his words verbatim: “I’d like to report something.”
Mac squints achingly before giving me my next line. “There’s a man inside a garage.”
“There’s a man…” I say.
“Inside a garage,” Mac says.
“Inside a garage.”
“His car is running. Inside the garage.”
“His car is running inside the garage,” I repeat.
“I think he might be trying to hurt himself,” Mac says.
I pause. Mac nods. It’s okay. All of this is okay. His eyes promise me: We’re in this together.
I tell the dispatcher, “He might be trying to hurt himself.”
Mac gives me two thumbs up. I hold the receiver away from my mouth and tell Mac that the dispatcher wants an address.
“Eighty-eight Anchorage Road,” Mac says.
I give the address to the dispatcher, and only afterward does the information register. Mac lives on Anchorage, walking distance from here, the opposite direction from where I live. The museum is roughly midway between our houses.
The dispatcher asks for my name. Mac hears this and mouths for me to hang up. I hesitate. He takes the receiver and hangs up for me.
The museum is silent, still.
I notice his bloody hand on the receiver. He shoves it into his coat pocket.
Mac Durant takes a deep breath, his shoulders lifting, and exhales. All the tension he entered the museum with fades away. A transformation. He’s the guy I’ve always observed, trouble-free dimple, gooey golden eyes, swagger for days, and he’s staring at me, me, saying the most straightforward word in the most non-straightforward of situations:
The phone lies quiet between us. We stare at it like it’s a body dumped in a dirt hole. I wrestle with the realization that I’ve just participated in something major and I have no idea what it is.
Mac begins to explain. “It was weird. I was walking and I see this guy. He’s sitting in his car, in his garage.”
I wait for the rest of the story, but he just smiles, as if to say, Well, that was fun. What should we do next?
Hold on. After what he made me do, he owes me a proper explanation. He was walking where? In a snowstorm? What made him think the guy was trying to hurt himself? Wouldn’t the garage door need to be closed? Then how did Mac see him? Also, if he was so close to home, on his own street, why didn’t he call from his house? And, oh yeah, what happened to his hand?
Too bad I can’t say any of this out loud. It doesn’t work like that. Talking here means bending the laws of our shared universe in which he imposes his will and I silently obey.
My wonder only worsens when Mac reaches into his coat pocket and lights up his phone. His phone! The one he could have used to call for help on his own.
I can’t let this slide. Universe be damned. “Cool phone,” I blurt out.
He examines the phone, searching for what’s so cool about it. “Thanks,” he says, looking at me like I’m the weird one here.
He pockets the phone and scans the room. “I’ve never actually been inside this place. I walk by it all the time but…”
He’s on the move now, a dashing figure even in crisis: baggy chinos, white trainers, and a puffy winter coat with a faux-fur hood. He approaches the Thomas Edison bust that greets all visitors when they enter the museum. The Wizard of Menlo Park, they call him. Edison, not Mac Durant. Although, honestly, the name works for both.
“So this is him,” Mac says, casual as can be. “The man. The myth. The legend.”
“The myth,” I say, my own voice surprising me.
Mac shows off his deep dimple. “Not a fan?”
I shrug. Like my dad, I was fond of Thomas Edison once, but now I find him pretty overrated.
Anyway, what are we even talking about? Why is Mac smiling as if he finds this amusing? I’m simultaneously shaken with fear over the unfamiliar gravity of the situation and put off by the gross predictability of it. Am I in serious danger or simply trapped in the same tireless high school reality show I live through daily? Because in a way it’s so typical for a guy like Mac Durant to barge in here as if he owns the joint, every door on god’s playground swinging open for him, every girl he deems worthy of his golden gaze doing his random bidding, even becoming his accomplice in possibly criminal acts. And what now? We’re just hanging out having an innocent chat?
My eyes fall to the floor. Added to the checkered pattern are new imperfections: red dots. I trace the trajectory up to Mac’s hand, which was just touching the Edison bust.
“No,” I say.
“No, no, no.”
“Are you okay?”
I point: Thomas Edison has a bloody nose.
“Shit,” Mac says. “My bad.”
I rush off and return with paper towels and cleaning spray. I wipe the floor and tend to Mr. Edison while Mac tries to plug up his rude wound. He does a bad job of it.
I retrieve the first-aid kit from behind the front counter. I’ve seen it used only once (for a bee sting). Judging from the yellowed Band-Aids, the kit may predate the artifacts it shares space with.
I place the kit on the counter, open the lid, and give a dramatic sigh. “Come here,” I say.
Mac brings his hand over to the glass display counter. The display holds Thomas Edison merchandise. Light bulb key chains. Light bulb stress balls. Light bulb notepads. Light bulb light bulbs. Genius Water sells for one dollar—a steal. An Edison bobblehead stands on the case. Mac gives it a poke and the head nods yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
I gesture to Mac’s hand. He seems unsure. Again, it’s hard to fathom what I’m seeing: The guy who seems always to float while the rest of us walk two-footed is grounded. Not grounded as in steady. Grounded as in unable to freely fly.
I know the feeling better than anyone; there’s nothing more vulnerable than showing your hand.
“Normally I’d let you bleed as much as you want,” I say. “But right now isn’t a good time for me.”
He grins. It’s a smile to break atoms.
He uncurls his fist and places his hand flat on the counter.
I use my own hands, both of them, to reach into the kit and grab supplies. Bandage, scissors, cream. First, alcohol. I dab a cotton ball and press the soaked side to Mac’s skin. He winces.
“This will sting a little,” I tell him.
“I think you’re supposed to say that before you do it.”
I dab at his pink-and-purple bruise, his raw inside. Reality seeps in. The thought of what I’m doing and with whom. How’s my breath? My hair? My eyebrows? Not that it matters. When people look at me, their focus is usually elsewhere. On the counter are four hands, and one is clearly not like the others. My left hand has only two fingers. I guarantee Mac is staring at it. To test my theory, I drag my left hand away from the action and track Mac’s eyes to see whether they follow. They do.
I pull my hand away, and he catches himself, tries to act natural. At least he doesn’t apologize. That’s the worst—when people apologize as if they’ve just walked in on you naked and seen a part of you that’s meant to be hidden away.
I grab a tube of cream. “Rub this on yourself,” I say, realizing too late how that sounded. I squeeze, and the tube farts out cream onto his unharmed hand. Not awkward at all. Now I’m the one trying to act natural. “Have fun,” I say.
He laughs softly and applies the cream to his wound. It spreads into a thin, transparent glisten, his skin slippery. He covers the tender area, fingers gently massaging. This should be happening in private, whatever this is.
Mac lifts his hand to his nose and sniffs. He throws his hand at me. “Smell this.”
“No,” I say, leaning away.
“Can this stuff go bad?”
I inspect the hard-crinkled tube. “It expired in 2003.”
He takes another whiff and recoils.
Curiosity overtakes me. “Fine, let me smell.”
He presents his hand. There’s definitely a scent. He’s not imagining it. I sniff the tube to see if it’s a match, but the cream barely has a smell.
“I think it’s you,” I say. “It’s your blood.”
“What do you mean, my blood?”
“You have bad blood.”
“My blood is not bad,” he says confidently.
“I mean, from like, whatever happened.”
He looks down at his hand, his atomic smile disarmed. I must have said the wrong thing. Meanwhile his poor wound lies there undressed.
“We should cover it,” I say.
I begin to wrap his wound with a bandage. It means pulling out my left hand. Returning it to the table.
As I bandage him, round and round, my old frustration returns. I have questions and he has answers, and instead of coming out and asking my questions, I keep going round and round in cowardly ignorance.
The chance to break the cycle may never come again.
I ask my question: “What happened?”
He shuts his eyes.
Let me guess. Chopping wood for a fire. Saving a cat from a tree. Volunteer snow shoveling.
“I smashed a brick,” Mac says, stripping the violence from what seems like a violent act, as if what he did was the only thing that could have been done. I try to picture it, the smashing of the brick, and Mac doing it, but it’s a video that never loads. I can’t see it happening—this unflappable person losing his cool.
What I do see is how Mac feels about what happened: a muddled mix of shame and remorse and something like pride.
He opens his eyes and waits for my reaction.
“Well,” I say, after thinking it through. “Your hand still looks better than mine.”
I smile at my joke, so he can feel safe to do the same.
You were born different. The rest of the babies are given ten fingers and ten toes. Not you. You get one hand with only two fingers—thumb and ring—and barely those two. The condition is known as symbrachydactyly. It’s a word that hurts your brain to look at. Someone very creative invented a simpler name for it. When a person has limbs that look different, they are said to have, drumroll please, limb difference. Your parents go their own way. They call your left hand your special hand.
Early on, your parents give serious consideration to surgery, but in the end, opt against it. They instead place all their hope in a risky approach called self-acceptance. At first, it seems to work. You are a carefree and oblivious child. You don’t know what it’s like to have ten fingers. Nothing feels amiss. Mom and Dad let you figure things out on your own. Buttoning shirts is annoying, and you never feel like you have a solid grip on your bike’s handlebars. But this stuff isn’t odd. It just is.
Then you get older. You notice people staring. They’ve always stared, but you really sense it now. Your best friend since kindergarten, Isla, defends you fiercely against giggling boys. You begin to see yourself anew. For the first time, a doctor describes you as having a “disability.” You always knew you were different, but this new term—despite how matter-of-factly it’s delivered—makes it seem as if something’s wrong with you. Doubt creeps in about how “normal” you really are. You start to obsess about your difference in a way you know is unhealthy and unhelpful. You stare at your hand until it isn’t a hand anymore. It’s a mini calzone strapped to your wrist. Or a snake that swallowed an old TV antenna. It’s the last piece of tape salvaged from a roll that gets stuck to itself and becomes a frustrated tangle.
You try to draw people’s attention away from the thing that makes you different. You wear long sleeves in summer. Shirts with bold, distracting slogans on the front. You make jokes, lots, most at your own expense.
When you hit your teens, you’re over it. You’re bored of the subject. Really, who cares? It’s just a hand. Nothing special, far from it. No one pays attention to a hand. Not you. Not your family or friends. You’re all aware of it, but you don’t focus on it. Only strangers seem to care. The problem is there are many strangers, always more coming, reminding you of what you keep forgetting. It’s exhausting. You don’t have the energy to educate every new person you meet. Or to battle the old people in your life who still don’t know better. It’s easier just to sink into the background. To avoid their eyes. To make yourself small. To make yourself very, very quiet.
I refill the first-aid kit and return the box to a bottom shelf. I stay low behind the counter, fiddling for longer than is realistic. I need a chance to think.
What was that phone call about? Why ask me to place the call? And the blood! We can’t forget the bad blood!
Maybe I’ll stand up and Mac will have magically disappeared and I can go back to worrying about just me.
I rise and my prayer is answered. He’s gone.
That was easy.
I peer out the window. No sign of him. I scurry to the front door and crank the sticky lock, shutting out the world. My sigh is the sound of relief.
Or is it disappointment? Did the most exciting moment of my life just pass me by? He was here a second ago, I swear: Mac Durant. He left without saying goodbye. Or thanking me for bandaging his hand.
A sound from the back room turns me around. When I get there, Mac is handling one of the phonographs.
“Careful,” I say, relieved to find him still here and yet frightened all over again. He’s scary in the way a unicorn would be if you met one: You just assumed the thing wasn’t real.
I step in and catch the tonearm before it touches the disc. We’ve already soiled Mr. Edison’s face. The last thing I need is to be responsible for damaging one of these priceless machines.
“This is from the thirties,” I say. “It’s irreplaceable.”
“We’ve got a turntable at home.”
“Not like this one.”
It’s nice, I guess, that his confidence is back in full force, but unfortunately he has no idea what he’s talking about.
“Does it work?” Mac says.
Even in his current state—oily hair pointing everywhere, cheeks a very relatable red—Mac wields a power that’s hard to defend against.
Yes, the turntable works. It can’t play any odd record, only Edison’s proprietary discs, and those strictly on the guided tours. The museum is open four days a week. Today, Saturday, it closed at four and will reopen tomorrow at ten, weather permitting. But I haven’t worked at the Thomas Edison Center in months, and neither of us should be here right now.
Except we are.
I swing open the front panel of our largest phonograph and drop the stylus. The music is egregiously peppy. We listen for a long minute (not easy). I feel unjustly responsible for what we’re listening to, as if I’m the artist who recorded the song and Mac’s assessment of it reflects on me personally. His foot appreciates the beat, tapping a nimble rhythm. He peeks at his phone and tucks it away. When the music finally ends, I holster the stylus and shut the panel.
“It’s a huge hit with the over-ninety crowd,” I say, hoping to distance myself from the snoozefest he was forced to endure.
He moves to another exhibit. His stroll—leisurely, inquisitive—creates the absurd impression that this was his plan all along for this Saturday night, to brush up on his long-ignored Thomas Edison history. I follow his movements, studying his profile (for security purposes, of course). His nose is pronounced and it works for him. His lips appear painted on with an expensive brush; to be honest, I’ve had daydreams about smearing his paint.
“Shouldn’t you be closing?” Mac says. “It’s looking bad out there.”
He gives me a once-over, absorbing my appearance only now, every curious inch of it. The laundry-shrunk red sweatshirt I’ve been loafing around in all day is my go-to for comfort and laziness, but it makes for unconvincing work attire. I may sound like an official employee of the museum, but I definitely don’t look like one.
“My ride is coming,” I say. “Like any second.” A flat-out lie.
“The governor might declare a state of emergency.” He shakes his head. “They always talk these things up. People love drama.”
People. As in, other people. Not him. Mac Durant doesn’t go for drama. That’s the message he’s trying to convey. And yet he’s the one causing the drama here. I planned on hiding out for a while at the museum, but because of Mac, my safe space no longer feels safe. I should leave. Now.
I don’t want to go home, but what choice do I have? I have no money, no phone. None of my friends live within walking distance. I’d probably turn to Neel at a time like this, but he and I are in a fight.
Going home doesn’t mean I have to talk to my mom. I’ll go straight to my room and hide under the covers. But before I can do that, I have to get Mac to leave.
I clear my throat. “I’m sure you have, you know, plans or whatever.”
He doesn’t answer, too busy perusing our museum wall.
I’ll shut off the lights so he gets the hint. It’s extreme and potentially confusing, but it’s time to be bold. I override all self-loathing and slink toward the light switch. As I reach it, Mac unknowingly steps in my path and I’m forced to retreat.
“You still take the bus?” Mac says, doing a near pirouette to locate me.
“Yeah,” I say, surprised that he remembers. “Unfortunately.”
Mac hasn’t taken the bus since middle school, and back then he was usually fast asleep on the morning ride. This is one subject I’d love to hear him elaborate on—the past, our
"A poignant, gemlike novel about grief, regret, and loneliness. Tegan's story is emotionally vivid, poetically crafted, and utterly moving."—Kathleen Glasgow, New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces
"Val Emmich's Maybe We're Electric is a beautifully rendered portrait of two complicated teens who find the secrets to unlocking their authentic selves through an unexpected connection. Written with tenderness and heart, this is a book that will light readers up."—Abdi Nazemian, author of Stonewall Honor book Like a Love Story
- On Sale
- Oct 11, 2022
- Page Count
- 288 pages