Leap Day


By Wendy Mass

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This fascinating, surprising new novel is full of everyday imaginations and truths in the life and future of every teenage girl, as it tells the story of soon-to-be-16 Josie Taylor, who was born on Leap Day.


Copyright © 2004 by Wendy Mass

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

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Excerpt on self-esteem (page 102) reprinted from Women and Self-Esteem, by Linda Tschirhart Sanford and Mary Ellen Donovan. First published in 1984 by Doubleday, a division of Random House.

The Warner Books name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

First eBook Edition: September 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-02873-8

Book design by Billy Kelly
The text for this book was set in Gill Sans and Sabon MT, and the display type is Gill Sans Heavy

Also by Wendy Mass

A Mango-Shaped Space

7:00 A.M.– 8:20 A.M.

Chapter 1A: Josie

Right now it's seven o'clock on a Monday morning, and I'm lying on the floor of my bedroom watching the white plastic ceiling fan go around and around and around. I don't actually choose to sleep on the floor; some mornings I just wind up here. For the past few years I've had very vivid dreams, and I wind up flinging myself to the floor in the middle of the night. Now I keep a pillow by the side of the bed, so it's really not too bad. I feel safe on the floor. Like I'm more grounded. Sometimes I feel a bit untethered, like I'm more on the world than in it. I've always wanted to ask my friends if they feel like that, but I never do.

I sit up and rub the little crusts of yesterday's mascara out of my eyes. I can't hear the shower running, so Rob must still be sleeping. This is a good thing because it means I'll have all the hot water I need, and I need a lot. One time last year I turned on the water and then went back to my room for a second, and Rob ran into the shower. He screamed bloody murder and jumped out, hopping up and down on the fuzzy yellow bathmat. I ran in to see what all the fuss was about and got an eyeful. It's one thing to see your brother naked when you're five and he's seven, but it's another thing entirely when you're teenagers. I may be scarred for life. It's true that Rob and I get along better than any other brother and sister I know. But still, there are boundaries.

With the water just this side of scalding, I wash my hair twice. This is a big day for me, and one time just won't suffice. I haven't had a haircut in over a year, and now my hair falls right above my breasts. Speaking of my breasts, the left one is larger than the right. Only slightly, but it's bothered me ever since they started growing when I was twelve. I suppose it's possible that someone else might not be able to tell, but I can't be sure because no one else has ever seen them. Andrew Trachtenberg did touch them once over my sweatshirt behind the bleachers at the homecoming football game. After that his family moved away to one of the square-shaped states in the middle of the country. I try to tell myself that there's no connection.

So, technically, no one has actually seen them. Although that could change soon, considering I just turned sixteen — today, in fact — and I'm ready for a real boyfriend. So far I can't say that the first day of sixteen feels any different than the last day of fifteen. But I'm still very excited that it's my birthday. Especially since it's only my fourth one.

"Are you done yet?" Rob yells through the door. "I can't be late today. I have to meet with the coach before homeroom."

"Okay, okay, hold on." I push the old flowered shower curtain aside and reach for my towel, trying not to slip. Drying off takes me longer than I bet it takes most people, because I have a whole drying order that I like to follow that starts at my feet and winds up at my ears. When I'm done I wrap a smaller towel around my head like a fortune-teller. Then comes the citrus-scented oil, which I spray all over except for my chest, because I don't want to break out there. I don't think anyone can smell the oil through my clothes, but it makes me feel like I've got a secret. Then I throw on the purple bathrobe that my great-aunt sent me from New York. It's a little kid's bathrobe, and I think she meant to send it to my eleven-year-old cousin, but my mother won't let me return it since it fits fine. I try not to dwell on the fact that I look younger than I am. My mother is always trying to convince me that I have a very healthy body image for a teenager. Usually I would roll my eyes at some-thing like that, but I think she really needs to believe it so I don't contradict her.

Rob knocks again. As soon as I open the door I hear, "Surprise!!!"

My parents and Rob are standing in the hall holding a homemade birthday corn muffin with a white candle stuck in it. A silver Mylar helium balloon waves at me from my doorknob. Below the happy sweet sixteen message on the balloon, my mother has written in thick Magic Marker, "Happy Fourth Birthday to Our Favorite Leaper!" That's the name for people like me who were born on February 29th. Since leap year only comes around once every four years, that means that the 29th only exists once every four years. This took some getting used to. When I was five, Rob told me that my parents took my birthday away because I never went to sleep when I was supposed to. Nice. He then pointed to our kitchen calendar and showed me that the day was, in fact, not there. I cried for five straight hours until my mother explained the whole leap year thing to me. Then I cried for another five. Normally I celebrate my birthday on February 28th, but it never feels quite right. Now when February 29th does roll around, it's that much more special. Plus, we leapers are a pretty exclusive group. After all, there are 365 chances to be born on a regular day, but only a one-in-1,461 chance of having my birthday. In fact, I'm the only leaper at my high school.

I grin as they sing me the Happy Birthday song, and then Mom tells me to make a wish. This is only the first of many birthday things they'll do for me today to make up for all the ones I miss. I blow out the candle and wish that my breasts were the same size. Since I'll get to make many more wishes today, I don't mind wasting that one on something so shallow. I'll wish for world peace later.

"Happy birthday, sweetheart," Dad says, giving me a big hug. He's the more nurturing of my parents. Poor Dad. He's had a hard time of it lately. Six months ago his accounting firm merged with a bigger one and he was laid off. Now Mom's job catering parties is the only money coming in. Dad's been acting very secretive lately, and he hasn't been around for the past two weeks when I've come home from school. So either he has a lead on a new job or he's working undercover for the CIA, which is Rob's theory.

"Look in your room, Josie," Mom says, her eyes sparkling. My mother gets as excited about my Leap Day birthdays as I do. I think she's always felt a little guilty about the whole thing. "I tried to get you out a day earlier," she told me once. "The doctor suggested mixing castor oil and orange juice, but I just couldn't choke it down."

There is only one thing I want to find in my bedroom, and at first I don't see it. The first thing anyone would notice about my bedroom is the overwhelming pinkness of it. When I was ten I begged my mother to paint it pink. And not just any pink, but a hot, shocking pink. Since only two years before I had begged for — and received — the flowered wallpaper, she said all right to the pink paint, as long as I agreed not to ask for any more changes before college. At ten, college sounded a million miles away. So now I cringe every time I walk into my own room. Rob won't even come in at all. His room is a soothing army green. He says mine gives him a migraine. Even now he's hanging back in the doorway. I peer around the room, lift up the math book on my desk, open the top of my clothes hamper. Then my eyes fall on something sticking out from under the pillow on the floor. I toss the pillow aside and there it is. My very own key to Rob's car, which used to be Mom's car, which before that was Grandma's (my mom's mom, who passed away when I was ten), and which is now partly mine.

I literally squeal with delight and hold the key over my head like a prizewinner. I immediately put it on my new key chain so I won't lose it. The car is big and gray and has no left turn signal or air conditioning. We call it the Shark.

"You haven't passed the driver's test yet, Josie," Rob points out. "Lots of people fail the first time."

"Don't listen to him, honey," my mother says with a sideways glare at Rob. "You'll do just fine. You'd better get changed for school."

"I think you should wear the robe," Rob says as I close the door on him. Through the door he says, "You'll land the role of Juliet for sure if you wear it."

"I won't need any help," I reply, sounding much more certain than I am. To most people the school play is no big deal, but it is vital that I'm in it. Not only because I want to be a professional actress, but also because it's only when I'm on stage that I feel like I really affect people. In October, I finally got my first starring role. Mr. Polansky, the drama teacher, picked me to be Anna in the school's production of The King and I, and sophomores almost never get the lead in the fall musical. He said I was the best Anna he'd seen in years. Our school doesn't have much of a budget for the theater department, so we do The King and I every few years. That means he's seen a LOT of Annas. He's also seen a lot of Juliets. Even though it might not be fair to the others if he chose me again, I really want the part anyway. You can't call yourself an actress unless you've played Juliet. I love the heat of the spotlight, the smell of the makeup, the dusty old costumes that with only slight alterations get reused each year no matter what the play. Everyone pretending to be someone else, just for a night. It's so easy to know who to be when the words are right there on the page. I wish I found it so easy in real life. When I'm up there I feel connected to the world. It's some kind of cosmic joke that I have my driver's test and the play audition on the same day.

I yank my favorite jeans out of a drawer and lay them on the bed next to a red t-shirt that has the few, the proud, the leapers emblazoned in black letters. It's the motto of the NLA, the National Leapers Association. When I was eight, Mom registered me with the NLA. They pair you up with three other leapers born your same year. One of my leapmates, Chris from San Francisco, almost wasn't an official leaper. When he was born, his mother's doctor tried to get her to put either February 28 or March 1 on his birth certificate because it would be easier for him as he grew up. She refused.

Each Leap Day, my leapmates and I send each other gifts. So far this year I've gotten the t-shirt from Angela in Des Moines, a key chain with my name on it from Chris (with leap 2/29 on the other side), and I'm still awaiting my gift from Niki in Boston. She's the one I'm closest to, so I'm sure she'll send me something cool. I sent her a boxed set of the Winnie-the-Pooh books because she is a big Pooh fan (the classic Pooh, she is always quick to point out, not the distorted and too-bright Disney Pooh). I also sent her a Tori Amos CD that I knew she wanted. I sent Angela and Chris the CD too, and as a joke I sent them all caps from Disney World with Mickey Mouse ears and their names across the front. Oh, did I mention I live in Orlando, home of The Happiest Place on Earth?

At first my leapmates didn't believe that anyone actually lived in Orlando, but it's pretty much like living anywhere else. Except here, swarms of pale tourists can be found on every street corner, and by the time we graduate from high school everyone will have worked at one of the theme parks in some capacity. This summer I'm applying to be one of the face characters, preferably one of the nine Snow Whites at the Magic Kingdom. Since I have brown hair, I have a better shot at her than at Cinderella, who's blonde. There's a whole hierarchy to these jobs that most people don't know about. At the top are the actors who perform in the shows throughout the day. They sing and dance and get paid the most by far. Then there are the face characters who mingle with the guests, lip-sync in the parade, and sign autographs. Then on the bottom is "fur." These are the people who lumber around the park in those big animal suits. Last summer Rob was Pluto. Or Goofy. Who can tell them apart? He said it was as hot as blazes in the costume, so I figure Snow White is a good bet because she wears a special outfit, not a big furry suit. Plus I've heard the suits really smell and one kid got lice from sharing the Piglet head.

I pull on the jeans, but as much as I might enjoy being the center of attention, I just can't wear my new leaper shirt to school. Then I open the window, stick my head out, and decide it's too warm for jeans. Five minutes later I'm in the bathroom ironing my hair till it's perfectly straight, while with my free hand I paint my toenails a creamy brown. In between I take bites of my birthday muffin while trying not to spill crumbs on my wet nails. I've always been a very good balancer. I decide on tan cargo pants, chocolate-brown sandals, and a white t-shirt from Express that shows just the right amount of my stomach. When you audition for a role your outfit shouldn't stand out too much. It could distract the director. I learned that from Entertainment Tonight.

Rob sticks his head in the bathroom and asks me if I want a ride to school. He usually goes with his friends while I take the school bus with Katy, my best friend since I was three, and Zoey, another one of my close friends who moved next door to Katy when we were in sixth grade. Mom must have put Rob up to it since he never usually offers me a ride.

"No, thanks," I tell him, unable to look up from the job at hand. "You enjoy the last day of the Shark being all yours."

"I really don't mind taking you."

"No, it's okay."

His sigh is audible as he walks away. I'm sure he wishes he didn't have to share the car and I don't blame him. The car has been all his for more than a year. I think he even lost his virginity in it, but that's only a suspicion based on the way his girlfriend, Anne, blushes every time she gets near it. Ever since Rob gained twenty pounds and joined the football team last year as a junior, he went from dweeby smart kid to popular jock and started dating one of the prettiest girls in school. If I gained twenty pounds the guys would go running in the opposite direction. It's so unfair.

I unplug the straightener, swiftly apply the two beauty products I can't live without — mascara and cinnamon-brown lip gloss — and take a last look at the finished product. Hair smooth, skin clear, outfit cool. This is an anomaly for me. It could be weeks until I have a good combo like this again. I have to take advantage of it and make sure I run into Grant Brawner, the senior I've had a crush on since the first day of high school. He designs the playbills for all the school plays, so last fall he had to ask me for a photograph. I told him he could keep it but he said that wouldn't be necessary. I said, no really, he could keep it, and he said, really, he wouldn't need it and gave it back to me as soon as he scanned it in. I like that he's artistic. At least he says "hi" to me when we pass in the halls.

I head downstairs with two minutes to spare before the bus comes. As usual, the smell of fresh-baked muffins rises to greet me. As for decorations, my parents have really outdone themselves this year. Streamers and balloons line the front hallway. There's even a piñata in the shape of a spaceship hanging from a hook where a plant used to be.

I'm admiring the piñata when my mother comes out of the kitchen. She's wearing the kiss the cook apron that I got her last Christmas. I think the reason my mother and I get along so well is that she never really judges me or bosses me around like some of my friends' mothers do to them. She usually doles out her advice in one-liners. For the past few years she's kind of kept her distance, except on my Leap Day birthdays, when it's the opposite. I used to wonder why she backed away, but now I think it's the perfect arrangement. This way we rarely fight about anything.

"Do you like the piñata?" she asks, handing me another muffinand-candle combo.

"It's great," I tell her. "But aren't I a little old?" I blow out the candle. World peace, baby.

"The man at the party store said candy-filled piñatas are all the rage at parties for four-year-olds. I think he misunderstood me when I said it was only your fourth birthday, and I didn't have the energy to explain it to him. I figured we'd break it open later when your grandparents get here for dinner. Are you sure you don't want to invite any of your friends?"

"I'm sure," I tell her as I stuff the second muffin into my book-bag. "We're going downtown after dinner, so I'll see them then." My family is pretty cool, but the less time mixing friends and family the better.

"Ah, the Sweet Sixteen Initiation at the lake," she says almost wistfully. "I'd forgotten about that."

My eyes widen. "You know about that?"

"I was sixteen once too, you know. In this very town." She walks to the curb with me and we wait for the bus together. "I promise I won't ask about what you do tonight if you don't ask what I did all those many years ago."

Even though I know my mom would never ask me about my night, I say, "Deal." We shake on it. "But I don't even know what's supposed to happen. No one will tell me."

"That's the downside of turning sixteen before all your friends," Mom says. "Someone has to go first."

"Can you just give me a hint?"

She laughs and shakes her head. "It's different for everyone." "It might not even matter, because if I fail my driver's test I'm not going."

"Oh, that reminds me," she says, reaching into her apron pocket. "Here's the note excusing you from third period."

I take the note and slip it into one of the deep pockets of my cargo pants. "Dad's picking me up, right?"

"He'll be there, don't worry. If you're not going to eat that extra muffin you should give it to Megan. The last time she was here for dinner I swear the girl only ate two kernels of corn."

My mother and my friend Megan Panopolis's mother went to high school together, so Mom treats Megan like a second daughter. Actually, she may show a bit more concern for Megan!

"She won't eat it, Mom. I've tried. She's trying out for the part of Belle in Beauty and the Beast at Disney-MGM this summer and thinks she has to lose weight." Megan and I have promised never to try out for the same part so we'll never jeopardize our friendship. So far it's working great, and we keep each other motivated.

"She's perfectly fine the way she is," my mother insists. "I'm going to have a talk with her mother."

"I don't think it will help," I say as the bus pulls up.

"Good luck with Juliet!" Mom says as I climb the three steps up. "Break a leg!" She waves goodbye as I take my seat by the window next to Katy. Some people would be embarrassed to have their mother wave to them from the bus stop, but I have a very high embarrassment threshold. It has served me well over the years. Katy practically melts into the ground whenever her mother even talks to her in public. Granted, her mother is pretty strange. Ten years of working as the set designer for the "It's a Small World" ride was bound to cause some permanent damage.

Katy says happy birthday and gives me a big hug. I turn around to look for Zoey, who usually sits right behind Katy. Zoey respects the fact that Katy and I are best friends and leaves the seat next to Katy for me. I would do the same for her and Megan, except Megan doesn't take our bus. Zoey isn't in her seat today.

I turn back around. "Where's Zoey?"

"She called me at six-thirty this morning," Katy explains, stretching her long legs out into the aisle. "She had a self-tanning incident."

"Again?" Zoey is so pale she's not allowed to sit in the sun at all. She and her brother both have light red hair and white skin. It looks good on Zoey. Her brother, Dennis, who is a junior, just looks pasty. Although that may be a side effect of staying in his room all day partying and only listening to Pink Floyd. Their mother has this obsession with skin cancer. You'd think their family would have considered that before moving to Florida. This is the third time this year Zoey has had a mishap with self-tanners. I personally think she does it so she'll look like Megan, who has naturally olive-colored skin. Poor Zoey always turns orange instead of olive.

"She'll be at the lake tonight, though, right?"

Katy nods. "Her mother's making her scrub it all off with this special ammonia stuff, and then she'll drive her to school later."

The best-looking guy in our grade, Jason Count, gets on at the next stop. Since everything is working with my appearance today, I'll be brave and smile at him. The corners of my lips begin turning upright in preparation. Then Jason's girlfriend, Erica or Emily or Emma or some such name that starts with an E, steps onto the bus after him.

"She doesn't even live near here," Katy whispers as they take a seat in the back.

"Do you think she spent the night at his house?" I whisper back. Katy turns her head to look at them. "She's practically sitting in his lap."

I steal a glance at them and they do look very cozy with his strong arms around her. I wonder if I'll ever have a real boyfriend to get cuddly with. Andrew was more of a make-out-behind-the-bleachers kind of guy.

"So did you get the car key yet?" Katy asks.

I dig out my key chain and show it to her. "It's the big shiny one that says Ford on it."

"This is the key chain your leapmate sent you, right? I'm surprised he found one with Josie on it. I mean, Pussycats aside, I didn't think it was that popular a name."

"Chris special-ordered them all. He's really sweet."

"Did you ever think of maybe dating him some day? I know he lives on the opposite end of the country, but maybe you could go to the same college or something."

I put the keys back in the side pocket of my bookbag. "I don't think I'm his type."

"Why not?"

"I'm pretty sure he's gay."

She looks surprised. "Why would you think that?"

"Well, for one thing he told me his friends are taking him to a club called The Pink Triangle for his birthday. And once he asked me if it's difficult to get a job singing in the Main Street Parade at Disney."

Katy nods knowingly. "You're probably right, then."

It's a well-known fact at our school that any guy who is either in the Main Street Parade or performs in one of the EPCOT shows is not going to be asking any girls to the prom.

We're still a block away from school when the engine starts sputtering and the bus grinds to a halt. The driver opens the door. "Everybody out."

"Hey," Katy says as we file down the stairs and head toward the school. "At least this time there's no smoke coming out of the back of the bus."

"Soon we'll be in the Shark and won't have to deal with the humiliation of arriving by bus."

"Not soon enough for me," Katy says, pushing open the heavy wooden door at the side entrance of the school.

The halls of the school are covered with bright posters advertising upcoming activities.


My hands itch to pull it down. The fewer people who know about it, the better. Luckily my better judgment prevails. Katy and I continue through the throng of rushing students and part ways at the door of my homeroom English class. She pushes a note into my hand.

"You wrote me one already? School hasn't even started yet." "It's a special birthday note," she says, with an emphasis on the word special. "Make sure no one reads it over your shoulder."

"Okay," I stick the note deep in my pocket. "See you in gym." The bell rings as I slip into my seat. I look up to see happy 4th birthday, josie! on the blackboard. I wonder who wrote it. A bunch of people smile at me as I look around the room, so I can't be sure. Mrs. Greenspan is going through the aisles, handing back last week's homework with the usual bounce in her step. Mrs. G is a great teacher, but she gives more homework than anyone else. She says she does it because she cares. I've yet to figure that one out.

Mitch Hurley probably wrote my birthday message. I know he has a little crush on me because his mother — who is friends with my mother — once found a valentine in his room with my name on it. He never gave me the card, though, so maybe he changed his mind. When Mitch sees me looking at him just now he blushes and then covers his face. Yup, he did it. I think it's kind of funny that anyone would like me. If they only knew what goes on inside my head.

7:00 A.M. – 8:20 A.M.

Chapter 1B: Everyone

In her sleep, Josie Taylor tosses and turns on the floor, unaware she has just smacked her forearm against the side of the bed. Two days from now someone in gym class will ask where she got that nasty bruise, and she'll turn her wrist around and be surprised to see it. She is dreaming that the radio has announced that everyone must take cover — a satellite is falling from the sky. She is running across the lawn at school trying to reach the building, but her legs are all rubbery and she can barely make them move. Every once in a while she makes a little noise and almost, but not quite, pulls herself out of her dream.

Rob Taylor has been awake since 5:30, and now that he's finished his hundred sit-ups, he's instant-messaging online with his girlfriend, Anne Derkin. She's also been awake for a long time because she just colored her hair. She's afraid it has a tint of green to it, but since Rob is colorblind she doesn't think he'll notice.

RaggedyAnne13: so you'll pick me up for school?

FootballRobT: yup. i'll be there early. that way we won't have to rush out of the car, if you get my drift...

RaggedyAnne13: i'll wear the grape lip balm you like so much

FootballRobT: it's the strawberry one that I like :o)

RaggedyAnne13: i'll wear them both ;-)

FootballRobT: gotta go, it's Josie's birthday today and i have to help the rents decorate the house, hang the pinata, that kind of stuff

RaggedyAnne13: WOW, you guys go all out for a birthday. i'm lucky if i get a card from my family!

FootballRobT: really gotta go, i hear her alarm going off. love you

RaggedyAnne13: see u soon

Rob logs off and stares at the little IM box for a few seconds. See u soon.


On Sale
Sep 6, 2006
Page Count
208 pages

Wendy Mass

About the Author

Wendy Mass is the New York Times bestselling author of The Candymakers, Pi in the Sky, Every Soul a Star, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and A Mango-Shaped Space.

Learn more about this author