So. A month from today–April 6–is the official Weeks and Days release date, which is… honestly, I think it hasn’t really sunk in yet. That this is happening. Soon.
Regardless, the book comes out in a month, and in recognition of that, I wanted to give you a small sample of the contents. Weeks and Days doesn’t have chapters, but if it did, this would be the first chapter (or chapters, or partial chapter, depending on how long they were). Call it a teaser, call it a free sample, call it whatever you like; here’s the first part of Weeks and Days.
“Sorry,” Stephen said, without sounding sorry at all. “You’re not on this list.” He paused. “You are, however, on my list.”
I blinked. I was standing in front of the mostly empty candygram table, after school on Valentine’s Day. I should have explained that I knew I wasn’t on the list—that I hadn’t received an over-decorated memo telling me I had hearts to pick up, that I hadn’t even expected to receive such a memo, and that, in fact, I was only hoping I might be able to buy a leftover box for my younger sister. Tammy, at eleven, was just old enough to love Valentine’s Day approximately ten million times more than any other day, but I suspected she hadn’t received anything significant at school, either.
I should have been telling Stephen all of this from the start, before he even asked my name. But I guess I was just too surprised.
Even knowing he was on student council (which in itself was perplexing), Stephen wasn’t the type of person anyone expects to see running a booth for valentines. That said, he was perhaps the only boy in our school who could sit alone behind a table festooned with pink crepe paper and piled with boxes of candy hearts and look neither smug nor uncomfortable. I, meanwhile, was becoming less and less comfortable with every second that passed.
I blinked again. “What?” I said.
Stephen looked up from his second clipboard. “You’re not on the list for a candygram,” he said. “But I made a list of all the girls who weren’t getting one and you’re on there. I bought a couple extra boxes, and I was going to give everybody one heart.”
I stared at him.
“But then I decided that was unwise,” he went on. “It’s probably unsanitary, and it also has the potential to be taken disastrously the wrong way. The boxes have mixed messages, but individually… If I give someone a single heart that says ‘be mine,’ they’re a lot more likely to think I actually mean it than if they get a whole box, where the ‘be mine’ is mixed in amongst seven other phrases. So I decided to do boxes instead, but my budget wouldn’t support one for every girl.
“But,” he said again, “you’re the first girl off my list to turn up, so you get one. Here,” he said, and, without a modicum of ceremony, picked up a box and held it out toward me. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
After a pause that was slightly longer than I wish it had been, I took the box and thanked him. “Good,” I said, and, trying to keep some dignity intact, explained about Tammy. “Now I can just give her this one.”
“No you can’t give it away,” Stephen said, affronted. “It’s a present from me.”
“It’s a pity gift,” I said flatly.
“Well, when you put it that way.”
“I don’t really want a pity gift,” I said. “And also, I’m fairly sure none of the other girls on your list will, either. It’s not about the candy, it’s about getting to think that someone likes you.” Which made my idea of getting something for Tammy seem pretty useless, but then, being eleven, she’d actually eat the candy, which none of my classmates ever did. It was more the idea of it we were after. “You should have just sent them as secret admirers,” I told Stephen.
“There are sixty-two girls on my list,” he said. “I don’t have sixty-two dollars for that kind of thing. It had to be first come, first served.”
“Then you should have just picked at random. Honestly,” I said, “I think most of us would rather get nothing. Can you imagine the humiliation of deciding, hoping against hope, to come up here, just in case your memo maybe got lost, squaring your shoulders and smiling brightly and asking, and then having to be told, by a normal, decent-looking boy, no less, that you’re not on the list, but you are on this other list of losers that he’s made, so here, you get this consolation box of cheap candy.”
Again, Stephen looked affronted. “I paid higher than market value for this,” he said. “These boxes are seventy-five cents each at the grocery store.”
“You didn’t understand the sentiment at all, did you?” I said. “That’s not what I meant by cheap.”
“I did,” he said, then took four more boxes off the pile and held them out to me. “Here. I won’t do any more.”
I was surprised, and so said something asinine. “I don’t really want five boxes of candy hearts.”
“Give them to your sister, then,” Stephen said, and raised his arm a little higher. “These four.”
“But not this one,” I said, giving the first box a small shake. I wanted to, but somehow couldn’t quite roll my eyes. “It’s special, from you, for me.”
“Right,” he said. “Although, if it makes her feel better, you can tell her that these are also special, from me.”
“I doubt that’ll make her feel better,” I said.
“It’d be rather unsettling if it did,” said Stephen. “Especially as I don’t know any eleven-year-olds. It might say some things about your sister that none of us wished to know.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. I thought he was joking, but wasn’t totally sure. “Well, can I at least pay you back?” I asked.
“No, just take them,” he said. “Or hadn’t it occurred to you that perhaps boys like giving things on Valentine’s Day just as much as girls like receiving them?” He paused. “Besides, what else would I do with them? Probably no one else was going to come anyway, and I don’t want five boxes of candy hearts, either.”
“All right,” I said, and took them. “Thanks.”
“Eh,” Stephen said, and shrugged.
When I got home, Tammy was face-down on her bunk bed, sobbing, which she continued to do for the rest of the day, even after I placed all five boxes of hearts on her shelf. I rubbed her back and told her that boys, and especially sixth grade boys, were idiots, and it would all get better in a couple of years.
I didn’t tell her that the reason it had gotten better was that I’d finally managed to stop caring about such things; that wouldn’t have helped. And I certainly didn’t tell her that I hadn’t properly gotten a single Valentine’s token. That wouldn’t have helped, either.
Tammy ate the hearts over the weekend; by Monday, all traces of red and pink had been removed from the school, and I thought that was the end of it. In fact, I’d already all but forgotten about Stephen when, a week and a half later, he came up to me in the hall. We didn’t have any shared classes, and I’d rarely seen him around. I found out later that he’d abused his student council privileges to look up my schedule and find out where my locker was located.
He fell into step beside me and for several moments I thought perhaps we were just coincidentally walking in the same direction at the same speed. Then he cleared his throat and straightened his hat. “Emily, right? About what you said—that I was a normal, decent-looking boy. What did you mean by that?”
“I…” I may have stammered a bit. “I meant what it means, I guess.”
“Oh,” he said. “I don’t suppose when you used the word decent, you used it the way some people do to actually mean, like, mad awesome.” He didn’t really make air quotes, but the way he said “mad awesome” made me hear it like he had. His diction was so precise; with the rounded vowels and clipped consonants, he sounded like a British radio announcer from World War II. Even though the likelihood of a British radio announcer from World War II ever having used a phrase like “mad awesome” is extremely unlikely.
“No,” I told him. “I didn’t.”
Stephen wasn’t mad awesome-looking. That doesn’t mean he was ugly or unattractive, either. But there’s a lot of room between unattractive and mad awesome, at least in my book. He was just normal, like I’d said.
“Well,” he said, seeming unperturbed. “I didn’t suppose you had. But I figured there was no harm asking.”
“Oh,” I said carefully. I didn’t feel that way at all. I hadn’t actually shot him down, but if our places had been reversed, I’d have felt like he had.
Stephen shrugged, and then said, like he knew, “We’re different, you and me. But I don’t intend to waste any more time being shy. Let me be honest. It’s not you, it’s me. Two weeks ago, I didn’t know your name to your face. I know everyone in my class—side effect of being on student council for six years—but you’re not in my class.”
His watch beeped then, four sharp little beeps before Stephen tapped the face, silencing it. Without breaking stride, he dug one hand into his pocket, pulled out a little case and extracted two small, white tablets, put them in his mouth at once, and swallowed. He did this all so matter-of-factly that I almost thought I’d imagined it.
“Until the, er, candygram incident, I didn’t know anything about you,” he went on, as if nothing unusual had happened. “I still don’t know anything about you, other than your name, that nobody sent you anything for Valentine’s, that you have an equally undesired younger sister, and that you think I’m normal.”
For some reason, I latched onto the last part, rather than taking offense at what he’d said about Tammy and, with only negligible misdirection, implied about me. “Normal-looking,” I said, even though I remembered that wasn’t exactly what I’d told him.
Stephen shrugged again. “I’ll take that.”
I wasn’t at all sure what was happening. And, while he may have looked all right, I also wasn’t at all sure any more that normal was an appropriate adjective to apply to Stephen.
He glanced at the numbers on the doorway we were passing. “I can’t accompany you any further in this direction,” he told me. “I’ll be late for seventh period. But we’ll speak again later, all right?” He was still using the English accent.
“Are you for real?” I asked. I couldn’t help it.
He’d already started heading back the way we’d come, but for a few steps he turned, walking backward to look at me. He smiled; it was just the slightest bit crooked. “For now,” he said.
Well, there it is. If you enjoyed it, stick around–a few weeks from now, I’ll post another (probably shorter) excerpt from somewhere in the middle of the book. Want to read the whole thing? You can pre-order a copy, and/or add Weeks and Days to your queue on Goodreads.