Here is an excerpt from my upcoming novel Unthoroughly Modern. More details on it coming soon.
A month after she met her dad, Millie had mostly returned to normal. Everyone stopped asking her if she was okay every time they saw her, and Fran chilled out on acting so motherly. It was hard enough having one overly concerned mom smothering her all the time, so two was just too much for Millie.
Sam didn’t tell her again that he loved her either. He must have felt really sorry for her and figured she needed to hear those words from someone–anyone–so he made himself the martyr. And then there was the kissing thing. Sam kissed her everywhere but her mouth. Forehead. Cheeks. Neck. Hands. Whenever Millie got too close to his lips, he would turn his head just enough so their mouths would fall short of touching. She tried not to let it frustrate her too much, but it was all she ever thought about.
“It’s getting super weird,” Mike said over breakfast in the dining hall one February morning.
“You need to have a talk about it,” Fran told her.
“I can’t.” Millie crinkled her nose.
Mike: “It’s an awkward conversation for sure.”
Millie: “He might tell me something really heartbreaking.”
Fran: “About him?”
Millie: “About me. Like maybe my breath smells. Or I’ve got bad teeth. Or my lips are too dry. Or–”
“There isn’t anything wrong with you, Millie,” Mike interrupted her. “If a guy wants to kiss you, he’ll overlook those things.” Fran punched him in the shoulder. Mike didn’t realize what he said was bad until he said it. He looked at Millie apologetically.
That was what Millie dreaded the most. That Sam just didn’t want to kiss her. It didn’t make any sense. Why would he spend so much time with her if he didn’t want to be intimate? There was something mysterious festering deep within Millie that demanded physicality to keep from becoming dangerous. It was the Mr. Hide to her Dr. Jekyll. Sam gave her some of him, but she needed all of him.
“I’ll talk to him,” Millie said, running her fingers through her hair. Why not? She was treading far too close to the dark side to let herself fall completely.
“Hey, are you still a size extra small with this?” Mike asked, pointing at his own shoulders.
Millie clenched her face. “What does this”–she mimicked his shoulder pointing–“mean?”
Mike shrugged, desperately trying to phrase himself correctly. “Well, you know, now that your shoulders are bigger.”
“My shoulders aren’t bigger.”
But her shoulders were bigger. She’d gained ten pounds since she began her tire flipping class, and her clothes were fitting a little more snug. Her shirts fit tighter and would make weird ripping sounds whenever she leaned forward or tried to take them off. And jeans…She’d stopped wearing jeans entirely.
“They’re not like huge or anything,” Mike added. “You can just tell you’re strong.”
Millie made sure her shoulders were covered by her cardigan. “I guess I’m not totally an extra small anymore.”
“You look awesome,” Fran nodded. It was easy for her to say. She was Audrey Hepburn thin.
“You do,” Mike said. “If I was some creep I’d worry you’d be the one to attack me.”
On the first night that Millie stayed in her dorm room with Ophelia sleeping in Fran’s old bed, she got very little rest. The second time she stayed awake for awhile but eventually dosed off. By the third night she was sleeping more than half the night. She just thought so much about the person on the other side of the room, being very aware of Ophelia’s existence from the way she breathed in heavily and exhaled through her mouth while she slept, to the way that she seemed to switch positions every thirty minutes.
Millie didn’t really act this way with Fran on the count that Fran was such a silent sleeper. She didn’t move or make a sound. If Ophelia had been a silent sleeper, then Millie wouldn’t be so obsessed with listening in agony as Ophelia tossed and turned throughout the night.
And Millie didn’t have a problem with Ophelia. Ophelia was a nice girl. She was always trying to hang out with Millie, inviting her to this vegan place called Cafe Veinticinco every time they would cross paths in their room, which Millie ensured didn’t happen very often. Millie just didn’t want to live with anyone. Maybe she would live with Sam, but they didn’t even kiss. Living with him would be like having a platonic roommate that you spooned every night.
Millie’s morning class had been canceled, so she stayed in her room to read a book for her Unconventional Fiction class.
After an hour of reading, she set her book on her bed. She took out a can of furniture spray from the closet and cleaned off her dusty desk. She thought it might be nice of her to clean Ophelia’s desk, too, so she removed Ophelia’s only desktop belongings (her laptop, an empty fruit bowl and like seventeen crystals), wiped the desk clean, then put everything back. She even sort of wiped the crystals down so they were shiny.
Ophelia walked in with a recyclable grocery bag. “Hey girl,” Ophelia smiled at Millie and placed the bag on her desk, pulling out two clear bottles of organic shampoo and conditioner. She was breathing heavy, a sign that she walked to the farmer’s market a mile away from campus. Everything was a mile away from campus.
“Hi,” Millie said and went back to reading.
Ophelia was silent for a minute, taking out all of her market finds, when Millie heard her ask, “Did you touch my crystals?”
Millie looked up from her book. “Um…”
“They’re facing away from the window.”
“Because I wiped your desk.”
Millie shrugged. The book moved with her shoulders. “Furniture spray.”
“You put chemicals on my desk?”
“Your desk has had chemicals on it before,” Millie said, getting defensive. “A few more chemicals won’t hurt it.”
Ophelia held her hands up in disbelief. “My crystals are facing away from the window.” She took a deep breath. “And that’s bad luck, child.”
“One, I’m not a child, I’m a year older than you, and two, you can make it all better by facing them toward the window again.”
“How long have they been like this?”
“Twenty minutes or so.”
Ophelia screamed. She shuffled all the crystals so they faced the window once more, then she turned to face Millie. “Don’t touch anything on my desk again. I can buy something to clean it with. Open the window.” She walked over to the tiny window and opened it, putting a little force into pushing it up. “To get the chemicals out. Our lungs deserve more love than that.”
“My lungs get plenty of love, thanks.” Millie went back to her book.
“Doesn’t it bother you that you’re breathing in deadly toxins?”
Millie kept reading. “Not really.”
“I’m bothered for you,” Ophelia walked back to her desk. She said some things about how awful it was that we were still using chemicals to clean our homes (they should be treated like temples) and called Millie a child again when there was a knock at the door.
Ophelia, still talking to herself, went to the door and opened it. Sam was standing outside with his hands behind his back. He smiled at Ophelia. “Ophelia,” he said.
“Hey, boo boo,” Ophelia said with distress in her voice. She turned around and headed for her bed.
Sam walked in, looking at Millie sitting quietly on her bed, and Ophelia frantically trying to gather her things to get far away from their toxic space. “Did something happen?” Sam asked cautiously.
“Millie cleaned my desk with furniture spray.” Sam raised his brows. “And she faced my crystals toward the wall.”
Sam gasped. “Millie, how could you?”
Millie threw her hands up. “How was I supposed to know?”
“It’s bad luck.” Millie rolled her eyes. Sam sat down at the foot of her bed.
“I’ll be out for the rest of the afternoon,” Ophelia said, swinging a tote bag over her shoulder. “That imposter smell of lemon should be gone by the time I get back.”
“Stay safe, Ophelia,” Sam said.
“Thank you, boo boo.” Ophelia shut the door behind her.
Sam turned back to Millie. He tapped her foot with a pointed finger. “Do you know what this weekend is, particularly this Sunday? It’s a very big day.”
Millie thought about it. “February fourteenth?”
“Precisely.” Sam held up his index finger. “But this weekend is a very special weekend. Because not only is it Valentine’s Day, it’s also someone’s half birthday.”
Millie furrowed her brows.
“It’s yours,” Sam smiled. He was talking like a commander giving an inspirational speech just before battle. “There’s more. I got to thinking about the awesome things we could do on your Valentine’s Day/half birthday weekend, when I realized that we’ve been together for two months now and we haven’t even had a proper date since North by Northwest. Where I take you out and pay for everything.”
Millie didn’t say anything. She just listened, so Sam continued, “So then I got to thinking about what great things we could do for Valentine’s Day/your half birthday/our second real date.” He titled his head to the side after he listed off each event. “And I got an idea.”
“What are you thinking?”
Sam’s mouth grew wide. “Dinner and a movie.”
“We did that last time.”
“Exactly.” Sam placed his hand on hers. “And I want to do it again.”
“So dinner and a movie for Valentine’s Day/my half birthday/our second date?”
“That’s just Friday. On Saturday I want us to go camping at Pyramid Lake.”
Millie lowered her chin. What was he thinking? “In a tent? With like, bears and snakes?”
“In a tent with nothing to be too concerned about. The bears and snakes will be outside.”
“Um, okay. Let’s do it.” Millie nodded enthusiastically.
Sam smiled. “Great,” he said, his smile fading as he looked into Millie’s eyes. He leaned forward, his curvy lips going into a pout. This was it. It was finally happening. They were going to kiss, and it was going to be awesome. Millie leaned in closer, and shut her eyes. Then she felt a quick gush of air blow in her face. She opened her eyes. Sam was staring at her attentively, but his focus was on something below her eye. “You’ve got an eyelash that won’t come off.” He wiped it away with his finger, then gave Millie one nod of accomplishment.