35-word pitch: Eighteen-year-old Chase Winters must use clues from his dead brother Cal's cellphone to rediscover a sibling with another family on the other side of the country now in desperate need of Chase's help.
I'm slouched in a chair in the back row of Professor Monahan's class when I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn and see a flash of Libby's wine red hair.
"What are you doing?" I hiss.
"I had to find you." From her backpack she removes a small white box, dime-sized grease marks staining its sides. "I wanted you to eat this while it was still fresh."
The guy in front of me, the one with undercut hair and Buddy Holly glasses, turns around, flashing us a dirty look.
"Sorry," Libby fires back, her voice growing louder.
Of course I want to know what's in the box. But I hate missing out on what Professor Monahan is saying. Soon the students will debate the finer points of Kurt Vonnegut's Slapstick. Today's the day I finally planned to join them.
I spent the first three months of spring semester sitting outside this class, trying to follow along with discussions about the works of Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors. It was after spring break before Professor Monahan noticed me lurking.
"You might as well join us," she'd said from the doorway, watching me eye college students scurrying past, late for classes they were paying to take. Following her in, I'd parked it in a chair farthest from the front of the room, the same one I've sat my grateful butt in every Wednesday since.
Now I close my dog-earred copy of the book, staring at the blank eyes of a snowman on its cover, trying to avoid the eyes of someone else: Professor Monahan, who's glaring in my direction. She's upset Libby is interrupting her course. One as a high school senior I shouldn't be taking, but want to remain enough in her good graces to come back to, so I follow Libby out the door.
We head for the stairwell, Libby leading the way. She knows the blueprint of nearly every building at Central State University since her parents have taught here since before she was born. It was a given she'd attend Palmer Academy, the two-year, residential high school that's an offshoot of the university, the one with the glossy brochure touting its ranking as the best in Indiana.
Palmer is where I met Libby. She's pretty much the only one of my classmates I've let know me. As in, well enough to know where I'd be at quarter past six on a Wednesday evening.
"Okay," she pants as we reach the fifth-floor landing. "Almost there …"—she leans against the cinderblock wall—"…I freaking hate stairs."
"Whatever treat you brought," I swallow hard, "it better be worth dragging me out of class." I slide down the door to the roof, relishing the feel of the cool metal through the thin cotton of my t-shirt.
Libby's got the white box back out. Facing me, seated with her legs crossed, she roots in her backpack.
"A-ha!" She pulls out two plastic forks, wiping them on her black jeans. Revision Notes on First 500: Appreciate everyone who chimed in on my first draft. Your comments (the confusion about whether Chase was in college and why he'd leave class for a treat) pulled me back to my original first scene, which hopefully better captures the camaraderie between my protagonist and his BFF. Also, I worked Cal (the doomed older brother) in sooner. In about two more pages, readers learn his fate and the story takes off from there.
TITLE: Chasing Cal
Genre: Contemporary YA
PITCH: Chase's dreams of a sibling reunion die the same night his brother does. Now he's convinced all Cal's left behind is a cell phone. The clues it offers are about to prove him wrong.
A bell tinkles and I look up from the words I'm putting down in my notebook.
Liberty Jones stands in the doorway of the Railway Café, her soft curves filling its frame. About time, I think as she slides into our booth.
"Before you get mad," she says, "my excuse today is actually a good one."
This is our routine; I show up early, buy us coffees and pie (Libby: sugar cream, me: pecan). She shows up late, proffering reasons she can't arrive on time—not even for this, our last study session of our senior year at Palmer Academy.
From her messenger bag she removes a white box, lifting its lid. I can't see what's inside, but my nose is bombarded by the scent of cream cheese icing. It overpowers the fry grease smells embedded in the walls of the Railway.
“Is that what I think it is?”
“Uh-huh." Libby's grin matches mine and briefly I'm in a Jules Verne novel, on a journey to prove her dimples reach the center of the earth.
"Mom had a class in Indy. She stopped at Cake Walk on the way home." Libby tilts her head, her red curls falling over her shoulder, light glinting off one of her dangly earrings. "You said once the best cupcake of your life came from there."
I can't believe she recalls this gluttonous confession of mine. "Lib, you didn't—"
"Chase Winters," she interjects. "As if I'd forget your birthday."
I push aside my books and our pie. The slices look sad, their whipped topping deflated and watery. "That's … beyond generous of you," I say, reaching for the box.
"Wait!" She motions for a waitress. "Can we get another plate?"
The next thing I know, a red velvet cupcake the size of my head is revealed.
“Dig in," she pronounces satisfactorily.
I'm removing the cupcake's moist paper liner when she slaps my hand. "Wait!"
I exhale loudly. "What now?" Being denied this cupcake is making me hungry and angry—"hangry" Libby calls it.
Reaching into her leather jacket, she pulls out a candle, pushing it into the cupcake's center. From the other hand, a Zippo lighter, her eyebrows crinkling as she catches a flame. Soon her face is bathed in the warm glow of candlelight.
"I almost forgot. You have to make a wish."
I wait two seconds, eyes locked on hers. Then I lie. "Done."
"Nooo!" She shakes her head. "Close your eyes."
We've taken this childish tribute this far so I do as I'm told. Listen to her hum the "Happy Birthday" song. Then make the same wish I've made since my older brother last saw me blow out a set of birthday candles:
Please be the year I see Cal again.
I open my eyes to see Libby's expression has softened. "What you wished for … did it have something to do with your brother?"
Suddenly I'm too choked up to answer, remembering the first time I told her about Cal.