Erin Downing, Author Erin Downing, Author
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A Funny Thing About Love: Three Book Collection (Dancing Queen, Prom Crashers, & Drive Me Crazy)

Ages 12 & up
Simon Pulse: June 2011

Buy the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, or wherever books are sold!

From Drive Me Crazy:

Prologue: Love, Wisconsin

The first kiss tasted like toasted marshmallows, the sweet and sticky flavor of a summer bonfire. His mouth was soft and warm from days spent outside in the sun at the lake. As they kissed, his hand traced a line up her spine, twisting her insides into spirals. She melted into the kiss and thought about their summer together, weeks of flirting and teasing that had finally progressed to a real kiss on their last night together.

He pulled back and looked at her, his piercing green eyes cutting through the dark night. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. It was the same look he’d given her all summer—but this time it was different, because now she knew where things stood. They had kissed. There was a new kind of bond between them, the kind of connection she’d seen played out in movies and the “Your Stories” section of her favorite magazine. She sighed, as she knew she should, and he leaned in for another taste. When he pulled away, she felt her lips hang on, sticky with marshmallow.

But in one tiny second, the moment of bliss turned to a scene of horror. His hands gripped her arms and his eyes snapped open. His look was no longer teasing; it was terrified. “Kate, my lip is stuck in your retainer.”

Chapter One: New Jersey

Gasp! Kate Rogers’ mouth snapped closed and her eyes popped open, suddenly awake. A tiny trail of drool had begun to escape from her mouth, and she swept the back of her hand across her chin to dry it.

It was the last day of school, so study hall was essentially empty. The few people who had bothered to show up for last period were stealthily sending text messages or paging through magazines while Mrs. Coyle pretended not to notice. Kate was there only because she’d feel guilty if she skipped…even on the last day of school, when she had nothing to study.

Kate glanced around the room to try to figure out who’d seen her napping. As usual, Curtis Chin was watching her from his table across the room. Curtis was a very non-threatening type of creepy. Kate shot him a look, and he eagerly waved at her. Kate was glad Curtis was graduating—she had lucked into study hall with him every semester since ninth grade, and his apparent attraction to her hadn’t faded.

Curtis’s crush wasn’t flattering, since he also harbored an unrequited crush on Kate’s best friend Alexis Goldstein, and had gone so far as to send snail-mail letters with his drawings of fairies and dragons to her other best friend Sierra West. Sierra had graciously thanked Curtis for his kindness and artistry, and gently explained that he wasn’t her type; Alexis just growled at him to “get lost, freak”.

A quick peek at her watch told Kate there were only six minutes left in her junior year of high school. She pulled a magazine out of her bag and flipped through it absentmindedly, thinking about the dream she’d just had. The marshmallow kiss, the feeling of Lucas’s hand tracing its way up her spine, the look in his eyes.

This wasn’t the first time Kate had fallen asleep in study hall, and it definitely wasn’t the first time she’d had that dream. The scene was always the same, an exact replaying of the moment she and Lucas had shared at the end of last summer. In real life, the kiss had been perfect, but the ending was a different version of awful each time she relived the moment in her dreams. Once, Lucas had pulled away because Kate’s dad was standing next to them singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. Another dream ended with Alexis and Sierra both watching their kiss from a judging table, holding up scorecards (she got a 4.4/10).

This time, she wasn’t sure what the deal was…Kate hadn’t worn a retainer during the day since eighth grade (she still wore it while she slept, which is something only Alexis and Sierra knew about). She imagined these freak-out dream endings were just her nerves acting up, wondering what would happen between her and Lucas this summer. They had ended things with such a magical moment at the end of last summer, and had been exchanging flirtatious emails and IMs all year. She couldn’t wait to see him in person in less than a week!

The bell rang, signaling an end to study hall, eleventh grade, and Kate’s years with Curtis Chin. Kate smiled thinly at Curtis as she passed him on her way out the door, then breathed a sigh of relief that he was out of her life for good.

Now that the school year was through, she was just days away from reigniting the fire that had started to simmer last summer. As she had every year for the past ten years, Kate and her family and friends would be spending the next month and a half at the Cattail Cottages Resort in Love, Wisconsin (pronounced Loave, Wis-can-sin, which amused Kate tremendously). This year Kate would finally live out her dream of spending the summer kissing and whispering under the big pine tree, she was sure of it!

Kate grabbed her bag out of her locker, slamming the empty metal cavern shut with a hollow thwack. She had left only a small piece of notepaper tucked into the far back corner, with a tiny “hello you, from kate” scribbled on it. Kate did this every year—a message-in-a-bottle style greeting to whoever moved into her locker the following fall.

Kate was a true romantic, and liked to think that the future inhabitant of her locker would find her note and track her down, and he would end up being the love of her life. This romantic scenario hadn’t yet played out (in fact, this past year, Curtis Chin had moved into Kate’s old locker and the secret note had only fueled the fire of his crush), but she left a little greeting again this year anyway, just in case.

Someday her prince would come.

“Kat!” Alexis hugged her from behind and pushed her toward the front doors. “We’re seniors, Kat! Yaaaaaaah!” Alexis pumped her fist in the air, her long, almost-black hair swinging out behind her.

Alexis had called Kate ‘Kat’ since fourth grade, after Kate had hastily climbed up and even more quickly gotten stuck in a tree, and the fire department had to come and help her down with their big ladder. Just as the nickname had started to fade, in the middle of fifth grade Kate scratched Justin Thornton when he called Sierra “chubster” on the playground. Justin sported a cat-scratch-like mark for about a week, and Kate’s nickname had stuck with Alexis ever since.

“Woo hoo!” Kate cried, hopping off the last two steps toward the front lawn of campus. She and Alexis skipped outside with the rest of the student body, everyone celebrating their summer freedom. It was a muggy New Jersey spring afternoon, and people had rolled up their jeans and sleeves to enjoy the sunshine.

Kate and Alexis sprawled out on the school’s lawn to wait for Sierra, who was probably bidding each and every teacher a personal farewell. Sierra did those sorts of things, which is certainly why she was so successful at everything she did. Sierra had just won student council president for the upcoming school year, and she was pretty obviously going to get valedictorian next year, as well. She’d been given the honorary faculty prize in this years’ awards assembly, earning her a $1,000 college scholarship, compliments of the local business association.

In spite of her good girl, seemingly-perfect exterior, Alexis and Kate loved her anyway. They knew the real Sierra, and she was a lot more fun and interesting than her campaign posters would suggest. “Hey, bitches,” Sierra had slid up behind her two friends on the lawn and whispered this in their ears. Ms. Mohan passed them at that moment and flashed a wave of hello. “Have a fantastic summer, Mrs. Mohan!” Sierra waved, dripping candy sweetness from her sugary smile. Then she turned to her friends and said, “Let’s get this party started!”

Kate grinned. “Eighteen hours until the Girls’ Road Trip hits I-80!” she announced, pulling Sierra’s slides off her slender feet for her. Then she unsnapped her bag and pulled a list out of the interior pocket. “I think we’re just about ready. Are our road trip tunes set?” she asked.

“Check,” Alexis declared, tapping her iPod inside the back pocket of her jeans. “My Road Trip Playlist is so hardcore that you will puke before we get through every song. And I’m making us listen to it until we hit Ohio, just for fun.”

“Snacks?” Kate asked. Her stomach rumbled at the thought.

“Swedish Fish and Diet Cherry Coke!” Sierra clapped. Sierra was a total snack fiend, which you would never guess by her looks. Her “chubster” nickname was long forgotten…she was now as long and willowy as a professional ballet dancer. Her dark skin glowed from within, as though she only ate spinach salad and water. Kate, on the other hand, was average height, “curvy” (Kate called herself “stocky”, which was far from the truth), and subject to skin disturbances every time she approached a French fry or processed sugar.

Kate studied her road trip prep list, growing more excited. For the first time ever, this summer the girls’ parents were letting them drive themselves to Love, and they had been planning their road trip for weeks. “And I have the entertainment covered,” she concluded. “Quizzes from the last six months of four different magazines, maps, travel and accommodation guides…”

“Ooh,” Alexis cut in sarcastically. “Fun!”

“Bite me,” Kate cheerfully shot back, then continued. “…and a detailed map of every possible amusement park along the way, including one that has one of those freaky fortune telling machines.”

Sierra waved at a few girls from her AP History class, then turned back to Kate and Alexis. “I am so excited about this trip, y’all.” Sierra had lived in Birmingham, Alabama, until third grade, and tiny little bits of the south still popped up in her vocabulary every now and again.

“Me, too,” Kate agreed. “My two best friends, the open road, a cute boy waiting for me at the end…” Not to mention that the road trip across country with her two best friends meant that she didn’t have to sit in the back row of her parents’ minivan with her little sister for the almost twenty-four hours drive to the lake house. And Lucas’s warm, tan, scrumptious body was the pot of gold at the end of the road! “I had my dream in study hall again,” she said, lying back on the grass and looking up at the big oak tree hanging over them. “This time, Lucas’s lip got caught in my retainer.” She cringed at the thought of Lucas’s perfectly smooth, scrumptious lip tangled in her mouthgear. Eek.

“By the time you finally get some, you’re going to be so freaked out that you won’t remember how to kiss,” Alexis rolled her eyes. “You’ll see him in a week, Kate. We have almost a week of girl time ahead of us—please tell me that the whole trip won’t be consumed with romantic speculation about your upcoming summer-o’-love.”

Kate smiled at her. “In fact,” she said smugly. “I had planned to talk about Lucas every single moment of each of those days, if you don’t mind.”

Alexis hopped up on her knees and leaned over Kate, her scrawny 104-pound frame silhouetted by the sun above her. “I do mind. I think we’re all pretty clear about exactly what happened last summer—your “magical” kiss,” Alexis wiggled her fingers in the air, “and it’s obvious exactly what needs to happen this summer. I have made it clear that you just need to jump him when we get to the lake, and everyone will live happily ever after.”

“Okay, okay,” Sierra cut in. “Alexis, you must be patient. Kate is preparing for her romantic rendezvous with her summer crush, and it’s our job to be supportive and talk her through it.” She smiled at Kate. “We know Kate wants the big moment to be perfect, and I’m willing to help with that. On the other hand,” she furrowed her eyebrows. “The Lucas talk better stop by the time we get to Pennsylvania, or there will be no Swedish Fish for you. Enough is enough!”

Kate frowned at both of them. But in all fairness, she knew she’d been yammering on and on about Lucas for almost eleven months. She was ready to get some action, and wanted to stop talking about it just as much as her friends wanted her to. But Kate also wanted to make sure that everything was perfectly planned out, so her reunion with her hot, soon-to-be-boyfriend would be as magical as their farewell night together last summer.

Lucas and Kate had been building a serious flirtation for almost three years—ever since Lucas’s family started renting a summer cabin at Cattail Cottages—so their first kiss was a major milestone. Their online flirtations all year suggested he was as ready as she was to take things to the next level as soon as they were together again. Lucas and his family were flying in his dad’s private plane from Winnipeg, Canada, in two days, and were scheduled to be in Love a few days before Kate, Alexis, and Sierra rolled in. Just enough time for him to build up the appropriate level of longing for the moment Kate would arrive.

“I don’t know how you’ve waited a full year to get some,” Alexis declared, settling into a cross-legged position on the grass. “I’m dying, and I saw Kevin when he was home for Spring Break.” She blew her long bangs away from her eyes. “I don’t think our one day stop is going to be enough time to catch up, if you know what I mean,” she giggled mischievously.

Sierra looked at Kate, her eyebrows raised dramatically. Kate laughed, then said, “We get it, Lex.” One of the benefits of the girls driving separately from their parents was that they could stop to visit Alexis’s boyfriend, Kevin, at the University of Michigan en route. He had just finished his first year of college, and was planning to stay in Ann Arbor for a summer internship. Alexis had decided to surprise him with a quick visit.

“I packed my boob shirt,” Alexis announced proudly, just as Mr. Prince, their English teacher, walked past. He covered his ears and cringed. “Sorry, Mr. Prince. Have a good summer!”

“Nice, Alexis,” Kate chided. She abruptly changed the subject away from Kevin—Sierra and Kate thought Alexis’s boyfriend was a creep. Sierra could hold her tongue, but Kate preferred to avoid the subject since she rarely had anything nice to say and often blurted out something she would later regret. “Sierra, is your mom staying the whole month?”

The whole Rogers, West, and Goldstein families spent the summer together at Cattail Cottages Resort. Greg Rogers, Cynthia West, and Sara Goldstein worked as professors together at the University in their town and for the past eleven years, each had taken at least a month off after classes ended to relax and read academic papers by the lakeshore in Wisconsin.

Alexis’s family had found the resort—she and her cousin Adam’s family started going there together when they were babies—and had convinced the West and Rogers families to join them one summer when there was availability in the neighboring cabins. It had become a tradition, and now every year the whole crew caravanned from New Jersey to Wisconsin as soon as school let out.

This summer, the University had finished finals a week earlier than the high school, so the Rogers and West families decided to leave for the lake a little early, after agreeing that the girls could drive out on their own. Alexis’s parents weren’t leaving until next week…most likely so someone’s parents were still around to keep an eye on things until their Road Trip motored off to the west.

“My mom is playing it by ear,” Sierra responded quietly. “She’s not sure how long she’s staying. I think she has a lot going on in the lab this summer, but I’m sure she’s a little freaked about committing to a whole month with my dad.”

“Are they still in the test phase?” Kate asked. Sierra’s parents had been separated off and on for the past year, and only just recently returned to “half-on”.

“Yes,” Sierra muttered. “Their new therapist is big on ‘demonstrating your feelings’, which means they’re constantly kissing and hugging and rubbing each others’ hands. It’s completely disgusting, and Sasha and I are both concerned that a summer cooped up with them in a tiny little cabin in the middle of nowhere could be brutal.”

Alexis chuckled. “Perhaps they’ll consider your feelings before demonstrating theirs when it’s just the four of you in two small rooms.”

Suddenly, a soccer ball landed in the middle of the three girls, leaving a muddy print on Kate’s road trip prep list. “Yo, pass that back!” A guy with dark, shaggy hair snapped his fingers. All three girls just looked at him. “Hello? Toss me my ball.”

“Adam, you kicked it at us—walk over here and get it yourself.” Kate laid on her back in the grass, idly watching the clouds. Adam was Alexis’s cousin, and Kate had known him for years. Not only were Adam and his two brothers over at Alexis’s house most weekends, but Adam’s family also rented one of the cottages at Cattail Resort every summer.

When they were younger, Kate and Adam had actually sort of been friends—especially during their time at the lake. Their idea of fun almost always overlapped, and he used to be downright hilarious. But as the years had passed, his humor had turned to arrogance, and what used to be fun just came across as rude and inappropriate the older they got.

The end of Kate’s patience was in sixth grade, when Adam spread a rumor around their new middle school about Alexis sleeping with a whole collection of Barbie dolls every night (which was only a little bit true…it was just Malibu Barbie and a Ken doll, but the specifics were irrelevant). Alexis was tortured for the first three weeks of school, and most people called her Baby G for the rest of the school year. She couldn’t shake the nickname until she started dating—and kissing—Kyle Stevenson, the captain of the football team, and he forced people to shut up already.

Kate hated Adam for ruining her friend’s reputation (if only temporarily). But also because Adam was a prick with a serious sense of self-righteousness, and a bossy, argumentative streak that bothered her immensely.

Out of the corner of her eye, Kate watched Adam lift his eyebrows and move toward them to get his ball. “Okay, Kate, if you want to be a bitch about it, that’s the way we can play it.” When Adam reached the edge of their circle, he didn’t stop moving—he stepped on Kate’s stomach and walked over her. He grabbed his ball, turned, and lifted his foot to step on her again.

Kate sat up, grateful for her Abs of Steel workout video, and nimbly grabbed Adam’s ball out of his hands. Ignoring the muddiness, she shoved the ball inside her shirt and declared, “This is the way we can play it, Adam.” She held her arms across her stomach and shoved her bag in her lap to hide the ball. She knew she was being childish, but her adrenaline had kicked into high gear. She hated Adam and was sick of the way he always did whatever he wanted to. “Now, run back to your friends and find a new game. We’re through with you here.”

Alexis and Sierra exchanged a look. They knew Kate was stubborn, but they both knew Adam was just as much so. This war could go on for hours. With a tiny little smirk, Alexis leaned back to watch the drama unfold. Sierra looked mildly uncomfortable, but was clearly enjoying the scene.

“I see,” Adam said, crossing his arms over his chest. “So you’re telling me that you like my ball inside your shirt? You’d like to keep it there?”

“All I said,” Kate spat back at him, ignoring his totally lame attempt at sexual humor, “is that you can run along now.” She held her hand up like a stop sign and yawned. “You’re boring me.” Kate was mortified at the way she was acting. She sounded like a third grader…or Adam. He totally brought out the worst in her.

“Well, this should make things a little more interesting for you,” Adam grinned, bent down, and pulled Kate’s bag out of her lap. In the single moment it took for this to happen, Kate lost her concentration. So when Adam’s hand reached up her shirt and pulled the ball out, she just sat there staring. “I hope that was fun for you,” Adam said. “Since that was one sexy move, and probably the only action you’ll get this summer.” With a wink and a snap of his fingers, he trotted off to re-join his buddies, leaving Kate, Alexis, and Sierra staring after him.

Kate felt her skin burn where he had touched her—her heart was racing, and the anger bubbled up inside. Had it been anyone other than Adam, she would have been blushing. Because as far as Kate was concerned, there was nothing sexier than a good, well-fought fight.

© Erin Soderberg Downing

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