- Pages: 336 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Viking Books for Young Readers
- ISBN: 9780593525616
An Excerpt From
Last Chance Dance
Friday afternoon, Dev and I are stretched out in my grassy backyard, enjoying the warm spring weather and planning out the perfect summer break trip to the beach with two other couples from school. The sun is beaming down on my bare arms, I’m sitting pretty in my floral romper, and I haven’t seen a bee in the last twenty minutes. All I can think about is how perfect this summer’s going to be. No more SAT prep and college application drama. Final grades will be in soon and college move-in day won’t be for another three months. Dev and I will have plenty of time to enjoy our summer vacation before everything changes. Starting with the road trip to Ocean City.
I flick Dev’s arm. “Tell them we should head out there right after graduation.” So far in the road trip group chat, the girls have been doing all the texting. But I don’t want my boyfriend to look like one of those guys who lets his girlfriend do all the heavy lifting. We’ve always been a partnership, and our group texts should reflect that.
I’m anxious to get this summer started, because it will be the last one Dev and I share together before we become the dreaded long-distance couple. When Dev heads to Cornell in the fall and I move farther up north to Rochester, I want him to remember our last free moments as romantic, full of adventure, and deliciously fun.
“Did you send the text, Dev? I didn’t see anything go through.”
“Your phone’s right in your hands; why don’t you tell them?” Dev says, looking all grumpy even though there are literal birds chirping in the distance.
I point to his phone lying there in the grass. “Because you’re not really saying anything, and it’s getting embarrassing,” I tell him. Not that I’m a show-off or anything, but I do like Dev and me to show a united front—especially in front of the other couple in the group chat.
Ashli Henderson, our class president, and Chad North, the class treasurer, have been going out since the last day of sophomore year. I’m not saying I’m competitive or anything, but I’m not about to have the other big couple at Baldwin High questioning the strength of our relationship.
When Dev still doesn’t reach for his phone, I shoot him an annoyed look, then quickly peck out a few sentences, send, and wait for a response. I don’t have time for Dev’s moodiness today. We need to lock down a vehicle for the trip so the girls can move on to more important things—like swapping bathing suit links.
But when my text clears, Dev looks down at his phone and goes, “Why are you volunteering my mom’s minivan?”
“I mean, you’re going to be using it all the time anyway, to drive from Cornell to Rochester. Your mom won’t care if you drive it to the beach.”
When Dev doesn’t say anything, I start to wonder if his bad mood is the beginning of heatstroke. It is kind of hot out here. I put my hand on his forehead to check for fever. But he instantly swats my hand away.
“Seriously?” I raise an eyebrow at his attitude. “What’s up with you today?”
“Nothing,” he says, looking off in the distance.
I scroll to the four bathing suit options I already have saved in my phone. “Just tell them you’ll drive. Then you can go home to mope around in peace.”
Dev lets out this long sigh. “I’m not doing that, Leila.”
“What, mope around?” I pull up this neon-green two-piece that’s going to slay next to my golden-brown skin. I favorite the photo so I can remember to send this one to the group chat first.
“No. I’m not driving to the beach.”
I look up from my phone. “And why not?”
Dev pauses for maybe the longest minute ever. Then he looks down at his hands and sort of mumbles. “Because I’m not going.”
I exit out of my photo album and glare up at my boyfriend. “Dev, stop being ridiculous. We’ve been talking about doing this beach trip for months. I’m looking forward to getting out of Maryland for a few days. I haven’t set foot in sand since last—”
Dev suddenly turns to me, with this weird look on his face. “Maybeweshouldbreakup—or whatever.”
I grab the bottled water lying next to me and take a nice long swig. “Boy, don’t even play like that.”
Everyone knows that Dev and I are basically the most unproblematic couple at Baldwin High. No screaming fights in the hall. No slamming lockers. No kissing randos to make the other person jealous. So whatever little game he’s playing? Not funny.
“What do you mean, you want to break up?” I wait for Dev’s face to crack into a smile. For him to admit that he’s just trying to get a rise out of me. That maybe he’s just looking for a little extra attention in all the wrong ways. That he would never think of ending what we have.
But Dev isn’t laughing at all. Instead, he’s nibbling away at his fingernails and looking everywhere except in my eyes.
Out of habit, I almost get up to move his hand away from his mouth. But just when I’m pushing myself up off the grass, my ten-year-old sister, Riley, of all people, pops out of nowhere, pointing her camera phone and karaoke microphone in our direction. “What’s going on, you two? Any news you want to share?” My little sister basically steps over me, which forces me back onto the grass. Then she shoves her mic in my (ex?!) boyfriend’s face while my heart thumps hard in my chest.
Dev gives my little sister a noogie. “Riley, where ya been hiding, girl?” Super laid-back vibes—like he’s not right in the middle of breaking my heart. This whole sweet-big-brother vibe irks me a little, so I get up from the ground, brushing bits of grass off my knees. “Riley, go in the house. I need to talk to Dev privately, please.”
“But I’ve been spying on you guys for weeks, waiting for the perfect viral moment for my new podcast and I finally get some potential footage and—”
My sister takes her time inching out of the yard. “Well, if you two need a little on-air counseling, I’ve been taking this free online course on—”
I lunge in her direction.
“Okay, okay.” Riley tucks her phone into her armpit and runs toward the deck. When she’s safely on the other side of the sliding glass door, and—hopefully—out of earshot, I turn back to Dev.
“I must have waxy buildup in my ears. Because I know I didn’t hear you say you want to break up.”
Dev begins nibbling another fingernail. “I love you, Leila. But, like, what’s the point of going to Cornell if I’m going to spend every free minute at Rochester?”
“You don’t like spending time with me all of a sudden?”
“No, I love spending time with you. I mean, it’s not just that—like, you know how I feel about my parents. They’ve never gone out with anyone else. Not even one date.”
He side-glances me. “I just—I just don’t want to wonder . . . what it’s like being with someone else.”
“You like somebody else?” Imagining Dev sliding into another girls DMs immediately makes my knees tremble.
“But you want someone new.” The air holds in my throat as I study his face for signs of betrayal.
Dev’s hands are in his pockets as he paces a few steps back and forth in front of me. “No—I mean, I don’t know how to explain it exactly right.”
Suddenly, the temperature spikes—and it’s too hot. I want to shake some sense into Dev, rattle his brain a little, until he’s thinking clearly again. To be honest, I don’t know what to do. I’ve never been randomly dumped by a person who still has an I Love You GIF in a very recent text thread. And to be even more honest, I’ve never been dumped by anyone, period, because Dev has legit been my only relationship ever. I thought things were going pretty smooth. The entire senior class thinks we’re perfect for each other. I do, too.
For a moment, I simply stare deep into Dev’s eyes, searching for the boy who loaned me his graphing calculator four years ago. The boy who drove seven hours each way to a school I ended up getting rejected from. The boy I love with my entire heart. Whatever this thing is that’s pushing him away from me—whatever the reason—it can’t be real.
My pride wrestles with my emotions, begging me to pretend like this isn’t bothering me at all—like I have at least ten guys waiting in the friend zone for their chance to come off the bench. But our history and my love for him eventually overpower my pride.
And I just say what feels right. “Please, Dev. Don’t ruin our last summer before college.”
Dev rips off another fingernail and spits it in the grass. “I’m not doing this to hurt you, Lei.”
But he is. He is hurting me.
I start walking back toward the house. Dev follows after me, up the deck, through the kitchen, and all the way to my bedroom. For a second, a flicker of hope makes me believe this is a late April Fool’s joke, or that—in some cruel way—Dev’s testing my love for him.
But then he reaches behind my dresser to unplug the PlayStation he keeps at my house.
I look off to the side, and take a deep breath. Then I lose it.
I start crying, right there, in the middle of my bedroom floor. Dev stops packing up his game system to put his arms around me. “I’m not trying to hurt you, Leila,” he says. “But, like, I keep thinking about your mom divorcing your dad because they never saw each other—”
“My mom divorced my dad because he didn’t try.” My voice wobbles like a bike on its last leaking tire. “We were going to make it work. There’s no reason for this.”
And then I start thinking. Was there a reason?
I’m sniffling and sighing, and grabbing tissues from the box on my dresser. Maybe I was planning to make the long-distance thing work all this time—and Dev wasn’t. I wonder if Dev secretly thinks I did the most. Googling the distance from University of Rochester to Cornell. Checking the cost of gas per mile in upstate New York. Making an Excel spreadsheet to budget the cost of making a semi-long-distance relationship work.
Did I scare Dev away with all the plans? And expectations? Did I smother him? Did I—?
My bedroom door thuds.
“Get away from my door, Riley,” I shout, turning away from Dev. And even though she thinks she’s doing a great job sneaking around, I hear the soft padding of my little sister’s socked feet running back to her room.
I start tugging on the three-letter pendant Dev bought me for prom. DNR. Initials that I thought stood for Devrata Naveen Rajan. But now I’m thinking they probably meant Do Not Resuscitate, because Dev clearly wants me dead and gone by way of broken heart.
When I finally pop the chain on the necklace, Dev winces like I’m hurting him. He bends down to pick up the broken necklace and places it on my desk.
More tears well up in my eyes. “You had me walking around school looking like a clown with your initials around my neck, when you didn’t even love me.”
“I did love you, Leila—I mean, I do. Just because we’re breaking up doesn’t mean our love wasn’t real,” Dev says. He reaches out and wipes at a tear that’s suddenly spilled over onto my cheek. “You were the best part of high school.”
I’m unmoved by his pathetic speech, because his words are complete nonsense right now. You don’t get rid of things that are the best. You keep your fridge stocked with the best snacks. You keep the best shows on your favorites list on your Fire Stick. You’re always texting your best friend. You don’t get rid of things and people that are the best.
Dev reaches for my hand, but I snatch it away.
“Come on, Leila. Don’t be like that.”
When I don’t say anything, Dev leans in, kisses me on the cheek, like someone’s grandma, and says, “I know this whole thing feels messed up. But once we’re actually away at school, you’ll see—this had to happen.”
Then? He grabs his phone and his PlayStation. And he’s gone.