Dear Universe - Florence Gonsalves

Prologue

{OCTOBER}

Days ’til prom: Eons

YOU KNOW THAT MOMENT WHEN IT HAPPENS? AND YOUR LIFE goes from one long snore-fart to hell-freaking-yeah? That moment happens for me in, of all places, gym class.

It’s the second month of school and I’m running like a goddamn hero, flag in hand when, “GOTCHA!” someone shouts, ramming into me and tackling me to the ground. They follow up with “Oops, sorry.” It’s a two-hand touch.

“It’s okay,” I say, with a mouthful of grass and the weight of another person compressing my lungs. I roll over as the sun is rising over the portable classrooms that are so run-down a raccoon fell through the ceiling our freshman year. I’d just transferred to Gill School then, and all I knew about the place was it had uniforms. Plaid skirts and small mammals with hand-paws? No, thanks. But when you get kicked out of public school, you can’t really be choosy.

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” the boy asks, and that’s when I get a look at him. He’s wiry, with dark hair and a few pimples and these great bluish-gray eyes that I picture swimming across.

“No, I’m fine,” I say, and I am. I’m still clutching that triangle of highlighter-orange fabric, hardly able to breathe, but I’m better than fine because a boy is finally on top of me.

“Okay, good,” he says, jumping off quickly.

“Come on,” someone from my team calls as they run by. Everyone’s returning to their sides, which means the gym teacher must have blown the whistle, but I didn’t hear it.

“You’re a fast runner,” he says.

“Thanks.” I wipe my brow. “There’s a lot of stuff I can’t let catch up with me.”

He laughs and then we look at each other. You know. Look at each other. Our eyes are like BAM! You’re a body with sex-parts. Let’s get to know each other.

Abigail says she watched the whole thing from jail (she always makes a point to be captured first) and it was a meet-cute like no other.

“I’m Gene-short-for-Eugene Wolf,” he says. “You’re Chamomile, right?”

I nod. “Yep, like the tea, only not as hot.”

He laughs and we walk back to the center of the field, where the team with pinnies (his) is facing the team with stale, wrinkled gym shirts (mine).

“You’re funny,” he says, and I smile. Funny is a new thing for me. Until everything started happening with my dad a few years ago, I didn’t really have to be.

As we walk across the patchy field I try to envision what he sees when he looks at me: long hair that always borders on frizzy, two individually nice but asymmetrical eyebrows, a nose that’s never been pierced. “I was thinking you should come running with me sometime.” He looks over at me and I look back at him, our eyes pleasantly locked.

“I don’t really run,” I say, like the dolt that I am.

“Oh, you should try it.” Then he lists all the reasons: college scholarships, teammates, heart health (which may or may not be true, given that people croak during marathons all the time). “Plus, then we could see more of each other.”

Boom, bang, pop. Heart fireworks. I smile and he grins and Gene-short-for-Eugene Wolf has one of those melting grins that makes you heat up, then drip.

“Okay,” I say as the whistle blows and he puts his hands on his knees, facing me with faux competitiveness across the imaginary line we’re about to cross. “I guess I’ll come running with you.”

So we run. He picks me up outside my house before school, while it’s still dark and the birds are black shapes against a