"Your absolute favorite scene in any movie. I hope you love it."
"I do, Min. I do love it. Where did you find it?"
"I snuck off to Italy and seduced Carlo Ronzi, and when he fell asleep I slipped into his costume archives - "
"Tag sale. Let me put it on you."
"I can tie my own tie, Min."
"Not on your birthday." I fiddled with his collar. "They're going to eat you up in this."
"Girls. Women. At the party."
"Min, it's going to be the same friends who always come."
"Don't be so sure."
"Aren't you ready? I mean, I am. Totally over Joe. That make-out date in the summer, no way. And you. LA was like a million years - "
"It was last year. This year, really, but last school year."
"Yeah, and junior year's started up, the first big thing we're having. Aren't you ready? For a party and romance and Una settimana straordinaria? Aren't you, I don't know, hungry for - "
"I'm hungry for the pesto."
"And for people to have fun. That's it. It's just a birthday."
"It's Bitter Sixteen! You're telling me that if the girl pulled up in the Porcini whatever - "
"OK, yes, the car I'm ready for."
"When you're twenty-one," I told him, "I'll buy you the car. Tonight it's the tie, and something - "
He sighed, so slow, at me. "You can't do this, Min."
"I can find you your heart's desire. Look, I did it once."
"It's the tie you can't do. It's like you're braiding a lanyard. Let go."
"But thank you."
I fixed his hair. "Happy birthday," I said.
"The cardigan's over there when you get cold."
"Yes, because I'll be huddled outside somewhere and you'll be in a world of passion and adventure."
"And pesto, Min. Don't forget about the pesto."
Downstairs Jordan had put on the bitter mix we'd slaved over, and Lauren was walking around with a long wooden match lighting candles. Quiet on the set, is how it felt, just ten minutes with everything crackling in the air and nothing happening. And then with a swoosh of his parents' screen door, a carload of Monica and her brother and that guy who plays tennis came in with wine they'd snitched from her mom's housewarming - still wrapped in silly gift paper - and turned up the music and the night began to begin. I kept quiet about my quest but kept looking for someone for Al. But the girls were wrong that night, glitter on their cheeks or too jumpy, stupid about movies or already having boyfriends. And then it was late, the ice mostly water in the big glass bowl, like the end of the polar caps. Al kept saying it wasn't time for the cake and then like a song we'd forgotten was even on the mix, you stepped into the house and my whole life. You looked strong, Ed. I guess you always looked strong, your shoulders and your jaw, your arms leading you through the room, your neck where I know now you like to be kissed. Strong and showered, confident, friendly even, but not eager to please. Enormous like a shout, well rested, able-bodied. Showered I said. Gorgeous, Ed, is what I mean. I gasped like Al did when I gave him the perfect present.
"I love this song," somebody said.
You must always do this at a party, Ed, a slow shrugging path from room to room, nodding at everyone with your eyes on the next place to go. Some people glared, a few guys high-fived you and Trevor and Christian almost blocked them like bodyguards. Trevor was really drunk and you followed him as he slid through a doorway out of view and I made myself wait until the song hit the chorus again before I went looking. I don't know why, Ed. It's not like I hadn't seen you before. Everyone had, you're like, I don't know, some movie everyone sees growing up, everybody's seen you, nobody can remember not seeing you. But just suddenly I really, really needed to see you again right that minute, that night. I squoze by that guy who won the science prize, and looked in the dining room, the den with the framed photos of Al uncomfortable on the steps of church. It was flushed, every room, too hot and too loud, and I ran up the stairs, knocked in case people were in Al's bed already, picked up the cardigan, and then slipped outside for air and in case you were in the yard. And you were, you were. What would bring me to do such a thing, you standing grinning holding two beers with Trevor sick in Al's mom's flower bed? I wasn't supposed to be looking, not for me. It wasn't my birthday, is what I thought. There's no reason I should have been out here like this, in the yard, on a limb. You were Ed Slaterton, for God's sake, I said to myself, you weren't even invited. What was wrong with me? What was I doing? But out loud I was talking to you and asking you what was wrong.
Excerpted from Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman. Copyright © 2011 by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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