He stopped attending classes.
He read until his eyes were unable to focus.
He was outside the library when it opened and worked until closing. When the director found out what he was doing, she gave him a space in the staff refrigerator. He requested books with titles no one could pronounce. Every photograph was a mirror.
The semester came to an end, and he went home to Los Angeles.
His parents knew he would find out eventually, but couldn't tell him anything new. His small clothes had been too soiled to keep.
He went to the beach with his sister and watched her swim. He sat on the stairs and listened to his family watch television. He took long drives in the middle of the night.
He worked at the family café. They sold croissants and fruit tarts in boxes tied with blue-and-white twine.
One afternoon, after making deliveries, Martin returned to find the front door of the shop locked with the blinds pulled down. After entering through the back door, he was surprised to find the kitchen in darkness. When he reached the counter, the lights came on suddenly and a roomful of people shouted, "Surprise!"
Everyone was dressed up, and there were balloons tied to the chairs. People kissed him on the cheek and forehead. Many of the customers he'd known for years were there, and some of the men wore yarmulkes. Music came on and people clapped.
Martin was stunned. "I don't understand," he said. "Has something happened?"
"We just thought we'd give you a kind of coming-of-age celebration," his mother said.
"It's tradition in many cultures," his father added.
After that, Martin's story was told at every dinner table in Beverly Hills.
Excerpted from The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy. Copyright © 2013 by Simon Van Booy. Excerpted by permission of Harper. 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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