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But still, it's good to see Simon, even if it's just to laugh for a little while. He's always been really good at cheering me up. It's a skill I credit to his family's history, a long lineage of people who had no choice but to look on the bright side and cash in on their shortcomings.

Simon's great-grandfather, for example, served in World War I until he fell in the first battle fought by Americans. And when I say fell, I mean he literally fell straight onto his bayonet. But that didn't stop him from becoming a war hero. No, sir. Because his impalement happened only a few seconds after the first shots were fired, he spent the rest of his life bragging to any reported who would listen about his heroic exploits as the first American casualty of the Great War.

Simon's grandfather followed the war hero tradition and became a decorated Korean War veteran, famous for his heroic charge against a battalion of North Korean soldiers in the darkest days of the war. But it turns out most of his war stories weren't exactly true. First, he charged a group of South Korean soldiers. Whoops! And although the press reported him saying, "We will never surrender!" he actually screamed, "We surrender!" After people found out the truth, the government stripped him of all his war medals and he wrote a book chronicling his journey to infamy. It's called From Hero to Zero: America's Most Hated Soldier and it topped the Burgerville bestseller list three years in a row—an accomplishment Simon is proud to point out paid for his braces.

That's probably why Simon can be excited about senior year. Why he can miss Jane and still talk about buying shoes. In the world of the Blackburns, misfortune is just an inevitable stumbling block on the road to fame and fortune.

For some people, though, the past is too heavy; you can only move so far until you start to sink.

Or, since Rich is always correcting my use of second person: I can only move so far until I start to sink.


253 DAYS BEFORE

ALTERNATIVE DIMENSIONS

The first time I actually spoke to Jane was during class the day after she made her grand entrance. Mr. Parker was out sick, which wasn't a surprise, considering his illnesses usually coincided with various comic book conventions. He'd lined up Mr. Coots as a substitute, a man who had perfected the art of taking naps in public places, with schools being his specialty. Coots lost his pinky finger in the Vietnam War and typically spoke as if he were yelling over a helicopter. He always appeared on edge, like he expected the class to rebel and take over. He would read the newspaper and
eventually fall asleep, at which point the class would descend into chaos until the bell rang. Sometimes he'd wake up, look disoriented, as if still caught in a dream, then share the story about how he lost his finger. "You know what I was doing when I was your age?!" he'd bark at the class. Everyone would stop what they were doing and listen.

"I was in 'Nam!" he'd yell.

Blank stares.

"Vietnam!" he'd yell again. "Fighting the North Vietnamese Army! That's how I lost this!"

He'd hold up the stub of his finger and make a biting motion. "Damn NVA soldier bit'er right off!"

Someone would work up the courage to ask him what happened to the soldier, and the story was different every time.


This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition.
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