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Struck

Contents

chapter one

chapter two

chapter three

chapter four

chapter five

chapter six

chapter seven

chapter eight

chapter nine

chapter ten

chapter eleven

chapter twelve

chapter thirteen

chapter one

It was one of those days when you don’t even want to step outside—a bleak and windy Sunday in November. And of course my mom asked me to run to the store. She was craving clam chowder. Clam chowder, of all the stupid things! The New England kind. Not the Manhattan kind. And she wanted it, like, right away.

“There’s some money in my purse, Claire. It’s in the hallway on the table.”

She wasn’t even looking at me. She was flopped on the sofa with the clicker in her hand, flipping through the channels.

“Why can’t you go, Mom? I’m kinda busy right now.” Why don’t you get out of the house yourself for a change? You’re getting so fat and lazy! That’s what I really wanted to snap back at her. But I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. They’d been hurt enough lately.

“My arthritis is acting up again,” she said. “My feet are killing me.” This was her usual excuse. She used to cope with it and just carry on with her day—before Dad left, that is. Ever since then, she’d been housebound. And at fifteen, I didn’t want a stay-at-home mom anymore. She needed to get out and get on with her life. But Dad packed her zest for life into his suitcase and took it with him. I didn’t miss him at all, but she sure did.

Besides, I had better things to do that day than running errands for my mom. I had a math test to study for, and I needed to pull up my lousy marks. I also wanted to memorize a dramatic monologue for an audition at school. Oh, and there was daydreaming about Eric. That was always a priority. He was stuck in my head like a burr on your sleeve. There was nothing I could do to shake him off.

The only problem was, I didn’t stand a chance. Eric was going out with my number one rival, Lucy. She was one of the most popular girls at school—one of those girls that you never feel cool enough to be friends with. Lucy wins at everything by hardly even trying, and she is always surrounded by a flock of friends. I’d secretly wished she would be my friend. But Lucy and I had never been close the way my best friend Seema and I were. Lucy and I talked sometimes, during drama and English class, and said “hi” in the halls, but that was about it.

Sometimes I had fantasies about putting that girl out of my misery. But that’s all they ever were, crazy, twisted fantasies. Like, what if she walked a little too close to the edge of the stage one day and “accidentally” fell off and broke her ankle? I’d have to take over her role in a play—and I would totally rock the part. I wished I could control my vivid imagination, but it just wasn’t happening.

I left for the store just as the first fat raindrops started to pelt my head. A mushy mixture of rain and snow, they felt like icy needles on my scalp. I hurried along the sidewalk, thinking about my mom the entire time. I thought about the way she didn’t care about herself and about her lack of interest in anything these days. She’d turned into a boring lump. I would never let my life turn out like hers. I would never be like her.

Dad had ditched us a few months earlier because of what he called a “midlife crisis.” Mom seemed to be curling into herself like a snail into its shell. She hardly ever showered, she hardly ever moved. I didn’t miss Dad’s lousy moods or his hair-trigger temper. Or the way he used to grab Mom by the arm and squeeze until he left a bruise. I sure couldn’t figure out why she missed it.

Her face was always a blank mask, her eyes dull and staring. She was always sighing. Oh, and asking me to run to the store to pick up random stuff that she had a craving for. Sometimes it was weird, like a jar of pickled herring, or a box of instant mashed potatoes. I’d have to drop everything I was doing and run to the store. Just like today.

Why, I wanted to ask her, does your suffering have to interfere so much with my life? Why can’t I talk to you about some of the things that are bugging me so much these days? Why is it always about YOU? But these days mouthing off didn’t even make her flinch, she was in such a sad headspace.

My life was in need of a major overhaul too. But I had no idea how I could possibly change it. There’s not much you can do if you suck at math. I could study harder, maybe, but that had never worked for me in the past. And how do you “get the guy” when there’s so much competition out there. It was the same thing with that coveted role in the play, the one I was going to audition for. I knew I didn’t stand a chance.

The clouds were low now and purple as a bruise. Shivering, I began to run toward the main street. As the slushy rain spattered my face, curse words spilled from my lips for forgetting my umbrella. I stopped on the corner and waited for a break in traffic before stepping off the curb. For an instant I imagined how guilty my mom would feel if I got struck by a car while I was on an errand for one of her dumb cravings.

When I reached the plaza a few minutes later, I spotted it right away, stuffed into a trash can outside the supermarket doors. Thinking back, maybe I should have just run right past it.

I stopped to check it out. It was an umbrella in gorgeous rainbow shades, like stained glass or a kaleidoscope. Someone had left it there in the can. Broken, I thought. I spun a glance around to see if anyone was watching, then yanked it out by the curved handle and snapped it open.

It was perfect. I closed it, tucked it under my arm and hurried into the store. When I stepped out a few minutes later, it was as if someone had opened a drain in the sky. I popped the umbrella open and started walking, dreading the sight of Mom sprawled on the sofa when I got back. Of course she would be waiting for me to deliver her food.

I spun the umbrella in my hands, dwelling on all the stuff that was bothering me. It seemed as if everything was going wrong for me. Sometimes I thought I might be turning into my mom—as if her bad luck was rubbing off on me. If only, somehow, my luck could change. That’s exactly what I was thinking when it happened.

First there was a brilliant flash of what could only have been lightning. I shrieked as a sharp pins-and-needles jolt shot up my arm. I was so shocked that I dropped the umbrella. My hands were shaking, my whole body vibrating. And my heart was thumping hard. It felt almost like a brush with death!

I looked up at the sky waiting for the coming thunderclap. But it never came. I frowned as I wiped the raindrops from my face.

Cripes, that was close! I thought, picking up the umbrella. And too weird!

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