Our chemical hearts, p.1
Our Chemical Hearts,
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
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Copyright © 2016 by Krystal Sutherland.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Sutherland, Krystal, author. Title: Our chemical hearts / Krystal Sutherland.
Description: New York, NY : G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 
Summary: “When high school senior Henry Page meets Grace Town, he finally experiences the ups and downs of first love”—Provided by publisher.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016008728 | ISBN 9780399546563 (hardback)
Subjects: | CYAC: Love—Fiction.
Classification: LCC PZ7.1.S883 Ou 2016 | DDC [Fic]—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016008728
eBook ISBN 9780399546587
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my family, for everything, forever.
I ALWAYS THOUGHT the moment you met the great love of your life would be more like the movies. Not exactly like the movies, obviously, with the slow-mo and the hair blowing in the breeze and the swelling instrumental soundtrack. But I at least thought there would be something, you know? A skipped beat of the heart. A tug at your soul where something inside you goes, “Holy shit. There she is. Finally, after all this time, there she is.”
There was none of that when Grace Town walked into Mrs. Beady’s afternoon drama class ten minutes late on the second Tuesday of senior year. Grace was the type of person who made an impression on any room she walked into, but not for the kind of reasons that generate instant and undying affection. She was of average height and average build and average attractiveness, all things that should’ve made it easy for her to assimilate into a new high school without any of the dramatic tropes that usually inhabit such storylines.
But three things about Grace immediately stood out, before her ordinariness could save her:
Grace was dressed head to toe in guys’ clothing. Not the tomboy, skater-girl kind of look, either, but legitimate dudes’ clothing that was way too big for her. Jeans that were meant to be skinny were held on her hips by a belt. Despite it being only mid-September, she wore a sweater and a checkered shirt and a knit cap, and a long leather necklace with an anchor on the end.
Grace looked unclean and unhealthy. I mean, I’d seen junkies that looked in better shape than she did that morning. (I hadn’t really seen that many junkies, but I’d seen The Wire and Breaking Bad, which totally counts.) Her blond hair wasn’t brushed and was badly cut, her skin was sallow, and I’m almost certain if I’d smelled her at any point during that day, she would’ve reeked.
If all this wasn’t enough to really screw over her chances of fitting in at a new high school, Grace Town walked with a cane.
And that’s how it happened. That’s how I first saw her. There was no slow-mo, no breeze, no soundtrack, and definitely no skipped heartbeats. Grace hobbled in ten minutes late, silently, like she owned the place, like she’d been in our class for years, and maybe because she was new or because she was weird or because the teacher could see simply by looking at her that a small part of her soul was cracked, Mrs. Beady said nothing. Grace sat on a chair at the back of the black-walled drama room, her cane resting across her thighs, and said nothing to anybody for the entire class.
I looked at her twice more, but by the end of class I’d forgotten she was there, and she slipped out without anyone noticing.
So this is certainly not a story of love at first sight.
But it is a love story.
THE FIRST WEEK of senior year, before Grace Town’s sudden apparition, had passed by as uneventfully as high school possibly can. There’d been only three minor scandals thus far: a junior had been suspended for smoking in the girls’ bathroom (if you’re going to get suspended for something, at least make it something not cliché), an anonymous suspect had uploaded footage of an after-school fight in the parking lot to YouTube (the administration was freaking out over that one), and there were rumors going around that Chance Osenberg and Billy Costa had given each other an STD after having unprotected sex with the same girl (I wish I was making this up, dear readers).
My life had remained, as always, entirely scandal-free. I was seventeen years old, a weird, lanky kid, the type you might cast to play a young Keanu Reeves if you’d already spent the majority of your budget on bad CGI and craft service. I’d never so much as secondhand-smoked a cigarette, and no one, thank God, had approached me about doing the no-pants dance sans a prophylactic. My dark hair skirted my shoulders, and I’d grown particularly fond of wearing my dad’s sports coat from the eighties. You could say I looked something like a male Summer Glau crossed with Severus Snape. Subtract the hook nose, add in some dimples, and hey presto: the perfect recipe for one Henry Isaac Page.
I was, at the time, also uninterested in girls (or guys, in case you were wondering). My friends had been in and out of dramatic teenage relationships for close to five years now, but I had yet to even have a real crush. Sure, there’d been Abigail Turner in kindergarten (I’d kissed her on the cheek when she wasn’t expecting it; our relationship rapidly declined after that), and I’d been obsessed with the idea of marrying Sophi Zhou for at least three years of elementary school, but after I hit puberty, it was like a switch inside me flipped, and instead of becoming a testosterone-driven sex monster like most of the guys at my school, I failed to find anyone I wanted in my life in that way.
I was happy to focus on school and getting the grades I needed to get into a semi-decent college, which is probably why I didn’t think about Grace Town again for at least a couple of days. Maybe I never would’ve if it wasn’t for the intervention of one Mr. Alistair Hink, English teacher.
What I know about Mr. Hink is still very much confined to what most high schoolers know about their teachers. He
Hink was also fiercely passionate about the English language, so much so that on one occasion when my math class was let out five minutes late and thus ate into our English lesson, Hink called up the math teacher, Mr. Babcock, and gave him a lecture about how the arts were no less valuable than mathematics. A lot of students laughed at him under their breaths—they were mostly destined for careers in engineering or science or customer service, I suppose—but looking back, I can pinpoint that afternoon in our sweltering English classroom as the moment I fell in love with the idea of becoming a writer.
I’d always been decent at writing, at putting words together. Some people are born with an ear for music, some people are born with a talent for drawing, some people—people like me, I guess—have a built-in radar that tells them where a comma needs to go in a sentence. As far as superpowers go, grammatical intuition is fairly low on the awesomeness scale, but it did get me in with Mr. Hink, who also happened to be in charge of running and organizing the student newspaper I’d volunteered at since sophomore year in hopes of one day becoming editor.
It was about midway through Mrs. Beady’s Thursday drama class in the second week of school when the phone rang and Beady answered it. “Henry, Grace. Mr. Hink would like to see you in his office after school,” she said after chatting for a few minutes. (Beady and Hink had always been friendly. Two souls born in the wrong century, when the world liked to make fun of people who still thought art was the most extraordinary thing humanity ever had or ever would produce.)
I nodded and purposefully didn’t look at Grace, even though I could see in my peripheral vision that she was staring at me from the back of the room.
When most teenagers get called to their teacher’s office after school, they assume the worst, but like I said, I was tragically free of scandal. I knew (or hoped I knew) why Hink wanted to see me. Grace had been an inmate at Westland High for only two days, hardly long enough to have given another student trichomoniasis and/or handed out any after-school beatdowns (although she did carry a cane and look angry a lot).
Why Mr. Hink wanted to see Grace was—like much else about her—a mystery.
GRACE WAS ALREADY waiting outside Hink’s office when I got there. She was dressed in guys’ clothing again today, different stuff this time, but she looked a lot cleaner and healthier. Her blond hair had been washed and brushed. It made a remarkable difference to her appearance, even if having clean hair made it fall in uneven chunks around her shoulders, like she’d cut it herself with a pair of rusted hedge trimmers.
I sat down next to her on the bench, entirely too aware of my body, so much so that I forgot how to sit casually and had to purposefully arrange my limbs. I couldn’t get my posture right, so I kind of slumped forward into an awkward pose that made my neck ache, but I didn’t want to move again because I could see her looking at me out of the corner of her eye.
Grace was sitting with her knees pressed up against her chest, her cane wedged between them. She was reading a book with tattered pages the color of coffee-stained teeth. I couldn’t see the title, but I could see that it was full of poems. When she caught me looking over her shoulder, I expected her to close the book or angle it away from me, but instead she turned it ever so slightly toward me so that I could read too.
The poem Grace was reading, I assumed over and over again because the page was dog-eared and food-stained and in generally bad shape, was by a guy called Pablo Neruda, whom I’d never heard of before. It was called “I do not love you,” which intrigued me, so I started to read, even though Hink had not yet succeeded in making me like poetry.
Two lines in particular had been highlighted.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
Hink stepped out of the office then, and Grace snapped the book shut before I could finish.
“Oh, good, I see you’ve met,” said Hink when he saw us together. I stood up quickly, keen to unravel myself from the weird position I’d folded my body into. Grace shuffled to the edge of the bench and rose slowly, carefully distributing her weight between her cane and her good leg. I wondered for the first time how bad her injury was. How long had she been like this? Was she born with a bad leg or did some tragic accident befall her in childhood? “Well, come inside.”
Hink’s office was at the end of a hall that might’ve been considered modern and attractive sometime in the early eighties. Pale pink walls, fluorescent lighting, painfully obvious fake plants, that weird linoleum that’s supposed to look like granite but is actually made up of hundreds of little bits of plastic filled in with clear laminate. I followed Hink, my steps slower than they normally would be, because I wanted Grace to walk next to me. Not because I wanted her to, like, walk next to me, you know, but I thought she might like it, that it might be a nice thing to do, for her to be able to keep up with someone. But even when my pace felt maddeningly slow, she still hung back, hobbling two steps behind me, until it felt like we were in a race to see who could go the slowest. Hink was ten steps in front of us by then, so I sped up and left her behind and must’ve looked like a total weirdo.
When we reached Hink’s office (small, bland, green-tinged; so depressing it made me think he was probably part of a fight club on the weekends), he ushered us inside and motioned for us to sit in the two chairs in front of his desk. I frowned as we sat down, wondering why Grace was here with me.
“You’re both here, of course, because of your exceptional writing abilities. When it came time to pick our senior editors for the newspaper, I could think of no two better—”
“No,” said Grace Town, cutting him off, and her voice was such a shock to me that I only just realized it was the first time I’d heard her speak. She had this strong, clear, deep voice, so different from the broken and timid image she portrayed.
“I beg your pardon?” said Hink, clearly taken aback.
“No,” Grace said again, as if this were explanation enough.
“I . . . I don’t understand,” said Hink, his gaze flicking to me with this pleading look in his eyes. I could practically hear his silent scream for help, but all I could do was shrug.
“I don’t want to be an editor. Thank you, really, for thinking of me. But no.” Grace collected her bag from the floor and stood.
“Miss Town. Grace. Martin came to me specifically before the start of the school year and asked me to look at your work from East River. You were going to take over as editor of their newspaper this year, I believe, if you hadn’t transferred. Isn’t that right?”
“I don’t write anymore.”
“That’s a shame. Your work is beautiful. You have a natural gift for words.”
“And you have a natural gift for clichés.”
Hink was so shocked that his mouth popped open.
Grace softened a little. “Sorry. But they’re just words. They don’t mean anything.”
Grace looked at me with this kind of disapproving expression I wasn’t expecting and didn’t understand, then slung her backpack over her shoulders and limped out. Hink and I sat there in silence, trying to process what’d just happened. It took me a good ten seconds to realize that I was angry, but once I had, I, too, collected my bag and stood quickly and made my way toward the door.
“Can we talk about this tomorrow?” I said to Hink, who must’ve guessed that I was going after her.
“Yes, yes, of course. Come and see me before class.” Hink shooed me out and I jogged down the corridor, surprised to find th
“Hey,” I said breathlessly when I finally caught up with her and fell in step beside her.
“What?” she said, still speed walking, the end of her cane clicking against the road with every step. A car behind us beeped. Grace pointed violently at her cane and then waved them around. I’d never seen a vehicle move in a way I’d describe as sheepish before.
“Well . . . ,” I said, but I couldn’t find the words to say what I wanted to say. I was a decent enough writer, but talking? With sounds? From my mouth? That was a bitch.
“Well, I hadn’t really planned this far into the conversation.”
“You seem pissed.”
“I am pissed.”
“Because people work their asses off for years to get editor, and you waltz in at the beginning of senior year and have it offered to you on a platter and you turn it down?”
“Did you work your ass off?”
“Hell yeah. I’ve been buttering Hink up, pretending I’m a tortured teen writer who really relates to Holden Caulfield since I was, like, fifteen.”
“Well, congratulations. I don’t understand why you’re angry. There’s normally only one editor anyway, right? The fact that I said no doesn’t impact you at all.”
“But . . . I mean . . . Why would you say no?”
“Because I don’t want to do it.”
“But . . .”
“And without me there, you’ll get to make all the creative decisions and have the newspaper exactly how you’ve probably been envisioning it for the last two years.”
“Well . . . I guess . . . But . . .”
by Krystal Sutherland / Young Adult / Contemporary / Romance have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes