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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Again, but Better

A Novel

Christine Riccio

Wednesday Books

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

1. Take a Chance



I’m leaving the country because I have no friends.

That’s what it comes down to. People can continue along most paths, however unpleasant, if they have at least one good friend with them. Not having one has forced me to consider my path-changing options. Now, I’m thousands of miles over the Atlantic in a giant hollowed-out pen with wings, on my way to a study abroad program that’s irrelevant to my major.

My parents don’t know about the irrelevant part. Every time I think about it, my hands start shaking.

I grip the armrest nearest to the window. No second-guessing. I fold forward, trying not to bang my head on the seat in front to me, and extract the pen and notebook from my book bag on the floor—writing usually helps. I find it cathartic to pour out my soul via pen and paper. These days all my notebooks are Horcruxes, so I’ve started titling them accordingly; Horcrux notebooks one through eight are piled up in a Rubbermaid under my bed back in New York.

This new notebook makes a satisfying noise as I pull back the cover and flip it around to view my first entry.

1/1/11

COLLEGE, TAKE TWO: STUDY ABROAD GOALS

1) Kick ass at internship—turn it into a paid summer job.

2) Make friends you like to hang out with and who like to hang out with you.

I’m going to make friends. I am. I’m going to talk to people I don’t know like I already know them—that’s the secret. I’ve watched my cousin Leo do it in school for years, and I’m ready. These friendless times call for extreme outgoing measures.

I click the pen and scribble down four more goals.

3) Kiss a boy you like. Stop kiss-blocking self.

4) Have adventures in the city you’re in. You’ve done nothing in New York City during the 2.5 years you’ve been there, you idiot.

5) Maybe try getting a little bit drunk. Don’t black out or anything, but find out what it’s like in a controlled, self-aware environment. You’re legally allowed to in the UK!

6) Start your great American novel. You’ve spent an absurd amount of time trying to think of the perfect first sentence. Stop it. Just write.

“What’s that?”

I startle, my arm flying up instinctively to cover the page. The woman next to me—a slim forty-something-year-old with a pile of bright red hair on her head—eyes me impatiently.

“What?” I sputter.

“How in the world does one kiss-block themselves?” she asks in an irritated British voice.

My eyes bulge. “I—”

“How old are you?” she presses.

I’m silent for a beat before mumbling, “Twenty.”

The left side of this woman’s lip curls up in alarm. “Are you saying you’re twenty years old and you’ve never kissed anyone?”

Leave it to me to get heckled by a stranger on a plane. I look away pointedly, unwilling to confirm or deny. This is never worth discussing. People can’t handle it. They get condescending, like you’ve suddenly morphed back into a ten-year-old. General PSA: Kissing people doesn’t make you better than non-kissed people. Sit down. And self-kiss-blocking is a real thing. I’ve experienced it. I’ve gotten close a few times, with random dancing frat dudes at parties my roommates dragged me to. When the time came, I turned away out of pure terror. I believe my exact thoughts were: Demon, demon! Too close to my face!

“How interesting. Am I to assume you’re friendless as well?” Red-haired woman brings me back to the plane.

I shake my head in disbelief, glancing down at my list, and back up at her. “Oh my god.”

“Why don’t you have friends?” She cocks her head to the side.

I exhale a flustered breath. “I … I have friends at home, just not at college, because I did it wrong.”

Not a lie. They’re just not close friends. More like acquaintances I met through Leo back before puberty. Nowadays, Leo and I don’t talk anymore, so, by proxy, Leo’s friends and I don’t talk either.

Did Leo ever even count as a real friend? Do cousins count as friends?

“I didn’t know you could do college wrong.” The woman rolls her eyes.

I hold back a scoff, thinking back to the list I jotted down in Horcrux Eight last month:

HOW TO DO COLLEGE WRONG:

1) Don’t make friends outside your dorm room.

2) Don’t get involved in extracurriculars you might enjoy.

3) Don’t talk to people in your classes.

4) Stay in bingeing every show the internet has to offer.

5) Pick a super-hard major to please your parents.

“Well, you can.” I add in calmer tone, “I’m going to London to fix it.”

“London’s going to give you friends?” She sounds way too amused.

“It’s a fresh start!” My voice tightens.

She raises an eyebrow. I bob my chin up and down, more for myself than the lady, before turning back toward the window.

“Well, it’s a doable list. I believe in you,” she finishes.

Her unexpected encouragement strikes a chord in my chest. I glare out into the darkness with glassy eyes. Fear roils around in my stomach, making me all twitchy and uncomfortable.

When I first saw the Literature and Creative Writing program on the YU London study abroad site, my heart left my body, got in a plane, and scribbled out YES in giant, building-sized letters across the sky. The idea of leaving my current life behind: bio, chemistry, physics, the MCATs, even my family, and starting over with a clean slate—it was everything.

Last week, it was all that got me through vacation. This past Sunday, the fam and I were in Florida, fresh outta church (to quote my father: Just because we’re on vacation doesn’t mean we skimp on church—we’re good Catholics), Dad caught me alone, reading in a little cove away from the hubbub of everyone else. To my horror, he snatched the book out of my hands. “What are you doing? Get in the water! Talk to us! Spend time with your cousins!”


Copyright © 2019 by Christine Riccio