CRASHING IN LOVE
Since her parents divorced, twelve-year-old Peyton has known that to achieve happier outcomes in her life, she’s got to focus on eliminating her flaws—and on making sure her first boyfriend is truly right for her. Guided by her collection of inspirational quotes and her growing list of ideal boyfriend traits, Peyton is convinced that this summer will be the perfect summer, complete with the perfect boyfriend! But when she discovers a boy lying unconscious in the middle of the road, the victim of a hit-and-run, her perfect summer takes a dramatic detour. Determined to find the driver responsible, Peyton divides her time between searching her small town for clues and visiting the comatose (and cute!) boy in the hospital.
Since her parents divorced, twelve-year-old Peyton has known that to achieve happier outcomes in her life, she’s got to focus on eliminating her flaws—and on making sure her first boyfriend is truly right for her. Guided by her collection of inspirational quotes and her growing list of ideal boyfriend traits, Peyton is convinced that this summer will be the perfect summer, complete with the perfect boyfriend! But when she discovers a boy lying unconscious in the middle of the road, the victim of a hit-and-run, her perfect summer takes a dramatic detour. Determined to find the driver responsible, Peyton divides her time between searching her small town for clues and visiting the comatose (and cute!) boy in the hospital. When he wakes up, will he prove to be her destiny? Or does life have a few more surprises in store? With abundant warmth and gentle humor, Jennifer Richard Jacobson offers a novel about searching for perfect answers—and finding that reality is both messier and far more intriguing than anything you can dream up.
When Peyton comes across the victim of a hit-and-run, she knows it’s destiny. But what exactly does fate have in store for her and the boy in the coma?
- Candlewick Press
- October 2021
- 272 Pages
“A heartwarming and remarkably poignant story of a girl navigating the sometimes painful process of growing up.” —School Library Journal
“A well-paced blend of mystery and romantic idealism set in mid-coast Maine.”—Publishers Weekly
“Peyton is devoted to self-motivation, and her first-person narrative is appropriately crisp and peppy, and the characters around her are vivid and bright.” —Booklist
I skitter around the bedroom I share with my sister Calla, tucking my nightshirt beneath my pillow, picking up the stuffed animals that fell off my bed in the night.
There. My side of the room: neat as a boat galley. Calla’s side: hurricane aftermath.
“The world won’t come to an end if you leave your bed unmade for one day, Peyton,” my oldest sister, Bronwyn, reassures me as she floats back to her own bedroom. She’s sweet in the morning, like the maple syrup in her tea.
Bronwyn’s probably right. And if I don’t hurry, I’m going to miss my chance to say goodbye to my best friend before she leaves for the summer. But one of the gazillion quotes I have pinned on the wall behind my bed reads Tidy Room, Tidy Mind, and it’s so true. My ten-minute pickup makes me feel as if I’m solidly on the path to creating a better me.
I grab the going-away card I made for Mari, my water bottle (Motivate, Hydrate, Feel Great), and my charged phone. “Heading out,” I call to my sisters, who are not technically babysitting but are “in charge.”
“When will you be back?” Calla asks from the corner of the living room. She’s plucking out a new song — “Prickly Thorn, but Sweetly Worn”— on her mandolin.
“I don’t know,” I say, pushing my glasses farther up my nose. “Soon-ish.”
She either doesn’t hear me or doesn’t really care. It irks me that she even gets to ask. I don’t mind if Bronwyn is in charge — she’s sixteen. But Calla is thirteen and only eleven months older than I am.
Then I hear an Eleanor Roosevelt quote in my head: “You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”
I make an attempt. “Bye, Calla!” I say as cheerily as I can.
Outside, I clip on my bike helmet, tighten the strap, and take off. Early morning is one of my favorite times of day to ride. The country road that winds around Mussel Cove (our tiny town in midcoast Maine) is extremely narrow and has no bike lane. It’s also filled with potholes. But at this hour, the early workers (or “the salt,” as Mom calls them) — lobstermen, bakers, housekeepers, and news reporters (or should I say news reporter? Mom is the only one in town, and she gets up early to dig for stories at Day’s Donuts) — have left, and the late workers (“the pepper”) — bartenders, musicians, and chefs — are still snoozing. Which means I can ride closer to the middle of the road, where the pavement is less cracked, swerving around dips and roadkill as needed.
High tide, I notice as I catch my first glimpse of the sun-speckled harbor between the trees. Seagulls are screeching in the distance, which probably means that a fi shing boat just returned. Maybe it’s Mari’s father’s boat. Maybe he went out extra early to get back in time to take Mari to her aunt’s house in Gloucester.
Gloucester. At first, I was furious with Mari for her last-minute decision to spend the summer helping her aunt (who admittedly just had the cutest baby ever) by looking after her toddler cousins. We had planned our perfect summer — a plan that felt like a promise. This was going to be our summer of working at the Anchorage Hotel (folding towels, setting up beach chairs, filling water pitchers), designing our seventh-grade wardrobe, and finding our first summer boyfriends! I’d even talked Mari into creating a boyfriend list — the top ten musts for the perfect guy — just like mine.
I stand on my bike pedals and pump faster.
Friends should be loyal.
Friends should stick to their plans.
Friends should not break promises. But then I think of the quote I framed in dried flowers before hanging it above my bed — “The only way to have a friend is to be one” — and I know in my heart that Mari needs to help her family.
We’ll just have to share plans and encouragement by phone. “When life gives you lemons — ”
Ack! I nearly run over a pair of sunglasses. I quickly pull to the left and —
Omigod! What the — ?
There’s a pile of clothes in the road. I swerve again and barely avoid it, but my tires hit the gravel, and my bike spins out from under me. As it falls, I try to leap out of the way, but the bike lands on my ankle, and the pedal gouges me. Ouch! I hop in circles. My ankle stings outrageously where my skin has been scraped off.
What kind of jerk leaves clothes in the middle of the road, where cars — or bikes — might have to swerve dangerously to avoid hitting them?
I pull my bike off to the side and decide to do the same with the pile so it doesn’t cause an accident. Make that another accident, I think as I hobble over.
I grab the sunglasses and pop them in my pocket. Then I approach the rest of the debris.
I can see what looks like a windbreaker.
Not just a windbreaker.
Omigod! A hand!
This isn’t a pile of clothes. It’s a person!
I scream and race back to my bike. Practically choking, I pull up on the handlebars, wanting to get as far from this spot as possible, but —
I drop my bike again.
Buck up, I tell myself. You are braver than you think, I tell myself. I pull out my phone and dial 911, then take a deep breath and go back to the body.
It’s a boy, I see now, around my age. He’s curled up as if he’s sleeping, one arm covering part of his face. There’s blood on his head, but I don’t see any on the road. I stare at his back, hoping to see it rise and fall with his breathing. Please be alive, please be alive, please be alive!
As my phone rings, I crouch. “Can you hear me?” I say softly, suddenly afraid of startling him.
He doesn’t respond.
“Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?” says a woman.
My voice catches. “There’s a boy in the middle of the road. I think he might have been hit by a car. He’s not moving. I don’t know if he’s — ”
“What’s your name and location?” She sounds calm and helpful.
“Peyton Campbell. I’m in Mussel Cove, on Winding Lane.” I look around for a landmark and see a mailbox. “Near 118 Winding Lane.”
“Hi, Peyton, honey. This is Mrs. Dwyer. Do you know the boy?”
My first-grade teacher! I didn’t know she was a 911 dispatcher now. “No,” I squeak. “No — at least, I don’t think so. He’s curled up on his side, and his arm is covering most of his face. I don’t want to move him in case — ”
“That’s right, Peyton. You don’t want to move him. I’ve got help coming. How old would you say he is?”
I glance down again. “Twelve or thirteen?”
I squat down again and touch his hand.
His fingers twitch.
Omigod! He’s alive!
“He’s alive!” I shout into the phone.
“Is he conscious?” Mrs. Dwyer asks.
“Can you hear me?” I say to the boy, louder this time.
I stare at the hand that moved, which — and I know this is incredibly strange to say — is nearly perfect in shape. His fingernails are square, and he has a scratch on his thumb.
I reach out and gently take his hand, and I swear on my life I feel movement. “I’m here,” I say. “I’m not going to leave you. I promise. Just hang on.”
That’s when I hear a vehicle coming from the direction of my house. What if the driver doesn’t see us in time?
I jump up, wave my arms, and scream, “STOP!”
The driver sees us just as she comes barreling over a small knoll and veers off the road, nearly hitting a tree.
It’s Cecelia Hobbs, my neighbor, in her red pickup. She gets out and starts to approach us, but then, realizing, I suppose, that someone else could do exactly what she nearly did — run over this boy again — she gets back in her truck and parks it across the road so no vehicles can pass.
I remember Mrs. Dwyer. “Hello?” She’s still on the line. “Mrs. Hobbs is here,” I tell her.
“Okay, honey,” Mrs. Dwyer says. “I’m going to hang up now. Tell Cecelia that an ambulance is on the way and that she should leave the boy exactly where he is.”
The ambulance and a police car arrive just as I finish telling Cecelia what happened.
“He moved!” I tell the EMTs as they lift him into the ambulance on a stretcher. “He moved!”
A police officer asks me to join her on the side of the road. Cecelia follows. I tell the story one more time while the officer takes notes. Then she tells me that she is going to check me for shock, which I think is silly, since I’m obviously in shock. I found an unconscious boy in the middle of the road.
She looks at my hands and touches my forehead. “Are you sweating? Cold?”
I shake my head.
Then she takes a look at my ankle. “It’s a nasty cut, but no swelling — and you can stand on it. It will heal on its own. Where do you live? Is anyone there?”
I point in the direction of my house and tell the officer that my older sisters are home.
“I’ll get her there,” says Cecelia. “We’re neighbors.”
The sirens begin to whine, and we step farther off the road as the ambulance turns and takes off in the direction of the hospital.
Cecelia retrieves my bike and lifts it into the back of her truck. (She doesn’t seem to care that she’s still blocking cars in both directions.) I hoist myself up into the passenger seat.
“I wonder who he is,” I say as she starts the engine. “Gray Olsen,” Cecelia says.
I stare at her. How does she know that?
“I heard an EMT read it off his student ID. Probably a camper from Brentwood.” Brentwood is a summer camp situated in the woods at the end of our road. I wrap my arms around myself. “I wonder who hit him. And why he was walking into town so early — and alone.”
“Let’s hope he’s able to tell us.”
“You don’t think he’ll wake — that he’ll live?” My heart hurts the way it does when I hear a gunshot and know that in all likelihood, a deer has fallen. Or the way it did when Mom told us that Grandpa had died. It’s an intense feeling of sadness mixed with something deeper — the knowledge that in seconds, a breathing, spirited life can disappear forever.
“I don’t know,” she says. “But you certainly did your part, Peyton. You gave him a chance.”
A Note from Jennifer Richard Jacobson
As a twelve-year-old, Peyton writes her “must-have checklist” for prospective boyfriends. Silly, right?
Hmm. Perhaps not. As a young girl, creating such a list would never have occurred to me. I was nothing if not accommodating. I was quick to recognize the needs of others and bend myself into a form that would meet those needs. I was willing to be whomever they needed me to be. I constantly asked myself, Am I attractive to this person? and never, Is this person really the one for me?
Fast-forward to the time in my life when I was between marriages. Perhaps I was writing my online dating profile, or perhaps I was simply putting my desires out to the Universe. But I found myself, a mature woman, creating my own list of essential traits (and they were just as shallow as Peyton’s). Sure, I can laugh about it now, but I still see significant value in the exercise.
Peyton creates her list to protect herself: if she’s careful in her selection of a boyfriend, she’ll be able to avoid the mistakes her parents and her sister made. An impossible task for sure. Nevertheless, by making the list and referring to it from time to time, she comes to know herself—and therein lies the gold. Only then can she realize that attraction is complex and the sum of a person is far more than the items on a checklist.