The Art of Chasing Normal by Coleen Patrick - Read Online
The Art of Chasing Normal
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Summary

When fifteen year old Grace Callahan starts dreaming about her best friend Zac, in a more-than-friends kind of way, life gets messy. But Grace is a pro when it comes to chaos. After years of watching her older sister rebel, Grace has learned to lay low and stick to the plan. Except she can’t seem to keep her emotions inside the lines. Her life continues to defy symmetry, and when she mistakenly kisses Zac during movie night, everything changes.

Humiliated and fearing for their friendship, Grace chases normal. She goes along with her friend Chloe’s matchmaking schemes, takes on the roles of landscaper and zookeeper in order to keep the peace in her family, and helps her high school’s Ecology Club save the environment. Grace becomes an agreeable, rain garden designing insomniac with aquamarine hair (who may or may not be a bird assassin).

Only, nothing is the same. Her dad is spending more time away from home. Chloe would rather be with her boyfriend than Grace. Her art teacher thinks she’s a fraud on canvas, and Grace’s big rain garden project is in jeopardy when she gets sucked into the middle of a school wide mascot debate.

Worse, Grace is in love with Zac.

With her family and friendships falling apart, Grace wonders if there are any rules at all when it comes to matters of the heart, or if the only way to normal is being herself.

Published: Coleen Patrick on
ISBN: 9780989095129
List price: $2.99
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Coleen

The Art of Chasing Normal

By Coleen Patrick

The Art of Chasing Normal

Copyright 2013 by Coleen Patrick

ISBN: 978-0-9890951-2-9

Smashwords Edition

Discover other titles by Coleen Patrick here: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/coleenpatrick

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, distributed, stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, without express permission of the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes. If you are reading this book and you have not purchased it or won it in an author/published contest, this book has been pirated. Please delete and support the author by purchasing the ebook from one of its many distributors.

This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Edited by Labelle’s Editorial Services

Front cover images by Bplanet and Lozas used under license of Shutterstock

Cover Design © Coleen Patrick

Synopsis

When fifteen year old Grace Callahan starts dreaming about her best friend Zac, in a more-than-friends kind of way, life gets messy. But Grace is a pro when it comes to chaos. After years of watching her older sister rebel, Grace has learned to lay low and stick to the plan. Except she can’t seem to keep her emotions inside the lines. Her life continues to defy symmetry, and when she mistakenly kisses Zac during movie night, everything changes.

Humiliated and fearing for their friendship, Grace chases normal. She goes along with her friend Chloe’s matchmaking schemes, takes on the roles of landscaper and zookeeper in order to keep the peace in her family, and helps her high school’s Ecology Club save the environment. Grace becomes an agreeable, rain garden designing insomniac with aquamarine hair (who may or may not be a bird assassin).

Only, nothing is the same. Her dad is spending more time away from home. Chloe would rather be with her boyfriend than Grace. Her art teacher thinks she’s a fraud on canvas, and Grace’s big rain garden project is in jeopardy when she gets sucked into the middle of a school wide mascot debate.

Worse, Grace is in love with Zac.

With her family and friendships falling apart, Grace wonders if there are any rules at all when it comes to matters of the heart, or if the only way to normal is being herself.

This book is for

Chavi

Chapter 1

The part where I was like a sombrero-wearing bull in a china shop

I wanted to hang up on my sister.

Happy Hills is amazing, Joy said through the phone, as I lugged her bulky birdcage onto the deck. You should try farm life, Grace.

Mm-hmm. I struggled to hold my phone between my ear and shoulder, waddling as I carried the cage to the patio table. When I heard the intake of breath on my older sister’s end, the one signaling she was at the starting gate of one of her monologues, aka her idea of a conversation, I said, Can I call you later? I’m in the middle of cleaning your bird’s cage. The one you were supposed to pick up this weekend?

Make sure to put a piece of millet in when you’re done. He likes to eat it off the stalk. And you need to be outside. He needs the fresh air.

I know. I am. I flicked a glance at Zac Anderson’s house behind mine. It was movie night, and all I wanted to do was sink into my best friend’s couch and forget about everything. Even if it meant watching another zombie movie. I gotta go now.

Everyone should spend a day with compost, my sister said, ignoring me. Every time I dig my fingers through it, I feel like I’m plugging into life. Such a thrill.

Sure, I said, absently. My mind was still on movie night. Hopefully, Zac would order the nachos from Mexico Palace. With extra banana peppers. I pictured the sombrero-wearing plastic bull outside the restaurant. Joy reminded me of that bull. Trying to get my sister to follow a plan, some kind of order, or even the simplest rules of conversation was like trying to saddle a wild, bucking bull. Because, unless your name was Planet Earth, or you had a PhD in philosophy, or walked on four legs, you were pretty much destined for a big buck you.

The pigs have more fun than you, Grace.

I rubbed a hand over my face and put my phone on speaker in order to coax an unwilling four-inch parakeet out of his cage and into the much smaller, temporary one.

I didn’t have time for fun lectures. What my sister didn’t understand was that work came first. Then fun. There was an order to life. Maybe that life-affirming dirt would clue her in on that concept one of these days.

I stuck my hand in the cage. Walter recoiled, frantically flapping his wings, sending a spray of seeds into my face.

I moved away, spitting precious millet off my lips, as the bird retreated to his corner. With the back of my hand, I wiped my brow. Seeds trailed across my sweaty forehead.

Did you hear me, Grace? Joy asked. Hey, are you holding your breath? Have you read the meditation book yet?

I picked up my phone. She’d actually asked me questions.

I glanced at it. I did. Well, the cover, anyway. Breathing for Idiots, or something like that. And I’m not holding my breath. I’m trying to clean Walter’s cage, because I still need to mow the lawn.

It sounded like Joy sighed, but the connection wasn’t stellar. The noise could’ve been a horse whinnying, or perhaps a farm yogi chanting. Why are you doing yard work? Isn’t that Dad’s job?

How funny. Joy thought it was an imposition for me to do our dad’s work but not for me to do hers.

He can’t do it if he’s not home. And he hadn’t been home in a month. Not since Joy’s graduation.

She was silent for a moment, and I raised my eyebrows. I waited for the rest of the drama I was sure was coming, because this was Joy. She usually had a lot to say when it came to our parents. If she wasn’t complaining about them, she was arguing with them.

Don’t worry about it, Grace.

Worry? My sister was consoling me? Why? When it came to playing the role of older sister, she wasn’t exactly protective. She kind of took more of a metaphysical stance, spouting advice on how I could clean up my aura until it was all sparkly and shiny like hers, as if she hadn’t subscribed to the getting high, skipping school philosophy when she was my age.

Okay…but I’m not worried, I said. Our dad’s job in Richmond was obviously temporary. I didn’t mind picking up the slack.

I fiddled with the handle on the smaller birdcage. As confusing as her consolations were, oddly, I felt a pin prick of relief poking at my shoulders. A deep breath hovered at my lips, waiting for entry.

Anyway, my sister said, interrupting my thoughts, my breath. Surrender yourself to life, because like it says in the classic Chinese text on Taoism, the grass grows by itself.

There it was—the sage advice. Because after the drama came her wisdom, and of course, Joy had an answer for everything, even if it didn’t make any sense.

I sucked in air, filling my lungs with the scent of the honeysuckle shrubs that sat in the corner of our yard. Joy surrendered herself to life so well she was unavailable.

Go do something fun. And as if the word fun held some sort of magical power over her, my sister laughed, a lighthearted sound that somehow seemed to mock me. Then she hung up.

I stared at the too long grass in our backyard. Funny how my sister’s quote about the grass growing and surrendering to life didn’t cover who was actually supposed to cut it. Luckily for my family, I geeked out over lists and checking crap off them. Besides, someone needed to balance the flakiness and general disorder my sister unleashed on us.

I pushed out my chin and smiled, pivoting on my heel to the cage to resume my capturing duties, only to see that I’d left the cage door open.

Walter was gone.

Mother heifer, I said, quickly scanning the deck, the fence, the tree, until finally, a flash of blue caught my eye. There, in the middle of the yard, tucked between some blades of grass, sat Walter.

I hesitated. Maybe the bird wanted to be free. Maybe he dreamed of finding a bird buddy and flying in endless blue skies. After all, one of his namesakes was a famous philosopher (the other was Grandpa Walt, but my only memory of my grandfather was of him saying tight shoes after he farted).

Except, Walter really was tiny. His beak barely cleared the yellow petals of the dandelion next to him. Maybe what was best for him was a stable life and endless millet stalks.

I moved to take a step, when a shadow loomed to the left of my sister’s bird. My fingers tingled the opening chords of full-on panic.

It was Baby, the cat.

I shoved the parakeet dreams aside. Being an accessory to murder wasn’t on my list of things to do today.

* * *

After an unsuccessful bird recovery attempt, one thwarted by the cat’s water bowl and my two left feet, I lay in the grass, an arm’s length away from the twisted roots of the big tree that butted up against our back fence.

I blinked at the looming branches. They cast long, stretchy shadows that I swore mocked me, reminding me of my fall out of it five years ago. Because there I was again, viewing the tree from flat on my back.

Gravity seemed to take a special interest in me.

I reached into my pocket for my phone and called Zac.

Where are you, Pinks? he asked, using the nickname he invented for me after I broke not only my arm, but my pinky in that long ago tree mishap. Because I’d landed en pointe. En pointe meaning my pinky.

I flexed my little finger. I’m in my backyard.

Hang on.

A noise came from the direction of his house, on the other side of our back fences. A moment later, Zac ducked through the hole in my fence and stood over me. The sinking sun behind him made Zac appear taller than his almost six feet. I lowered my phone from my ear.

What are you doing? he asked.

Lawn angels.

Ah. He nodded. Well, the grass looks long enough for that.

I propped myself up on one elbow and sighed. I tripped.

Bury the lead why don’t you. Zac dropped to a crouch, blocking the sun. It formed a halo around him. Are you okay? Should I call your mom?

No. I’m fine.

I rubbed my palms over my face, feeling seeds. I groaned and swiped them away.

Zac squinted and leaned a little closer to me. Did you color your hair?

I pulled my ponytail around and stared at the purply-red color. My mom had said the color made the freckles on my nose pop. I wasn’t so sure 3D freckles were a good thing. Not that I planned to dye my hair. I sucked at spontaneity. Apparently, my sister monopolized that gene.

Mm-hmm. This morning. I let go of my hair and scrunched my face.

Zac reached for my ponytail.

You hate it, I said. I couldn’t see his expression, only his neck, where his dark hair curled ever so slightly above the worn edge of his blue Columbia University T-shirt.

He shook his head, then ran his thumb down the strand of hair in his palm before letting go. It’s different. Red.

Zac sank back on his heels and into the grass next to me. He smiled. His typical, lopsided, Zac smile. The one where his cheeks lifted, his eyes crinkled, and he looked down. I used to think when he dipped his head as he smiled it meant he was so happy he couldn’t handle it. Now, even though I’d seen him do it a million times, I felt paranoid. About my hair. Maybe he really didn’t like it.

I sat up. It’s not red exactly. It’s called cinnaplum. Although, I should e-mail the company, because the color seemed way lighter on the box. Not that I have any grounds to complain, seeing as I used a random box of hair dye I found under the bathroom sink, right?

I was rambling. I tugged on a clump of grass, before glancing at Zac again. He smiled. Only this time, I sensed nothing unusual.

Relieved, I pressed my fingers to my temples as if I could push away my paranoia, and the current mess. Even when I made every attempt to stick to a plan, lately, it seemed that chaos popped out of me like a rogue pimple. Again, I glanced at the tree. Historically speaking, it was another reminder of chaotic rogue pimples. I tucked my feet in and pushed myself to stand.

Zac stood and touched my elbow. Even he knew I needed steadying. Are you sure you’re okay? You didn’t hit your head, did you?

I’m an idiot.

Your hair is fine, Pinks. I like it.

No. I mean where’s my common sense? Just because Joy always took the cage outside, didn’t mean I had to. I could’ve put the cage next to a window. If I’m so rational and orderly, how do I get myself into these situations?

Situations?

I pointed up. Remember me and the tree?

So, you tripped. And the tree thing was when you were, what, ten? You’re not an idiot. Fearless is a better word to describe your tightrope walk across that tree branch. Zac poked a finger on my forehead. You sure you’re okay?

"Mm-hmm. You were only eleven, and yet you were still smart enough to tell me not to do it."

Yeah, but only until you asked me to time you with my stopwatch, then I was all for it. Zac pushed his hands into his pockets. So, what happened here, Pinks? You trip on your way to my house, because you’re in a big hurry to watch another zombie movie?

Joy is gonna kill me.

Zac glanced at my house. No lights were on and, with the sky turning from lavender to gray, it was dark. Empty. Joy’s home?

No. I turned toward the fences where the cat made her escape. When I tripped, I didn’t see what became of Walter, and my only hope was he flew away to safety, because I didn’t want to consider the alternative. I shivered.

You get spooked by Baby again? Zac nodded, looking annoyingly confident.

I told you, Zac. That cat growls. It’s inhuman.

Because she’s not human. She’s a cat.

I raised a palm. Whatever. You know what I mean. She’s an evil spawn.

So you were cleaning the cage and…?

That happened. I pointed to the overturned cage on my deck, which I knocked over in my rush to rescue the bird. Seeds and feathers were scattered everywhere, like the aftermath of a bizarre parakeet pillow fight. I pressed a palm to my forehead and sighed. "I don’t suppose the movie we’re watching is called Zombie Parakeet?"

No. Zac stared at the mess, but his shoulders shook ever so slightly. He was trying not to laugh.

I forced a frown.

It’s not funny, I said, holding back a hiccup of laughter. Walter is gone. Joy’s going to be pissed.

Zac managed a serious face and shook his head. No, she’s not.

Well, I’m pretty sure she’ll need to do some extra sun salutations or hug a pig. Or, whatever it is peace-loving-yogi-farming-barn-builders do. I don’t know. Either way, this would’ve never happened under her care.

What? Are you kidding? Joy? The girl who single-handedly shut down a movie shoot with her three-wheeling incident? I think she’ll understand. Come on. Zac held out a hand. Zombies will make it all better.

I took a step, feeling a twinge in the ankle I twisted. It wasn’t terrible, probably not even sprained, but Zac must’ve seen me wince, because before I could even object, he scooped me up and headed toward his house.

* * *

My world tilted when Zac picked me up.

In an instant, my view shifted from dandelions, the (mocking) maple tree, and our broken fence to the plum streaked, star dotted sky. Zac, wait. I don’t need… I mean, you don’t…

I kind of do, especially if we want to actually see this movie tonight, he said, striding across my backyard toward his own.

But the pain isn’t bad. I didn’t sound too convincing, because at that moment, I felt a little dizzy, like my abrupt position change unsettled my blood pressure. Worse, though, was the dilemma I faced regarding my arms.

Where was I supposed to put them? Around his neck? And hello, why did it matter? Zac was my best friend, my bud. Not that I’d ever used the term bud to describe him before. Maybe I had hit my head. First, his smile looked different. Now, I felt weird about holding on to him. Huh. I potentially killed one tiny parakeet, and the universe decided to change all the rules. Or go after me.

Grace Callahan. At large! Universe’s Most Wanted List: Bird Assassin Edition

I left my arms to hover somewhere around my middle. Being (or acting) cool had never really been