The Promise of Amazing


Robin Constantine




Mrs. Fiore paused for effect, scanning the faces in my Honors Lit class with a smug smile. She’d delivered the words with such conviction, it was as if the dean of admissions called and told her that no girl from the entire junior class of Sacred Heart Academy would even be allowed to apply to Harvard.

This was supposed to be a pep talk.

It was a rainy, miserable Friday in November. The kind better suited to burrowing under a comforter watching a Gossip Girl marathon than being dissed by your guidance counselor. My chances of going to Harvard, or any college for that matter, were on the fringes of my mind. The future was a faraway idea that came after more pressing ones, like Thanksgiving break or the gamble of putting a deposit down for junior prom by the December deadline without a date prospect in sight.

I surveyed the class, wondering if anyone else found this speech irritating. Resigned eyes stared straight ahead as Fiore droned on. Next to me, Jazz took notes. Across the room in the back corner, Maddie had her head down, pencil in hand. It looked like she was taking notes too, but I could tell she was sketching. I hoped I wasn’t her subject this time, because the look on my face was anything but pretty.

Honestly? Harvard had never been a passing thought, even as a reach school, but to hear someone, a guidance counselor no less, tell me it wasn’t a possibility made my mind reel. Was this some sort of Guidance 101 mind trick? Didn’t Mrs. Fiore realize she was insulting us?

I imagined recording her little speech. I’d strap her into one of our ass-numbing desks and demand proof of her guidance degree, since it was painfully clear she must have skipped the How to Inspire Your Students seminar in favor of the Dowdy Floral Prints and the Many Ways to Rock Them workshop. Then I’d force her to listen to that condescending drivel over and over again and see how inspired she felt afterward.

Fiore’s proclamation added another depressing dimension to what was fast becoming my semester of discontent. My current class rank was an unimpressive forty-nine. Forty-freakin’-nine out of one hundred and two, which technically put me in the top half of the class but barely. And my application for the Sacred Heart National Honor Society was a total fail. Nominated but denied. To add to the humiliation, the teachers felt compelled to let you in on the reasons why you didn’t get in, so you could improve and work harder to make it the following semester.

Wren Caswell. Doesn’t participate in class.

Bright but quiet.

Quiet. Quiet.

Too quiet.

I tried not to let the evaluation bother me, but it did. Being quiet was not a conscious protest. It was my nature. And once that sort of “Wow, you’re quiet!” klieg light was forced on me, it drove me deeper into my shell. If I had something to say, well, yeah, I would say it, but I never went out of my way to call attention to myself. In school this had always been a good thing. Applauded, even. The NHS evaluation made it sound like a character flaw. Something I could improve.

That’s just not how it worked.

“What was up with Fiore today?” Jazz asked, peeling away the plastic wrap from her baby carrots and fat-free dip. Jazz was training to run her first half marathon with her father in January and had adopted a clean-eating philosophy. Lately she ate the same lunch—lean protein on sprouted-grain bread, a Vitaminwater Zero, baby carrots and fat-free dip. It had never bothered me, but today, after the No Harvard speech, I resented its wholesome overachieving perfection.

“Thank you. You thought she was out of line too?”

“Oooh, who’s out of line? What did I miss?” Mads plopped down her lunch tray on the table.

“Fiore. Last class, or were you dozing again?” Jazz asked, pointing at her with a baby carrot. Mads leaned over, grabbed the carrot out of Jazz’s fingers with her teeth, and chewed as she shimmied her chair closer to the table. With her close-cropped platinum hair and devilish grin, she looked like a naughty, private-school Tinkerbell.

“Not dozing, doodling,” she said, grabbing a sketchbook from her pile of books and sliding it to me.

“You were doodling Ben Franklin?”

“No.” She grabbed the book and flipped to a different page. “That was yesterday. Here, from before.”

“Oh, um . . . who?” I asked, handing the book to Jazz.

“You can’t tell?”

Jazz peered at me over the sketchbook, brows raised in question.

“Some guy from a boy band?” I guessed.

“No! Zach,” Mads said, taking the book from Jazz.

“Ah, should have known, very Cro-Magnon like,” Jazz said, dipping another carrot.

Mads scrunched her face but smiled. “I suck at noses. It’s all in the shading. So what about Fiore?”

“You know, that whole ‘none of you are going to Harvard’ thing,” I said.

“Oh, that? What’s the big deal?” she asked, popping open her bag of baked chips and offering me one. I waved them away.

“I don’t like to be talked down to,” Jazz said.

Mads shrugged. “She’s a realist, that’s all.”

“I can get in to Harvard if I want,” Jazz countered.

“Okay, so maybe you can, Dr. Kadam, but what about the rest of us? Harvard is like a million miles away from here, metaphorically, at least. Why are you both taking it so personally?”

“Because it feels personal,” I said, pushing my brown-bag slacker lunch away. “It was like she was telling us we’re stupid, so why bother?”

Neither of them responded, and instead shared a knowing look. Mads crunched a potato chip extra loud between her teeth.


“This is about NHS, isn’t it?” Jazz asked with the same doe-eyed face of pity she’d given me when I’d shown her my rejection letter.

“It’s okay to be pissed, Wren,” Mads added.

The pressure of backed-up tears made me blink fast and look away. Sometimes I hated my friends and how well they knew me.

“That’s not it.”

“Screw NHS, it’s not a big deal,” Mads said.

“It is a big deal,” Jazz protested.

“Jazzy Girl, not helping.”

“You’ll be nominated again next semester. It’s a great thing to have on your transcript.”

They bickered back and forth about the importance of NHS while I zoned out. I knew NHS was a big deal. It was the academic elite of the school. What bothered me most was that damn evaluation that summed me up as the average, quiet girl.

I’d always thought of myself as smart, had no problem making first or second honors, but in a small, competitive school just making it didn’t translate into anything spectacular. My rank had slipped because my brain refused to comprehend higher math. Even with tutoring, I’d taken home my first-ever Cs in Algebra II and Trig earlier in the semester. As I sat across from my NHS-accepted pals, I felt like an imposter. Like maybe I’d be better suited to being friends with Darby Greene, who sold her mother’s Xanax for ten bucks a pill in the back of the classroom and didn’t seem to be bothered with less-than-stellar grades. Then again, teachers liked her. She spoke up in class.

“Forget it, really, I’m okay,” I finally said.

“And why should we be taking guidance from a woman who buys her hair color off the shelf at Duane Reade?” Mads asked. “Come over after school. I’ve been dying to practice those ombré highlights on your hair. Zach and his friends can drop by. We’ll hang in my basement.”

Zach was Madison’s overgrown pup of a hook-up buddy. They had about zero in common, except they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves when they were within three feet of each other. She’d been trying to share the wealth by setting me and Jazz up with his pals, but so far Zach’s friend pool was about as bland as the baked chips Mads was noshing.

“If ‘hang in your basement’ is code for fighting off whatever soccer teammate Zach has with him this week, I’ll pass, but I’ll take a rain check on the highlights,” I said.

“How ’bout a movie night?” Jazz suggested. “I reserved Pretty in Pink at the library. I could pick up something else too, make it a double feature? Big bucket of air-popped popcorn? I’ll even splurge with peanut M&M’s.”

“That sounds great, but—”

“Wait,” Mads said, “so both of you would choose cheesy, canned romance and junk food over flesh-and-blood, six-packed-out-the-ass soccer guys?”

Jazz’s dark eyes turned incredulous. “Cheesy? Canned romance? Pretty in Pink is a classic—”

“—that I’ve seen chopped up on basic cable about umpteen times.”

“Guys, I have to work,” I said, trying to snuff out their fantasy-versus-reality debate.

“What’s the fun in being the owner’s daughter if you can’t skip out now and then?” Mads asked.

“We’re booked solid this weekend. Besides, the Camelot may be my future.”

Jazz looked between Maddie and me. “Since when?”

“Weddings are big business. It wouldn’t be a bad thing, right? I wouldn’t need major math skills to run it. I could hire someone for that.”

“Sure, and then you could hire me fresh out of Pratt to give the place an overhaul,” Mads continued. “And Jazz could have her huge Bollywood-style wedding there, and we’ll all live happily ever after.”

“Why am I the one getting married in this scenario?”

“Because I’m the architect, and Wren is the business owner, and I wasn’t sure how a pediatrician would fit into the whole thing. Besides, I want to wear a sari.”

“Four years of medical school plus a residency, ha, I’ll never have time for a real romance.”

“It’s just an option I’m tossing around. Not everyone has such a clear picture of their life after high school,” I said, balling up my uneaten lunch. The PB&J squished like Play-Doh in the brown paper bag.

“What about after work, Wren? You’re usually done by eleven, no?”

“Dunno. I think I’m just gonna lay low this weekend.”

“You’ve hooked up with someone like, what, once, twice, since the Trevor hump-and-dump? Come on, ditch work for one night. You’re overdue for some fun.”

“Madison,” Jazz reprimanded her in a whisper.

I gathered my books and trash and pushed back from the table. “Stop telling me what I need, ’kay?”

“Wren, wait, sorry. Trev’s the idiot. All I’m trying to say is it’s time to get your feet wet again . . . well, among other things.”

“Mads, really,” Jazz said, chuckling.

“Use it or lose it. Zach’s friends are hot. You never know, you could be cozying up with the next David Beckham.”

“Yeah, I’ll give that some thought . . . not,” I said, walking away before either of them could say anything else.

One slight mention from Mads and—zap—Trevor DiMarco was back in my head. I was over him, but I wasn’t exactly over us. He was my first. My only. My cautionary tale.

He’d been a friend of my brother, Josh. One of the many guys that hung around our house, playing basketball in the driveway or sitting around our living room watching Comedy Central and wasting time until they figured out what sports event or party they were hitting that night. The revolving door of cute boys was a perk of having an older brother at St. Gabriel Prep, and I took full advantage during Josh’s senior year. Inventing reasons to be in the kitchen. Doing my homework on the deck. Anything to inconspicuously put myself in the middle of the action.

Trev called me Osprey. Seagull. Raven. Every bird name except Wren. But I never took his teasing to be anything more than that. Until the night I looked up from Wuthering Heights and saw that Josh and the others had left. Trev stood in front of me, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched to his ears, his blue eyes slightly timid, unsure. Something I’d never seen in him.

“Hey, Wren,” he said, taking the book out of my hand as he leaned against the island. My stomach knotted up when he said my name. I hadn’t even had the chance to bookmark my page. “I was thinking, maybe . . . would you . . . how about . . . wanna hang with me tonight?”

“Here?” My voice was tight as I drummed my fingers on the counter. He’d never made me nervous before, but now that we were one-on-one, it hit me upside the head. He was the reason I hung around so much. Trev, with his perfect sandy hair, perpetual tan, and laid-back attitude had gotten to me. He cupped his hand over mine to stop the drumming.