An excerpt from Over You
by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
Outfitted in a chic pair of black riding pants, which provide the grounding she’s craving, and a cozy cashmere sweater from her awesome Etsy knitting hookup, which allows her to radiate the comfort necessary on Day One, Max slips inside Bridget’s bedroom. She has already breezed passed Mrs. Stetson with a fluid hand-off of a dozen homemade cranberry muffins and a mention of “last-minute flashcard drills.” With a quick appraisal of Bridget, Max reaches into her red bag, pulls out a stainless steel thermos, and sets it on the nightstand. She glances toward the windows across the street. Taylor’s are still dark. Good.
“Morning, Bridget. ”
As Bridget’s eyes focus on Max, Max lifts her head as if she were a wounded soldier and puts the thermos lid of espresso to Bridget’s lips. Bridget sips.
“Rule number one: caffeine is your new best friend. Liquid optimism.”
“I just . . . it hurts. So. Much.”
“Mornings and evenings are the worst,” Max says as she pulls her up to sitting to give her the Day One speech, noticing she might be saying it as much for herself this particular morning as for Bridget. “But every day there’s going to be a little window of time where you feel not just ‘barely alive’, not just ‘okay’, but positively euphoric. Winning American Idol euphoric. And that window, offering you a glimpse in which you discover you’re getting though it, is going to get longer and longer each and every day. Because your body knows that surviving this . . . elephant is going to bring you a level of strength you have not yet known. I promise. And my system will speed what organically can take months, years, to a few weeks. Today we’re aiming for about a thirty second window, okay?”
Bridget drops her head to Max’s shoulder.
“Okay, now let’s start with a shower. You’ll feel better.”
But beyond the shower is dressed, beyond dressed is breakfast, beyond breakfast is leaving and that’s when Taylor won’t be waiting downstairs for his morning kiss and Poptart before he heads south to his school and she heads north to hers. Bridget buries her face in her raised knees, the idea of taking a single step unbearable. “I won’t.”
Max pats her sweaty back. “But I will.” She stands and claps her hands. “Okay! You have homeroom at eight-twenty and we have a ton of ground to cover. Being late today of all days is OUT of the question—in fact, for the next month I don’t care if you get wombat flu—you will be at school every day looking awesome because that will get back to him and that will be the first chink in his ego. Okay, time to wash off the last twelve hours! Here we go! The rest of your spectacular life awaits!”
Bridget stares at Max, salty tear-crusts in the corner of her eyes and mouth. “Sorry. So you’re Shannon’s friend? I’m just not really following how you—”
“We’ll get to that. Take the coffee in with you. Right in under the water. Here.” She pulls Bridget to her feet, hands her the lid and holds the edge of the floral comforter as Bridget walks right out from under it. It trails off her shoulders like a queen’s cape as she shuffles to the bathroom.
While Bridget showers Max does an informed sweep of the room, removing the sweatshirt, stuffed duck and dangly earrings Zach’s electronic espionage revealed were gifts from Taylor. She then returns the hacked laptop to Bridget’s desk. Lastly Max whips out her sterling tape measure, another flea market score, and sizes up the windows.
Minutes later Bridget, in a fresh long sleeve tee and cords, her wet hair in a bun, sits cross-legged on the worn carpet across from her TV, devouring a warm breakfast Max brought from the deli. Max plugs a cable into the back of the screen, connects it to her own laptop and stands. Her PowerPoint appears on the TV showing the acronym ‘C.P.S.R.W.’
“This is your schedule,” Max says forcefully. “Up! Out of bed! And directly downstairs to the kitchen for a sugar-free caffeine beverage—”
“Sugar free?” Bridget asks through a mouthful of egg.
“No Coke. No Red Bull. No frappucinos. We can’t risk you getting artificially hyped and doing something ill advised.” She clicks to the next slide, a photo of one Lorraina Bobbit. “Cut off her ex’s penis.” Then she advances the screen to Clara Harris. “Ran over her cheating husband three times. And we’re not going out that way, not because he doesn’t deserve it, not because it wouldn’t feel spectacular, but because we want you ending up fabulous.” She advances the screen to a sunny picture of a gorgeously grinning Jennifer Anniston. “Not fettered and reduced to a Lifetime TV bio-pic. This is about the long haul, Bridget, not immediate gratification. Immediate gratification and lawlessness make you one thing: a psycho. That’s not my program. So! Caffeine and one serving of lean protein to keep you from getting foggy. Then straight to the shower, followed directly by the donning of Real Clothes—no pjs or sweats—anything you pull on when you have the flu does not count. Also.” Max pulls a lip-gloss from her bag and tosses it to Bridget.
“Estee Lauder?” Bridget asks.
“The gold cap says glamour and sophistication. I’m a classic and he’s a fly-by-night. It’ll lift your spirits. Reapply between every class. So, caffeine, protein, shower, real clothes, and . . .” She pulls a bottle of Evian from her bag and tosses it to Bridget. “A minimum of two liter bottles of water to be nursed throughout the day. “Little known fact: dehydration and depression go hand in hand.” She flashes a rapid succession of slides. “Virginia Wolf, Sylvia Plath, Courtney Love. Crazy? Maybe. Depressed? Probably. Dehydrated? Definitely. It’s astounding how the lack of electrolytes can suck a girl’s mojo. In conclusion, every morning, without fail. C.P.S.R.W. I’m tacking it to the ceiling over your bed.”
Bridget’s shoulders sink as she finishes off her roll; Max is losing her.
“You need this big.”
Max swipes the take-out container off Bridget’s lap and puts it on her desk. She then surveys her surroundings before lifting a poster of Olympian Lindsey Vonn from its spot. She pulls the cable from the television and attaches a device to the laptop, which shifts its projection, now life-size, to the cleared wall. There is a picture of Bridget some time last spring, laughing with friends while the sun set behind her shoulder. An arrow appears over one of the girl’s heads.
Bridget drops her head to the side, her voice wistful. “Shannon.”
“Shannon has provided my services to you. Just as one of her friends provided my services for her.”
“With Todd,” Bridget says, putting it together. “She got over him so fast.”
“Precisely.” Max beams.
“But why didn’t she tell me she worked, or whatever, with you?”
“I do not involve peripherals and rely solely on past clients when at all possible. Ex, Inc. is a refer-it-forward program. A program I designed when I discovered that girls whose rugs have been pulled need way more than society has to offer to get back in the game. My associates and I will work with you over the next month as you go from this—” She clicks to a photo of a bald, post-divorce Britney taking an umbrella to a paparazzi windshield. “To this.” The slide flips. “There she is, radiant and triumphant, headlining the number one tour of the year.” She turns from the projection. “Have you ever kick-boxed? Total rush.” She advances the screen to a photo of a glistening Megan Fox. “We will not finish until Taylor fully comprehends the magnitude of what he has thrown away, until he is left with a last image in his mind of you as pure perfection.”
Bridget’s watery eyes light up over her red nose. “I’m in.”
“Welcome aboard. Okay, so a few logistical details. This morning I am walking you to the bus stop. From now on one of my assistants, Phoebe or Zachary, will meet you on your stoop to make sure you head left, stay left, and don’t even look right. Thank God you guys go to school on opposite sides of the city. This living across the street thing is—sheesh.”
“I’ve known him since we were five.”
“Hm?” Max tilts herself down to hear her better.
“We played Power Rangers together. We used his mom’s shoes as beds for our Gig Pets. And then when we did the PSAT prep course last June we studied Our Town. We were gonna be like George and Emily. He said, when he kissed me, he said it was like it was always meant to be. What did I do wrong? Why did he change his mind?”
Max gently takes her chin and tilts her face up. “Guys say a lot of things. And that is right where we will pick up tomorrow after school. You have one job until then: NO CONTACT. You will stay away from that window. There are no answers out there. If I find out—and I will—that you’ve gone near that window—I will paint it black. Are we clear?”
Bridget twists her lips at the mandate and the tone in which it is delivered. “Yes.”
“Good. Now, finally, Bridget, no matter what impetuous hysteria overtakes you in the interim, get a tattoo, pierce something private, go goth, but do not, do not, do not cut your hair.” She flashes to a photo shopped slide of what Bridget would look like shorn like Victoria Beckham. “This will not make anyone regret anything.”