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Sticky Fingers

Sticky Fingers

Chapter One

It's a thin envelope, Courtney," I say. A white, #10 envelope bearing a Cambridge, Massachusetts, return address. "I nearly flipped past it when I was sorting through the Christmas cards and catalogs. Gotta be bad news."

Everyone knows acceptance letters arrive in oversized envelopes crammed with info about housing and registration.

"Chill, Jenna." The sound of a Coke being slurped comes over the phone line. It's one of those Courtney Delahunt habits that irritate the hell out of most people, but that I learned to tune out years and years ago. I hear the clatter of the can hitting her desk before she says, "Take a deep breath, say a prayer to the gods of Early Action admissions, and then read the damned thing already. I don't know why you didn't just rip it open the second you pulled it out of the mailbox."

Because I don't want to see that ugly 'we regret to inform you...' sentence in black and white, that's why. Don't want to go through applying Regular Action to a dozen different schools and dealing with all the forms and essays and self-promoting fakery. Not to mention paying a couple nights' baby-sitting income—each—for the application fees.

And maybe not getting into my first choice school even then.

"I think I should wait for my parents." It's a totally lame excuse, but technically they're just as invested in the whole process as I am. Mom spent hours reading over my essays, critiquing them, then reading them again before I mailed out my application a couple months ago. And Dad said he'd put off buying a (desperately needed) new car for himself if I manage to get into an Ivy, just so I won't have to take out any more student loans than absolutely necessary.

"And I think you're just being chicken because this means everything to you," Courtney argues right back. "Your parents would want you to look. Mateus the Great agrees with me."

"Mat's over there?" I frown, flipping the envelope over and holding it up under the kitchen's tacky 1980s track lights. Maybe I can see through it if I get it at the right angle. It'll probably be less painful if I get a hint of what the letter says and then open it for real.

"He doesn't have to work 'til five today. And it's my day off."

There's a scuffling noise, then Mat's lightly accented voice cuts in. "And we have the house to ourselves until then, okay? Her parents have a company Christmas party or something in downtown Boston. So open the envelope and give us the news, Jenna. Courtney and I don't have much time to celebrate, know what I'm saying?"

I hear some clicks, then Courtney pops back on the line, meaning she grabbed a cordless from another room. She makes an exasperated sound I presume is directed at Mat for stealing the first phone right out of her hand, then says, "Seriously, Jenna. I bet you got in. And if you didn't, no biggie. You know you'll get in during the regular cycle if you reapply. Your SAT scores freaking rocked. Your grades are great, and Hemingway could've written your admission essays—"

"I get it already."

"Come on, Jenna." Mat's voice is softer this time, more understanding, his South American accent more pronounced. "Otherwise, you're going to drive yourself crazy for the next few hours, and I'll go crazy at work tonight wondering what your letter said."

For a brief moment, I envy Courtney. How easy would life be if I was as laid back as Courtney about school stuff, and if I had a Brazilian boyfriend as gorgeous and understanding as Mat? Of course, I do have a gorgeous and understanding boyfriend. Scott might not have Mat's accent, but he has other assets.

Lots of other assets.

"Okay," I say, trying not to sigh out loud. "Send me good vibes."

"Vibes a' comin'," Courtney says. "Now rip that sucker open!"

Cradling the phone between my shoulder and ear, I open the kitchen utility drawer, find the letter opener my parents use for the bills, then slit the top seam of the envelope, careful not to catch the letter inside with the tip of the opener.

I close my eyes, pull out the page, then flatten it against the yellow Formica countertop and make one last wish.

"Read it aloud," Courtney says.

I take a deep breath, trying to slow down my pounding heartbeat, then open my eyes to focus on the black type. "It says, 'Dear Ms. Kassarian, we are pleased to inform you that—'"

"You got in!" Courtney's yell nearly renders me deaf. "Pleased to inform is always good news!

"I knew it. Parabéns!" Mat explains that this is Brazilian Portuguese for congrats, then adds, "No way were you getting rejected."

I keep reading aloud, trying to ignore them long enough to get this through my head. "'—you have been accepted into the freshman class for the upcoming academic year as part of the Harvard Early Action admissions program.' Oh, wow." I stare at the single sheet of paper, hardly believing the words on the page. Or the logo at the top.

"Oh, wow, is right!" Courtney says. "I mean, this changes your whole life. And your parents are going to be thrilled."

"Them? What about me? I was so sure when I saw the envelope that it was going to be a serious smackdown. But it says that they'll mail more information in April, including financial aid applications, housing forms, and a guide to undergraduate activities." The whole 'guide to undergraduate activities' is hysterical, since I know they're trying to make the fact they don't have fraternitites and sororities look okay.

Of course, Mat and Courtney probably don't know that's what it really means, and I'm not going to clarify. Courtney's dying to do the sorority pledge thing next year, but me, well, I'd rather chew on broken glass.

I read through the whole letter again, not even hearing what Courtney and Mat are saying on the other end of the line. Tears start rolling down my cheeks as reality sets in, and I don't care. This is the best Christmas present ever.

All those evenings I skipped going to movies—even the ones I was dying to see—or made excuses not to go out with Courtney, Scott, Mat, and all our other friends. All the times I came straight home after volleyball practice or tennis without stopping to have pizza or hang out with my friends, just so I'd have an extra hour to study or to check over a project one last time. All the nights I left Scott's house early, despite the fact every fiber of my being ached to stay just so I could feel his arms around me for one more minute, or so I could kiss him one more time.

I stare down at the letter and smile to myself. Courtney's right—this changes my whole life. In just eight months, I'll be going to Harvard, and even better, so will Scott. Because if I managed to get in, he definitely did.

© Niki Burnham