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"My name is not Edie. It's E.D. E period, D period."
"What kind of a name is that?"
The boy slouching against the porch railing had scarlet spiked hair, a silver ring through one dark brown eyebrow, and too many earrings to count. He was dressed entirely in black -- black T-shirt, black jeans, black high-top running shoes -- and the look in his eyes was pure mean.
"My kind," E. D. Applewhite said. She had no intention of telling this creep the story of her name. She could tell by looking at him that he'd never heard of Edith Wharton, her mother's favorite writer. Being probably the only almost-thirteen-year-old girl in the whole country named Edith, she had no intention of giving him even that little bit of ammunition to use against her. E.D., she thought, was at least dignified -- like a corporate executive, which one day she just might be. "What kind of a name is Jake Semple?"
Two can play at that game, the boy's face said. "Mine."
Not an original bone in his body, E.D. thought. Just a plain ordinary delinquent.
According to her friend Melissa, though, Jake Semple was famous. He had been kicked out of the public schools in the whole state of Rhode Island. Melissa wasn't sure what all he'd done to achieve that particular distinction, but the word around Traybridge was that one thing he did was burn down his old school. He'd come to North Carolina to live with his grandfather Henry Dugan, a neighbor of the Applewhites, and go to Traybridge Middle School.
The plan had not lasted long. No one in living memory had been thrown out of Traybridge Middle School, but Jake Semple had managed to accomplish that feat in three weeks flat. At least the building was still standing. It was only the middle of September, and he had run out of schools that were willing to risk taking him.
Mr. Dugan was inside at that moment discussing with E.D.'s parents, her Aunt Lucille, Uncle Archie, and Grandpa Zedediah the arrangement the two families and Jake's social worker had worked out for continuing Jake's education.
Jake Semple was the first person E.D. had ever met who had a social worker. She thought that was probably only one step away from having a probation officer, which is what Jake's parents would have when they got out of jail. That was why Jake had a social worker -- because his parents were in jail for growing marijuana in their basement and offering some to an off-duty sheriff's deputy. E.D. didn't know how long they were going to be in jail, but at least a year. She figured criminal tendencies ran in families. The kid had burned down his school just after his parents were arrested.
E.D.'s Aunt Lucille was a poet and had been conducting a workshop at Traybridge Middle School when Jake was kicked out. This whole terrible idea had been hers. She'd told Mr. Dugan about the Creative Academy, which was what E.D.'s father had named the Applewhite home school. Only Aunt Lucille, whose view of life was almost pathologically sunny, would get the idea that after an entire state had admitted it couldn't cope with the kid and after Traybridge Middle School had been defeated in less than a month, the Applewhites should take him in. The Creative Academy didn't even have any trained teachers, let alone guidance counselors and armed security guards. There were a whole bunch of buildings the kid could burn down at Wit's End -- the main house, all eight cottages, the goat shed, a toolshed, and the barn.
But somehow Aunt Lucille had convinced everybody else. E.D. had been the only family member to vote against letting Jake Semple join them. She'd begged her grandfather, who usually had more sense than all the rest of the family combined, to put a stop to the idea. "You know how Aunt Lucille can't ever believe a bad thing about anybody!" she'd told him. "Her attitude about people is downright dangerous."
He'd only twiddled with his mustache and said that he rather envied Lucille's rose-colored view of things. "More often than not, I've noticed, it turns out to be true." Then he had declared taking Jake Semple in a noble and socially responsible thing to do. Noble and socially responsible! More like suicidal, E.D. thought. She had thought that even before she'd laid eyes on Jake Semple. Now she was sure of it.
Jake pulled a cigarette out of a pack in his T-shirt pocket.
"Better not light that thing," she said, thinking about lighters and matches and very large fires. "Wit's End is a smoke-free environment."
The boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a yellow plastic lighter. "You can't have a smoke-free environment outdoors," he said.
"We can have it anywhere we want -- this is our property, all sixteen acres of it."
Jake looked her square in the eye and lit the cigarette. He took a long drag and blew the smoke directly into her face so that she had to close her eyes and hold her breath to keep from choking on it. Then he said one of Paulie's favorite phrases. No one had managed to break Grandpa's adopted parrot of swearing. E.D. suspected that they wouldn't have any better luck with Jake Semple...Surviving the Applewhites. Copyright © by Stephanie Tolan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan
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