Genre: YA Magical Realism
Word Count: 59,000
Seventeen-year-old Rae has spent her whole life with the ability to smell when a relationship will sour just by looking a photograph of the couple (rotting fish, anyone?). She calls it her “lovesense” and uses it to anonymously run a love guru business at school. But after seventeen years of smelling way more stinky socks than roses, Rae is ready to give up on love altogether.
Until, that is, she finds a fifteen-year-old picture in her attic that smells of apricots and honey. Even better? She's in the photo. Rae seeks the identity of her mysterious playmate with a dedication she usually reserves for her 100-meter hurdles, but as the semester progresses, all she’s finding is trouble. She’s falling for her goofy teammate, Sam—even though he’s already been crossed off her list of possibilities, and, with just weeks until the city-county track championships, her love-guru business is exposed. She is forced to convince all her friends (and the administration) that she isn't a psycho gypsy freak—or, worse, that she hasn't been taking advantage of them for years.
Suspended from school, banned from the track championships, and alienated from her classmates, Rae has one last opportunity to prove she's still the same person before her chance at love rots like stink on cheese.
I often regret my part-time job as the ice cream/photo counter girl at Alfred’s Drug Store. But in a town as small as Sparrow, a seventeen-year-old doesn’t have a lot of options.
No more reading relationships at work, I remind myself as I tap my cross-trainers in time with the photo processor’s whir, whir, flip. It spews three hundred prints of Mary Brighten and her fiancé, but I’m not looking--especially after last week’s debacle with Mom’s friend Barb. Trust me, being the first to know that your mom’s best friend’s husband is leaving her for their pool boy sucks the big one.
Craning my neck I see the “Alfred’s has the Answer” digital clock: forty-seven minutes until the bride waltzes in. The whir is louder than our cheesy elevator music, and my nose, even though I’m telling it no, is taking in bigger and bigger breaths. I pop another Altoid into my already crammed mouth. I don’t want to know! Think about Barb. But I’m like a crack addict needing my next hit. And there isn’t an addiction recovery program to save me.
I pull a photo off the top of the stack. Even with the wonderful aroma of fresh ink, it doesn’t begin to cover the stench of this couple. It’s more than that rotten-egg sulfur smell I made in chem lab yesterday. It’s also rotting meat and moldy, squishy potatoes. A good dinner gone wrong.
As I squint at the picture, the formally clad couple separates, not mere millimeters like I usually see, but to opposite sides of the photo.