Movie and television casting has been Michelle Levy's day job for years, but all along, she secretly dreamed of being a writer. Now, with "Not After Everything," a novel for young adults about love and loss as seen through the eyes of a teenage boy, that dream is real.
The book follows Tyler Blackwell, who lives in a fictional Denver suburb. He's popular, on the football team, his girlfriend's a cheerleader and it looks like he's headed to Stanford on scholarship. On the surface, he has it all. But his home life is a different story -- especially when Tyler is left to deal with his abusive father after his mother kills herself. A rekindled relationship with an old friend helps him through.
Levy, who now splits her time between Denver and Los Angeles, spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.
Read an excerpt:
A thick, pink-polished fingernail strikes the edge of my desk — two succinct taps — and I look up from my poetic masterpiece, right into Mrs. Hickenlooper’s eyes. They bulge like her three hefty chins are trying to choke the life out of her.
“Am I boring you, Mr. Blackwell?”
I return to scratching the letter S into the top left corner of my notebook. “I assume that’s rhetorical.”
Muffled laughter from the class. Mrs. Hickenlooper’s bulbous eyes narrow — no easy feat.
“Out.” She juts her talon in the direction of the door, as if I’m too stupid to locate it myself.
I feel another sarcastic remark bubbling up, but I swallow it back as I casually finish the last of my scratching.
Now [S-C-R-E-W] T-H-I-S will be visible in the top margin of at least the next thirty sheets of notebook paper. I know it isn’t particularly clever or imaginative, but I smile all the same. Then I calmly collect my belongings and stroll out of AP macroeconomics, unsure how, exactly, being forced to leave all this is a punishment. She expects me to report to the guidance counselor’s office like she has the last three times, but of course I won’t.
I drift down the mostly empty hallways until . . . I don’t know, whatever. Truthfully, I kind of hope the asshole hall monitor will find me and dole out some sort of actual punishment.
“’S up, Tyler?” one of my old teammates says as I pass the gym. Before, I would have taken my frustrations out on the weights. Now it just seems so stupid. I nod a greeting to Ted and continue walking. Time’s not the same as it used to be, and suddenly the hall- ways are filled with people I used to be able to stand. I never even heard the bell. I have AP chem now, but it doesn’t really matter if I show up. Mr. Waters wouldn’t dare fail me. Even crusty Mrs. Hickenlooper will probably still give me an A. I wish she wouldn’t. I wish they would all stop tiptoeing around me just because my mom offed herself over the summer.
A firm hand grips my shoulder, forcing a jolt of adrenaline through me.
“Jeez, man. Relax.” Marcus. His girlfriend clings to his arm like if she let go, he’d instantly find another chick to hook up with. In all fairness, he probably would. Marcus isn’t picky. Well, that’s not entirely true. Marcus, much to the chagrin of his mother and the entire African American female population of our school, only likes white girls. Preferably blondes, although this one — number twelve, I think? — is a rare brunette. Probably because she has huge [breasts]. I make the mistake of looking at her face. She stares back at me with that infuriatingly caring look. If people knew how that face really made me feel, they’d be more careful. One of these days the wrong person is going to look at me like that, and I will seriously lose my [crap].
“Baby,” Marcus says to poor unsuspecting number twelve, “I’ll meet you after gym by my locker, ’kay?”
After a disgustingly public tongue bath, Twelve finally leaves.
“Yo, Tyler, where you headed?” Marcus yells down the hall after me.
“AP chem,” I say, not stopping.“I got English,” he says, catching up. Marcus was my best friend, but now . . . I don’t know. It’s just kind of awkward. I mean, I guess we mostly only ever talked football. But football just doesn’t seem all that important in the grand scheme of things. Not to me. Not anymore.
“Well, I’ll see you in gym,” Marcus says, slowing until he’s fallen behind me.
When I reach the lab, I hesitate by the door. Do I really need to be here? The first week of school is always pointless, but the first week of your senior year when you could feasibly fail everything and still get into a state school seems even more pointless. I’ve always done well in school. Not because I needed to prove something or impress my parents or whatever. I just like it. I actually like learning.
The guys give me [crap] about my grades, but I don’t care. Especially when Coach contacted Stanford about a football scholarship. The scout came toward the end of the season last year when I was totally on my game, and they flew my mom and me out to visit the campus, where they offered me a National Letter of Intent. I signed without batting an eye. A Pac-12 school with an Ivy League–level education for practically free? Um, hell yeah. It’s not that I’m all that great a player, but I’m fast as hell. Plus with my 2340 SATs and 4.3 GPA, let’s just say the admissions department was happy to offer me a football scholarship. And a scholarship is the only way I’d ever get any kind of college education, let alone one at freaking Stanford.
The second bell rings. Class is about to start. Mr. Waters makes eye contact with me out in the hallway. Damn. Too late to turn and run.
Running is the only thing that brings me any release these days. Thank god for gym. I’m in a groove, way ahead of the others. That is, until Marcus catches up with me, practically killing himself in the process.
“Man, you’re on fire,” he gasps, like he’s not used to the mile-high altitude, when he’s lived in Denver his whole life.
I nod, trying not to let the interruption slow my pace. “You coming to practice today?”
I haven’t been to practice since early summer. Since I found my mom in a tub of her own blood. A few weeks before school started, I told Coach, Marcus, and a few others who were in Coach’s office, that I wouldn’t be back this year because I had to work, that I wouldn’t have the time. Coach told me to “take as long as you need,” like he thought I didn’t really mean it. But I did. And I wish Marcus would stop hounding me about it.
“Gotta work.” I push myself harder, setting my quads on fire. It feels good.
I make it a few laps without thinking about anything, but then I’m about to lap the rest of the class, so I slow my pace, keep my distance. Marcus slows down until he’s running next to me again.
“So what, are you, like, quitting?” he asks. I can barely understand him, he’s breathing so hard.
“What can I say? My dad’s a prick. I gotta work.” “What about your scholarship?” “I guess I’m not going to college.” Marcus stumbles, but recovers and catches up to me again. “Look, that was my mom’s plan, and she didn’t have the guts to see it through, so why the hell should I?” He ignores my tone and presses on. “Well, what are you going to do?”
“No... clue.” I don’t wait for a reply. I push myself again, weaving through the others, focused, until all I can hear are my feet hitting the asphalt, my steady breathing, and the beat of my heart pounding in my head.