Everyone knows how crazy junior year is, but Autumn Falls never imagined it would be so flirty. The wish-granting diary her father left her stopped working, leaving Autumn to decode what’s going on with her and Sean on her own. He seems into her . . . and he also seems into Reenzie. And when JJ steps up and tells Autumn he’s the one she should be with if she wants someone who really cares about her and a pop star makes a major play for her, Autumn is totally confused. Her friends have Big Drama issues going on too, and Autumn wants to be there for them. Then something mind-blowing happens. She’s suddenly given an incredible crazy-fun opportunity: a map that takes her anyplace she wants to go. At first it seems like an amazing gift. But showing up IRL where you’re least expected has life-changing consequences. Is Autumn ready to handle the fallout?
Praise for Autumn Falls:
“We promise you’re going to love it.”
“You’ll be obsessed with Autumn Falls. It has basically everything you could ever want.”
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“Let’s go!” I holler. I’ve already been hollering for two hours, so my voice rasps in my throat. I’m sweating buckets even though I’m wearing a tank and shorts--in the beginning of October--but I’m used to that now. That’s how life is in Aventura, Florida. We sweat until the thunderstorms shower us clean, and then we sweat again. “Go, Indians!”
“No Indians!” Even though she’s right next to me, my friend Reenzie has to shout so I’ll hear her over the crowd. “Remember?”
“Reenzie, come on,” I whine. “It’s the team’s name!”
“It’s offensive to Native Americans!” she shoots back. “I have the whole online petition.”
“You’re only doing that to look good on college applications,” I remind her. Then the crowd noise rises a million decibels and we both whip our faces toward the field. A guy in tight turquoise pants is running really, really fast and keeps ducking out of the way of guys in tight black pants.
“YES!” I shout as if I have any clue what’s going on. “YES! GO!”
The ever-increasing roar from the crowd tells me cheering was the right choice. I keep screaming as the turquoise guy runs all the way to the part of the field with our team’s name on it. Even I know what that means.
“Touchdown!” All my friends and I scream it together, and Reenzie and I are so excited, we throw our arms around each other and jump up and down, but Reenzie pulls away to yell at our friends J.J. and Jack for doing a bad version of a Native American tribal dance.
“Offensive!” she shouts, pointing at them.
“Reenzie, half the stadium’s doing it,” I tell her. “You’ve got to let it go.” Then I lean past the guys to yell over the noise, “Tee, you have the popcorn?”
Taylor nods, then scoots past J.J. and Jack so she can hand me the bucket and she, Reenzie, and I can share it. She leans down to my much-lower-than-hers head and points to a guy three rows in front of us and a little off to the side. “There’s your boyfriend.”
I do a spit-take on the popcorn. The guy has to be at least fifty--we get a lot of alums at Aventura High games--and there’s nacho sauce threaded through his way-too-bushy-for-this-kind-of-humidity beard.
“Spew away from the bucket,” Reenzie tells me, but I’m already scanning the stands for a worthy comeback. Then I hear the loud dual stomp that means we’re about to start another football ritual.
“DE-FENSE!” Stomp-stomp. “DE-FENSE!” Stomp-stomp.
I join in. I have no idea what I’m rooting for, but it’s our side of the stadium that’s saying it, so it’s a safe bet it’s something good. Plus, our cheerleaders are shouting along. I find my friend Amalita among them. She’s the shortest and probably the roundest, but she out-handsprings every beanpole on the squad. I mimic her hand motions as I keep up the cheer.
The whole stadium--or at least the home team side--thrums and echoes with our stomps and shouts. I feel like I’m part of something huge, like I’m having a wild out-of-body experience I’m sharing with everyone else here.
High school football is the greatest sport in the world.
I never realized it when I lived in Maryland, because there, it wasn’t. Here, it’s huge. Plus, now I understand how it works.
Here’s the deal. It starts Friday at school, when everyone competes to see how many items of clothing in the school colors you can pile onto your body. Granted, our school colors are turquoise and purple--not a combo I’d advise under any other circumstance--but on game day it works. Accessories count, as does face paint.
So I guess that would be the first quarter of the football game--the Fashion Pile‑On. Then there’s the pep rally right after school. Pep rallies back in Maryland? Lame and not cool. Here it’s a Thing, and I’m all about Things. Everyone goes, and the goal is to scream your throat rawer than anyone else’s. That’s like the second quarter--the Shriek-Off. The third quarter involves speed: You scoot home, change out of your old set of school-color clothes and into a fresh one, grab whatever snacks you can mash into a cooler, then meet your friends at a prearranged location with plenty of time to get to the stadium and find seats before the game. The details are essential here. You need to achieve the maximum level of cute in the minimum amount of time, because the bleachers fill up fast. Extra points for bringing the best snacks, penalties for not arriving with a big enough group of friends. Four is the minimum acceptable.
The fourth quarter is the pregame show, meaning our school taunts the visitors on the other side of the stadium. Lots of bleacher pounding, more screaming, and the challenge of not scarfing all the snacks before the game starts. When the band comes onto the field, that signals the end of the fourth quarter: time to tune out and take selfies while they play the school song, then scream like crazy when the guy on the PA announces our players. We cheer as if they’re rock stars like Kyler Leeds, even if they’re just the jerks who made gross mouth noises during the last school assembly. That’s how psyched we are.
Fifth quarter? The game. Time to figure out which players look good in their football tights and which you’d rather not see, take selfies in the stands and post on Instagram, play “there’s your boyfriend” while pointing at the least likely candidates, finish the snacks everyone brought and cave on the overpriced school-sponsored popcorn and nachos, and either scream to your friends over the stadium noise or, if something’s a secret, scramble around in your row so you can get to someone’s ear.
Oh yeah--and whenever the guy on the PA sounds really excited, you know it’s time to look at the field. If one of our guys is catching something from super far away, kicking something through the goalposts, or running into the area where the team’s name is painted on the grass, we get to make as much noise as humanly possible.
Finally, there’s going out afterward. You get greasy, sugary food, and everyone sounds like they’re in a wind tunnel because your ears are fried from all the screaming. It’s like you’re floating on a cloud of awesome. It doesn’t even matter if the team won or lost, except you got to scream more if they won, so that’s a little more fun. The after-thing would be the sixth quarter, I guess.
Is that too many quarters? I’m really bad at math.
I hear another roar from the crowd.
“Touchdown!” I squeal, only this time I’m squealing alone.
J.J. leans over Taylor. “Their touchdown,” he informs me. “The tights of blue belong to you.”
He’s teasing me, telling me I need a sad excuse of a rhyme to remember which team is ours. “Oh, please, like you never made a mistake like that. Did you even go to football games before I got here?”
J.J. and Taylor swap places so he and I can keep talking without screaming. “Are you trying to say your arrival on the scene changed my life?”
“Changed it for the better.”
Reenzie grabs my arm in a vise grip and points at the field. “Autumn! It’s Sean! They did a flea flicker but he had no viable receivers! He’s running with it!”
Allow me to translate that to Autumn-Falls-ese:
“Autumn! It’s Sean! Warble-blurble-static-noise-flumfle . . . running!”
Running? Sean? In those tights?
I turn and watch.
I wish I could say it’s one of those moments when time slows and I can just soak up his every move as he bounds down the field, but it doesn’t work that way. If I wanted the slo-mo, I’d have to watch the game footage and play it back that way, and that would just be creepy. Besides, even though Sean looks good on the field, his helmet hides his best feature--those blue eyes that make me think of crisp ponds, clear waterfalls, and running my hands over his perfectly toned biceps as he reaches for the back of my head and pulls me close. . . .
Whoa, that got a little out of hand, especially since Sean and I are so not there. Not anymore. Not that we were. I mean, we kind of were. We were kissing. Just not in that climax-of-a-Gothic-romance way I’d just imagined. And that was before I did some stupid things . . . to get back at Reenzie for doing some evil things . . . which it turned out she mainly did because she wanted Sean and was jealous. But after it all went down, he didn’t want to be with either one of us and it all got gross and complicated and I was convinced no one in the state except my mom, my brother, my grandmother, and maybe J.J. and Amalita would ever talk to me again.
But then I did something nice for Taylor. And since she’s friends with both the Sean/Reenzie/Zach group and the Amalita/J.J./Jack group, she amazingly, miraculously managed to bring us all together.
If she didn’t look like a Barbie doll, I’d think she was a witch.
Or maybe she looks like a Barbie doll because she’s a witch.
“Ooooh,” the crowd moans as a pack of guys throw themselves on Sean. The last one on the pile has to be two hundred pounds. How does Sean breathe under all that?
“Hey, Tee,” Reenzie calls, and Taylor again swaps places with J.J. so she’s right next to me. “There’s your boyfriend.”
Reenzie points to a guy moving our way up the stairs. He’s scuttling quickly, like he was talking to someone in a lower bleacher and is now going back to his own seat. Despite the insane heat and humidity, he’s wearing a white button-down with the sleeves rolled up. At least he’s in shorts. They’re red and stretch down to his knees. His mop of brown hair bounces playfully as he runs.
Taylor lights up. She waves her arms. “Ryan! Ryan!”
Ryan looks over and glows just as much when he sees her. He stretches out his arms. “Sarah, darling!” he squeals.
“Sky, my love!” she cries. She pushes her way past Reenzie and me so she can throw her arms around him. He’s a couple inches taller than her, and the two of them rock back and forth as they hug. When they pull apart, Ryan keeps his hands on her shoulders and looks her right in the eye like there’s no one else in the world.
“Are you loving this?” he asks, and I’m not sure if he’s talking about the musical they were just reenacting or the crazy-exciting atmosphere around us. But it doesn’t matter to Taylor--she loves anything Ryan does.
“I know! Next week we should sit together, okay?”
“I’d love that!”
“Call me tonight,” he says. “We can run lines.”
“Done.” He pulls her in again and kisses her on the cheek; then, as he races up the stairs, he sings, “I’ve never been in love before . . . now all at once it’s you . . . it’s you forever more . . .”
It’s a song from Guys and Dolls. It’s the fall musical, and Taylor plays one of the female leads. Ryan plays her boyfriend in the show, and she’s dying for him to take on the same role in real life. After he leaves, she floats back to her seat.
“Gay,” Reenzie says.
“Shut up!” Taylor snaps.
“I’m not saying it’s bad,” Reenzie says. “Just that it’s a fact.”
“Not every actor is gay,” Taylor says.
“Not actor--high school musical theater guy,” Reenzie clarifies.
“Not every high school musical theater guy is gay!” Taylor maintains. “Kyler Leeds definitely isn’t, and I read that he practically grew up in musical theater.”
Kyler Leeds happens to be my own personal obsession, but Taylor and Amalita got to hang out with him last spring for a “Night of Dreams.” They sang karaoke that night, and apparently Kyler told Taylor she was so good she should try out for musicals. The rest is history.
“Kyler Leeds is totally gay,” J.J. says.
“Shut up!” I say.
“How about Ryan Darby?” Reenzie leans forward to ask the guys.
“Gay,” J.J. replies, and Jack immediately adds, “Oh yeah. Without question.”
Taylor sits back in her seat, looking miffed. “I hate you all, and none of you are invited to my and Ryan’s wedding.”
An air horn blows. The crowd erupts. I look for the scoreboard, but everyone is on their feet and I can’t see it.
“What happened? Did we score?”
“It’s over!” Jack shouts. “We won!”
“WE WOOOOOON!” I screech. I hoot and howl and jump up and down, and this time when the band comes out on the field and plays the school song, we all sing along.
“Soft serve?” Taylor asks. She already has her phone out, ready to text Ames so she can meet us wherever we go once she changes out of her uniform and does whatever bizarre postgame rituals cheerleaders do. Jack assumes it has something to do with human sacrifice, but Jack’s weird.
“Shack at Deerfield Beach,” Reenzie says, already texting it. “I’m telling Sean.”
For just an instant, I want to lunge at Reenzie and breathe fire, but then I get it under control. The jealous thing is crazy. Sean and Reenzie are not a couple. Sean made it crystal clear after everything went down last spring that even though he had feelings for both of us, he was also pretty disgusted by us both and only wanted to be friends. And, yes, Reenzie is as hopeful as I am--if not more--that he’ll change his mind and go from our friend to her boyfriend. And sure, she’s known him forever, knows every detail about his life, including all the little things he loves best, and she looks like a Victoria’s Secret model, so the odds seem stacked in her favor. But I know I’m the one with the upper hand. While Sean was away from town all summer driving around with his older brothers and hitting college football camps, he texted me almost every day. I have the pictures on my phone to prove it, shots of him with bizarre landmarks from all over the country: him grinning with the statue of the Jolly Green Giant in Minnesota; cuddling next to a statue of a giant sock monkey in Illinois; pretending to throw a stick for the Dog Park Bark Inn--an Idaho bed-and-breakfast shaped like a giant beagle . . .
Stuff like that. Stuff he knew I’d appreciate and think was funny. Stuff that showed he was thinking about me the whole time. And, no, when he got home, he didn’t race to my house, sweep me into his arms, and kiss me--not that I had that fantasy . . . more than once an hour--but he’s always smiley and a little flirty and we still text and joke all the time and . . .