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Over You
Author: Emma McLaughlin



An early fall leaf loosens from a tree and blows into Max’s jacket, fluttering down and getting crushed beneath the toe of her platform pump as she strides down the sidewalk purposefully to her next case.

By seventeen, Max Scott has created so many versions of herself she’s almost lost count—but this is the one she loves best. Previously Max always readily adapted to the style norms of whatever new school she transferred into. And she transferred a lot. As the only child of a single mother, Max had to move whenever her mom’s latest journalism job folded with the local paper. From Denver to Daytona. Another furniture set from USA Rentals, another faux granite kitchenette, another stack of boxes that wouldn’t get unpacked.

While none of it would have been her first choice, even Max had to admit it had made her into a keen observer of the human animal.

Here’s who Max was not: that new girl who slunked in the corner with her hands tucked into her sleeves waiting for a vampire to find her irresistible. She did not abide furtive glances and chewed bottom lips. And she would seriously rather be found dead than staring into her lunch tray at a table in Cafeteria Siberia. Please.

Over the years Max developed a system. When it came to being the new girl, Max learned to get herself to the mall. She would set up camp at the food court’s Cold Stone Creamery or enticing equivalent and then covertly watch as most girls passed with envious eyes and snide comments. It was the girls who stopped and ordered a big group-something to share, who dug in while talking each other’s ears off, laughing so hard they sprayed whipped cream, pecan frosting, or pretzel crumbs, that caught Max’s attention. There was nothing Max valued more than those who found the funny.

Once she spotted them, Max watched, listened, recorded, and then Google cross-referenced so by the first day of school she had their look down with just enough variation so as not to appear to be “trying.” Max’s system helped her to find her peeps pronto, and she didn’t care what brand pants they wore so much as that they could crack up until they wet them.

Thus one year there was an athletic, ponytailed version of Max who wore sneakers and said “hey” instead of “hello.” In Cincinnati, there was a version who wore leggings for so many months she had permanent seam indentations running up her thighs. There was an eighth-grade version who wore heavy black eyeliner and wasn’t easily impressed. A version who wore teal eyeliner and clapped twice in exuberance upon discovering Pizza Day. One who played with American Girl dolls (fourth grade), and one who gave them buzz cuts (fifth grade). At this point, so as not to confuse the friends she’d picked up along the way, her Facebook photo was Audrey Hepburn in a cocktail dress fashioned from a bedsheet from Breakfast at Tiffany’s—hewing closest to Max’s authentic ideal. Max believed style and wit equipped a girl to best nearly anything.


Max had embraced each new school. And she had always been embraced back. That was until her parents decided Max should attend one place consecutively for her junior and senior years to ensure a smooth transition to the caliber of college they hoped for her. So they packed Max off to a rigid—read: humorless—New England boarding school, the kind with a chapel, a crest, and a Latin motto. The thought of it still makes her cringe. And into this vacuum of funny, this vortex of blah and bland, stepped him. The one. The answer. The reason. Hugo Tillman.

Hugo made her feel seen, he made her feel loved, he got her jokes and her style. And then the thing happened that happens at some point to every girl, in every school in the world. Max was informed that he who she loved most was no longer in love with her. Max Scott was dumped.

With a few slicing words from Hugo, her life came crashing in. And with no “home” to go to, she settled for the next-best thing—heading to her mother’s latest mailing address: New York City, where Max found the inspiration to channel her roiling misery.

Refusing to return to school, any school, period, Max spent the rest of what would have been her junior year walking the mazelike halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she was drawn to the doleful eyes of a nineteenth-century black-and-white photograph. The eyes looked exactly like the ones staring hollowly back at Max in the medicine-cabinet mirror every morning. Camille Claudel, Rodin’s mistress and muse. She’d inspired him, informing the sculpting style that would make him world famous forever, and he, by way of thanks, dumped her ass, stole her technique, and locked her up in an insane asylum when she tried to speak of it.

From there Max roamed the twentieth-century galleries, with their low lighting, low ceilings, and tiger wood walls. The squeaking snow boots she’d been living in called the passing attention of the sparse tourists, but she didn’t care. She was too busy contemplating the O’Keeffes. Along with the naked photographs taken by Georgia’s partner, Alfred Stieglitz. The very photos that garnered him renown and recognition prevented Georgia’s peers from taking her work seriously in her lifetime. Now everyone gets that posing naked is not the route to respect, but how was Georgia to know? She was just making Alfred happy.

Max looped through that wing toward the ornate portraits of Henry VIII’s beheaded wives, their only crime that they accepted his proposal of marriage. Then on to the Greek vases, where goddesses and mortals alike prostrate themselves over hearts broken by callous gods. She spotted Daphne, Io, and Persephone, for whom male attention brought agony and destruction.

She sat for hours on a bench across from a painting of Cleopatra committing suicide. How? she asked herself. How is it that civilization evolved the ability to shuttle someone to the moon, but other than capturing its excruciating details in every medium, it hadn’t come up with anything to guide women through heartbreak? Max walked past the first thermometer, the first coins. Girls have no tools, no systems at our disposal, Max thought. Turning ourselves into trees is frankly a crap suggestion—thanks, Greeks.

Because, let’s face it, Rodin went on to wealth and glory, Zeus went on to turn another goddess into a hamster or a barn door or whatever, Henry handed those wives in at the gallows like he was getting a rebate at a car dealership and got to start his own religion. The guys took and still take hearts with impunity and are fine. More than fine, they have fame and fortune and empires. They still hook up. They still play Wii. And we? We?

Max caught sight of herself in the glass shielding Ophelia from the light. I am scary thin, she thought. I have eggplant circles under my eyes. I want to play Wii. Or at least want to want to play Wii. It’s been centuries. We cannot still be incurring the blow of rejection with as little at our disposal as Cleopatra. Civilization has come up with cars and nuclear power plants, Blu-ray movies, open-heart surgery, and Cesar Millan. There has to be a way to evolve this. I will evolve this, Max thought.

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