Praise for THIS IS NOT A LOVE SCENE:
“Megale is a terrific new voice in the world of YA. This Is Not a Love Scene rings brilliantly true from the first page to the last. —David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“A humorous, hearty novel about the realities (and fantasies) of being a teenager with a disability….Readers will want to zoom in on this [#ownvoices] story featuring a strong, sexually confident, disabled female character.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Informative and inspiring. It makes for an altogether thought-provoking and empathetic reading experience.” —Booklist
About the book:
Lights, camera—all Maeve needs is action. But at eighteen, a rare form of muscular dystrophy usually stands in the way of romance. She’s got her friends, her humor, and a passion for filmmaking to keep her focus off consistent rejection…and the hot older guy starring in her senior film project.
Tall, bearded, and always swaying, Cole Stone is everything Maeve can’t be. And she likes it. Between takes, their chemistry is shockingly electric.
Suddenly, Maeve gets a taste of typical teenage dating life, but girls in wheelchairs don’t get the hot guy—right? Cole’s attention challenges everything she once believed about her self-image and hopes for love. But figuring this out, both emotionally and physically, won’t be easy for either of them. Maeve must choose between what she needs and what she wants, while Cole has a tendency to avoid decisions altogether. And the future might not wait for either.
I liked being ridden, and offered the chance to pretty much every guy in Video II. I guess it made me feel as if I had something to contribute to the group.
So when Elliot jumped on the back of me and I felt his weight pull me down, I smiled. Pushed the wheelchair joy- stick. Increased acceleration. The smooth terrain of Jack- son Memorial Mall was perfect for showing off.
“Kim Possible, I mean, I thought she was attractive— that doesn’t mean I needed to start jacking.” Elliot laughed behind me, full of life. He was eighteen, like me. Tall, black, he wore skinny jeans and the hoodie of a band I’d never heard of. We were debating which animated charac- ters of our youth were worthy of sexual awakenings.
“Robin Hood could get it from Little Maeve,” I said. “The Disney one, the fox.” I don’t know. He had a mischie- vous smile.
“Disney?” said Elliot. He shook the handlebar of my wheelchair near my ear.
“Kim Possible is Disney,” I retorted.
“Disney Channel, completely different ball game.” “No way! Disney jack sesh!” I said.
“Maeve,” Mags, my best friend, reprimanded me from my right.
Air conditioners wafted along the scent of free-sample lotion and buttery pretzels. One of those pretzels was folded in a paper bag resting on my footplate. KC had dove in front of the register to buy it for me. I couldn’t lift my arm high enough to swat away his credit card.
“Abuse of the disabled,” I’d accused.
We cruised our way back towards the food court now, after a few loops of circling.
About halfway through Video II an hour ago, my class- mates and I—Elliot, Mags, KC, and Nate—had decided to dip for the mall. Not that we’d been doing anything in class. Mags had been sitting on the floor at my wheels, reading Bridge to Terabithia, and I was swiping through last night’s fun with Hot Tinder Guy. “Mags, look.” I’d shoved my screen in her face. She looked up from her book and then away real fast. All she must have caught were the words swallow and babe.
“Oh my God, Maeve.”
I grinned and returned to the screen. I knew it was messed up, but I was proud I’d successfully sexted a guy from Tinder. I mean . . . after eighteen years of experience trying otherwise, it seemed like it could only happen on Tinder. With the photos I’d chosen, the guy couldn’t see the whole me.
“He’s so hot,” I’d said.
“He’s not, though.” Mags hadn’t looked up from her book. She was petite with long, dyed-red hair, and I was mad jealous of her in Video I until I realized having to re- ject a guy every day, like she did, sucked almost as much as never getting that chance, like I didn’t.
Despite my handicap, I looked all right, I guessed. Brown
hair and eyes, almost acceptable weight at just under a hun- dred pounds. I sat a little crooked, but whenever someone held a camera up, I made sure to lean against my scoliosis so you could barely tell. My skin was nice. I always wore the same blue, low-top Converse shoes. And I had other things going for me—humor and dreams and an attempt at posi- tivity. My life’s ambition was to be a famous director, and I had twelve scripts completed by the age of sixteen.
Mr. Billings, Seefeldt High School’s premier film teacher, had to combine Video I and II this semester in order for the school not to cancel both electives due to low enrollment. There was this really valiant entreaty at the beginning of the year in which Billings convinced the principal we were worth holding the class on block days, and the principal conceded with the requisite that Billings film the foot- ball games for the coaches every Friday. Then maybe he’d consider having Billings film baseball in the spring so we could have Video III. Billings literally took one for the team. But we were usually left to our own devices while he taught the newbies to render shit onto their Mac desk- tops. This was the first time things got bad enough for us to ditch.
The mall crowd’s chatter rose near the food court. We picked a table for three since KC and Nate had left for physics; it was just Elliot, Mags, and me. Elliot hopped off my wheelchair and took a seat to my right. I bulldozed aside a chair and it screeched on the tile as Mags sat on my left.
Flapping ears and a jingle of dog chains ripped through the air next to Mags, and I looked down.
Technically, I wasn’t supposed to let Mags hold the leash of my service dog. His nonprofit company had strict rules. But the way she’d walked through the mall with her leash hand dangling down, blasé as shit (not to mention totally
able-bodied) to match François’ blasé-as-shit expression amused me. Only two years old, François wore a blue-and- gold vest and silver choke collar. His half retriever, half Labrador fur was almost white, and everyone pretty much had to resist the urge to scrunch all that extra skin over his large brown eyes. I mean, that and the fact that his name was François.
Normally those eyes were dull and disinterested. Now, he looked up at me and gently swayed. Food.
I mouthed no warmly, and he kept wagging.
“Fam, I don’t know what we’re doing,” said Mags, gaz- ing absently around the food court and twirling François’ leash on her wrist.
Elliot draped across the sticky linoleum table. “I know.” He covered his face. “We need these damn shirts.”
“I mean, we’re filming next week; that’s still enough time for eBay.” I lowered my left arm for François to slap with his tongue. My right was too stiff and weak to hang down that far.
“Do they have to be identical?” said Mags. “Can some of the actors just have, like, different uniforms?”
“Nah . . .” Elliot and I answered simultaneously. We were codirecting the group’s final project for Video II. I was glad we were on the same page. Most times.
“Imma get a wrap.” Elliot drew out his wallet and plucked a few bills. “You guys want anything?”
“No, thanks,” said Mags. He pointed at me. “Maeve?”
I smiled. “I’m good, thanks.” “Aight.”
Elliot left me with just Mags, his cologne pushing the air. They were comfortable with me—my classmates. I had that weird bubbling happiness in my chest that reminded me
it’s not normal for me to feel normal. Being born with a neu- romuscular disease that cripples your strength and locks up your joints and confines you to a wheelchair made normal an unrealistic standard. I had a form of muscular dystro- phy, which is a pretty big sucky umbrella of genetic diseases that erode muscles and get worse as time goes on until you basically shrivel up like plastic sheets in the microwave.
As a baby, I’d begun to lose milestones rather than gain them. Only weeks after my first steps, I started to fall over and eventually never get back up. A shake developed. Mak- ing sure I could breathe whenever I came down with some- thing became critical. But the severity of the condition varies for no explicable reason—there are those with my dis- ability who use standers and others who are already dead. What’s really messed up is when I drag through Google images of others with my disease that’re frailer and more twisted just so I can think: Screw that, I’m not like you.
Sometimes I’m an asshole, but only in my head.
“How are you doing?” said Mags. Her pretty eyes watched me with a mix of sympathy and refreshing nonchalance. Pain wriggled in my stomach. We’d been texting, and she knew I was depressed.
You’d think my reason for depression was, like, hospi- tal visits and wheelchair parts on back order, right? I don’t grieve my disability; I grieve the shitty side effects of it. Sure, you make the best of being different. I’ve shaken a lot of hands and looked into a lot of tear-filled eyes of really rich people I somehow inspired to make a donation that won’t solve any of my problems. But for the most part? The pain of having a condition is about rejection and desires to feel human in ways that can never possibly be filled.
“You’re fine. Have you heard from R?”
Ugh. I don’t let my friends use his name anymore. “No.” I shifted.
I cringed. It sounded so final when Mags apologized. “I’m used to it,” I said. “I wouldn’t want me either.” “That’s stupid,” said Mags. “Don’t say that.”
“Nah, fam, it’s stupid.” She never let me get away with bullshit and I smiled.
François sniffed the air gingerly with pushed-back ears and mollified eyes. He sort of looked stoned all the time.
“François,” I said. He looked at me. I’d meant to chas- tise him, but I actually chuckled instead.
“Oh my Gawd!” a middle-aged woman with long dark hair and Chanel sunglasses (in the mall?) squealed at our table and made us jump. She held a vegan wrap in her man- icured nails—I could tell from the VEGAN! VEGAN! VEGAN! print spiraling the wrap paper. “What a precious dog!” she said, and flipped that o pretty hard in her New York accent.
“Yeah, you can pet him,” said Mags, without asking my permission. “She’s not one of those crazy strict handlers.” She let go of the leash.
“Oh my Gawd.” The woman crouched and kneaded François’ ears in her hands.
With my previous service dog, Martin, now was the time when he’d look at me like: Why? Who is this? How is this supposed to help you?
But François was my European second love and we have an open relationship, so he started smacking his tongue out for her face.
I’d typically use this time to hardcore flirt with what- ever guy knelt in front of me, but in general, I was a little less invested in François’ female catches.
“Yes,” the woman cooed. “Yes.” She made kissy noises at François, and Mags and I watched. Our boredom grew into furrowed brows as it started to get a little weird.
“Mwah!” The woman ended strong and rose, facing me. “So cute!”
IF SHE WERE A GUY: “You’re not bad either. Can you pet me now?”
BECAUSE SHE’S NOT: “Thanks.”
“Listen,” the woman said. Uh-oh.
“Have you heard of . . .” Insert charity organization for physical handicap I’ve never heard of.
“Oh my Gawd, you’re kidding. They’re right here in Fredericksburg!”
“That’s wonderful,” I said.
“We’ve been trying to get a service dog team in to speak to our donors for months. The top investor is a huge dog lover.” “Aww. Well, I could give you his company info,” I said. “Maybe they can hook you up with a trainer to come in
“Oh, honey, no. The event is next week.” “Ah,” I said. “What do you do for them?”
“I’m their CFO. Isn’t that right, sweetie?” She cooed down at François. No, I thought, François doesn’t know your career life choices.
But François wagged.
“Anyway,” the woman said. “I’m Patricia. I think you would be perfect for inspiring these donors to help out the kids at the special needs camp.”
“Oh . . .”
Mags looked away and suppressed a grin. She knew she couldn’t save me. Anxiety already built in my throat.
“I’m flattered, but I don’t know . . .” I said. But gee, I always had a hard time saying no to special camp kids. “When is it?”
“It’s on the twenty-first; they’ll love you. Oh my Gawd, you’ll be a hit.”
Thank God—an out.
“Damn. I’m filming with my class all day that day.” I motioned to include Mags.
An anvil fell down the woman’s face. The tiny muscles in her expression stiffened. “Sigh.” She actually said sigh. Awkward silence stretched. “If you change your mind, let me know.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “How about I come this summer and read to the kids? Teach them about service dogs?” Blergh. “Do you have a card or anything?”
The corner of her mouth flicked up a little at my offer. “That’d be sweet. I’m out of cards. Just Google the camp. I’m at the bottom of their web page.”
When she left, I only had time to draw in breath at Mags’ comical look before Elliot plopped back down in his seat, wrap and fries on a pink tray.
“Who was that?”
“Some wheelchair charity person,” said Mags. She stole a fry and Elliot unfolded his wrap.
“So what else do we need still for the shoot?” I said as Elliot took a huge bite. “I handled the props. Location is locked. Do the actors know their call times?”
“Mmm!” Elliot hummed around his mouthful. He swal- lowed. “Bad news. Cole can’t make it.”
“I know,” said Elliot.
“No,” I said. “Give me his number. Right now. He’s making it. Dammit.” I rolled my eyes. Actors.
Elliot laughed. “Okay, I will.” “Who is this?” said Mags. “Cole Stone,” said Elliot. “Like the creamery?”
“No,” I said, “like the actor.” Elliot huffed with humor.
“Yo, what did you and Nate 2.0 talk about last night?” Mags asked Elliot. Elliot and Nate went to the new Marvel film together. We call him Nate 2.0 because there was a really creepy Nate in Video I that we don’t talk about anymore.
“I don’t know.” Elliot laughed. “He’s wild.” “Sometimes,” I said. Nate’s humor was hit or miss
“Why sometimes?” said Mags. I noticed she was start- ing to get defensive and inquisitive and highly interested in Nate.
“I dunno,” I said. “I think he’s really funny, but some- times I think he doesn’t like me.” I wasn’t sure I really believed that. I wanted to see what they’d say.
“That’s stupid,” said Mags.
“Mmm . . .” said Elliot. We looked at him as he wiped a napkin over his mouth. “He can be insensitive.”
“How?” said Mags.
“He just says things to be funny sometimes and it’s not funny.”
“Like what?” said Mags.
Elliot rolled his shoulders uncomfortably.
“He said something about me, didn’t he?” I said. “What’d he say?”
Elliot sighed. “He said something like . . . Maeve will be a virgin forever.”
Mags fell silent. I did too.
Elliot made a sad, shrugging face. “He’s just immature.” No. He was kind of right, though.
“Don’t listen to him.”
The humor and ease and acceptance I basked in extin- guished. My teeth ground together and I nodded, staring across from them at the Chinese buffet.
One thing I’ve learned from getting endless feedback on my scripts is that criticism doesn’t hurt unless you kind of agree with it.
“Well . . . that sucks,” said Mags, genuinely.
Elliot rubbed my hand and some of that love flowed back into my blood. “Love you, co-director,” he said.
“Love you, co-director,” I mumbled back. Elliot smiled. I ticked alight my phone on the table.
“My dad’s probably waiting outside,” I said. “I better head out.”
“I’ll walk you out,” said Elliot. “I’ll walk you out,” I said. “Eyyyy . . .” Elliot grinned.
I tapped my joystick and my wheelchair gave its me- chanical clicking sound before moving. I froze. François al- ways leapt up from the floor at that sound. I looked down beneath the table and choked.
François was gone.
About the author:
- C. MEGALE is an author and filmmaker. She’s been profiled in USA Today, The Washington Post, andNew York Newsday, and has appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” and the CBS Evening News for her philanthropic and literary work. As a humanitarian, she’s spoken on the USS Intrepid, at the NASDAQ opening bell, and to universities and doctors nationwide. She enjoys making connections all over the world.
Megale was raised in the long grass of the Civil War, hunting for relics and catching fireflies along the banks of Bull Run. A shark tooth, flutes, and a flask are some of the items that hang from her wheelchair, and she had a fear of elevators until realizing this was extremely inconvenient. She lives with her family which includes her parents, sister and brother, service dog, and definitely-not-service dog.
This is Not a Love Scene is her first published novel.