Eighteen-year-old MADDIE, a senior in high school, can’t move on. She’s obsessed with ex-boyfriend JUSTIN and doesn’t want to go to college. The novel opens with Maddie avoiding writing her college essay in AP English class by writing bad poetry about Justin while faced with a disgusting jelly donut (bribery from her teacher). No one understands her behavior. Maddie only vaguely does, and TILL IT STOPS BEATING is the story of her melt down and regrouping with the help of her grandmother, Justin, friends and, mostly, herself.
Her best friends chide her after the bizarre behavior in class, and she swears off Justin, stating that she is going to start dating again. She doesn’t talk about college.
Maddie receives a call from her grandmother BUBBIE that she has cancer. Maddie goes into a tailspin of panic attacks, brought on by college pressure, Bubbie’s illness, and her unfinished love for Justin.
Maddie starts dating SEAN, but eventually (through prom and other events) realizes she’s just passing the time and that her heart still belongs to Justin.
She calls Justin and finds out that he will be in California this summer, not far from where she’ll be visiting Bubbie. After graduation, Maddie and friends plan a road trip to California. When they arrive at Bubbie’s, Bubbie explains that she won’t be doing any more chemo, since she’d rather have three great months than be miserable to the end.
At the funeral, Maddie gives the eulogy: “I remember something Bubbie said to me not too long ago when I told her how she had to try everything to stay alive because I didn’t want to go through this.” She waves her arms around the room. “And she came back at me with one of her Bubbiesm except this one came from one of her favorite writers, E.B. White, ‘Never worry about your heart till it stops beating.’ And then she added, as long as you are alive and beating, sweetie, things will hurt.” Maddie looks at her loved ones and says, “And I hurt, so I guess I really don’t have to worry.” Later she and Justin go out to the bridge and scatter some of Bubbie’s ashes that she has in the locket that her grandmother had given her.
We come full circle to Maddie and Justin on the plane home … and a jelly donut. Maddie doesn’t understand. He rubs her knee and whispers in her ear, “You love jelly donuts, raspberry to be exact.” Maddie shakes her head, but he continues. “We were in 8th grade at your house working on project, and I brought the donuts and you had an interesting way of eating them.” She begins to remember and blushes. He tells her that she stuck her finger all the way in and pulled out the jelly, then licked her finger and said, “Want some?” With that, Justin licked her finger clean. He tells her, “I remember everything” and she smiles and says, “You’re right. I do love jelly donuts,” and pulls him to her for a jelly-filled kiss.
Chapter Chapter 1
Jelly Donuts Suck
Three weeks ago today… we were kissing underneath the giant oak tree in my back yard… five months and four days ago we were in my car, holding hands, reminiscing about sophomore year when we were together…One year and nine months ago we were breaking up on my front lawn—
“Friends, seniors, texters…” Mrs. Dubois plops two boxes of donuts onto her desk.
I slam my journal shut while the rest of the class shoves their phones in their pockets.
“…lend me your ears…”
Leaning on my hand, visions of Justin, his blue-grey eyes…and chocolate donuts dance in my head…
“I come not to burden you but to help you…” Mrs. Dubois puts her hands together.
“…with your college application essay.”
Everyone groans while I mumble, to no one in particular. “Chocolate glazed?” Because if I can’t be left alone to daydream and write about Justin, I better get a chocolate glazed.
“Thou doth protest too much!” She snatches both boxes and clutches them to her slender body, “Shut thy traps or lose thy donuts!”
The class stifles further moans. No one wants to sabotage Donut Day, the highlight of AP English so far this year—aside from the soliloquies performed by Lady Dubois.
The Lady opens the boxes, revealing a cornucopia of sugar-dusted and glazed delights. “One donut each!” she bellows. “In return, I want a one-page, rough draft of your personal statement.”
The entire class bustles up to her desk, barking at each other over who gets the chocolate glazed. I don’t bother to follow. With eighteen other seventeen-year-olds to compete with, my chances of snagging the very best donut flavor are not even slim, they’re just none. Kind of like my chances of having a relationship with Justin again. None.
So, I bend my head and scribble “My Personal Statement” and chew my pen cap while my fellow classmates settle into their seats and munch on sticky donuts, only mildly better for you than a pen cap, but certainly tastier. I scratch out:
My Personal Statement
Because I hear thy muse, and she whispers in my ear:
Ode to the Asshole Who Broke My Heart
But he’s not an asshole anymore, so that’s not right.
Ode to The Former Asshole Who Broke My Heart
Ode to The Boy Who Continues to Break My Heart But Probably Doesn’t Mean to
Yes! The muse continues to sing inside my head, inspiration coming in the form of Lady Dubois’s donuts:
No donut or pastry
can distract me.
I think of Him,
Why oh why
stop this miserable shit—
that makes me write this horrible bit?
A reformed bad boy
Who’s been at Military school
Returning home occasionally
Each time making me a fool
No text or phone call in between
I know it’s not because he‘s mean.
My true love finally has stopped his shitty ways
So why oh why
can’t we be together
even if it’s not every day?
All I do is replay that kiss
unable to let go of Him that I miss
I am clearly hexed—
‘cause all I do is write crappy shit poetry
and think about my ex.
The muse stops singing, so I look up …and see a friggin’ jelly donut in front of me. I shoot a glare at my best guy friend Peter, whose busy stuffing—you guessed it—a chocolate glazed into his mouth. “That’s for bailing on us this weekend,” he says, his mouth full of chocolate.
“Does the punishment really fit the crime?” I ask, wrinkling my nose at the jelly mess in front of me.
“Yes.” He downs the rest of the donut in one bite.
“I’ll make up for it after school!” My other best friend Susan leans over my shoulder, her short, blond hair brushing my face as she plants a kiss on my cheek. “Chocolate chip cookies. With eco- friendly chips!”
I turn and give Susan a weak smile then stare back at the hole-less pastry …aha!….The muse, she sings again…of the repulsive donut! “Thank you, Peter!” I say, and he gives me a weird look then shrugs, and I dip my head down again and write:
Jelly donuts don’t fit the part
And there is a huge whole in my stupid, broken heart
Peter leans across the aisle to my desk, his floppy brown hair falling over his eyes. “Thank me for what?”
“Nothing—” I say, closing my notebook. If he knew I was writing another Ode To That Whom We Do Not Speak Of…
“Wanna bite?” Susan, says thrusting a vanilla cruller at me, her signature bright pink lipstick lining the bitten into donut.
I wrinkle my nose at her. “You’re not mad at me?”
“No. But, you do have to set a time limit to this whole feeling sorry for yourself thing.” And before I can protest, she sticks out a gloppy, donut-covered tongue at me and when I roll my eyes, she adds, “Don’t know what you’re missing, Hickman.”
“I’m not feeling sorry for myself!” I say and play with the loose paper dangling out of my spiral-bound notebook.
“Sure you’re not. I’ll take that off your hands,” Peter nods to the donut in front of me.
I push the jelly mess towards him.
Lady Dubois booms from behind her desk. “Back to work! Isn’t that your second donut, Mr. Shaw?”
Peter hangs his head in ass-kissing shame. “Yes, M’lady! Sorry!” Once Lady Dubois moves on to her next victim, he dives into donut number two.
Jelly plops out onto his napkin and my hand flies over my mouth.
I vaguely hear Mrs. Dubois say something to the kid at her desk about “safeties” and “reaches,” a.k.a. That Which I Have No Interest In. Not safety nor reach or anything in between.
I go back to my journal, far more useful to me right now than a personal statement.
Justin and I can’t happen. I’ve gone over this a thousand times. I glance at Peter licking his fingers and then back at Susan, but just get the top of her blonde head as she furiously writes in her curly handwriting. We’ve gone over this a million times. A shadow darkens over my desk. I have no idea how long she’s been there, but suddenly Lady Dubois is standing next to me saying:
“A college essay in verse can certainly give you that extra boost in the eyes of admissions officers.”
That donut I didn’t eat seems to be stuck in my throat.
She has my notebook in her hands and is scanning the page. I open my mouth, but only a weird croak comes out and, whoops! The bell rings.
Lady sighs and hands me back my notebook. “Keep at it. And don’t forget, end it with a sense of hope. Colleges like that.” My face burning, I nod, shove my notebook into my bag, and dart out with Peter and Susan trailing behind me. A sense of hope? Then the only thing that poem is good for is “my stupid broken heart.”
After school, I’m sunk deep into Susan’s plush couch in her TV room, holding a plate of fragrant chocolate chip cookies. Baked in honor of me because of the jelly donut fiasco last period.
“The scent of chocolate helps depression.” Dr. Susan tells me from where she is perched on the arm of an oversized, orange chair.
My ears perk up. Susan and Peter nod at me and the plate of goodies, so I take a giant inhale… and promptly begin to cough. This makes them crack up until my cough turns into a fit, that’s when Susan leaps up and starts whacking me on the back while Peter starts screaming about the Heimlich maneuver.
“Guys! Stop! I’m fine.”
They both freeze and mumble, “Jesus you scared us” and “Just looking out for you.” Then squish themselves back into the chair, together this time. Attached at the hip is putting it mildly. Attached at the shoulder, thigh, hip, knee.
After a few moments of silence where we all catch our breath, Peter offers, “Chocolate also releases the same endorphins as making out.”
This makes the two of them giggle like seventh graders, while all I can think of with the words make out is—
“Justin.” Oh, no. I said his name out loud.
“Ha! I told you so!” Peter shouts and leaps up, bumping Susan off the chair.
She crashes to the floor. “Hey!”
“Sorry.” He points a finger at me. “But I knew it! And your essay was about That Who We Aren’t Supposed to Speak Of.”
“It was a poem.” I correct him not even attempting to deny it. Why bother. These two know we better than I know myself.
Susan stands up, her nose ring gleaming in the florescent basement light. She gives him a light push. “Leave her alone, Petey. Of course she’s still recovering from the Return and Departure of Lover Boy.” She walks over and rubs my head. “It’s okay.” She takes a cookie and crashes next to me. I clutch the plate as the remaining cookies bounce.
Peter crosses his arms. “Maybe she needs to actually try and get over you-know-who.”
Susan smirks at him. “Cause you’re an expert on Getting Over Him? Um, wait…aren’t you in your first serious relationship?”
“No! What about—”
“Us?” she raises her eyebrows. “Honey, in case you forgot, you dumped me and then you came out. And don’t forget me, and The Total-Package, Shamus—” We all shake our heads.
Back in the spring, just days before they were supposed to get matching tattoos, Susan caught The Total Package kissing an ex-girlfriend who had the very same tattoo that Susan was supposed to get. The “yin” symbol to his “yang.”
She continues, “So that makes me the expert in Boys You Want But Can’t Be With. Not you.”
“A-to-the-men!” I declare and thrust a piece of cookie under my nose, happy that my stupid broken heart is out of the spotlight.
Peter snatches the cookie and the plate from me. “Enough with sniffing the friggin’ cookies. You’re gonna inhale one up your nose and then we’re going to have to do the Heimlich for real.” He puts the plate on the coffee table.
“To my nose?” I cock my head at him.
“You know what I mean.”
“Why am I getting the abuse?” I frown.
“Sorry,” Peter says and clasps his hands together. “I just want you to be happy. Trying some tough love…and failing.” He plops down next to me and throws an arm around my shoulders.
“I say we take a break from all of this sad sack shit,” Susan reaches for the remote. “Let’s get our Dawson on. It will make you feel better, Maddie.”
Click. On screen Joey–with her annoying, puppy-dog-pained expression–explains to Dawson why she kissed Pacey, even though she was supposed to now be with Dawson (and not Pacey).
Finger wagging at the TV, I say, “This stupid love triangle goes on for the entire Dawson series…”
“And it never gets old,” Susan throws a knowing glance at me.
“But these characters actually never change,” I protest. “Subtract the love triangle but add Boy I Can’t Get Over, and Welcome to Maddie’s Creek.”
“Shhhh,” Peter whispers, squeezing my shoulder with his eyes still on the screen.
I lean into Peter and watch Dawson and Joey cry on screen now. Most boys I know don’t cry, yet another reason this show annoys me…on top of the fact that Dawson and Joey never seem to get over their teeny bop love, even when they’re practically adults…Justin and I were together when we were freshmen and sophomores…I’m a senior for god sake, and he doesn’t even go to school here, and I’m still busy waiting and pining…hanging on to one stupid make out session…
How does Dawson eventually get over Joey? He dates another girl…My god what have I been doing for the past year and nine months? Not going out with guys…at least ones I really like…of which there has been two at most.
Which makes me realize something.
“Shhh!” Susan says. “This is the best part—” Susan mouths along with Dawson, “All that matters right now is what you want.”
“F- Dawson and his stupid creek! I’m having an epiphany!”
“Can you just wait, like, two minutes?” Susan says.
“No!” I reach for the remote.
“Hells-to-the-no!” Susan snatches it back.
Peter and Susan (together as Dawson) recite, “You want him like I want you. You love him like I love you. Only the difference is, he loves you back the same way.”
A tear falls from Susan’s face. Peter sucks his breath in.
“Are you guys kidding me?”
Peter turns away from the TV. “I just can’t watch the rest.”
“Good!” I pluck the remote from Susan’s hand. “’Cause it’s time for Maddie’s Creek, okay?”
Neither of them protest. I click off the TV.
I stand and face them, pointing a finger. “Listen to me: I can’t keep doing the same thing—” I think so fast I almost miss it. “I’m gonna go out with a boy. Not just any boy, either. Someone I like.”
“Really?” they ask together. “Today?”
“Okayyyy,” they say, slowly, I practically see the radar signals between them. “Who?”
“I don’t know.” That cut guy who sits in front of me in Physics? Or maybe the other editor of the literary magazine, with the puppy eyes? Why can’t I remember anyone’s name?
“We’ll help you!” Peter says.
“Yes…mmmm.” I pace back and forth in front of them. “ No. The one time I let you do that…”
“Oh, come on. Roy was sweet.” Susan pipes in.
I stop pacing and shake my head. “His breath smelled of moth balls and…he farted on the date. I mean, come on.”
“Valid point.” Peter taps his chin. “ How about Charlie?”
I make a who’s-that face.
“Come on, Maddie.” Susan reaches out and tugs at my arm. “Adorable Physics Charlie who always asks you for your mechanical pencil?”
“Maybe.” That’s his name!
I squat in front of them and they lean in close as I tell them, “Most of all…I’m gonna stop writing bad poetry about Justin…and stop replaying the make out session we had.” Our hands and mouths roaming all over each other, telling me that he still loved me.
They look at me funny but then burst into applause, and I leap up and take a bow, but can’t control the vision that pops into my head: a perverted threesome—me, Justin, and a plate of cookies.