The Secret Recipe for Moving On
by Karen Bischer
Published by: Swoon Reads
Publication date: March 23rd 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
When Ellie is dumped by her boyfriend, she’s forced to make new friends (while watching her ex swoon over his new girlfriend) in The Secret Recipe for Moving On, a smart and funny YA debut from Karen Bischer.
Ellie Agresti’s not sure anything could be worse than being dumped by her boyfriend, Hunter, the first day of senior year.
But sharing a “life skills” class with him and his new girlfriend, Brynn? AND getting partnered with a “family” of misfits (A.J., the loudmouth; Isaiah, the horse-racing obsessive; and Luke, the tattooed stunt-biker)?
It’s a recipe for certain disaster…until an in-class competition allows Ellie to channel her angst into beating Hunter and Brynn’s team, and she unexpectedly bonds with her own group–especially Luke–in the process.
But as Ellie soon discovers, it will take more than classroom triumphs to heal her broken heart–and find herself again.
I’ve got a huge case of “don’t mess with me” by the time I get to the home ec room. If I have to spend the rest of the year watching this train wreck, then I intend to let everyone know how unhappy I am to be here. It’s better than being the sad and hurt victim, which is probably what Hunter is expecting me to be.
Hunter and Brynn arrive at the same time. Their heads are bent together, and they’re smiling as if sharing some sweet, cute little secret.
When they see me glaring at them, both of their faces stiffen and they swallow hard as they sit down at our table. I’d like to think they’re feeling guilty, but I’m not sure either is capable of it. More than likely they’re afraid of me, because Brynn makes a point to leave an empty seat between us. Like that space will stop me from kicking another globe at her or something.
After the bell rings, Mrs. Sanchez leans on her counter and peers at our table over her glasses. “It appears as if Paul Wilder has been expelled for his little stunt the other day.”
It’s only then that I notice Paul’s chair at the table next to ours is still empty. I’m relieved that I won’t have to be dealing with him again, but what does that have to do with us?
“And since your group has five people, and our assignments will call for groups of four, I was hoping one of you would volunteer to join Paul’s family to replace him.”
I feel my face grow hot as I scan my table. There’s Steve and Hannah, both Hunter and Brynn’s friends. And then there’s Brynn, Hunter’s new lady love. And the man of the hour himself. All of them are staring at me.
They expect me to volunteer to go.
You have got to be kidding me. I mean these people may be my new sworn enemies, but I’m not trading them for a group of delinquents and the opportunity to relive my middle school angst for the next nine months. No way, no how.
When none of us says anything, Mrs. Sanchez laughs. “I guess you’re all really tight. But you’ll still be in the same class. Surely one of you can join another group.”
Nope. Not me. Luke is staring at me, probably relishing the idea of teasing and laughing at me on a daily basis.
“I’m afraid if one of you doesn’t volunteer, I’ll have to pick someone,” Mrs. Sanchez says, annoyance rising in her voice. Good, let her pick. I’m not being pushed out of this group as if I’ve done something wrong.
“We don’t bite, yo,” A.J. says, tipping his chair back and lacing his hands behind his head.
Brynn leans toward Hunter and whispers, “I can’t believe her.”
“Can’t believe what, Brynn?” It comes out of my mouth before I can stop myself.
Brynn’s mouth hangs agape as she struggles for something to say. I feel kind of vindicated.
Until Luke speaks up. “Hey, Mrs. Sanchez. What if we pick someone?”
Mrs. Sanchez sighs. “Seeing as how this group is too stubborn to do anything, I think that’s a wonderful idea, Mr. Burke.”
Luke smiles. “I think there’s a little too much testosterone in our family, right, guys?” he says nodding at his group mates. I close my eyes, preparing for my utter humiliation.
“Okay,” I hear Luke say, and I suck in my breath. “We’d like Brynn.”
Huh? I open my eyes and exhale. Brynn is completely slackjawed. “Me?” she squeaks.
“Ms. Potts, gather your things and join their group,” Mrs. Sanchez says. “I think this is a more than sensible solution since none of you are volunteering.”
“B-but,” she sputters, looking helplessly at Hunter, who is shaking his head in dismay.
“Now, Ms. Potts!” Mrs. Sanchez snaps, clearly at the end of her patience.
And that’s when Brynn starts to cry. Like, her nose gets red and tears spill over. Her hands are shaking and she lets out a little sob as she pushes in her chair. Hunter makes a grab for her free hand. Hannah tries to pat her on the back. It’s like Brynn’s being shipped off to a war zone or something. And it makes me realize I’m now going to be viewed as the monster of the group for daring to stick to my guns.
“Oh, for the love of god,” I grouch, standing up and grabbing my backpack. “I’ll go.”
Brynn is totally stunned into silence as I huff over to the next table and sit down in Paul’s vacant seat with a heavy plunk. I don’t look at any of the guys and will my hands to stop shaking. I stare straight ahead at Mrs. Sanchez, who shakes her head, perplexed. I’m kind of confused myself, though I’m not really thinking rationally right now. All I know is there’s no way I’d let Brynn play the martyr, as if her anguish was somehow worse than the pain she and Hunter inflicted on me.
It’s only then I notice the guys in the group are all gaping at me.
“Hey,” A.J. mouths, wiggling his eyebrows at me. I quickly turn my attention back to Mrs. Sanchez.
What have I done? Oh god, what have I done?
Mrs. Sanchez is oblivious to my horror as she walks around the room, placing unmarked manila envelopes on each table. “Inside these are different income brackets for your family. We have everything from ‘Grad Students on a Budget’ to ‘Dual Income Investment Bankers.’ You will also find your monthly expenses and you’ll have to figure out a realistic budget for your family based on this.”
The classroom is suddenly buzzing as everyone opens their envelopes to find out their status. A.J. grabs the envelope off our table.
“May I do the honors?” he asks.
The guys nod, and A.J. unhooks the clasp on the envelope. He reaches in and pulls out a stack of papers, and reads something on top of the pile. His smirk fades away.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he says. He sits back in his seat, disgusted, as he tosses the papers on the table. Clipped to the top of the stack is an index card, with “Single Mother, Two Kids” written on it in thick black marker.
“Maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe the mom’s some big-shot executive,” Luke says, picking up the stack. He peeks under the index card at the first sheet of paper and his face falls. “Oh. She’s a bus driver.”
A.J. and Isaiah are shaking their heads at the stack of papers, as if it somehow has the capability to know it’s disappointed them. Luke, however, is studying me. I decide now is as good a time as any to let him know he can’t intimidate me, so I shoot what I hope is a defiant look back at him. But instead of mocking me, his eyes quickly shift away, the tips of his ears turning slightly pink.
I’m momentarily confused, but then I notice Steve and Hannah high-fiving, Hunter pumping his fist, and Brynn, having done a complete emotional 180, dancing in her seat. Hannah is holding their papers, and I squint to read their index card: “Husband and Wife Investment Bankers, Two Kids.”
“Now,” Mrs. Sanchez is saying, “every month you will be responsible for paying the bills in your pile. You’ll find a current budget for the family attached, but you will be making changes to it based on your income. The goal is to have some money left over each week to go into savings.”
Isaiah is skimming through the pile. “Well, it looks as if we’re making thirty-eight thousand dollars a year.”
“In this area? With two kids?” A.J. says. “There’s no way this is going to work.”
I’m kind of surprised he’s even aware of how far thirty-eight thousand dollars goes. A year ago, I had no idea how much money a family would need to get by. Now I’m all too familiar with it. I didn’t suspect other kids in an area as middle-class as Ringvale Heights would have to worry about such a thing.
I’ve noticed Luke has stayed pretty silent on the subject, but he’s reading one of the pages.
“The mom is in the process of paying off hospital bills for her recently deceased husband,” he says quietly, and I’m surprised at his sober tone.
Everyone at the table is silent as this registers. Well, everyone but A.J. “Hey! How are we going to be able to make this budget work?” he says accusatorily at Mrs. Sanchez. “We’ve got bills coming out of our ass and barely any money coming in.”
“Please refrain from swearing, Mr. Johnson,” Mrs. Sanchez says, but she smiles. “I know your income is pretty low, but with a little smarts and teamwork, you’ll make it. I promise. Now, let’s move on to picking out names for your families. Maybe think of something that invokes the lessons of this class or teamwork!”
Teamwork. I survey the group at my table: A gambling addict in training, a loudmouth, and a tattooed goliath who may or may not be crushing on Brynn. “Making it” is somehow going to be impossible.
Karen Bischer has written short stories for Girls’ World and Animal Tales magazines and currently works as a copyeditor. She lives in her native New Jersey, where she has never encountered Bruce Springsteen in the wild, but does have a cat named after a member of the E Street Band.
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