full circle

Sept.6, 2007: Columbus Circle, New York

I'm sitting at Borders on a fold-out metal chair, waiting for Megan McCafferty to appear for her booksigning. As I glance around, I see all sorts of people. Mostly women, but also a few gray-bearded guys, maybe a few moms and daughters sipping Starbucks. The guy in front of me has tugged his hood over his head and plopped a baseball cap over it.

"Is that J.T. Leroy?" Harlan asks.

Megan's name crackles over the P.A. "Attention, shoppers..." We're tucked in the back behind the "Music and Media" shelves. A hipster couple behind me are discussing "Circadian Rhythm Disorder."

The girl asks, "Are they giving you something for that?"

The boy pauses. "Momentarily," he says.

My fingers smell like the Belgian fries that I just choked down during the subway ride. I dig into my purse and take out my bottle of Purell. The P.A. crackles again, inviting shoppers to meet the author of the "super successful" Jessica Darling series.

The soundtrack switches back to music--something vaguely Celtic. Or "Christmasy," according to Harlan.

I look up and see a dude stepping behind the table. He doesn't look very official. I stare at the British flag on his gut.

"I'm here because Megan got caught up today," he says.

He flips open a copy of Fourth Comings, turns to a random page, and starts to read in front of the crowd. "Now discuss the symbolism of the wood paneling," he says.

Nobody moves.

"Sorry, guys," he says, breaking into a grin. "That was a dare."

He ducks away, as an elf-sized women with a headset trails on his heels (I have a feeling that he's about to be banned from Borders).

At last, Megan materializes, all decked out in heels and a dress that reminds me of TV static. She says that she's in trouble.

"The Park Slope Mommies" want to "bitch-slap" her. (At least, that's what it says on Page Six). Megan finds it hilarious. She assumes there wasn't much to talk about (Britney Spears must have put her panties back on). Megan talks about how her new book addresses a seperate lifestage, a sort of Never-Neverland in which Jessica Darling has graduated from college, but she's not quite an adult yet. Megan calls it "a generation on hold."

"How do you make the right choices?" she asks. And there's always the feeling that one false move could ruin your life forever. "At least, that's how I felt."

Megan cracks open a copy of Fourth Comings. "I feel like living on the edge," she says in a wry tone, skipping a few chapters ahead. She reads a description of Jessica's first apartment (Mattress-shopping is a big deal, a kind of milestone). Megan even pulls off a Swedish accent, playing the part of Jessica's cranky neighbor, Ursula (who doesn't approve of her wooly eyebrows). When Megan gets to the part about the Park Slope Mommies and their sidewalk-hugging buggies, a baby howls in the background, setting off a string of giggles in the audience.

Somebody behind me asks Megan to sing Madonna's "Like A Virgin."

Megan beams. "I love you! Come up here!"

Apparently, this catch-phrase is part of a contest from Megan's website. I don't really expect her to belt out the '80s classic, but she grabs the microphone and bursts into the opening lyrics ("I made it through the wilderness."). "This could break the city's cabaret laws," she says, laughing. A few confused-looking book-browsers wander over to check it out. Megan's got a good voice (lots of projection, as my music teacher would say). At one time, she wanted to write a book about a wedding singer, if only so she could turn her signings into Karaoke parties.

She wanted a publisher who could handle adult books. That way, she could "depict the way teenagers really talk." But that was "back in 2000," she says, shrugging, as if it were another galaxy, a long time ago. Things are different now.

When I step up to the little card table, a jacketless copy of Fourth Comings tucked in my American Apparel bag (along with a new bra), Megan blinks. "It's Crissa, right?" she says before swooping me into a hug.

She scribbles in my book as I blather on about her speech, which almost felt like a pep talk for me, another YA author who aspires to reach a crossover audience, just as she did.

"Can you stay for a second?" she asks. "Did you really come all this way to see me?"

"Yes, yes," I say, grinning so hard, my cheeks ache.

I march back to my metal folding chair. I can hear a stream of fans chittering in line. Megan takes a moment with each of them. She has a way of making you feel important, looking you straight in the eye, bobbing her head to the rhythm of your conversation.

After everyone files out, she glides next to me. "So!" she exclaims. "Are you excited?"

"More nervous than excited," I tell her.

She nods. The writer's handbook, Bird by Bird, includes a chapter on the emotional hangover that is Publication Day. So much expectation...like waiting for a phone call that never comes. She encourages me to have fun and relax, but those words aren't in my vocabulary.

I thank her again for taking the time to review my book. Her husband (who's perched next to my boyfriend, across from us, both waiting quietly, patiently) grabs a digital camera, but he can't quite work the buttons.

I reach in my purse and pass him my little Sony Cybershot. Pop goes the flash. Megan slips her arm around me. I try to smile, but I can't shake the stars in my eyes. When I check out the picture later, I'll remember what I can't see in the shot: how my fingers wouldn't stop trembling.

As we left the store, Harlan told me, "Can't you put that thing away?" meaning the "bandeau bra" in my see-through bag. He stuffed my newly-signed copy of Fourth Comings in his messenger bag ("Of course I remember you!" Megan wrote). I rolled up the see-through American Apparel bag and crammed it in my purse (along with the digital camera, notebook, and a million identical Bic pens).

As I moved toward the escalators, I saw Megan peeling off her pumps. "Bye!" she said, whether saying farewell to the shoes or me, was anyone's guess. I laughed again. She has given me so much. And that was her last word of advice: The Y.A. writing community is filled with kindred spirits who remain forever teen. Megan said it's important to help each other. If she reads a book and enjoys it, she'll spread the word. I vowed to do the same. It's such a small thing. Yet, in the world of cyberspace, Amazon sales rankings, and bestseller lists, it's the little things that count a lot.

I stood on the subway platform and sucked in a breath. Already the moment was fading into memory. I listened to a skinny boy playing the same three notes on his electric guitar. I took a coin out of my pocket, but I didn't toss it. I would hold onto it for a little while longer.