Bright Before Sunrise
Author:Schmidt, Tiffany

“Need some help?”

 

I shouldn’t be surprised she came over. I ignore her. Hope she’ll go away. Not likely, but a guy can dream. She was just talking to Jordan/Juliana from English—who probably told her that I’m the father of an illegitimate child. Or, if Jordan/Juliana had believed me, they were gossiping about how weird it is I’m seventeen years older than Sophia.

 

Up until the sock thing, the only people who’d acknowledged me today were teachers and the freshman who said “excuse me” when he bumped into me during lunch. Which is fine. More than fine, it’s my preferred way to pass a day in Cross Pointe. And with fifty-seven minutes standing between me and dismissal, all I want is for my crappy locker to open so I can get my Spanish book.

 

“Sometimes they stick.” It’s the same voice, and it’s closer this time.

 

“Did I ask your opinion, Waterford?”

 

Most students in this school couldn’t pick me out of a lineup, but Brighton Waterford can. Which is why she’s standing in front of me with an expectant smile. And why I have a sudden urge to skip Spanish class, just so I can avoid having to get my book or interact with Cross Pointe Barbie.

 

“Here, Jonah, let me.”

 

She reaches for the lock. I’m still jamming the release lever up, but even though the combination is in, it refuses to give.

 

“I can do it,” I say through my teeth, but she nudges me out of her way, then hands me her books. I watch her wiggle the lever side to side.

 

The green door pops open. Of course it does. She’s Brighton Waterford. Even the lockers adore her.

 

“There’s a piece of paper in the mechanism.”

 

“I know. The idiot who had it before me kept it propped open.”

 

She slides a thin finger into the space and pries out the paper wad, presents it to me like a gift. It’s a math test from two years ago.

 

“Lots of people do that. It’s not like you need a lock in Cross Pointe.”

 

I scoff, then realize she’s serious. She’s not just spouting Cross Pointe dogma like the Homeowners’ Association or Welcoming Committee. Of course not. No need for locks and no teenage pregnancy. The town’s like a freaking modern Stepford, except robots have more personality than most of the trophy wives here.

 

“Sure,” I say as I grab my Spanish book.

 

“Jonah, no one here is going to steal.”

 

Was that here a dig at my old school? The teens in Cross Pointe may have more zeroes in their bank accounts and less on the odometers of their shiny cars than they do at Hamilton High, but it doesn’t make them better people.

 

This is the one bit of the school I can claim as mine.

 

I want it locked.

 

I slam the locker door.

 

“You’re welcome,” she chirps, tugging her books out of my hand.

 

I ball up the math test and toss it in the trash can across the hall. It’s a dismissal and she gets it, nodding once and flashing me a smile full of perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth.

 

“Real quick, may I ask you a question?” Apparently she’s not really looking for permission because she rushes on, “I was wondering, are you busy Sunday?”

 

Any other guy in this school would be falling over himself right about now—I’ve watched them do it for the past five months. I could understand their attraction to her glossy perfection: long, dark hair and the type of milky skin that begs to be touched—if she wasn’t … Brighton.

 

“I can’t.”

 

“But I haven’t even told you the details yet.” She laughs like I’m trying to be funny instead of just trying to cut the conversation short. “You know the book drive we’ve been having at school?”

 

I shake my head.

 

“Really?” She reaches out and taps a fluorescent pink flyer hanging on the wall beside my locker. “Well, we’ve been collecting books to send to needy elementary schools. This Sunday we’re sorting and boxing them up.”

 

She pauses. Looks down at her hands. A flash of gold band, flash of green stone—she’s twisting a ring around her finger. It’s huge. And probably real. She looks back up at me.

 

“So, I was thinking …” She moves the ring from one finger to the next. “I’d really like it if … Will you come?”

 

“I can’t,” I say again. We’ve had this conversation before—she’s tried to recruit me to count pennies for Build a School in Some Other Country, to seal envelopes for Let’s Write Letters to Senators So They Can Ignore Us, and wrap presents for Care Packages to Last Year’s Seniors, Because Former Students Can’t Pass Finals without Cookies and Fancy Post-its.

 

In fact, that’s probably how she sees me, as yet another charity case: Integrate the New Student.

 

“I could pick you up.”

 

She’s sliding the ring off again. Clenching it in her fist, then trying it on her other hand.

 

“You’re going to drop that.” I don’t know why I care. If she wants to lose a ring worth more than my car, that’s her choice.

 

“What?”

 

I point to her hand.