After
Author:Kristin Harmel

“I was just wondering if maybe you could help me study for the test on Monday,” he said.

“Yeah, okay.” I forced a smile. I was Lacey, the reliable study buddy. I just wasn’t sure how he’d figured this out so quickly. “I was going to study with Jennica tomorrow, so you can come over too, if you want.”

“Cool, thanks.” He paused. “So, do you need a ride home or something?”

“Now?”

“Yeah.”

I glanced around. Jennica was gone. I’d probably already missed the bus. And riding with Sam would be preferable to riding with Logan and Sydney any day. “Okay,” I said. “That would be great.”

I pulled a few books out of my locker and shut it. Sam surprised me by taking my backpack off my arm, slipping my books into it, and tossing it over his shoulder. “C’mon,” he said.

I followed him outside. He opened the door of his Jeep for me and tossed our bookbags in the back. I told him how to get to my house, and soon we were cruising down Court Street. The silence between us was beginning to feel stifling.

Finally, I blurted out, “So are you going out with Summer Andrews?” I felt like an idiot the moment the question left my mouth.

Sam looked at me in surprise. “What?”

“Nothing,” I mumbled. It wasn’t my business.

“Summer Andrews?” he asked after a pause. “That senior girl?”

I nodded.

“What would make you think that?”

“I just heard she liked you.”

Sam seemed to consider this for a minute. “She seems nice enough,” he said. “But I barely know her.”

“I’m sure that’ll change.”

Sam turned left on Samoset. “She’s not really my type.”

“Really?” I was baffled. Who was this new breed of boy, immune to Summer’s powers? “Oh.”

“I like girls who are smart,” Sam continued. “You know, girls who don’t flirt with every guy in the school. Girls who have a little substance to them. I get the feeling I’m not exactly describing Summer.”

“You’re right about that,” I muttered.

We rode in silence for a few minutes as I tried to process what he’d said. He barely knew me either, but he’d sought me out in the hallway after school. Maybe it wasn’t just to study.

I was just beginning to feel like maybe I’d gotten it all wrong, when we pulled up in front of my house and Sam turned to me. His eyes looked even brighter than ever, and even when he wasn’t smiling, the vague indentations of his dimples remained.

“Listen,” he said. He was definitely nervous now. “I was thinking that maybe we could go out sometime. If you want to. I mean, it would be cool to hang out outside of class, you know?”

Was he asking me out? A smile rolled across my face before I could stop it. “That sounds good.”

Sam looked like he wanted to say something else. It was so nice, I thought in the silence, to finally have someone look at me for me, not as someone they had to feel sorry for or tiptoe around. Last winter, after the accident, several Plymouth East guys had messaged me on MySpace or stopped me in the halls, and I knew that it was just because I was a minor celebrity for a few weeks. That’s when Sydney had first taken an interest in Logan too; it’s when we became somebodies.

And now, for the first time since the accident, I finally felt like someone was seeing me for something other than that-poor-girl-whose-dad-is-dead. Sam didn’t know my history. He didn’t know he was supposed to feel sorry for me or whisper about me behind my back or purposely avoid mentioning anything to do with fathers.

And just when I was feeling good, Sam opened his mouth and ruined everything. “I heard about your dad,” he said.

I could practically feel the walls coming up around me. The smile fell from my face, and everything went cold. I didn’t say anything. I just stared at Sam.

He looked uncomfortable. “Listen, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well, it’s old news.” My voice was full of ice.

“If you ever want to talk about it …,” Sam said, his voice trailing off.

“Look, I don’t need some hero to make it all better, if that’s what you’re trying to do,” I snapped. “I’m fine. It happened a long time ago.”

“I’m not trying to do that.” Sam looked surprised. I could have sworn I saw hurt flicker across his face too, but I didn’t care. Who was he to be hurt? “I just meant, well, I know how you feel,” he added.

I could taste bile in my mouth. I stared at him. Of all the things people said to me to try to make me feel better, I hated that sentence the most. Sam Stone didn’t know how I felt. How could he? I was sick and tired of people who’d had a grandparent die and thought it was the same thing. Or even worse, people who’d had to bury a pet iguana or the dog they’d grown up with. Sure, I felt sad for them, but how could they possibly compare that to losing a parent?

“You have no idea how I feel,” I said coldly. I reached into the backseat and grabbed my bookbag. I couldn’t get out of the Jeep fast enough.

“But Lacey—”

“Forget it,” I said firmly. I fumbled with the door handle and spilled out with my things. I could feel Sam watching me all the way to my front door, but I didn’t turn around.

? ? ?



I was overreacting. I knew it. But I couldn’t melt the wall of ice that had formed around my heart in those last few minutes in Sam’s Jeep. I hated it when people tried to help me, especially now. Couldn’t they see I was dealing just fine? I was the person holding my family together. I didn’t need anyone’s help or pity. Especially not some new guy’s. I wondered if he had roved the halls of his old school too, looking for sad girls to save.

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