After
Author:Kristin Harmel

“Oh come on, Lacey,” she said. “Just because you’re too busy making straight As and going to student council meetings and whatever else you think is so important doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t have a social life.”

I simmered for a minute. I was good at shutting my mouth, pressing my feelings into a little lockbox inside, and turning the key. I took a deep breath, blinked a few times, and said, “Wow, look at that! We’re here already!”

Before either of them could respond, I hopped out of the car and began striding across the junior lot toward the school building without bothering to look back. Somewhere behind me, Sydney was babbling about how she couldn’t believe I’d jumped out of her car before she’d even had a chance to park.

? ? ?



It was the end of the third week of school, and already, it seemed to have turned to fall. Last summer, the heat had hung on for ages, taunting us cruelly from outside the classroom windows with persistent rays of sunshine. But this year, the New England dreariness had moved in early, bringing hulking gray clouds and winds with a chilly edge. The first leaves on the trees were turning, seemingly overnight, from muted greens to the deep reds, oranges, and golden yellows that always reminded me of a sunset. I wasn’t ready for it to be autumn again, but the seasons seemed to march on without caring.

Forty-five minutes after hopping out of Sydney’s car, I was in trig class, trying to pay attention, which was hard to do considering that Jennica, who sat beside me, kept trying to get my attention. I was attempting to ignore her.

Math came easily to me. I had always wanted to be an architect when I grew up, like my dad. Plus, there was something about the clear-cut right and wrong of math equations that I found appealing. In math, there were no gray areas. There were rules, and I’d discovered that when you stayed inside the lines, life made a lot more sense.

“Psst!” Jennica hissed. I glanced to my right, where she had angled her desk closer to mine and was holding out a folded square of paper.

I glanced to the front of the room, where Mrs. Bost, our twentysomething teacher, was jotting a series of cosine problems on the board. In the few weeks we’d been in school, I’d already discovered that she had superhuman hearing. I suspected she could hear a note unfolding from miles away. So I coughed loudly to cover up the crinkling sound as I quickly unfolded Jennica’s message.

You’ll never believe this: Brian told me he LOVES ME last night! she’d written. I could feel Jennica’s eyes on my face, so I was careful not to do anything inappropriate like, say, wrinkle my nose or stick out my tongue. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Brian. He was okay. But he and Jennica were so lovey-dovey with each other that I felt nauseated half the time I was around them. And much as I hated to admit it, I was a little jealous. I was the one Jennica had done everything with and told all her secrets to since we met in the first grade. And now Brian was her constant companion, and I felt like the third wheel.

It was like I’d lost my best friend. But it was selfish to feel that way, so I told myself not to. I’d gotten good at deciding how I should and shouldn’t feel. Sometimes I felt like the director of the movie of my own life, yelling action in my head and then setting scenes in motion the way I’d decided they’d go.

I pulled out my cell phone, checked to make sure Mrs. Bost wasn’t looking, and quietly texted Jennica: great. I watched as she silently pulled her cell from her purse, read my text, and frowned. She thought for a second, and I tried to tune back in to Mrs. Bost while Jennica typed. But the lecture was boring, and I was tired of thinking about trig and boyfriends and all the other dumb stuff that went along with eleventh grade. I was itching to graduate and get out of this place, to move on to the next phase of my life and leave Plymouth East behind, but I had a year and nine more months to go. It was endless.

The new-message indicator lit up on my phone. i know u’ve never been in love b4 but this is a REALLY BIG DEAL, Jennica had written, complete with a smiley face at the end of the sentence, to let me know she wasn’t trying to be mean. Still, the words stung. I knew it was a big deal to her. But in my world, having a boy tell you he loved you wasn’t exactly as earth-shattering as, say, your dad dying. it was when we were watching grey’s antmy on dvd, the message continued. mcdrmy told mrdth he luved her & B turned 2 me & said, I luv u like derek luvs mer. sooo romantic, right?

I was just about to write something back when the door to the classroom creaked open. Mr. Dorsett, the assistant principal, was standing there with someone behind him. Mrs. Bost smiled and set down the marker she’d been using.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Mr. Dorsett said. He glanced over the room and then back at Mrs. Bost. “But we have a late addition to your class.”

Twenty-four pairs of eyes strained to see the tall guy in a faded leather jacket and dark jeans who followed Mr. Dorsett through the doorway, his eyes focused coolly above our heads. His hair was dark, and it looked like he needed a haircut—or at least a comb. It stuck up wildly in some places and grazed his collar in others, making him look a bit like a mad scientist who forgot to go to the barber. His skin was tan, which made his pale green, thick-lashed eyes seem unusually bright.

A buzz went around the classroom. Plymouth was a pretty small town, and most of us had gone to elementary school or junior high together, so it wasn’t very often that we saw an unfamiliar face. Maybe he’d transferred from the Catholic high school. Sometimes we got new students from there.