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I opened my eyes and sat up, blinking and rubbing my stiff neck. What time is it? I wondered.
I straightened my cramped legs, which stuck to the leather on the backseat of my BMW, and stared groggily out the window. I had spent the night in my car. I'd parked it on the University of Wisconsin campus, crawled into the backseat, and fallen asleep.
A couple of college girls walked by, clutching Styrofoam coffee cups. It must be Saturday morning, I realized. A sick feeling washed over me. I'd slept in my car because I couldn't face going home. And now that I'd stayed out all night, going home would be even worse.
Everything at home just felt wrong. My mother was gone. She had died of ovarian cancer almost two years ago, and I still thought about her all the time. I missed her. I needed her. So many weird things were happening to me, and I didn't really know how to handle them.
My dad wasn't much help. Ever since Mom died, he'd kind of pulled away from me. He was a district attorney, and for the last couple of years he'd been working harder than ever. He was so overprotective of me, I felt as if I couldn't breathe sometimes. And I couldn't really talk to him. He never had time.
And then there was T.J.
At the beginning of our senior year, my friend Kerri Hopkins had made it her mission to help me find a boyfriend. I felt a little embarrassed about it, but all of my friends had boyfriends, and I was feeling left out. Jessica Carvelli had been with her boyfriend, Alex, since tenth grade. Erin Yamada had fallen madly in love with a guy named Keith in Seattle and was having a long-distance relationship, mostly throughe-mail. And Kerri could get any guy she wanted, including Matt Fowler, the star of the football team.
I guess it was a little pathetic -- I was a senior, and I'd never had a boyfriend. I'd never even kissed a boy-not really. For one thing, my dad thought I was too young to date -- he said he wouldn't let me date until college. I was almost a year younger than the rest of my class, and I was shy. I wasn't funny like Erin or a genius like Jessica or gorgeous like Kerri. My mom was from Argentina, and I inherited her features: long, straight dark hair, brown eyes, olive skin, high cheekbones, and a wide, full mouth. But somehow my mom was a beauty and I wasn't.
Anyway, Kerri kept after me. She asked me who I thought was cute and I told her: T.J. Miller. "He's perfect for you," Kerri agreed. "You're both athletic, so you'll have a lot in common." I played field hockey, and T.J. was on the basketball team. "And he doesn't have a girlfriend," she added.
Kerri, Jessica, and Erin pushed me to talk to T.J. and smile at him in the halls, stuff like that. At first, he didn't seem interested.
Then this football player named Turtle had a party after a big game, and we all went. I felt so happy when T.J. started talking to me at the party. I thought Kerri's plan must be working.
At school I'd always felt tongue-tied around him, but now he was easy to talk to. He listened closely to everything I said, and we really did seem to have a lot in common.
After a while we went downstairs into the basement to check out Turtle's large-screen TV. The volume was blasting, so T.J. suggested we go into the den so we could talk. When we got there, he started kissing me, hard. At first I kissed him back, but then I felt like things were getting out of hand. I didn't want to be uncool, so I just said, "T.J., slow down."
He wouldn't. He kept kissing me and pawing me. I said he was going too far, that he had to stop. "Deal with it," he said.
I couldn't make him quit. His hands were everywhere. I started to run out of the den, but he grabbed my arm and threw me down on the couch. I was terrified. He ripped my shirt before I managed to push him away and run out of the room.
T.J.'s assault didn't end there. He started telling all of his friends that we had slept together. Whenever I saw him and his friends at school, they said horrible things to me. Things like, "You did it with T.J., so will you do it with us? We heard you really like it."
I wanted to run and hide every time I saw them. I hated going to school. I stayed home whenever I could, telling my dad I felt sick. I wasn't doing much studying lately, either. I'd always been a good student, but suddenly I just didn't care.
So now here I was sitting in my car, trying to figure out where to go. I was starving. I hadn't had anything to eat since that awful hot dog at South Central's homecoming game last night.
The homecoming game -- another disaster. I didn't even want to go, but it was a big night for my three best friends. Erin was homecoming queen, Kerri was a cheerleader, and Jessica was a court princess. So I was sitting in the bleachers by myself This guy Luke Perez sat down and started talking to me. I knew Luke a little, and he seemed like a nice guy. But then again, T.J. had seemed nice too.
All Luke did was lightly touch my shoulder -- and I snapped. I jumped up and ran away before he could say another word...