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"Whoa, Jess, check out the snow!" Kerri Hopkins stopped walking and grabbed my arm. "It's coming down like crazy out there!"
It was a Wednesday afternoon, and we had just come out of the cafeteria. I followed Kerri's gaze toward the big double windows at the end of the locker-lined corridor. Yeah, it was definitely a winter wonderland. Snow, wind-the works.
"Maybe they'll close school early because of the weather," I told her.
"Yeah, maybe," she said. "Then I'd have time before work to hang out with Matt." After an almost-breakup a few weeks ago, Kerri and Matt Fowler were back together, hotter than ever. Kerri tossed back her long blond hair. "How about you, Jess? Think they'll close the U today?"
Unlike Kerri-and everyone else at South Central High-I left midway through the school day to attend classes at the University of Wisconsin. I was in a special program that allowed selected high school seniors to start earning college credits.
I wish," I told her. "Especially since I am supposed to be handing in my brilliant idea for a communications class project."
"What brilliant idea?" Kerri asked.
"Exactly," I replied. "I have, like, thirty minutes to come up with one. This is totally my fault. I didn't leave myself enough time to work it out. The past few nights, I had to work on my honors English essay, and I offered to put up posters all over town for my writing group's next poetry reading. It was fun, but it took forever."
We stopped at my locker, where I took out my communications text, the books I'd need for high school homework, and my coat and scarf. Now that it was snowing so hard, I wished thatI'd opted for the hat this morning, instead of opting not to walk around with hat-head all day.
"So what do you have to do for this project?" Kerri asked.
"It's supposed to be an in-depth exploration of interpersonal relationships," I explained. "And it doesn't have to be a written report. It can be in any medium I want. Right now I'm thinking about a photo-essay, but I'm not sure." I slammed my locker closed, and we moved down the hall, stepping around a couple of guys who were leaning against a warm radiator.
"You're a writer, Jess," Kerri reminded me. "Why don't you write some kind of skit and have people in the class act it out?"
"That would be great if everyone else had time to learn lines and rehearse, but they all have their own projects to do. I pretty much have to be solo on this."
"Okay, well, let's keep thinking." Kerri was silent, pondering while we wove our way through the crowded hall.
I closed my eyes for a second. Sometimes it helped me to visualize. But this time when I closed my eyes I walked right into someone.
Alex McKay. My old boyfriend.
Alex was hanging by his locker with a pretty blue-eyed girl. She had short dark hair, a tiny curvy figure, and high, perfectly sculpted cheekbones. Her name was Suzanne something. She had transferred to South Central this year, but I couldn't remember where she came from. It hadn't mattered ... until now.
For what seemed like an endless moment I just stared at them, painfully aware that I wasn't wearing any makeup. My jeans were dirty, and I had on clunky rubber-soled L.L. Bean boots and a sweater I stole from my brother Ricky's dresser because all my stuff was in the wash.
Finally I managed to say, "Alex. Hi. Sorry I bumped into you." Good going, Jess, I told myself. Brilliant conversation. Alex and I had almost gotten back together on New Years Eve, but then my so-called friend, Erin Yamada, had slipped up and mentioned Scott Seifert, the college guy I sort of dated last fall when I was still seeing Alex. The guy I never told Alex about.
Alex glanced at me with cold, brown eyes-as though I were a stranger. Then he turned back to Suzanne, seemingly fascinated by whatever she was saying, as if she were telling him that she was personally responsible for unlocking the genetic code.
I felt Kerri's hand on my arm. "Come on, Jess," she said. "Walk me to study hall."
I made my way down the corridor, feeling totally numb.
"Are you okay?" Kerri asked when we were a good distance from Alex and Suzanne.
"He didn't even say hi." My voice cracked. "Can you believe it? We went out for two years, and now he won't even say hello!"
Kerri gave me a sympathetic look. "I think he was really hurt when he found out about Scott."
I glanced back. Now Alex was leaning in to tell Suzanne something, and his wavy brown hair fell neatly over one eye. Suzanne brushed it back with her hand and stared up at him with this doe-eyed, pitying gaze. I could just imagine his end of the conversation. "Oh, that's just Jessica. She's the one who said she loved me while she was fooling around with another guy behind my back. "
"Of course he was hurt about Scott," I said. "Which is why I never told him about it. If Erin hadn't opened her big mouth-"
"She didn't mean to," Kerri said quickly. "Erin had no idea that Alex was standing there when she started talking about you and Scott. You know all that, Jess."
"What I know is that Alex was the best thing that ever happened to me, and Erin blew my chances of ever getting him back."
Kerri bumped against me. "Maybe. But I think Alex would have found out about Scott sooner or later. The truth always comes out."