Her best friend is gone . . .but she left something behind.
I get down on the carpet to look under my bed. I stick my arm under and feel around, find a couple mismatched socks, and something I don’t recognize—hard and flat and dusty. I pull it out, thinking maybe it’s a yearbook from elementary school, and then I see it and my heart stops.
For some reason, I feel afraid. It’s like I’m split down the middle and one half of me wants to open it more than I’ve ever wanted to do anything. The other half is so scared. I can’t stop shaking.
Did it get kicked under the bed one night by accident?
Did she hide it?
I stare at it in my hands forever, just feeling its weight, looking at the place where one Wite-Out wing is starting to flake off. Then, once my hands are steadied, I open to the first page. It’s a drawing of her face—yellow hair; blue eyes; small, crooked smile. She’s looking straight ahead. Birds fly across the background. She drew them blurry, to show movement, and across the top she wrote, Me on a Sunday Morning.
I turn the page.
As I read, I can hear Ingrid’s voice, hushed and fast, like she’s telling me secrets.
OTHER BOOKS YOU MAY ENJOY
After Amy Efaw
Because I Am Furniture Thalia Chaltas
The Disenchantments Nina LaCour
Everything Leads to You Nina LaCour
If I Stay Gayle Forman
Just Listen Sarah Dessen
Looking for Alaska John Green
Paper Towns John Green
The Truth About Forever Sarah Dessen
Where She Went Gayle Forman
Willow Julia Hoban
Wintergirls Laurie Halse Anderson
Table of Contents
Her best friend is gone . . .but she left something behind
Other Books You May Enjoy
Questions for Discussion
Behind the Music
An excerpt from Everything Leads to You
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Text copyright © 2009 by Nina LaCour
Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Mia Nolting
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for my family and for Kristyn
I watch drops of water fall from the ends of my hair. They streak down my towel, puddle on the sofa cushion. My heart pounds so hard I can feel it in my ears.
Mom says Ingrid’s name and I start to hum, not the melody to a song, just one drawn-out note. I know it makes me seem crazy, I know it won’t make anything change, but it’s better than crying, it’s better than screaming, it’s better than listening to what they’re telling me.
Something is smashing my chest—an anchor, gravity. Soon I’ll cave in on myself. I stumble upstairs and yank on the jeans and tank top I wore yesterday. Then I’m out the door, up the street, around the corner to the bus stop. Dad calls my name but I don’t shout back. Instead, I step onto the bus just as its doors are shutting. I find a seat in the back and ride away, through Los Cerros and through the next town, until I’m on an unfamiliar street, and that’s where I get off. I sit on the bench at the bus stop, try to slow my breathing. The light here is different, bluer. A smiling mom with a baby in a stroller glides past me. A tree branch moves in the breeze. I try to be as light as air.
But my hands are wild, they need to move, so I pick at a piece of the bench where the wood is splintering. I break a short nail on my right hand even shorter, but I manage to pull off a small piece of wood. I drop it into my cupped palm and pry off another.
All last night, I listened to a recording of my voice reciting biology facts on repeat. It plays back in my head now, a sound track for catastrophe, and drowns everything out. If a brown-eyed man and a brown-eyed woman have a child, the child will probably have brown eyes. But if both the father and the mother have a gene for blue eyes, it’s possible that their child could have blue eyes.
An old guy in a snowflake cardigan sits next to me. My hand is now half full of wooden strips. I feel him watching but I can’t stop. I want to say, What are you staring at? It’s hot, it’s June, and you’re wearing a Christmas sweater.
“Do you need help, darling?” the old guy asks. His mustache is wispy and white.
Without looking from the bench, I shake my head. No.
He takes a cell phone from his pocket. “Would you like to use my phone?”
My heart beats off rhythm and it makes me cough.
“May I call your mother?”
Ingrid has blond hair. She has blue eyes, which means that even though her father’s eyes are brown, he must have a recessive blue-eye gene.
A bus nears. The old guy stands, wavers.
“Darling,” he says.
He lifts his hand as if he’s going to pat my shoulder, but changes his mind.
My left hand is all the way full of wood now, and it’s starting to spill over. I am not a darling. I am a girl ready to explode into nothing.
The old guy backs away, boards the bus, vanishes from sight.
The cars pass in front of me. One blur of color after another. Sometimes they stop at the light or for someone to cross the street, but they always go away eventually. I think I’ll live here, stay like this forever, pick away at the bench until it’s a pile of splinters on the sidewalk. Forget what it feels like to care about anyone.
A bus rolls up but I wave it past. A few minutes later, two little girls peer at me from the backseat of a blue car—one is blond and fair; one is brunette, darker. Colored barrettes decorate their hair. It isn’t impossible that they’re sisters, but it’s unlikely. Their heads tilt to see me better. They stare hard. When the light changes to green, they reach their small hands out the rolled-down window and wave so hard and fast that it looks like birds have bloomed from their wrists.
Sometime later, my dad pulls up. He leans to the passenger side and pushes the door open. The smell of leather. Thin, cold, air-conditioned air. I climb in. Let him take me home.
I sleep through the next day. Each time I go to the bathroom, I try not to look in the mirror. Once, I catch my reflection: it looks like I’ve been punched in both eyes.
I can’t talk about the day that follows that.
We wind up Highway 1 at a crawl because Dad is a cautious driver and he’s terrified of heights. Below us to one side are rocks and ocean; to the other, dense trees and signs welcoming us to towns with populations of eighty-four. Mom has brought her entire classical CD collection, and now we’re on Beethoven. It’s “Für Elise,” which she always plays on her piano. Fingers dance softly across her lap.
On the outskirts of a small town, we pull off the road to eat lunch. We sit on an old quilt. Mom and Dad look at me and I look at the worn fabric, the hand-sewn stitches.
“There are things you should know,” Mom says.
I listen for the cars passing by, and the waves, and the crinkling of paper sandwich wrappers. Still, some of their words make it through: clinically depressed; medication; since she was nine years old. The ocean is far below us, but the waves crash so loudly, sound close enough to drown us.
“Caitlin?” Dad says.
Mom touches my knee. “Sweetheart?” she asks. “Are you listening?”
At night, we stay in a cabin with bunk beds and walls made of tree trunks split open. I brush my teeth with my back to the mirror, climb up the ladder to the top bunk, and pretend to fall asleep. My parents creak through the cabin, turning on and off the faucet, flushing the toilet, unzipping their duffel bags. I pull my legs to my chest, try to inhabit as little space as possible.
The room goes dark.
I open my eyes to the tree-trunk wall. Once I learned that trees grow from the inside out. A circle of wood for each year. I count them with my fingers.
“This will be good for her,” Dad says softly.
“I hope so.”
“At least it will get her away from home. It’s quiet here.”
Mom whispers, “She’s hardly spoken for days.”
I hold still and stop counting. I wait to hear more, but minutes pass, and then the whistle of Dad’s snore begins, followed by Mom’s even breaths.
My hands lose track of the years. It’s too dark to start over.
At three or four in the morning, I jolt awake. I fix my eyes to constellations that have been painted on the ceiling. I try not to blink for too long because when I do I see Ingrid’s face, eyes shut and lips still. I mouth biology facts to keep my head clear. There are two stages of meiosis and then four daughter cells are produced, I whisper almost silently, careful not to wake my parents up. Each of the daughter cells has half the chromosomes of the parent cells. Outside, a car passes. Light sweeps over the ceiling, across the stars. I repeat the facts until all the words cram together.
Twostagesofmeiosisandthenfourdaughtercellsareproducedeachdaughtercellhashalf thechromosomesof theparentcellstwostagesofmeiosis . . .
Pretty soon I start to smile. It sounds funnier and funnier each time I say it. And then I have to grab my pillow and bury my face so my parents don’t wake to the sound of me laughing myself to sleep.
On a hot morning in July, Dad rents a car because he has to go back to work. But Mom and I stay in Northern California like it’s the only place we’ve heard of. I sit in front and navigate, keeping us within the invisible boundaries on the map—no farther north than a few miles into Oregon, no farther south than Chico. We spend the summer wandering through caves and forests, surviving crooked roads, and eating grilled-cheese sandwiches at roadside restaurants. We only talk about the things right in front of us—the redwoods, the waitresses, the strength of our iced teas. One night, we discover a tiny old movie theater in the middle of nowhere. We see a children’s movie because it’s the only thing playing, and pay more attention to the kids laughing and yelling than we do to the screen. Twice, we strap flashlights to our heads and grope through lava caves in Lassen National Park. Mom trips and shrieks. Her voice echoes forever. I start dreaming about the cardigan man. In the middle of the forest, he drifts toward me in a tux with a red bow tie. Darling, he says, and holds out his phone. I know Ingrid’s on the other end, waiting for me to talk to her. As I reach for it, I notice—surrounding me are green trees, brown earth, but I am in black-and-white.
In the mornings, Mom lets me drink coffee and says, “Honey, you’re pale.”
And then, out of nowhere, September comes.
We have to go back.
It is 3 A.M. Not the most logical time to take a photograph without lights or a flash or high-speed film, but here I am anyway, perched on the hood of the boxy gray car I should be able to drive by now, camera tilted to the sky, hoping to catch the moon before a cloud moves across it. I snap frame after frame at slow shutter speeds until the moon is gone and the sky is black.
My car creaks as I slide off, moans when I open the door and climb into the back. I push down the lock and curl up across the cloth seats.
I have five hours to get okay.
Fifteen minutes go by. I’m pulling the fake fur from the front seat covers even though I love them. I can’t stop my fingers; white tufts are falling everywhere.
By four-thirty I’ve thrown several thrashing fits, given myself a headache, put my fist in my mouth and screamed. I need to get the pressure out of my body somehow so I can finally fall asleep.
In the house, my bedroom light clicks on. Then the light in the kitchen. The door swings open and my mom appears, clutching the collar of her robe. I reach between the seats and over to my flashers, click them twice, watch her shuffle back inside. I have one frame left, so through the windshield I take a picture of the dark house with its two lit-up rooms. I’ll title it: My House at 5:23 a.m. Maybe I’ll look at it one day when my head isn’t pounding and try to make sense of why, for every night since I got home, I’ve locked myself in a cold car just a few steps outside my warm house, where my parents are so worried they can’t sleep, either.
Sometime around six I start dreaming.
My dad wakes me with his knuckles tapping my window. I open my eyes to the morning light. He’s in his suit already. “Looks like there’s been a blizzard in here,” he says.
The backs of the seat covers are furless. My hand aches.
I walk the long way to school, my new schedule folded into the smallest square and stuffed deep in my pocket. I pass the strip mall; the Safeway and its sprawling parking lot; the lot of land for sale where the bowling alley was before the town decided bowling wasn’t important, and leveled it. On a Friday night two years ago, I darted onto one of the lanes and took a picture of Ingrid sending a heavy red ball toward me. It rushed between my feet as I stood there, one foot in each gutter. The owner yelled at us and kicked us out but later on forgave us. I have the photograph on my closet door: a blur of red, Ingrid’s eyes fierce and determined. Behind her: lights, strangers, rows of bowling shoes.
I stop at a corner to read the headlines through the glass of a newspaper box. Something must be going on in the world: floods, medical breakthroughs, war? But this morning, like most mornings, all the Los Cerros Tribune has to offer me is local politics and hot weather.
As soon as I can, I get away from the street because I don’t want anyone to see me and pull over to offer a ride. They would probably want to talk about Ingrid and I would just stare at my hands like an idiot. Or they wouldn’t want to talk about Ingrid and instead there would be a long silence that would get heavier and heavier.
On the trail between the condos comes the sound of wheels on gravel, and then Taylor Riley is next to me on his skateboard, looking so much taller than before. He doesn’t say anything. I watch my shoes kick up dirt. He rolls past me, then waits for me to catch up. He does this over and over, saying nothing, not even looking at me.
His hair is sun-bleached and his skin is tanned and freckled. He could play a version himself on a sitcom—the most popular boy in school, oblivious to his own perfection. His TV self would trade his skateboard for a football jacket. Instead of sitting around looking bored, he would win trophies. He’d be driving to school in some expensive car with a smiling homecoming queen in the passenger seat, not following a narrow dirt path alongside a quiet, sullen girl.
The path ends and spills us out onto the sidewalk. A block away, everyone is pulling into the high school parking lot. I want to turn and run back home.
“Hey, sorry about Ingrid,” Taylor says.
Automatically, I say, “Thanks.”
Car after car passes us and turns into the parking lot. All the girls are squealing and hugging as if it’s been years since they’ve laid eyes on one another. The guys are slamming their hands down on one another’s backs, which I guess is supposed to mean something nice. I try not to look at them. Taylor and I face each other, each of us looking at his skateboard standing still on the ground. A car door slams. Footsteps. Alicia McIntosh collides into me with her arms open.
“Caitlin,” she whispers.
Her perfume is strong and flowery. I try not to choke.
She takes a step back, holds me by the elbows. She’s wearing tight jeans and a yellow tank top with queen written in blue sequins across her chest. Her red hair skims the tops of her shoulders.
“You are so strong,” she says, “to come back to school. If I were you I would be . . . I don’t know. I’d still be hiding in bed, I guess, with the blankets pulled up over my head.”
She stares at me with a look that’s supposed to be meaningful. Her big green eyes stretch even bigger. In my one semester of drama, the teacher taught us that if a person keeps her eyes open long enough, she’ll start to cry. I wonder if Alicia has forgotten that we were in the same class. She keeps squeezing my elbows and finally a small tear trickles over her freckles.
Alicia, I want to say. Someday you will win an Oscar.
Instead I say, “Thanks.”
She nods, wrinkling her forehead and squeezing out one last tear.
Her focus snaps away from me to something in the distance. Her crew is walking toward us. They’re all wearing different versions of the same tank top. They say, PRINCESS, ANGEL, and SPOILED. I guess Alicia is the leader this year. I should feel lucky that her hands are cutting off my circulation.
“I’m going to make you late to class. But please remember. If you ever need anything, you can call me. I know we haven’t hung out in a while, but we used to be really good friends. I’m here for you. Day or night.”
I can’t imagine ever being Alicia’s friend. Not because we’re so different now, but because it’s impossible to think of a time before high school. Before photography and finals and the pressure of college. Before Ingrid. I remember Alicia as a little kid, hands on her hips in the sandbox, informing all the other kids that she was the only unicorn. And I remember a girl with brown braided hair and pastel corduroys galloping on the blacktop imagining she was a horse, and I know that girl was me, but it feels distant, like someone else’s memory.
Now she gives my elbows one last squeeze and sets me free.
“Taylor,” she says. “Are you coming?”
“Yeah, just a minute.”
“We’re going to be late.”
She rolls her eyes. Her friends arrive and she leads them toward the English hall.
Taylor clears his throat. He glances at me, then back to his skateboard. “So I hope you don’t think this is a rude question or anything, but how did she do it?”
My knees buckle. I think, If a brown-eyed man and a brown-eyed woman have a child, the child will probably have brown eyes. The main entrance is ahead of us, the soccer field to the left. I stick my hand in my pocket and touch my schedule. Like the last two years, I have photography first period. I will my legs to work again and, miraculously, they do. I step onto the grass, away from Taylor, and mumble, “I have to go.” I picture Ms. Delani waiting for me, rising from her chair when I walk into the classroom, pushing past the other students until she gets to me. When I imagine her touching my arm, I am flooded with relief.
I haven’t talked to Ms. Delani since everything happened. Maybe she’ll excuse herself from the rest of the class and lead me to her back office, where we’ll sit together and talk about how fucked life is. She won’t ask if I’m okay because she’ll already know that for us Are you okay? is an impossible question. She’ll spend the period talking to the class about how sad this year is going to be. In honor of Ingrid, the first project will be about loss and everyone will know, even before I turn in my photograph, that mine will be the most heartbreaking.
I filter through the door with the rest of the kids. The classroom is brighter than I remember, and colder. Ms. Delani stands at her desk, looking as perfect and beautiful as she must every day, in crisply ironed slacks and a black sleeveless sweater. Ingrid and I used to try to picture her doing real-people stuff, like taking the garbage out and shaving her armpits. We called her by her first name whenever we were alone. Imagine Veena, Ingrid would say, in sweatpants and a ratty T-shirt, getting up at one o’clock in the afternoon with a hangover. I would try to picture it, but it was useless; instead I saw her in silk pajamas, drinking espresso in a sunny kitchen.
A few kids are already scattered around the classroom. Ms. Delani glances toward the door as I walk in, then away, quickly, like a flash went off so brightly it hurt. I wait in the doorway for a second to give her a chance to look again, but she doesn’t move. Maybe she’s waiting for me to go up to her? People start gathering behind me, so I take a few steps toward her and pause by the shelves of art books in the front, trying to figure out what to do.
There’s no way she hasn’t seen me.
Everyone’s streaming in around me, and Ms. Delani is saying hi and smiling and ignoring me standing just a few feet from her. I have no idea what’s happening, but being surrounded by everyone feels a little like drowning, so I walk right in front of her and hover there.
“Hi,” I say.
She glances at me through the red-rimmed glasses that frame her dark eyes.
But she sounds so absent, like I’m someone she vaguely knows.
I stumble to the table where I sat last year, open my notebook, and act like I’m reading something really interesting. Maybe she’s waiting until everyone sits down and class officially starts before she says anything about Ingrid. The last people come in and I pretend not to notice that the seat next to me, Ingrid’s old seat, stays empty.
The bell rings.
Ms. Delani scans the class. I wait for her to look over here, to smile or nod or anything, but it seems like the room ends just to the right of me. She smiles at everybody else, but I, apparently, do not exist. It’s obvious she doesn’t want me here, and I have no idea what to do. I would get my stuff together and leave, but I’d have nowhere to go. I want to crawl under the table and hide there until everyone is gone.
The walls are covered with our final projects from last year. Ingrid is the only one who got three of her pictures up. They’re all next to one another, in the front of the classroom, right in the center. One is a landscape—two slopes, covered in rocks and thorny bushes, with a creek running crookedly through them. One is a still life of a cracked vase. And one is of me. The lighting is really intense and I’m making a strange expression, like a grimace. I’m not looking at the camera. In the darkroom, when Ingrid made a print of it for the first time, we stood back and watched the image of me appear on the wet paper, and Ingrid said, This is so you, it’s so you. And I said, Oh God, it is, even though I hardly recognized myself. I watched shadows form beneath my eyes, an unfamiliar curve darken at the corner of my mouth. It was a harder version of me, a grittier version. Soon I was staring at a face that looked completely unfamiliar, nothing like a girl who grew up in a rich suburb with loving parents and her own bathroom.
Maybe it was a premonition or something, because as I look at it now, it makes more sense.
At first I can’t find any of my pictures, but then I spot one. Ms. Delani must really hate it to have pinned it up where it is, in the only dark corner of the entire room, above a heater that juts out of the wall and blocks part of it from view. Ingrid was amazing at art—she could draw and paint anything and make it look even better than it was—but I thought we were both good at photography.
When I took the picture I was sure it would be amazing. Ingrid and I were taking the BART train to see her older brother, who lives in San Francisco. It was a long ride because we live so far out in the suburbs. When we were passing through Oakland, there was some sort of delay, and for a while the train we were on sat still on the tracks. The engine stopped humming. People shifted in their seats, settled into waiting. I looked out the window, across the freeway, to where the sky looked so vibrantly blue over sad little run-down houses and industrial buildings. I took the picture. But I guess the colors were the beautiful part. In black-and-white it’s just sad, and Ms. Delani is probably right—who wants to look at that? But it’s still so embarrassing to have it stuck in a corner. There are a million pictures up there, but right now I feel like there’s a neon sign around mine. I try to think of some way to sneak it off the wall.
All through class, Ms. Delani smiles while she’s talking about the high expectations she has of her advanced students, smiles so hard her cheeks must hurt. The ancient clock on the wall behind me ticks so slowly. I stare at it for a few seconds, wishing the period over, and notice all the cubbies in the back of the room. I never got to empty mine last year because I missed the final week of school.
Ms. Delani writes review terms on the board—aperture, light meter, shutter speed. I start getting all fidgety, thinking of all the things I have in my cubby. I know I have some old photos, and I think there might be a few of Ingrid. I glance at the clock again, and the minute hand has hardly moved. I should wait until class is over, but I just don’t really care about being polite right now. Ms. Delani isn’t exactly being polite. So I scoot my chair back, ignore the sound of metal scraping against linoleum, and stand up. A couple people turn to see what’s going on, but when they realize it’s me they turn back fast, as if accidental eye contact could be deadly. Ms. Delani just keeps talking like everything’s normal, like she isn’t completely ignoring the fact that Ingrid’s not here. She doesn’t even pause when I walk over to my cubby and start pulling pictures out. Because I’m feeling so daring, I don’t go straight back to my seat. Instead, I take my time sorting through a bunch of old pictures I’d forgotten about. Some of Ingrid’s are mixed in, the ones I wanted copies of, and I look through them until I find my favorite—a hill with grass on it and little wildflowers, blue sky. It must be the most peaceful picture in the world. It’s the setting of a fairy tale, it’s somewhere that can’t exist anymore.
I turn around, all these photographs of my old life in my hands, and I get a sudden urge to scream. I can see myself doing it, screaming so loudly that Ms. Delani’s perfect glasses shatter, all the photographs fly off the wall, everyone in the class goes deaf. She would have to look at me then. But instead I walk back to my seat and lay my head down on the cold desk.
When the bell rings, everyone gets up and leaves. Ms. Delani says good-bye to some people, but not to invisible me.
This is what I can’t stop thinking about this morning:
Freshman year. First period. I sat next to a girl I hadn’t seen before. She was scribbling in a journal, drawing all these curvy designs. When I sat down next to her she glanced up at me and smiled. I liked the earrings she was wearing. They were red and looked like buttons.
We had spent the morning crammed in the gym with the whole school listening to the principal, Mr. Nelson, give us a pep talk. Mr. Nelson had this round face, small mouth, enormous eyes. He was balding and what was left of his hair was kind of tufty. If it’s possible for a person to look like an owl, then that’s what he looked like. I had felt lost, the gym seemed colossal, even the kids from my old middle school looked like strangers. Now we were in photography class, and even though I had never taken a film photograph or really even learned anything about art, I felt so much more comfortable in Ms. Delani’s classroom than I had felt a few minutes before. Ms. Delani called the first name off her roster and continued down the list, making notes and taking forever. I saw the girl rip a page out of her journal and write something. She pushed it closer to me. It said, Four years of this shit? Dear lord save us.
I grabbed her pen and tried to think of something cool to say. I was the new me. Braver. I had on these glass bracelets that chimed when I moved my arm.
I wrote, If you had to make out with any guy in the school who would it be?
Immediately, she wrote, Principal Nelson, of course. He’s such a hottie!
When I read it I had to laugh. I tried to make it sound like I was coughing and Ms. Delani looked up from her roster to tell us that in her mind we were all adults now, and didn’t have to ask for permission to go out into the hall if we needed a drink of water or to use the restroom.
So I did. I walked out, feeling how straight my hair was, how great my pants fit, how nice my bracelets sounded. I bent down and I drank the cold drinking-fountain water and I felt like, This is it. My life is starting. And when I got back to my seat there was a new note that said, I’m Ingrid.
I’m Caitlin, I wrote back.
And then we were friends. It was that easy.
I have English with Mr. Robertson last period. When I walk in he doesn’t give me any fake looks. He just nods at me, smiles and says, “Welcome back, Caitlin.”
Henry Lucas, who is possibly the most popular guy in the junior class, and also probably the meanest, sits in the far back corner, ignoring a couple of Alicia’s followers. ANGEL flicks her pink, manicured nails through his black hair and SPOILED says, “So you’re gonna have a thing on Friday, right?”
Henry’s always having parties because his parents own a real-estate company and are constantly out of town, speaking at conventions and getting richer. When they are around, they throw fund-raisers that my parents try to avoid. Their faces are all over billboards and parents’-club newsletters—his mom in her crisp black suits and his dad with his golf clubs and smug grin.
Now SPOILED is tugging at Henry’s hair, too. Henry stares straight ahead with an annoyed smirk, but doesn’t tell them to stop. I choose a seat across the room from them, up front by the door.
Mr. Robertson starts to take roll.
“Present!” ANGEL chirps.
It’s a name I don’t recognize. No one answers. Mr. Robertson looks up.
“No Dylan Schuster?”
The door opens in front of me and a girl pokes her head in. Her face isn’t familiar and this school is small enough that everyone looks familiar. Her hair is the darkest brown, almost black, and messy, much messier than the tousled look that a lot of the girls are going for. It makes her look like she’s been electrocuted. She has black eyeliner smudged around quick eyes that dart across the room and back again. She looks as though she’s deciding whether to come in or stay out.
“Dylan Schuster?” Mr. Robertson asks again.
The new girl looks at him and her eyes widen.
“Wow,” she says. “You’re good.”
He laughs and she strides in, a messenger bag slung over her shoulder, a cup of coffee in her hand. Her thin T-shirt has been torn down one side and safety-pinned back together. Her jeans are the tightest I’ve ever seen, and she is so tall and so skinny. Her boots thump, thump, thump to the back of the classroom. I don’t turn around to watch her, but I picture her choosing the back corner seat. I picture her slouching.
When Mr. Robertson finishes taking roll, he walks up and down the rows of desks, telling us about all the things we’ll learn this year.
I’m alone in the science building, standing on its green, scuffed-up floors, inhaling the musty air. Taylor and the rest of the popular kids have all probably claimed lockers in the English hall. Last year, Ingrid and I chose ours in the foreign-language building, right next to English, still visible but without as much school spirit. The science hall is no one’s first choice. It’s out of the way of everything but science classes, completely off the social radar. I wish it could stay empty forever.