Serena just wants to fly under the radar at her new school. But Serena is deaf, and she can read lips really well-even across the busy cafeteria. So when the popular girls discover her talent, there's no turning back.
From skater chick to cookie-cutter prep, Serena's identity has done a 180...almost. She still wants to date Miller, the school rebel, and she's not ready to trade her hoodies for pink tees just yet. But she is rising through the ranks in the school's most exclusive clique.
With each new secret she uncovers, Serena feels pressure to find out more. Reading lips has always been her greatest talent, but now Serena just feels like a gigantic snoop...
|Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
|5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.70(d)
|14 - 17 Years
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
What the heck?
I stared at the small person waving her arms like a referee.
A quick look at my schedule confirmed that this was indeed American history taught by Ms. Fisher. So who was the little umpire? The teacher? I glanced at the other students for help, but their open mouths and blank faces mirrored my own confusion. It must be Ms. Fisher.
The woman flashed me an encouraging smile and again waved her hands in a wild arc. What was she doing? Swatting a fly? Modern dance?
The answer slammed into my stomach like a stray curveball, and a mortifying heat flooded my cheeks.
If the teacher had bothered to read the bloody file, she'd have known better.
Another quick look at the class showed they were snickering. I'd rather have them laugh with me than at me. I dropped my backpack and winked at the other kids. Letting my arms and fingers fly, I waved them around in an arc and slapped them together a couple times, mimicking the teacher perfectly. Then I looked at her expectantly.
The teacher frowned. She leaned forward and started to wave her arms about again.
I finally reached out and grabbed her hands. "I don't know sign language," I said, though the teacher's efforts hardly resembled the sign I'd learned, and forgotten, as a child. "I just talk. It's easier."
The class laughed. The teacher pulled her hands out of mine and flushed a dull brick red. "My apologies. I just assumed you'd know sign."
Recovering quickly, she then put her hand on my shoulder and faced the class. "Class, this is Serena Nelson and she moved here from Portland," she said, raising her voice. "She's deaf, so you'll have to look at her when you speak so she can read your lips. Though, from what I understand, you can hear some through your hearing aids, correct?"
I nodded. My turn to be mortified. Why did teachers always have to introduce me as the deaf girl? That was the thing about teachers. Their ability to humiliate was far superior to our ability to make them nuts.
The teacher beamed. "Isn't technology wonderful?"
Released, I snatched up my backpack and slunk over to the desk Ms. Fisher indicated. At least she'd placed me at the front of the class so I could see her face better. I ignored the curious stares. So much for slipping in unnoticed.
I whisked a covert glance around the room. Because the 'rents had moved me to the ends of the earth, I wanted to check out what kind of kids I'd be dealing with. Like being in tenth grade wasn't bad enough. Doing it in a new school was torture.
These kids looked exactly like the ones in my first two classes. I sighed. Not a skater or punk in sight. Most of the guys wore jeans and T-shirts. A little less baggy here than in the city, but typical guy wear. The girls resembled cookie cutouts. Expensive, trendy cookies. Designer jeans. Thin little Ts layered like pastel flower petals. Etnies or Nikes on their feet. I felt as if I'd wandered into Prepsville instead of a normal high school.
I glanced at my own clothes, chosen for comfort and invisibility. Vans. Dark jeans. Dark hoodie. Practically a uniform at the old school. Here I felt as invisible as a punked-out unicorn.
I noticed a guy in the corner staring at me, his eyes dark and unwavering. Unlike the other guys, he wore a plaid shirt with his jeans and black army boots instead of tennis shoes. I met his gaze and almost flinched at the electrical current that leaped between us. Yowza! What the hell was that? Turning away, I tried to focus on the teacher writing on the chalkboard, but my eyes flew back to the guy, who flashed me a slow, lazy grin. I returned the smile and ducked my head.
What was that about? It wasn't like me to be embarrassed around a guy. Guys were easy. First you teased 'em like they had a chance to get in your pants. Then you showed them up on the skateboard, and that turned them into normal people. Like friends. Friends you had to be careful around in case they tried to grab a handful when you weren't looking, but friends nonetheless. Better than being alone.
I looked back over at the guy sitting there all casual, as if he hadn't just burned me with a thousand-watt smile.
I tried to concentrate on what the teacher was saying but couldn't focus. The teachers were supposed to give me notes of all the lectures, so with those and the textbooks, I should be able to keep up. Hopefully. In my old school I had an actual captioner. She was an older woman whose rapid typing kept me informed of everything said in the classroom. Sometimes she'd actually give me the answers.
I opened my history book to the page the teacher had instructed and started on the assignment, though I'd rather have had my fingernails yanked out one by one. History sucked. So did English, creative writing, and any other effing class that depended on language to teach. Math was my thing. Numbers lined up and marched in nice, orderly rows, while slippery words could mean a million things.
I looked at my watch. Twenty minutes to go. Next came lunch. Maybe I could hang out at the library. Check out their manga collection. Disappear for a bit. Relax.
At my old school, lunch was for sneaking a cigarette and doing a little skating with the guys. Randy, Greg, and Chaz were the closest things I had to friends. I missed them.
I jabbed my pencil into my notebook. I wouldn't be here at all if my parents hadn't decided to move closer to family. And where was that precious family we'd moved five hundred miles to be close to? On vacation! Some family. I liked my aunt and uncle okay, but they'd had a couple of babies. Now I'd have snotnosed little cousins to deal with. They'd probably want me to babysit all the time. Plus they'd taken in a teenage boy probably some loser. Aunt Shirley has a serious save-the-world complex.
A note flew over my shoulder and landed onto the desk. What the hell? I picked it up and opened it.
You want to sit with me at lunch?
My stomach clenched. I turned to look at the girl sitting behind me. Soft gold hair all flipped up at the ends. Glowing skin. Lips curving into a sweet smile showing orthodontist-perfect teeth.
I turned back to the note, remembering all the do-gooders in my life who'd treated me like a charity case but would never admit it.
I added a line to the note. Why? U feel sorry for me?
I folded the note before flipping it back over my shoulder. I waited.
It came sailing back a moment later.
I laughed out loud before clapping a hand over my mouth. The teacher glanced up but didn't say anything.
Okay. Cool, I wrote and sent the note back. That was a first. Girls like that usually don't have a sense of humor.
A tap on my shoulder a few minutes later told me the bell must have rung. If I'm listening, I can usually hear it, but I can miss a bell if I'm concentrating on something else. I shoved my books into my backpack and turned to the girl waiting behind me.
"My name is Rachel."
Not even my high-powered hearing aids could pick up Rachel's soft voice. At least she wasn't yelling like some people did.
"If you lower the tone of your voice and talk a bit louder, I could probably hear you better," I told her as we headed out of the classroom for the cafeteria.
Another girl from history class sidled up to us. Her eyes barely flickered over me as Rachel introduced us. The girl, whose name was Kayla, gave me a tight smile.
"Rach, can I talk to you? Alone?"
Rachel frowned and glanced at me.
"Go ahead, I'll wait."
She walked a little bit away from me and Kayla grabbed her arm. They were both blondes, but Rachel had the princess thing going while Kayla looked like a streaky-blond beach bimbo.
"Do you think this is a good idea?" I read Kayla's lips as easily as if she had been talking to me.
"What?" Rachel wrinkled her nose like a baffled child. I pretended to study some antismoking posters on the wall. Then I looked back and concentrated on their lips.
Kayla rolled her eyes. "Taking a deaf chick to lunch this close to you know what. They're making out the lists this week."
Rachel shrugged. "Sorry, done deal. I'm just being nice. They can't kick me out because of that."
Kayla didn't look convinced, but Rachel had already turned away and was heading back to me.
I had no idea what they were talking about. Kicked out of what? Who cared? I was both thankful that Rachel was as nice as she seemed and pissed off by it. I hated people feeling sorry for me.
"You ready?" she asked.
Kayla had already headed down the hall.
I nodded and we fell in step toward the cafeteria.
Rachel said something, but she was facing straight ahead and I couldn't catch it.
I cringed. Training new people sucked. Which is why I usually didn't bother. "What?" The worst four-letter word in the English language.
Rachel turned her head so I could read her lips. "I said, how can you be deaf and have hearing aids?"
I sighed. Why did people always want to know so much? Couldn't they get that I'd rather not discuss it?
"Without my hearing aids I can't hear anything. With them I can hear some things. Certain voices and sounds."
"So you read lips to hear what's going on?"
I smiled. "Yeah, you could put it that way." We walked a little bit while I tried to think of something to say. What did you talk about with a girl like Rachel? "So what was Kayla worried about you getting kicked out of?"
Oops. Wrong subject. Rachel's eyes widened and her footsteps faltered. "How did you...? Oh. The lipreading thing. Um, nothing really...just a school thing."
Something wasn't right. Rachel's eyes slid away from mine and her shoulders tensed up. Definitely not a girl who liked lying, and she was so lying. Reading body language was a specialty of mine. Came with trying to figure out what people meant all the time. So why the need to lie?
The scents of overboiled hot dogs and Thousand Island dressing assaulted me as we entered the cafeteria. We paid the lunch lady and I balanced my tray in one hand and backpack in the other. "Where do you sit?"
Rachel gestured. "Over here." She led me to a table next to the vending machines. "It's near the door and the drinks."
My heart plunged. One sweeping glance around the table confirmed that these were natural A-listers, so pink and polished they might have leaped from the pages of Seventeen or Teen Vogue. Magazines I wouldn't be caught dead with, by the way. I would've given anything to be hanging out behind my old school with the guys right now.
I dumped my backpack under the bench and set my tray on the table while Rachel introduced me. She gave out their names and class like serial numbers. Twins Kelly and Kayla, sophomores. Patrice, junior. Sonar, junior. Sonar? What misguided soul would name their kid Sonar? And why on earth was Rachel telling me what grade they were in? Like it mattered or something.
All the girls were impossibly shiny and put together. They murmured a disinterested greeting and returned to their conversations. I sat, torn between disappointment that they didn't include me and relief. Screw it. Better than sitting alone.
I didn't try to follow the conversations going on around me and discreetly turned my hearing aids down. Too many voices jumbled together into an annoying buzz. Instead I picked at my food and pretended to be incredibly interested in the rest of the cafeteria. It could have been any cafeteria in any school in America. Totally generic. Tons of windows, graffiti-scarred tables, and an unending expanse of concrete. The food wasn't bad, though. I took a bite of my chili dog and looked around again. There had to be some skaters or punks around here somewhere, right? Or maybe this was like that movie, The Stepford Wives, only with ridiculously perfect robot teens.
My attention focused on two adults standing next to a door with a TEACHERS ONLY sign on it. The woman's crossed arms and set expression looked grim. The man held hisarms stiffly by his sides and his eyes scanned the students. They stopped talking whenever a teacher came to or went from the door.
I focused on their lips out of habit. The woman spoke clearly, her words enunciated and crisp. I caught almost everything. "I told you not to call me at home," she said. "What if Rex had answered? Only call my cell."
"But I needed...I love you so..." the man answered. His lips were half hidden by his mustache, which made it hard to read his words. But even from a distance I could see the pleading in his eyes.
A tap on my shoulder jolted me from the soap-opera scene. Rachel indicated a dark-haired girl I remembered her name as Patrice at the end of the table.
Patrice nodded her head toward the teachers. "That's Mrs. Weber, the music teacher, and Mr. Bernard, the PE teacher." She leaned forward, her sleek hair falling over her shoulders with a glossy swing. "Everyone thinks they're having an affair."
"They are," I said without thinking.
Down the row, heads swiveled toward me. The girls who'd ignored me moments before now stared with their mouths open.
I liked that.
Patrice's eyes narrowed. "How do you know? You just got here."
I shrugged. "I can see their words."
Everyone turned to look at the couple, then back at me.
"But how do you know?" Patrice demanded.
Rachel slammed her hand onto the table. "Oh my God, you're reading their lips." She paused. "I'm right, aren't I?"
Excitement lit up Patrice's green eyes like a Christmas tree. "You can read lips? Even from across the room?"
A field trip I'd taken years before flickered through my mind. It was before I was mainstreamed, when I was still going to the deaf school. We took a bus downtown and practiced reading lips. The teacher hadn't believed me when I told her I could read lips from all the way across the street. She'd been astonished when I'd proved it to her.
"You have an amazing gift," my teacher had said.
I hadn't thought of it much since it was just me. But maybe it was a gift after all.
"So, can you read lips from that far away?" Patrice asked again.
Demanding little prep, wasn't she? I nodded. "Yeah. Not all the time, though. If a person doesn't speak clearly, it looks like they are mashing their lips together. Or if they have mustaches." I waved a hand at the teacher.
Patrice leaned back in her seat. "What did they say?"
"Mrs. Weber told him not to call her at home, and he said something about needing her and that he loved her."
The other girls babbled among themselves, but Patrice smiled and looked at me with calculating eyes. "That's pretty cool," she said. "I wonder if I could blackmail Mr. Bernard into letting me skip running laps or something." She laughed when she said it, but her eyes glinted.
Elation filled me like I'd won a prize or something, but I didn't know why. These were preps, for crying out loud. Like they'd be friends with a chick with black nail polish and a pierced eyebrow.
Rachel turned to me. "That's so cool! Can all deaf people do that?"
I shook my head. "Nah I'm really good at it. And like I said, I don't get everything. It depends on how the person talks."
Patrice leaned over and whispered something into Sonar's ear. I couldn't see what she said, but Sonar's response was very clear.
"She is so not our kind of girl. Can't you hear how weird she talks?"
Patrice leaned back and I looked away, not wanting to see her response. Just like preps the world over. Effing mean.
Rachel stood and grabbed her tray. "That's awesome. What class do you have next?"
My cheeks still burned from Sonar's comment while I checked my schedule. "Biology with Higgens."
"I'm going that way. Come on, I'll show you where your class is."
I slung my backpack over my shoulder and picked up my tray. Okay. Maybe they weren't all heartless bitches. That would be a first. It was rather...cool. Maybe I'd actually found a friend and wouldn't have to disappear into the crowd.
Someone bumped against me just as I reached the tray drop-off. The tray I was holding with one hand tipped. I tried to compensate by jerking it the other way, but my hand slipped. The tray spun one way and the plate containing the barely touched chili dog flew the other. The plate slammed to the floor and bounced, sending soggy bun and beans everywhere. They splattered across the front of my hoodie, but even worse, the greasy mess flung onto the kid who'd bumped into me. Pieces of bun decorated the front of his plaid shirt and a lone bean stuck to his collar.
"Watch where you're going!"
My face flamed. Stricken, I peered up into the dark, intense eyes of the guy I'd smiled at in class. Oh. My. Gawd.
His eyes fixed on me and his anger faded. "Hey, I know you."
I looked wildly around the room. Rachel looked sympathetic, but the other girls were laughing. Sonar looked me up and down and smirked.
How come I can never think of a snappy comeback at times like this? Something funny and cool that would show everyone just how little I cared. Instead I stood there like a moron with my face turning redder by the second.
"Nice going," I muttered, and, whirling around, fled from the cafeteria. My heart pounded in my chest and I didn't stop running until I burst through the wide doors that exited out of the school. No way would I start crying like a baby in front of all those people.
Once I reached the sidewalk, I took several deep gulps of air, trying to calm my racing heart. So much for fitting in.
I trudged home, glad I lived within walking distance from the school. A point Mom had driven into the ground when trying to persuade me the move was a good thing.
Mom wouldn't be too mad that I'd skipped the rest of the day, and I didn't care if she was. I'd had enough. Anyway, all I had to do was whine and she'd be fine. Whining almost always won Mom over. Sometimes I even felt guilty about it. Sometimes. Usually I felt as though I deserved whatever I was whining about because I put up with the smothering. I mean, Mom had even asked me if I wanted her to come into the building with me this morning. As if! Like that wouldn't stick out Mommy walking the little deaf girl into school. Gawd.
In fact, one of the only things Mom hadn't caved in to was not moving when I begged her to stay. Then she had decided to grow a spine of steel. So here I am, a walking advertisement for Dennison's chili.
Pissed off, I kicked a rock on the sidewalk. What I really wanted to do was fling it through a window or something.
I paused before going through the gate that led to my new home. At least the house had been an awesome surprise, though I wasn't about to tell my parents that I'd fallen in love with it the moment I'd seen it. It would give them way too much satisfaction. The house looked like something out of a Southern movie that had been transplanted out West. An emerald green lawn bordered the large white house. A brick walkway led to a spacious covered porch outfitted with a swing built for two. Perfect for making out. The dark-haired boy flashed through my mind.
Well, I'd blown that.
"Mom?" I called, swinging into the house. "You home?" I walked into the kitchen, carefully pulling my hoodie over my head. I shook out the few beans still sticking to it over the sink.
Someone tugged on my hair from behind and I turned to find Mom smiling at me. "I'm right here, pumpkin. How come you're home so early?" The toxic scent of paint thinner wafted up from the towel in her hand.
I held my nose. "Eww! I hate that stuff."
"I know. That's why I waited till you were gone to paint." She leaned forward and plucked at my hair. "Is that a bean?"
"Yeah. About that..."
"Okay, spill it. Though it looks as if you've spilled something already." Mom took my hoodie. "Actually, you better go change first. It looks like you have more gunk on your jeans, too."
I slipped out of my jeans and headed up to my room to change.
A few minutes later I came back down dressed in comfy shorts and one of my dad's old T-shirts. Mom sat curled up on the couch with cold drinks for both of us.
She patted the couch beside her. "So why don't you tell me why you came home early wearing your lunch?"
Oh gawd. The heart-to-heart. I hated them, and they seemed to come with increasing frequency lately. She was worried about me, she didn't approve of my choice of friends, she didn't like my clothes. There was always something. Whatever.
Though, on second thought, I could use some sympathy about now. Mom was always great for sympathy, so I filled her in. "I felt like an idiot. And the girls were sorta nice to me. At least, Rachel was," I said, remembering the nasty comment about the way I talk.
"I don't think it's going to be such a big deal. Everyone will probably forget about it by tomorrow."
"Would you have forgotten something stupid like that when you were in high school?" I demanded.
"Aha!" I hit her with a couch cushion.
"It'll blow over, I promise." She pulled the couch cushion from my hand and held it close to her. "So tell me what the girls were like."
Mom, with her glossy brown hair, perfect skin, and perfect teeth, had spent her high school years as a cheerleading homecoming queen. Telling her the girls were popular would just get her hopes up. I knew she wished I were more like that, and I hated it. I wanted to scream at her, "I'm deaf and I talk funny! Cheerleaders don't hang out with girls like me!"
But Mom was always so hopeful. I hated disappointing her.
I rolled my eyes. "Just some girls, Mom. You know, dresses, hair, perfume..."
By the time I finished showering and changing, my dad had come upstairs from work. One of the reasons the 'rents had bought the house was its large daylight basement. Mom's first project was to redo the basement, turning it into an office for Dad and Uncle Alan's new consulting business. Which is why the scent of paint thinner clung to everything in the house.
Even though the smell made me want to vomit, I couldn't wait to get started on my room. I planned on using vivid colors with an anime theme.
I followed my parents out to the car. Mom and Dad had insisted on some kind of welcome dinner at Aunt Shirley and Uncle Alan's. They'd just come home from vacation, and everyone had decided it was time for family togetherness. Something else to look forward to. Not. Mom said I needed to get to know my cousins, but I was in the mood to feel sorry for myself and dinner with kidlets put a serious kink in my plans.
The car sped out of town and the road wound its way up out of the valley.
I leaned forward. "I thought they lived in town."
"They did," her dad replied. "They moved up here last year so Aunt Shirley could continue her work."
"What does she do?" I asked.
"She runs a no-kill shelter for dogs. She wanted to save cats as well, but Alan put his foot down." I could see Dad chuckling in the rearview mirror. "I didn't think my brother could tell her no about anything."
I giggled, in spite of my resolve to be sullen for the evening. Talking to my parents was such a relief after straining to hear other people all day. They always pitched their voices lower and spoke louder, so I caught almost everything they said.
The car turned onto a long dirt road. Several outbuildings came into view, including a shiny new barn. It dwarfed the ranch-style home next to it.
"I think when they took in Miller, Shirley felt like she could expand the shelter," Mom said. "I guess he's a huge help."
"The young man who's living with them."
Dad parked the car as three or four dogs came running out, barking wildly. I reached up and turned my hearing aids down. Two young, barefoot boys ran out the door. I could see them yelling at the dogs, but it didn't seem to make much difference.
When my aunt and uncle came out of the house, they swept me up into their arms like a long-lost relative. Which in a way, I guess I was. There was too much going on, though, and I missed almost everything they said until we were in the house.
Aunt Shirley led me and Mom into the kitchen. She turned back to me. "So how are the girls treating you? Everyone being nice?"
Her glance was sharp and carried far more meaning than the question deserved.
"Everyone is great. Why?"
"Just let me know if anyone bugs you and I'll take care of it. I still have school connections."
She looked deep into my eyes and I moved backward. Who was she, the freaking Godfather?
She laughed and turned back to her work. She directed the rest of the conversation to my mother, and though I'd turned my hearing aids up, I couldn't hear what she was saying. The chatter of the children underfoot, along with the clanging of pots and pans, made listening impossible. I backed out of the kitchen and went to find Dad and Uncle Alan. I caught a glimpse of them disappearing down a long hallway. Probably going to talk about work stuff. I sped up to catch them. It would be boring, but better than the kitchen chaos.
Oomph! I ran headlong into something both soft and solid. I stumbled backward, but before I could fall, a strong pair of arms steadied me.
My heart raced as I looked up into a pair of familiar brown eyes. They lit up as if a fire had been kindled behind them.
"We just keep running into each other, don't we?" he said.
Copyright © 2008 by Teri Brown