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Sometimes It Happens
I really should not be so scared. I mean, I’ve done this millions of times before. Okay, maybe not millions. But for the last twelve years, on every weekday minus summers and vacations, I’ve gone to school. And I’ve never been afraid before. (Well, except for maybe a little bit in kindergarten, but isn’t everyone a little afraid in kindergarten? And besides, even then I wasn’t freaking out or anything. Not like Layna Hodge, who threw up all over the play box in the corner.)
Today, the first day of senior year, I’m terrified. This is because there is a very good chance that at some point today I will:
a. lose the love of my life,
b. lose my best friend, or
c. have an awkward encounter with the boy who broke my heart last year. (Note: This is a different boy than the previously mentioned love of my life. [See a.])
I take a deep breath and grip the steering wheel of my new car, then pull into a spot in the visitor lot of my high school. I’m technically not supposed to be parked here, but the visitor lot is way closer to my homeroom than the student lot, and since it’s the first day of school, I’m pretty sure I can get away with it. Plus it won’t be as obvious if I have to peel out of here and make an escape. Okay, I tell myself, you can do this. You are invincible; nothing can rattle you. You have nerves of steel; you are a confident, strong woman; you—
There’s a knock on the passenger side window and I scream, then immediately hit the automatic door locks.
I look over. Oh. It’s only Lacey.
She knocks on the window again, and I reluctantly unlock the doors.
She slides into the passenger seat, her long, red curly hair pooling around her shoulders. She smells like coffee and strawberry-mango shampoo.
“Hey,” she says, “What’s wrong? Why’d you freak out when I knocked on your window? And why are you parked in the visitor lot? It took me forever to find you.”
“Nothing’s wrong,” I say. Which is a lie, of course. But I can’t tell Lacey that. She knows nothing about what went on this summer. She knows nothing of the fact that my best friend Ava is coming back today, that everything is different, and that everything is horrible. That I’m going to see Noah, that I’m going to see Sebastian, that I’m going to maybe end up in a mental institution by the end of the day. Although, a mental institution actually might be preferable to going to school, so that might not be such a bad thing, now that I think about it.
“Just normal first day of school nerves,” I say brightly.
“First day of school nerves?” Lacey says, like she’s never heard of them. Which kind of makes no sense, since Lacey is one of the most nervous people I know. “You need caffeine then,” she says. “It will fix you right up.” She holds out the cardboard carrier that’s in her hand. It’s filled with three cups from Starbucks, and one’s marked with my fave: a large vanilla latte with Splenda and extra cream.
“Thanks.” I accept the huge coffee and take a sip. I don’t really buy into her reasoning that I need the caffeine, since it definitely isn’t going to calm me down. But maybe it’ll give me a shot of energy that will make me so buzzed I’ll be all excited to go into school. On the other hand, it’s only caffeine, not magic.
“Where’s Noah?” she asks. “I brought him one, too.” Of course she did. Coffee with a shot of espresso, extra sugar, extra cream. The same drink he had every single day this summer, when the three of us worked together at Cooley’s Diner, but we always brought in our own coffee because the stuff at Cooley’s tastes disgusting. (Cooley’s Diner coffee = mud, only, like, more bitter and tinged with the taste of a dirty cup.)
“Noah?” I ask, trying to keep my voice light. My hands tighten around my coffee, and I almost spill the whole thing all over myself. “I dunno.” I shrug, like Noah hasn’t even crossed my mind, when, of course, he’s the only thing I’ve been thinking about.
“Didn’t you guys drive to school together?”
“Why not? You guys drove to work together every day over the summer.”
“Not every day,” I say. “And besides, I have a car now.” I run my hand over the steering wheel of my new car, the car that took me all summer to save up to buy. It’s red (perfect), four doors (perfect), a 2005 (adequate) and has 120K miles on it (not so perfect, but beggars can’t be choosers, especially when it comes to transportation.) “And besides,” I add, “Noah drives to school with Ava usually.”
“Oh, right.” Lacey wrinkles up her nose. “I forgot that Ava’s back.” She says “Ava” like it’s a dirty word. “Sorry,” she says. “I know she’s your friend.”
“That’s okay.” If Lacey thinks I’m acting weird, she doesn’t say anything, which is a good sign. If Lacey doesn’t realize anything’s going on, maybe Ava won’t either. And if Ava doesn’t, maybe Noah won’t. And that way we can just forget everything that happened this summer, especially what happened last night. Just push it all under the rug and start fresh. La, la, la, there it goes, like some kind of garbage being taken out to the curb, poof! I start to feel a little better. Maybe everything is going to work out after all. Of course, I don’t want to be the kind of girl with a scandalous secret, but sometimes you have to take what you can get and just—
Suddenly, something slams into the back of my car, and my whole body flies forward, my chest hitting the steering wheel.
“Shit!” Lacey says. Her fingers tighten around her coffee and the lid goes flying off, her cappuccino sloshing over the sides of the cup and splattering the front of the glittery silver tank top she’s wearing. “Shit, shit, shit!” She swivels her head around, strands of her hair whipping against her face.
I look in the rearview mirror. A red car (something expensive—maybe a Lexus?) has backed into me, and the driver, a girl wearing camouflage capris (doesn’t she know those are so five years ago?), comes rushing out of the driver’s side, and then peers down at my bumper. She looks like she’s about to burst into tears.
I close my eyes for a moment, and then open my door and climb out, Lacey hot on my heels.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Lacey demands. She pulls the sunglasses she’s wearing down off the top of her head and slides them over her eyes.
“Oh my God, I’m like sooo sorry,” the girl says. She’s younger than us (probably a sophomore?) and she twists her hands into a knot in front of her. Her face is getting all scrunchy, like she really might be about to start crying.
“It’s okay,” I say, kneeling down and inspecting my bumper. There’s a tiny scratch, about two inches long, running down one side of it. “It looks like it’s just a small scratch.”
“A small scratch?” Lacey yells. She bends down and looks at the car. “You know how much small scratches cost to get fixed, Hannah? Like thousands of dollars!”
“I’m so sorry,” the girl says again. She’s wearing Converse sneakers, a black tank top, and about three million pounds of black eyeliner.
“It’s okay,” I say. She’s obviously one of those gothy girls who, like, pretends she’s over everything, but inside is about five seconds away from crying constantly. Seriously, goth girls cannot handle anything.
“My dad is going to flip,” Goth Girl says. “He just got me this car. For a birthday present.”
“Oh, God,” Lacey says. I’ll bet she’s rolling her eyes under the sunglasses, thinking of the hours and hours we spent this summer behind the counter at Cooley’s, sweating under the broken air conditioner and serving bottomless cups of coffee to the old men who would come in every day, sit for hours, and then tip us a dollar.
“Look,” I say to the girl, before Lacey can tear into her again, “Can you just give me your insurance information?” I guess that’s what you’re supposed to do in these situations. I mean, I’m not completely sure, since I’ve never actually been in a car accident. Until a few days ago, I never even had a car.
“Right,” the girl says. She heads to her car, rummages around in her glove compartment, and comes back. She carefully copies everything down onto a sheet of paper from a brand new black binder that’s covered with stickers of bands I’ve never heard of, then rips it out and gives it to me.
“Thanks, Jemima,” I say, glancing down at her name on the paper. Jemima? No wonder she looks so nervous. With a name like that you’re probably used to bad things happening to you. Starting, of course, with your parents naming you Jemima.
“Why were you pulling out of a space, anyway?” Lacey asks. “School’s about to start. Shouldn’t you have been pulling into a space?” She looks down at the coffee stain on her tank top. “Does your insurance cover clothing? Because this tank top was extremely expensive.” It’s a lie, of course. Lacey got that tank top for $12.99 at Old Navy.
“I forgot something,” Jemima says, chewing on her bottom lip. “At home. So I was going back to get it. And I’ll pay for your tank top. How much did it cost?”
“I hope your dad’s, like, a lawyer or something, being able to afford that fancy car. Because, honestly, if I get whiplash or some kind of neck affliction . . .” Lacey rubs her neck, ignoring Jemima’s tank top offer.
“Okay, well, bye!” I say to Jemima, shooting her a look that says, get the hell out of here if you want to save yourself.
She scampers away obediently before Lacey has a chance to threaten any more litigation.
“Lacey!” I say. “You didn’t have to scare the poor girl.”
“Sorry,” she says. “But Hannah, you have to be tougher on people. What if we were pushovers, and she decided to, like, commit insurance fraud or something so that she wouldn’t have to pay for your car.”
“Insurance fraud? Lacey, I don’t think that’s really—”
“Besides,” she says, “I’m the one who should be scared. I have a bad neck now probably.”
“You do not have a bad neck,” I say, rolling my eyes. I walk back toward the car and open the door.
“What are you doing?” Lacey asks. “It’s almost time for homeroom. The bell’s going to ring in, like, one minute, and I need to see what Danielle Shapiro is wearing. I’ll bet she has a fake tan with one of those little heart cutout things. You know, like skanky body art?”
“You go ahead,” I tell her. “I’ll just—”
“Hannah!” Lacey says. “You are coming into school! Forget about stupid Sebastian Bukowski and his dumb friends. You are sooo over him!” She crosses over to my side of the car and puts her hands on my shoulders. “Hannah, you are amazing. You are gorgeous and smart and you deserve someone way better than Sebastian. He doesn’t even deserve to be a passing thought through your brain.” She looks into my eyes. “Now, we are going to go into school, me and you, and no matter what happens, I’m going to be right by your side, okay? Nothing to worry about.”
“Thanks, Lace,” I say, giving her a weak smile. I don’t have the heart or the strength to tell her that Sebastian’s not even the half of it. That he’s not even the quarter of it. I don’t have the heart to tell her about Ava, or about what happened with Noah last night. And I don’t have the strength to argue with her. So when she takes my hand, I don’t protest, and when she pulls me across the parking lot, I force my feet to march in the direction of school.
Here goes nothing.