When I get home from work she’s curled up in the corner of the red corduroy couch in the basement

, her chin propped on her hand, watching my sister play video game demos on the Xbox. She’s snuggled into her favorite hoodie, wearing comfortable jeans and footsie socks. It’s later at night, about nine-thirty, and the moon is full and shining into the big patio doors at the other end of the room. My sister powers down the Xbox just as I walk into the room, and I cross over to the TV and turn it back on. She says hi to me, I reply with a friendly shalom, which she laughs at. I smile, because I made her laugh, and that always sends a shuddering thrill of happiness up my spine and into my face. I can’t help it. I flop down onto the couch and pick up the game controller. My sister snaps at me about turning the Xbox back on, but I ignore her. Playing games is my only excuse to be near her when I’m in this room. I show a game trailer to my sister—she laughs at my mockery of the Japanese game industry, their bad dubbing, and the stupid dialogue in the commercial. After that, I play a few demos and then get up to put a real game disc in. As it loads I start singing the song from the trailer for this game, loudly and off-key, which puts another smile on my face, because she’s laughing again. The game is pointless, which is my motive for playing it. It’s one of those ones where all you have to do is run around and blow things up, so I can look like I’m playing it and really focus on her. There’s a lot of history between us. Our parents are old friends, and we’ve stayed in touch through multiple moves to different states. I’ve known her for all but a year-and-a-half of my life, and that’s all but meaningless because I can’t even remember not knowing her, because she’s only a year and a half younger than me. We used to hate each other. I was mean when I was little. I’ve made her cry multiple times, and my sister has beat me up several more because of it. And when she was little she used to be overly dependant and shy and loud and awkward, but now… Now I understand. Ever since we were little our parents have made jokes about her being promised to me, all in good fun, and I used to squeal and say it was gross, but now I can actually see it happening. She grew up, sometime while I wasn’t there, and now she’s independent and outgoing and elegant and quiet…er, and absolutely beautiful. And she’s wearing my hat. The hat I never let anyone wear, but when she walked in earlier tonight and picked it up and put it on her head, she looked so cute I couldn’t make myself tell her no. My parents blew my cover when they noticed that, but somehow I don’t mind all that much.

After a few minutes of playing the game I chance a look over at her. Her head is resting on her shoulder, the bill of the hat pulled down over her eyes. She’s done a good job of looking like she’s just bored, watching me play my game, but I can tell she’s asleep. My sister’s doing homework on her laptop in a corner. I’m free to randomly move the joystick and press buttons and altogether make it sound like I’m actually playing, when really I’m just staring at her. As I watch, she murmurs in her sleep and wriggles deeper into the cushions of the couch. In real life, she’s so strong and independent, but now, asleep, she looks so vulnerable and helpless. I’ve never seen her sleep before. As a baby, she kept her own schedule, while my life was very structured. When she lived nearby, she never stayed the night. When she lived in another state and she came to visit, she slept in my sister’s room. She sighs heavily. I look up when I realize the game is no longer making noises and my character has died. My little brother is playing with her little sister and now he’s staring oddly at me. I think he might have caught me staring at her. My legs are crossed at the ankle, resting on the ottoman, and hers are in the same position. I unfold my legs and kick one to bounce on the ottoman. She’s in a light sleep, so it wakes her up immediately. She realizes right off the bat that she had dozed off and I had woken her, and makes it look like she wasn’t asleep at all. I give her a few seconds to reorient herself and then smile over at her. “Good morning,” I say slyly, so that only she can hear. She rolls her eyes and twitches her nose snarkily, like she’s done since she was little. “Mmm hmm, funny.” And then the moment is gone, and she changes position, and I go back to my game. Prologue The halls of Dalton Brown Academy on the first day of the new school year are filled with friend catching up, cliques being reunited, judgments being reevaluated. New students are given elevator eyes; couples perform public displays of affection in plain sight; girls gather gossip. Sports teams talk about upcoming events—the lacrosse team shows off their new bruises; the swim team walks down the halls, lean and long from a long summer of endless laps; the runner girls display their toned legs in brand new shorts; it’s altogether business as usual. Cliques don’t mix—everyone has their place. Except for one group.

They are gathered on the benches in front of the giant cast iron grizzly statue in the front quad. They’re all extremely attractive, but in different ways. Some are small and tan, others tall and pale, ten of them, sitting and laughing. They talk to each other, and during lulls in the conversation, to others around them. They’re all incredibly nice to everyone, from the jocks to the band geeks, and everyone seems to like them. As one approaches, one can’t help but survey each of them individually, not without intrigue, wondering how these eight got together in the first place. Nick Spalding is tall, sprawled on a bench, darkly tanned with dark brown hair and earnest amber eyes. Delia Whitney examines Nick’s newest lacrosse injury, this one on his lower stomach, with concern, her wavy auburn hair falling over her shoulders and onto Nick’s bared stomach. He flinches in a tickled reflex, and Delia laughs. Rachel, Nick’s twin sister, sits close to them, talking to Ethan Harris. Despite all of Ethan’s charisma, Delia and the Spalding twins seem to be the only ones not blatantly ignoring him like he’s a leper. Jesse Carmichael, like an Abercrombie model with his baby blue eyes and surfer type blond hair, sits with his arm around Kia Wilder, who, as she talks, keeps glancing to her left and then turning her head away quickly with a stricken expression on her face. Jesse and Kia are talking to Aaron Wilport and Cullen McAvoy, who are both tall and lean, but with drastically different looks. While Aaron has short, choppy black hair and slanted icy blue eyes and full lips, Cullen looks like a happy wolf with his shaggy dark blond hair and green-gray eyes. They’re all extremely close, it’s obvious to anybody watching, and though they’re all nice to absolutely everyone, they exude a sort of aura that says, “You may not be one of us EVER.” Which is exactly the vibe Morganne Litke was getting.

Chapter 1- You’re Top Hat Delia. “Wait, so he just hit you, for no reason?” I push a few strands of hair back behind my ears and lean forward to examine the cluster of broken blood vessels on Nick’s lowers abs, looking like a smattering of purple ink on its red bruise background. “Yeah, just whacked me with his stick, WHAM!” I back off and he sits up, pulling his striped polo back down. “Shouldn’t that be a penalty or something?” “Deals—“ “Delia—“ Ethan and Rachel look over at me condescendingly, speaking at the same time. Nick chuckles and says, “Delia, I’ve told a million times, lacrosse is football—“ “With a weapon!” Rachel and Ethan chime in with Nick.” “Okay, okay!” I throw my hands up in mock surrender. I lean back against Jesse’s shoulders to face Kia. “Hey, Kee, you have second lunch on A and B days, right?” “Yeah, that’s right,” she replies sweetly, her reddish hair, almost the same color as mine but more brown, blowing in the cool wind that early fall in Boston always brings. “Cool, we’ll have that together at least.” I’ve known Kia almost as long as I’ve known Nick, and despite the fact that we were never as close as she and Melanie were, we were still bummed when we found out that out of all three A, B, and C days, we had no classes together at all. “Yep. Meet you at the salad bar?” Kia raises her eyebrows in that very Kia way of hers. “Sounds good.” When I turn back to Nick and the others, Ethan is staring emptily at Kia, his dark brown eyes wistful, almost apologetic. Kia glares stonily at him and turns back to say something to Aaron or Cullen. I sling my arm around Ethan’s shoulders and squeeze his arm gently, just to tell him I’m on his side. He smiles gratefully and returns my gesture. A girl passes our bench and waves. “Hi, Delia!” she chirps. “Cute bag!”

“Oh, thanks, Jemma. Your jeans are nice too.” Ethan, still with his arm around me, lifts his hand in greeting. “How was your—“ Jemma waves again and continues down the path of the quad, her sheet of blond hair swinging. “—cruise,” Ethan finishes lamely, all traces of his good mood erased. “They’ll come around,” I assure him, but even I’m not sure I entirely believe it myself.

My first class of the day is social dance, which I share with Nick. Madame Daley assigns us to be dance partners for the quarter, since we’ve known each other so long—she’s very sympathetic to social structure and who’s friends with who. This is an advanced class, so Mme. Daley starts us off right away with reviewing our different kinds of dances. As Nick and I waltz across the floor among the ten or so other couples, we talk. “So Kia’s still not talking to Ethan, huh?” Nick asks, spinning me out under his arm and then back. “Nope. And nobody else is, for that matter. Besides us and Rachel.” “You’d think she’d give him a chance to explain himself—I mean, they’ve been best friends since, what, seventh grade?” “Exactly. She’s the one who introduced him to Mel, even. And she just slammed the door in his face.” “Sometimes I kinda want to shoot that girl, as much as I love her.” “No kidding.” We let the conversation die as Mme. Daley has us switch to swing dancing. The only time he speaks during it is to whisper “lift” so I can prepare myself for him to lift me up by my waist. During the foxtrot, I catch Nick looking at me once or twice, though her pretends he was just looking around, and once in the middle of the tango Mme. D snaps at him not looking in the right direction. After class Nick hugs me when we go our separate ways, as is his custom for any of the girls in our group, and I head off to English. Morganne. The counselor leads me into the science lab at the beginning of second hour. I tug nervously at the high collar of my lace top as the counselor explains everything to the teacher, Mr. … (I check my schedule) Milles.

After some hand-waving and vigorous nodding on the counselor’s and Mr. Milles’s parts, respectively, the counselor leaves and I’m left standing next to the tall and handsome Mr. Milles. The entire gathering of thirty-some-odd students is staring at me, and then Mr. Milles says, “Class ,I’d like you to meet Morganne Litke, who just transferred here from Providence. Please make her feel welcome. Morganne, why don’t you sit in the back, over there next to Rachel?” The worst thing about moving to a new school, which, for me, is old hat, is when a teacher expressly tells your fellow classmates to be nice. Because most people are sensible enough to know that the teacher would be well within his rights to start handing out detentions for not neing nice—meaning there’s not efficient way of knowing if people genuinely like you or if they’re just being nice. I pace slowly to the back of the lab, getting the visual downlow on my classmates. Dalton Brown is a private school, so everyone here is either really smart —or really rich. And they look it, too. The two groups are clearly and easily defined: the rich kids are lounging back on their stools, feet on the lab tables, wearing their Abercrombie bomber jackets and fancy new clothes. The scholarship kids, on the other hand, sit up straight, notebooks on the tables in front of them, doing their best in Aeropostale tops and Old Navy jeans. Rachel is one of the less arrogant-looking rich kids. She’s not lounging, but her clothes are obivously expensive—she’s wearing a tissue-soft cotton shell underneath a blue flowered double-breasted jacket over gray pants—and she doesn’t seem to be carrying any school supplies with her. “Hi,” she says cheerfully. “I’m Rachel Spalding.” I nod and sit on the stool next to her, placing my knockoff Gucci bag in my lap. “Cute bag.” Rachel compliments me. She reaches out to t ouch the tan-andwhite leather stripes. “Gucci, right?” “Yeah. I got it in New York.” “I love NYC more than anything, ever. So you’re from Rhode Island?” Rachel fiddles with her shoulder-length highlighted hair. “Yeah. Right outside Providence. But I’ve lived in Massachusetts before, so it’s not that new.” “Well that’s good.” We talk for a while more—awkwardly, of course, because that’s how it is with people you don’t know, but it’s all right, and Rachel seems nice. Finally she breaches the subject I’d been hoping she would. “You know anybody yet? Recognize anybody in here?”

“Not at all.” Rachel is obviously a social butterfly, and she seems pleased at the opportunity to display her skills. She starts pointing. “Well, that’s Chris, and Renee… um, Joe, Brady, Callie, George, Arthur, Emma, Caroline, Whitney, Eve…Matt, Theodore, Ruby and Amber, they’re twins…and Katarina…oh and Ravi, he’s sweet but he’s a loner, gets pissed off real easy.” Then, once done talking about the people in our class, she moves on to her friends. “Nick is my twin brother, he’s a jerk but I love him anyway. And Ethan—no matter what Kia and Jesse and Aaron and Cullen tell you, don’t not talk to him. But get used to it—those four won’t say a word to him.” “This is assuming I ever meet your friends—and why won’t they talk to him?” As Rachel gets more enthusiastic, I warm up to her and get closer to being myself. “’Course you’ll meet ‘em! You’re gonna eat lunch with me, right?” Her smiles is wide and earnest—whitened by the steady gleam of an Invisalign retainer, marked by a line across the bottom of her gums. “Yeah,” I say slowly, and then, more boldly, “Yeah, I think I will.” Rachel waves her hand. “Anyway, I’d rather not go into the whole Ethan situation, if you don’t mind—suffice it to say that there was a very large misunderstanding.” I nod understandingly. “I see.” Just then Mr. Milles calls our attention back to himself and begins passing out forms for us to fill out and class curriculum outlines. The rest of the period is devoted to Mr. Milles explaining how his classroom works—and while Rachel might know this already, I can’t afford to miss anything important, so she and I don’t have time to talk anymore, except for just before the bell rings: “Hey, Morganne—lemme see your schedule really fast.” I hand it over and she scans it with an expert eye. “Okay, you’ve got Rileins next—turn left outside the lab, go up the first staircase on the right, and it’ll be the —“ she twitches her fingers, counting in her head, “—fifth on the right. And you have Poulsen fifth, so I’ll come meet you before lunch, okay?” I only have time to nod before the bell rings and Rachel is swept off into the rush of students, elbowing a tall dark-haired Asian boy who is coming out of the adjacent classroom roughly==and then she is gone from my sight. Jesse. Kia and I have gym third period—for us, since we’re on the swim team, it’s alternate days of workouts and swimming laps—today, however, it’s just talk time— reviewing meet calendars, organizing fundraisers, discussing training tactics.

Sine I’m always so close to her, I can’t help but notice how she keeps looking off to her left. I can tell she’s having trouble coping. Mel always stood on Kia’s left, since swimmer’s ear makes it hard for her to hear out of her right. The things we do for the sake of our sport: for us swim team devotees, we’re always doing some sport or other, year-round. Swim team from mid-July to February, track or tennis or spring basketball March through late May, and then either golf or city swim until Dalton Brown starts up again. We’re close in devotion level to the lacrosse crowd, but not quite that obsessed, as the lacrosse kids compare bruises and scars and run around hooting for weeks after any even vaguely spectacular win—but while they’re noticed and people feel a vague amusement toward them, the swimmers are respected for our lean bodies and deep tans year-round and our quiet state championship-ship. In the weight room, Kia looks down at me, since my head is in her lap. “What’ are you thinking about?” she asks quietly. I grin. “How lacrosse nerds are insane,” I reply truthfully. Kia laughs a rare laugh. “And what led you to those thoughts?” I pause before answering to look at her. Chest-length dark reddish-brown hair, blue eyes, and pale skin set off by her royal blue scoop-necked t-shirt. “Your swimmer’s ear,” I finally tell her, and she laughs again. “You’re cute.” “I would hope so.” If I had a dollar for every time I’d made her laugh since we’d started going out, I would be a very poor man. I add two dollars to my mental bank account and tilt my neck up so Kia can kiss me gently. Her lips are cold. We have to stop, like several other couples, when Coach Brandel comes back in from the copy room. Because of the way Dalton Brown works, each team-related gym class (or gym class-related team) has three coaches—one for each daily rotation. For swim team there’s Brandel (A days), Longteige (B), and Frank (C). I kind of feel bad for Brandel—she’s so strict and socially awkward that everyone can’t help but want to immediately disobey him. Hence, the couples who start making out every time he leaves a room—with the exception of Kia and I. We kiss, we don’t make out. “Hey, guys, um let me take roll really fast and then we’ll talk about the next meet. Jesse Carmichael?” “Here,” I say flatly. Brandel continues. “George Charles…” when he says, “Ethan Harris,” a collective murmur of gossip goes up throughout the entire weight room. Among all the whispers, I pick out phrases like, “Wasn’t he dating Melanie

Johnson?”, “I used to think we was really nice, but he’s so irresponsible,” and “He is such a partier.” Quickly, I sit up and wrap my arms around Kia, who looks like she’s close to breaking down, as if I can protect her from the whispers. “Ethan Harris?” Brandel repeats. Everybody looks around, and then turns back, shrugging. Suddenly the door creaks and clicks shut. “I’m here, Coach Brandel,” a voice —Ethan’s voice—says. Kia involuntarily looks back over my shoulder at him. I restrain myself from looking, but shake my head. Ethan always was the dramatic one in the group. Coach Brandel nods, oblivious to the small soap opera taking place in his classroom, and continues taking roll. Ethan walks forward from the door and sits—sprawls—on the butterfly machine. “Hi, Kia,” he says softly. Kia turns back around and tucks her head in under my chin.

Ethan. After the swim team debacle—which had turned out far more embarrassing than it should have been, considering my schedule has a misprint and I’d gone all the way out to the pool before realizing the mistake—I trudged across the campus to the art building for photography. I’d taken it as a freshman, so my fancy Nikon camera was already locked in its cabinet. Finally, an escape. I’m the first one in the studio. “Hello, Ethan,” Ms. Avers greets me—one person, at least, who still likes me. “Hi, Ms. Avers,” I reply, and hunt for my key on my Dalton Brown grizzlies lanyard, then turn it in the lock to pull out that hunk of black casing that I’ve missed each long day since school let out. I go over to where I left my backpack and pull out my inch-thick MacBook pro, powering it up. When that’s done, I pull out the SD card from the camera and upload all the photos, saving them to a folder titled “before”. Then I call Ms. Avers over. “Could you lock this folder? Use your own password.” She gives me a questioning look, but starts clicking and typing anyway. I can tell when the computer is asking her if she really wants to lock it because

understanding dawns on her narrow face. “Not ready for the past to catch up yet, huh?” “But not quite ready to let go, either,” I finish, and she pushes the laptop back toward me, but sits down on the windowsill next to me. “I take it the fact that they all seem to hate you isn’t helping either.” “When I look at her, stunned, she raises a sly eyebrow and spreads her hands. “Ethan, do you honestly expect me to just ignore every snippet of gossip that passes through this classroom? Even the freshmen are talking about you.” “Kia didn’t even give me a chance to explain,” I say lamely—a mental adjective I seem to be using a lot lately. “You don’t drink, do you,” Ms. Avers says. It’s not a question, but I answer anyway. “Not a drop.” “That’s what I thought.” She sighs and leans back on her hands. “Ethan, I know this period is your escape time, but it can’t be that if everything you’re trying to get away from follows you here.” She picks up my camera and hands it to me, plopping it down in my cupped hands, then swallows. “It hurt me to see you like this.” Another sigh. “Why don’t you go down to one of the kindergarten classrooms today? I know you like being around them.” I let myself crack a smile. “Thanks, Avers.” Then I’m gone.

Camera in hand, I walk down to Mr. Carlton’s classroom and open the door. He looks up from reading aloud long enough to recognize me and smile, then goes on. I take a few picture for Avers, and then move on to set my camera on a table and sit on the floor behind the kids. A little girl with long blonde hair looks around, breaks into a big smile, and silently comes to sit next to me. “Hi, Ethan,” Rownie breathes, slipping her hand into mine. I squeeze gently and shush her, pointing to Mr. Carlton. She absently traces lines on my palm as she listens to the story, one about a boy who has to make dinner for his picky younger sister, sharing my melancholy. After the story, while I play dysfunctional Scattergories with a few of the kids, using SAT words for all the categories, Mr. Carlton comes to talk to me. “Rownie’s older sister was your girlfriend, wasn’t she?”

“Yeah. Melanie,” I reply, writing the word “abscond” down under the category “action” as the kids sound out the words scrawled in my messy handwriting with awe. “And how are you doing with that?” Mr. Carlton asks me concernedly. Rownie (short for Rowena) looks up at us, intrigued at the mention of her older sister’s name. “Fine, I guess—still not functioning normally, but getting there.” I realize there’s a subject that needs to be cleared up and send Rownie to get me some graham crackers. “Mr. Carlton, Rownie’s got a tough exterior—she’s not to the stage I am, but she won’t show it. But the best way for her to deal with it is for people to ignore the issue. So don’t bring it up—she might randomly break down in the middle of class and just act like she bit her tongue or something, but don’t send her to the counselor’s office or anything. Just let it be. I know that goes against all your instincts as a teacher, but I’m telling you, just ask her is she’s okay and then leave her alone.” And then Rownie’s back with my crackers, and I munch them, leaving Mr. Carlton to walk away and ponder my words.

When I leave the kindergarten rooms to go to fifth period chemistry, the wind is whipping red and yellow leaves off the trees and it’s starting to rain. I put my camera into it’s protective bag and zip up my hoodie and pull a dark green visored beanie over my curly hair. On my way across the quad, Delia jogs up and links her arm with mind. She’s wearing a hat of her own, a bright red floppy beret sitting low on the back of her head, held in place with several bobby pins. She leans her head on my shoulder and smiles up at me. “You look cute in that beanie. How was photography?” Her Ogio backpack is hanging off one shoulder and bangs against my back as we walk. “Thank you, Miss Whitney,” I say, affecting a formal voice. “Photography was fine, by the way—I played Scattergorie with kindergartners and brushed up on my SAT vocabulary. How was your child development class?” “It was fabulous, as per usual, Mr. Harris.” You have chemistry next, right? And then lunch?” Her face is hopeful, and I’m glad I can say she’s right. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do.” “Good. We’ll be in the same classes for a while then. Sit next to me in chem.?” “Who else would I sit with?” I ask dubiously. “No one else will talk to me.” I unzip my hoodie again as we enter the main building and move expertly, unobstructed, down the freshmen hallways.

“That is buuuull-pucky,” Delia says, slightly distractedly, as she waves sweetly to a group of giggling 14-year-olds. “Nick and Rachel talk to you too. And the teachers.” “Teachers don’t count. And how do you know so many people?” “Teachers do too count. And I have no idea.” She’s trying so hard to make people like me again—as we move into the sophomore hallways, she steps behind me and jumps lightly onto my back, wrapping her legs around my waist. “Say something funny—loudly. Quick.” “Um…” I scramble for a minute, abandoning the teacher argument for now. “’Scuse me, can I talk to you fo’ a minute?” I say in a gangster accent, some quote from a random skit. Delia chokes out a sincere laugh, and follows up, “I just wanted to tell ya, the back of yo head is riddikalus!” in the same voice. I keep up with the funny comments until we reach Mr. Milles’s science lab, where Delia drops from my back and finds us an empty table at the back of the lab to sit at. People, as they continue coming into the lab, stare at Delia, jabbering away happily, as if they can’t believe we’re on speaking terms—and as I laugh, firing back snide comments, a few less ill-disposed students smile vaguely. But then the bell rings, and the spell is broken. Nick. Lunch is a happy affair. My history teacher lets us out late, so I rush to the cafeteria and join Ethan in the pizza line. “Where’s Deals?” I gasp, out of breath. Ethan points. “Salad bar with Kia and Rach.” “Oh.” I put my hands behind my head and make my mouth an O, breathing deeply. A few seconds later, Cullen comes up behind me. “Hey, Nick.” “Hi.” Ethan says hi as well, and though he doesn’t actually speak to him, Cullen nods in his direction, which I’m grateful for. Cullen is one of the happier, less judgmental of our group (though some would argue that he’s just too wrapped up in his artwork to care). Anyone, from a distance, would think that Cullen is the stoner type. He has all the classic symptoms: spacey, moody, irritable, and artsy. However, he’s not just artsy, and suffers from bouts of deep thought and mood swings. As a result, he doesn’t have time (or energy)to waste on shunning people for no logical reason. He’s usually more concerned about drawing and soccer. Yes, he’s still pissed

at Ethan for what he thinks happened, but he’ll occasionally say a word or two to Ethan. “So, Nick, what’d you think of that Degas project Brown assigned us?” He adjusts his many layer of clothing (t-shirt, button-up, hoodie, and blazer, all in different colors: dark blue, periwinkle, gray, and olive green herringbone, but all impeccably matched) and looks at me expectantly. (Not only is Cullen the most devoted artist of us all, he also has the best fashion sense—and no, he’s not gay. Far from it, actually.) I make a noncommittal noise. “It’s all right, I guess. But dancers aren’t really my thing.” “I can understand that. I’m excited, though. Mom’ll finally be forced to buy me some oils.” By now, we’ve reached the front of the line. We collect our pizza and drinks (Sobe green tea for me, Mountain Dew for Ethan, and coffee from the cappuccino machine for Cullen), and walk over to our usual picnic table outside, where Rachel, Kia, and…oh, Delia! are waiting for us, chattering over piles of iceberg lettuces and olives and eggs and vinaigrette. We’re greeted by warm smiles from the girls, except for Ethan from Kia, and soon Aaron and Jesse join us. We talk about classes, friends, makes plans to see some new spy movie this weekend—much a repeat of this morning, minus the pleasant sensation of Delia’s concerned fingers on my stomach. I shudder, suddenly, involuntarily, when I glance over at her. She looks up and chuckles. “Pea shivers?” she asks, a joke from when we were babies. I laugh heartily until Rachel, beside me, gasps loudly, extricates herself quickly than I would have thought possible from the picnic table, and says, “Oh, sh—crap Morganne!” Then she rushes back into the cafeteria, hair and jacket flying. I look, confused, at Delia, who wrinkles her chin and shrugs, saying, “I have no idea.” While Rachel’s gone, Cullen gets up and leaves, muttering something about soccer, waving to us all as he walks slouchily away. A few minutes later, my twin returns, apologizing profusely to someone walking behind her. When they reach us, the person comes out from behind her. “Guys,” Rachel says solemnly, but happily, “This is Morganne, and she’s going to eat with us.” Morganne is tall, skinny, but fairly curvy. Night-black hair falls in a straight sheet down her back, and pale blue-gray eyes stare nervously out form underneath arched eyebrows. Her skin is as pale as her eyes, milky, made to look more so by her lace short-sleeved turtleneck top, settled prettily over a soft pink camisole and

brown pants. The last thing I notice about her are her bony, bony hands, holding a sandwich and sliced apple, each in Ziploc bags. Rachel makes me scoot over, and holds out her hand for Morganne to sit in the cleared space next to me. She does, and starts introducing us. “That’s Nick, my brother, like I was telling you, and Delia, we’ve known her since she was born, and Aaron, over there, Aaron, wave—“ Aaron looks up from his chicken sandwich to flash Morganne a Jackie Chan smile and raise his hand. “Next to him is Kia, and that’s Jesse, and back around to Ethan, and—hey, where’s Cullen?” Aaron looks up again. “Uh, he said he was going to the museum and then to go buy new shin guards and…um…another kind of guard, if you know what I mean.” There’s a small noise from Kia, who narrows her eyes and mumbles confusedly, “Wait…condoms?”, at which we all laugh, Kia blushes, and Jesse says, “No a jock strap silly,” at which we laugh more. Morganne seems to relax a little. “Wiat—the museum? That reminds me…dang I really wanted you to meet him, Morg, cos there’s this thing at the—“ I lunge across Morganne’s arm to shut Rachel up. “Rach,” I hiss, “Cullen said to stop telling people about that, remember?” “Oh, right. Sorry, Morg. He’ll tell you himself eventually. Anyway you would have really liked each other.” Rachel starts finishing her temporarily abandoned salad, and Morganne nervously shreds her sandwich into pieces and eats an apple slice. Two seats down, Ethan leans around Rachel and taps Morganne on the shoulder. “’Scuse me, can I talk to you fo’ a minute?” Across the t able, Delia comes very close to blowing lemonade out of her nose, and chokes her swallow down, sputtering. Everyone looks expectantly at Morganne, not daring to breathe, hoping. The new girl centers her half eat apple slice on her napkin and looks at him. “Ethan, right?” Ethan nods, and so does Morganne, and then she goes silent. Everyone else sighs and starts eating again, until Morganne exhales loudly and says: “Ethan?” He looks at her. “I just wanted to say, the back of your head is ridiculous.” The effect is immediate. Morganne is instantly accepted as one of us, at least for the time being. She’s clapped on the back, congratulated, and everyone is laughing. And then something almost magical happens.

Morganne opens up. Suddenly we see her as a snarky, happy, intelligent, notshy-at-all girl. She has never missed a Saturday Night Live since she was twelve, knows every movie we quote. She’s awesome. And that was my happy affair of a lunch. Morganne. I have European History after lunch. When I mention this, the extremely tall Abercrombie god named Jesse pipes up and asks, “Inglesias?” My confusion must have shown on my face, because he looks at Rachel, who pulls a piece of notebook paper out of her pocket (my schedule, copied so she can find me any time of day) and says, “yes. She’s has Senor Inglesias.” Jesse nods and walks closer to me. “You’re in my next class—is it all right if I walk with you?” He’s talking to me like I’m a spooked horse, but somehow, the feeling isn’t degrading. Jesse just kind of bleeds comfort from every pore—like Rachel said. She’d told me that that was how Kia and he had gotten together. “Yeah, that’s okay.” Jesse falls into step beside me, and I get a chance to take a good look at him. Basically it was like his parents were both models and he won the genetic lottery—shaggy blond hair, blue eyes, built like Michael Phelps: stocky, lean, but bony. He’s a good head and a half taller than me; I only come up to his bicep. “So you’re from Providence, right?” He asks me as we walk out of the cafeteria, pulling a Red Sox baseball hat over his head as we step into the drizzling rain. Once he sees I don’t have anything, he shrugs off his (Abercrombie) hoodie and hands it to me. “Welcome to Boston. Get used to hats and coats.” I chuckle and thank him for his jacket, which is huge and dark red. With a moose on it. “We are going where, exactly?” Jesse points. “West building, room 136, Inglesias. AP European History. “Did you throw in that AP just to show off?” “No. You’re in AP Euro too. Anyway all of my classes are AP.” I slap myself mentally. Jesse really has won the genetic lottery. Not only does he look like a model, he’s a genius. “Ah…” I sigh. “A nerd, are you?” He goes sarcastic-defensive. “No, I’m not! I just like to understand things!” “Uh-huh.” “So what do you think of Dalton Brown so far?” He puts his fingers under his hat and pulls a few chunks of hair forward, primping.

“It’s good. A little more advanced that my old school, but otherwise good.” “And how are the people? We all know that’s far more important.” Jesse’s eyes are curious. “Excellent.” “Thought so.” He grins widely and picks a carnation from a bush, handing it to me dramatically like a knight in shining armor. “See? Excellent people in Boston.” I slip the little pink flower into my hair. “Very becoming,” Jesse compliments me. “Well thank you.” We’re about halfway to the building Jesse pointed out at first by now, in the middle of a large crowd of students. “Soo…” Jesse draws out the word until he’s out of breath and then adds, “Got your eyes on someone special yet?” He looks at me with those blue eyes again. “I dunno…I don’t even really know anyone yet. There’s a couple cute guys in my culinary arts class though—Sascha and…Grayson and Bryce.” “Sascha Henry?” “I think.” “He’s way cool. Awesome guy. I can introduce you if you want. I think he’s actually in this next class.” “That’d be great!” “Cool. It’s a deal.” We walk the rest of the way in silence, and I’m given a chance to mull things over. The entire gang is really nice—Aaron was one of those irresistibly happy souls, the one Rachel had rammed into after chemistry. Ethan, for all that Rachel said everyone else hated him—though I couldn’t see why—was incredibly sweet and gentlemanly, yet his dark eyes, while they sparkled, sparkled from behind a curtain of deep hurt and sorrow. Yet—somehow I detected a sort of coldness in their personas, and throughout the entire lunch period I felt it, like ice, like no matter how much they seemed to like me, I couldn’t have a spot in their group. I wasn’t welcome. Everywhere I turned there were people whispering to their friends and my paranoid side screamed to me that they just had to be talking about me. Once inside the building, Jesse turns into a social butterfly, just like Rachel did in chem. He’s hugging girls and giving claps on the back or high fives or the occasional friendly punch to the guys. But here is where his true character comes

out, because even in the midst of all this, he doesn’t forget about me. Whenever he has a conversation long enough to actually get anything worthwhile said, it’s always, “Oh, Violet, have you seen Morganne around? Violet, Morganne, Morganne, Violet,” or “Hey, Owne! How’s life treatin’ ya? This is my good pal Morganne Litke! Morganne, meet Own Samuels.” And I smile and wave and shake their hands or give high fives and rocks (shake n’ bakes, as they call them here), and the girl act sweet and the guys are friendly. So we get to Mr. Ingelsias’s room, and going through the door is like stepping underwater. I hand Jesse his jacket back with an absentminded thank you as I look around. The room is almost dead silent, and so huge that any quiet conversations being held in the small groups here and there can’t be heard. Jesse walks right up to a good-looking guy who looks vaguely familiar. He exchanges the now customary universal handshake and then steps back. “Sascha, I give you Morganne Litke, who is new.” The way he says it is so blunt and offhand that I have to make a conscious effort not to start laughing. Sascha grins, showing off an impressive set of pearly-whites, and points at me. “From the MCA class, right?” “Yeah, fourth period.” Sascha isn’t as gorgeous as Jesse, but he could hold his own in a crowd of girls: dark brown hair with a red tint, spiked in the front, and grayblue eyes and milky clear skin. He flashes those magnificent teeth again. Jesse subtly moves off, and I sink slowly into the chair next to Sascha. “So,” he says quietly, his voice a clear tenor, with an earnest ton. “Where are you from, Morganne-Litke-who-is-new?” “Providence.” He nods wisely. “I’v ebeen there a couple times. Nice place.” “Mmm-hm.” I turn toward him a little more, tucking my feet up on the chair. “And how are you liking Dalton?” “Better, now,” I reply coyly, raising my eyebrows at him. “Very good. Hey, so I was wondering, my dance studio is hosting a ballet tomorrow night. Would you care to joing me?” Those husky Russian eyes are too much fro me to resist. Once Sascha turns his full gaze on me, I melt. I melt into a puddle of lacy water right at his feet. “Of course. And what ballet with they be performing?” “Giselle. A classic. Wanna give me your number so I can call you with details tonight?” he pulls out a tiny silver cell phone that can’t be more than an inch wide, and starts tapping buttons rapidly. Finally he looks up at me and I recite my cell phone number to him. When I’m done he hits another button, flips the phone shut,

whispers, “It’s a date then,” and lifts the edge of his rugby-striped sweater to slip the phone back into his pocket, just as the bell rings. Mr. Inglesias walks into the room, smooth and young and Latino, and starts talking almost immediately. It’s obvious he’s well-liked, because nobody else is talking. The only distraction comes about halfway through the period when the lights are off so Inglesias can go over something on the projector, and nobody else can see it. I’m looking straight ahead, my hands folded in my lap, when Sascha reaches over and slides two fingers along the underside of my arm, lifting my wrist out of my lap and then pulling my hand into his. I look over at him, startled, and he freezes, raising his dark eyebrows, asking permission. I nod almost imperceptibly and turn back to the projector, as Sascha’s hand curls around mine, his fingers intertwine with mine, and that creamy skin is sending electric tingles up my spine. He squeezes gently and moves his chair closer. Cullen. English is a bore, as usual. As usual, the counseling office doesn’t put me in AP, and as usual, they say they can’t do anything about it. As usual, everyone else in my class is a complete idiot. As usual, it’s made better by the presence of my friends. This class, it’s Kia Wilder and Nick Spalding. At our desks, Kia and Nick sit on either side of me, watching me draw while they hold a conversation of their own. As usual, I don’t participate, and as usual, Kia and Nick think nothing of it. Until they start talking about someone who is not a usual part of our discussion topics. And then Nick brings me into the conversation. “Cull…have you met Morganne yet?” “Morgan Chalice? Duh.” I shade in the person’s face. “No,” Nick corrects testily. “Morganne Litke. She’s this new chick, she sat with us at lunch but you left before she came over.” “Yeah, you would have really liked her,” Kia cuts in. “She looks—“ and then, mysteriously, she stops. When I find a place to stop in my drawing, Nick is glaring stonily at Kia. Giving her my patented death glare. I breathe out, like Mrs. Brown always tell me to. Calm, still water—picture a painting. Monet’s Water Lily Pond. Nick changes the subject.

When the bell rings and Mrs. Holt starts talking at us,

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