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Authors: Darlene Ryan

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Responsible

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Responsible

Darlene Ryan

orca soundings

Copyright © Darlene Ryan 2007

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Ryan, Darlene, 1958-

Responsible / written by Darlene Ryan.
(Orca soundings)

ISBN 978-1-55143-687-6 (bound)
ISBN 978-1-55143-685-2 (pbk.)

I. Title. II. Series.

PS8635.Y35R46 2007 jC813'.6 C2007-903772-0

Summary:
In a new school, Kevin must choose between falling in with a
rough crowd or doing the right thing.

First published in the United States, 2007
Library of Congress Control Number:
2007930151

Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

Cover design: Teresa Bubela
Cover photography: Getty Images
Author photo: Kevin Ryan

Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 5626, Station B
Victoria, BC Canada
V8R 6S4

Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 468
Custer, WA USA
98240-0468

www.orcabook.com
Printed and bound in Canada.
Printed on 100% PCW recycled paper.
010  09  08  07  •  4  3  2  1

For Barb and Leigh

Chapter One

See, the thing was, you had to make it look like it was an accident. You know, in case a teacher was looking. Except of course it wasn't an accident, and the person knew it wasn't.

For instance, a couple of us would be walking down the hall, and we'd be talking, and we wouldn't even look at the person. In fact, we'd make a point of
not
looking at the person. Whoever was walking on the inside
would bump them—just a little—and we'd keep on going like they weren't even there. And then someone else would come along and nudge them, a little bit harder, but not much. And then it would be Nick's turn.

Nick had a bunch of different moves. The one he liked best was walking down the hall backward, talking real fast to someone, so it really did look like an accident when he banged into the person. But he always hit people hard enough to make them go down. Somehow Nick would end up stepping on their hand or their leg. Once he even stepped on the side of a guy's head, and you could see the shape of the heel of Nick's boot on his face.

Then Nick would go into his big “Oh my God. Jeez, I'm sorry, I didn't see you” routine. A bunch of kids would gather round, and a couple of teachers would come to see what was going on. The whole time Nick kept doing his “I didn't see you” bit. Even though I knew it was all a lie, he was so freakin' good at it that I wanted to believe him.

Mostly Nick got away with stuff because the teachers thought they had him figured out, but they didn't know him at all. One time Ms. Henderson sent me down to the office to bring a couple of boxes of paper towels to the art room. While I was waiting for the secretary to unlock the storeroom, I heard Mr. Harris, the vice-principal, talking to some supply teacher about Nick. He said Nick suffered from low self-esteem and didn't like himself very much.

Teachers, for the most part, don't know anything about real life. If they did they'd have much better jobs than teaching geometry and the history of the stupid middle ages to a bunch of kids who aren't listening anyway. And Mr. Harris knew squat. Nick had low self-esteem? Yeah, right. Nick was the king of cool and he knew it. I'd seen girls checking him out. He even said Ms. Henderson had a thing for him, and I think he might have been right. She did get Nick to pose up on this little platform at the front of the class when we were studying the human form, and she said he had almost perfect proportions.

Nick pretty much always got what he wanted when he wanted it, and I think that's how everything with Erin started. She was about the only person, as far as I could tell, who didn't think Nick was that cool. At least she was the only person who was always in Mr. Harris's office complaining about him. There were other people who didn't like Nick, but they were smart enough not to say anything.

I knew that after the first day in the school. I'd been to a lot of schools— Ellerton was the fourth high school in a year and a half. In my whole life I'd only started and ended the year in the same school twice.

My dad's a carpenter. He can do a lot of other things too, like some electrical stuff and even a bit of plumbing. And he's pretty good, especially for someone who's learned just from watching other people. That was the problem. He didn't go to school to study any of it. Even though he was just as good as trades people with papers, he mostly just got hired as a general laborer.
That meant he'd be one of the first people let go when a job wound down. He had to move around a lot to keep working. Wherever he went, so did I. That's why I'd been to so many schools.

And every school was pretty much the same. There were the brains, the jocks, the techno-geeks in the computer club, the artsy-fartsy types, the drama club kids and the guys like Nick. It wasn't like I'd wanted to hang out with Nick and those guys. It just sort of happened. I learned a long time ago that to survive you had to keep your head down, keep your mouth shut and not make trouble.

But not Erin. She just wouldn't shut up. I don't know why all of a sudden everything Nick did bugged her. They'd gone to the same schools since kindergarten. They had both lived in Ellerton their whole lives.

I heard someone say the whole thing between Nick and Erin was because she wouldn't go out with him. That made sense to me. Nick didn't take no for an answer very well.

So when he
accidentally
knocked her down, it was in the cafeteria and she had a tray full of stuff. There was macaroni in her hair, and butterscotch pudding all down the front of her shirt. Erin got up, and one of her friends started picking macaroni tubes out of her hair. Erin pushed the girl's arm away and moved right in Nick's face. I thought she was going to spit at him. But she just stared at him. Then she turned and walked out of the cafeteria. She never said anything. Of course she went right to Mr. Harris's office. We got a week of detention—Nick because he was the one who'd bumped her, and me, Brendan and Zach because we'd blocked the aisle with our chairs so she'd have to go past Nick in the first place. It was no big deal. My dad was never around after school anyway. All I had to do was sign the note they sent home. That was easy. I could sign my dad's name just as well as he could. I'd been doing it since I was eleven.

Nick made this big deal about being punished for an accident, but Mr. Harris said there'd been too many accidents lately
and maybe Nick needed to practice walking around with his math textbook on his head to improve his balance. I thought that was kind of funny, especially coming from Mr. Harris, but Nick was pissed.

On Monday morning there was a chain of tampons hanging down the front of Erin's locker. Nick was in the clear. He always hung out at the Burger Doodle parking lot before school. Probably twenty people or more had seen him there.

On Tuesday, everything disappeared out of Erin's locker at the end of the day.

The day after that she turned on her computer in the tech lab and it started playing “Three Blind Mice” and wouldn't stop. Even Mrs. Woodward couldn't figure out what to do.

I was headed back to my locker at lunch that same day when Nick suddenly came up beside me. “Hey, man, I need you to do something for me,” he said.

Crap. My mouth suddenly got all dry. Whatever it was he wanted, I knew I couldn't say no. “What is it?” I asked.

Nick leaned on the wall by the water fountain. “I can count on you, Frasier, right?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. I wasn't stupid enough to get into a pissing contest with Nick. He pulled a Styrofoam hamburger box out from under his jacket.

“Here,” he said. I took the box and started to open the cover. “Don't open it,” Nick hissed. “Just put it away.”

I shoved the box in my backpack. I didn't know what was in it, but I was pretty sure it wasn't Nick's leftover lunch.

“Remember that Erin chick?” Nick said.

I nodded. a burning feeling started in my stomach.

“She thinks she's better than us, yuh know? Going around with her nose in the air and trying to get people in trouble all the time. You do that and stuff's gonna happen.”

The burning filled my stomach.

Nick grinned. It wasn't nice. He looked at my pack. “That's just a little pet for
Miss Perfect. All you gotta do is wait till no one's around after school and put it in her locker. You know how to pop a lock, right?”

I knew. The locks were so old they'd probably been using them back in the days when Mr. Harris had gone to the school. It was easy to force one open and lock it again.

“Wait till everyone is gone and watch out for the janitors,” Nick said. He slugged my shoulder. “She's gonna freak. Thanks, man.” He took off down the hall.

I walked to my locker and frigged with the lock, waiting until the hall cleared. I grabbed the burger box and shoved it behind some books on the top shelf. I didn't look inside. I didn't want to know what was in there until I had to.

Chapter Two

At the end of the day I slipped the box back into my backpack and went down to the art room. I knew I could hide out there for a while, pretending that I was working on a sketch of a tree I was doing for my art project. I figured since I had to be there I might as well do a bit more work on the trunk. On paper it didn't look the way it did in my head.

Ms. Henderson walked by the door. when she saw me she came over to the
table. She picked my half-open backpack off the chair and set it on the floor so she could sit down. I thought I was going to pass out, but she didn't notice anything.

“That's nice work, Kevin,” she said. “You have real talent.” She smelled like turpentine and oranges. Ordinarily I would have been happy—really happy—to have Ms. Henderson leaning over me with her elbows on the table and her orange-smelling hair about an inch from my face, but all I could think was, Don't let her look in my backpack. We weren't allowed to have fast food on the school grounds. If she saw the box, she'd take it, and while I wasn't exactly sure what was inside, I knew it wasn't a cheeseburger with extra pickles.

But she didn't even look down. She just pointed to a couple of places in the picture that she thought needed more detail, and then she got up. As she walked away I could hear the blood pounding in my ears.

After half an hour I put everything away and went up the back staircase. The hallway was deserted. I found Erin's
locker. The lock was easy to pop, even with the sleeve of my sweatshirt pulled down over my fingers. I didn't think Mr. Harris had any way of looking for fingerprints, but I wasn't taking any chances. I slid the burger box out of my pack.

There was a mouse inside, gray and black with a long hairless tail and blood, dried brown, on its neck. I looked at it, curled in the bottom of its Styrofoam coffin, and I thought, I could just shut Erin's locker and tell Nick I hadn't been able to pop the lock after all. No. No. I could tell him the janitor had been doing the floors and I couldn't even get to her locker.

I looked down at the grungy gray and yellow tiles. Nick wouldn't believe that. No one would believe that.

I could just shut the locker, throw the box in the garbage and go home. Of course I'd never be able to come to school or go anywhere else ever again. I'd heard rumors about what Nick did to guys who went up against him. I was pretty sure I wouldn't
get a mouse like this stuck in my locker. I'd probably be the mouse, curled up in a ball with blood on the side of my head. It was me or her. What the hell else could I do?

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