Authors: Jill Hathaway
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Law & Crime, #Science Fiction
For my mother,
who instilled in me a love of words;
and my daughter,
for whom I hope to do the same.
’m slumped at my desk, fighting to keep my eyes open. A drop of sweat meanders down my back. It’s got to be eighty-five degrees in here, though it’s only October. When we complained, Mrs. Winger mumbled something about waiting for a custodian to come fix the thermostat.
Beside me, hunched over his desk, Icky Ferris stumbles over the words in
. We’re supposed to be reading in partners—but his monotonous tone, paired with the unintelligible Shakespearean language that gets English teachers all hot and bothered, makes me feel unbearably sleepy.
Heat is one of my major triggers—and, apparently, so is Shakespeare. Warmth crawls up my spine like a centipede. It reminds me of the time I was sitting in my dad’s car in August with the seat warmer accidentally on.
All the words in my book mush into blurry gray lines, and I know it won’t be long before I lose consciousness. The room starts to turn inside out, the seams pulling apart. I pick something in the room to focus on and end up staring at an inspirational poster with a picture of a kitten hanging off of a tree branch. The caption reads:
HANG IN THERE, BABY
! As I watch, the kitten’s face starts to melt off. I slip down in my chair.
There are certain signs I’m about to pass out: drooping eyelids, muscles gone slack like spaghetti, a blank look on my face. My classmates have seen it happen enough times to be able to tell what’s happening.
“Sylvia,” Icky hisses, and then he claps in front of my face. “Snap out of it.” I blink and focus on him. Icky has a mullet and an unhealthy obsession with firearms, but I like him. He certainly shows more compassion than most of the kids at my school. “You okay?”
By now, everyone’s staring. It’s not really a big deal anymore, me passing out in the middle of class, but it
something to break up this boring October day. There hasn’t been any new gossip since the drug dogs found a bag of weed in Jimmy Pine’s locker—and that was two weeks ago. I’d like to avoid losing myself completely in front of these vultures if at all possible.
I hoist myself out of the chair and approach Mrs. Winger, my English teacher. She’s totally engrossed in something on her computer—probably solitaire. She’s the only one who
notice me almost pass out. Her big desk is tucked in the very back of the room so she can ignore us. Pair by pair, my classmates’ eyes drop away from me and go back to their reading.
“Can I go to the bathroom?” I make my words small and humble.
She doesn’t bother to remove her eyes from the computer screen. If she did, she might see that it’s me, Sylvia Bell with the narcolepsy issue, and remember she’s been asked to let me leave the classroom whenever I need to.
Come on. Just let me go. LEMME GO.
The room spins and my knees start to buckle.
“Can’t it wait until class is over?” Mrs. Winger’s voice is snippy, cutting me into tiny pieces she can easily brush into the trash. She moves a stack of cards with her mouse.
“Can’t your game wait until class is over?” I push a lock of pink hair behind my ear. I know it’s a bitchy thing to say, but screw it. It’s the only way to get her attention.
She finally looks my way, irritation deepening the lines around her eyes. “Fine. Go. Five minutes.”
I don’t respond because I’m already out the door. I should go to the nurse, but she’s required to notify my father of any episodes, and I don’t feel like dealing with the questions. Not today. I’m so tired. Sleep might stalk me throughout the day, but it evades me at night. Last night, I might’ve gotten a total of four hours of sleep.
On my way to the bathroom, I pray it’s empty. No such luck—when I push open the door, I see a girl on her knees in the last stall, alternately sobbing and retching. I recognize the silver flip-flops. It’s Sophie Jacobs, the only one of my little sister’s friends I can stand. At least she won’t tell anyone about my episode. She has her own secrets to keep, anyway, like the breakfast she was probably just getting rid of.
I lean against the wall and search the pockets of my hoodie for the little orange bottle—the one that’s labeled Provigil. My doctor prescribed it to keep me awake, but in actuality it doesn’t do crap. I’ve dumped out the Provigil and filled the bottle with cheap caffeine pills, the only drug that seems to work for me—and then only if I take about six of them at once. The Provigil makes me feel like I’m fighting my way through a fog, but the caffeine brings everything into focus. My hands shake as I fish out a few of the ovals and pop them into my mouth, even though I have a feeling it’s too late.
The toilet flushes, and the stall door behind me swings open. Sophie just stands there, glassy-eyed, wiping her mouth with the back of a trembling hand. Her glossy black hair has a chunk of something yellow in it. I have to look away.
“Gah, I’m glad it’s you,” she says. She comes forward and twists the one knob above the sink. Our school doesn’t so much have hot or cold water, just one temperature: arctic. She scoops some water into her hands and splashes her face. “I’ve been feeling sick lately.”
I open my mouth to respond, but all that comes out is this weird rasp. My head aches. The room darkens, and I press my palms into my forehead, sinking to the floor.
I can never get used to the feeling of looking through someone else’s eyes. It’s as if each person sees the world in a slightly different hue. The tricky part is figuring out who the person is. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle— what do I see, hear, smell? Everything is a clue.
What I smell now: mildew and hair spray.
I’m in the girls’ locker room. Hideous pink lockers flank me on either side. The girl I’ve slid into pulls black ballet flats onto her orangey, fake-tanned feet. Her toes are painted robin’s-egg-blue with little daisies in the center.
Gym class must be over. Half-naked girls rush around, wiggling out of shorts way too skimpy for October, brushing their hair, discreetly swiping on powdery-smelling deodorant.
A few feet away, I recognize a blond girl sliding a pair of skinny jeans over her hips. She has a little white patch in the shape of the Playboy bunny on her hip, where she puts a sticker when she tans. The girl is Mattie. She is my sister and my exact opposite in every way. If she’s the pink glitter on your valentine, I’m the black Sharpie you use to draw mustaches on the teachers in your yearbook.
I feel my mouth open, and out comes the voice of Amber Prescott, my least favorite person in the galaxy. “Ugh. I just got the worst headache. It came out of nowhere. Do you have any aspirin?”
My mind races. How could I have slid into Amber? I wasn’t touching anything of hers. Was I?
Mattie fastens her silky ponytail with an elastic band. “Nope. Sorry. Anyway, it’s really none of my business if Sophie wants to hook up with Scotch. She can go around acting like a whore if she wants.”
“Personally, I think it’s disgusting the way she’s throwing herself at him. I mean, that’s not what a good friend does. She
you had a crush on him.”
Scotch? As in Scotch
? The biggest prick in the junior class? The mere mention of his name makes me feel like puking. When did Mattie start liking Scotch, head quarterback and douche extraordinaire?
Mattie’s face puckers as if she’s eaten a whole box of Lemonheads, which it always does when she’s trying to act like something doesn’t bother her.
“Well, what am I supposed to do? I can’t force him to want me. And, duh, why wouldn’t he like Sophie? She’s . . . like . . . amazing-looking.” Mattie drops onto the bench and covers her face with her hands.
Amber slithers closer to Mattie and pats her back. “Don’t give me that shit, Mattie. Scotch is crazy for choosing that heff over you. I mean, Sophie can’t go five minutes without sticking her finger down her throat. Just because she’s lost about half her body weight doesn’t mean she’s not still fat
. Guys don’t forget. She’s still Porky Pie from the sixth grade.”
Porky Pie. Sophie’s old nickname brings back memories, none of them good. Kids throwing oatmeal cream pies at her on the bus. The time in the computer lab when Scotch Becker pulled up the dictionary website and made the robotic voice say “hippopotamus” at her, over and over. I can’t believe Sophie would even speak to Scotch after the things he did to her in middle school. In fact, I can’t believe she speaks to Mattie or Amber. They only started hanging out with her after she lost weight, and even now Amber’s favorite pastime is thinking of new ways to torture Sophie. Amber is forever pulling crap like telling Sophie her (nonexistent) ass looks fat or asking if Sophie should really be eating that slice of pizza. It’s obvious she’s completely jealous that Mattie and Sophie have become such close friends. She’s seizing this opportunity to drive the two apart.
Mattie peeks at Amber through her fingers. “Do you really think so?”
“Don’t worry,” Amber says, pulling out a hot-pink cell phone. “I’ve got a plan to put her back in her place.”
“Sylvia? Vee! Are you all right? Should I get the nurse?” Sophie hovers over me, twisting her hands in worry.
The bathroom tile is cool against my cheek. I wonder when they last mopped it. Pushing myself into a sitting position, I banish the visions of squirming bacteria from my thoughts.
“Ugh, no. I’m fine.”
“Oh, god. Your forehead!”
I reach up and feel a huge lump.
Sophie tears several paper towels from the dispenser and holds them under the faucet. She gently compresses the cool, wet paper to my head. She’s so freaking maternal. Last fall, when she and Mattie shared a birthday party, she made a chocolate cake from scratch. She covered it with chocolate icing and M&M’s and wrote “Mattie” with the candles. Mattie gave Sophie a Twinkie on a paper plate.
Just thinking about that party depresses me. Sophie is so sweet, really, despite her friends—including my sister, who used to be innocent and kind but in the last year has turned into such a bitch. I blame it on Amber.
Poor Sophie. She has no idea that, right this second, her two so-called BFFs are talking shit about her. And evidently planning something to “put her in her place.” I want to warn her to be careful around those two, but how would that look—me bad-mouthing my own sister? Would she even believe me?
Sophie pulls me to my feet. I lean against the sink and pull the paper towel away to assess the damage in the mirror. My forehead doesn’t look too bad. I feel the bump gingerly. A minor contusion. Maybe my father won’t notice.
Sophie meets my eyes in the mirror. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
I turn to face her. Her shoulders are hunched over, her head bowed. Her legs are two sticks beneath her cheerleading skirt. She can’t weigh more than one hundred pounds.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Really. How are
She gets this funny look on her face, and I’m not sure if she’s about to start laughing or bawling.
“It’s my birthday,” she says finally, shrugging. “Mattie hasn’t said anything. You can give this to your sister. I made it.” Sophie holds out a braided friendship bracelet, the kind you make at summer camp. It’s red and gold to match their cheerleading uniforms.
I can guarantee with near certainty Mattie hasn’t done anything special for Sophie’s birthday. Again, I’m struck with the urge to tell Sophie to wise up and get some better friends. Thinking of how to phrase my words, I push the bracelet onto my wrist so I won’t lose it.
“Sophie . . .” I say, taking a step toward her, but she ducks into the hallway before I can reach her, tears streaming from her eyes. I crumple the paper towel in frustration and aim for the garbage can. It misses by a mile. When I lean over to retrieve it, a dollar bill falls out of the pocket of my hoodie. It’s stained and almost torn in half.
Crap. That must be why I slid into Amber.
Suddenly it all comes rushing back—Amber running up to me before first period, waving the crumpled dollar bill in my face.
“The stupid pop machine isn’t taking my money,” she’d wailed. “Caffeine is urgent. Do you have change?” She was completely freaking out, enough to leave an emotional imprint on the money she was holding, enough for me to pick up on less than an hour later.
I’d found a few coins for her and accepted the dollar in return, which I stuck in my jacket pocket. I must have brushed against it when I reached for the Provigil bottle— just when I was feeling faint, just when I was vulnerable. If I put the money back in my pocket, I could accidentally slide into Amber again later.
Unwilling to take the chance, I use a paper towel to pick up the dollar, and then I toss it into the trash. I never want to be inside Amber Prescott’s head again.