FOUR

Even before I’m awake, the alarm clock is in my hand, and I break from sleep completely at the same moment I hurl the clock against the wall. It lets out a final wail before shattering.

“Whoa,” Lindsay says, when I slide into the car fifteen minutes later. “Is there a job opening in the red-light district I don’t know about?”

“Just drive.” I can barely look at her. Anger is seething through me like liquid. She’s a fraud: the whole world is a fraud, one bright, shiny scam. And somehow I’m the one paying for it. I’m the one who died. I’m the one who’s trapped.

Here’s the thing: it shouldn’t be me. Lindsay’s the one who drives like she’s in the real-life version of Grand Theft Auto. Lindsay’s the one who’s always thinking of ways to punk people or humiliate them, who’s always criticizing everybody. Lindsay’s the one who lied about being friends with Juliet Sykes and then tortured her all those years. I didn’t do anything; I just followed along.

“You’re gonna freeze, you know.” Lindsay chucks her cigarette and rolls up the window.

“Thanks, Mom.” I flip down the mirror to make sure that my lipstick hasn’t smeared. I’ve folded my skirt over a couple of times so it barely covers my ass when I sit down, and I’m wearing five-inch platforms that I bought with Ally as a joke at a store that we’re pretty sure only caters to strippers. I’ve kept the fur-trimmed tank top, but I’ve added a rhinestone necklace, again purchased as a joke one Halloween when we all dressed up as Naughty Nurses. It says SLUT in big, sparkly script.

I don’t care. I’m in the mood to get looked at. I feel like I could do anything right now: punch somebody in the face, rob a bank, get drunk and do something stupid. That’s the only benefit to being dead. No consequences.

Lindsay misses my sarcasm, or ignores it. “I’m surprised your parents even let you out of the house like that.”

“They didn’t.” Another thing making my mood foul is the ten-minute screaming match I had with my mother before storming out of the house. Even when Izzy went to hide in her room and my father threatened to ground me for life (Ha! ), the words kept coming. It felt so good to scream, like when you pick a scab and the blood starts flowing again.

You are not walking out that door unless you go upstairs and put on some more clothing. That’s what my mom said. You’ll catch pneumonia. More important, I don’t want people in school getting the wrong impression about you.

And suddenly it had all snapped inside of me, broken and snapped. “You care now ?” She jerked back at the sound of my voice like I’d reached out and slapped her. “You want to help now ? You want to protect me now ?”

What I really wanted to say was, Where were you four days ago? Where were you when my car was spinning off the edge of a road in the middle of the night? Why weren’t you thinking of me? Why weren’t you there? I hate both of my parents right now: for sitting quietly in our house, while out in the darkness my heart was beating away all of the seconds of my life, ticking them off one by one until my time was up; for letting the thread between us stretch so far and so thin that the moment it was severed for good they didn’t even feel it.

At the same time I know that it’s not really their fault, at least not completely. I did my part too. I did it on a hundred different days and in a thousand different ways, and I know it. But this makes the anger worse, not better.

Your parents are supposed to keep you safe.

“Jesus, what’s your problem?” Lindsay looks at me hard for a second. “You wake up on the wrong side of the bed or something?”

“For a few days now, yeah.”

I’m getting really sick of this low half-light, the sky a pale and sickly blue—not even a real blue—and the sun a wet mess on the horizon. I read once that starving people start fantasizing about food, just lying there dreaming for hours about hot mashed potatoes and creamy blobs of butter and steak running red blood over their plates. Now I get it. I’m starved for different light, a different sun, different sky. I’ve never really thought about it before, but it’s a miracle how many kinds of light there are in the world, how many skies: the pale brightness of spring, when it feels like the whole world is blushing; the lush, bright boldness of a July noon; purple storm skies and a green queasiness just before lightning strikes and crazy multicolored sunsets that look like someone’s acid trip.

I should have enjoyed them more, should have memorized them all. I should have died on a day with a beautiful sunset. I should have died on summer vacation or winter break. I should have died on any other day. Leaning my forehead against the window, I fantasize about sending my fist up through the glass, all the way into the sky, and watching it shatter like a mirror.

I think about what I’ll do to survive all of the millions and millions of days that will be exactly like this one, two face-to-face mirrors multiplying a reflection into infinity. I start formulating a plan: I’ll stop coming to school, and I’ll jack somebody’s car and drive as far as I can in a different direction every day. East, west, north, south. I allow myself to fantasize about going so far and so fast that I lift off like an airplane, zooming straight up and out to a place where time falls away like sand being blown off a surface by the wind.

Remember what I said about hope?

“Happy Cupid Day!” Elody singsongs when she gets into the Tank.

Lindsay stares from Elody back to me. “What is this? Some kind of competition for Least Dressed?”

“If you got it, flaunt it.” Elody eyes my skirt as she leans forward to grab her coffee. “Forget your pants, Sam?”

Lindsay snickers. I say, “Jealous much?” without turning away from the window.

“What’s wrong with her?” Elody leans back.

“Someone forgot to take her happy pills this morning.”

Out of the corner of my eye I see Lindsay look back at Elody and make a face like, Leave it . Like I’m a kid who needs to be handled. I think of those old photos where she’s standing pressed arm-to-arm with Juliet Sykes, and then I think of Juliet’s head blown open and splattered on some basement wall. Again the fury returns, and it’s all I can do to keep from turning to her and screaming that she’s a fake, a liar, that I can see right through her.

I see right through you…. My heart flips when I remember Kent’s words.

“I know something that’ll cheer you up.” Elody starts rummaging around in her bag, looking pleased with herself.

“I swear to God, Elody, if you’re about to give me a condom right now…” I press my fingers to my temples.

Elody freezes and frowns, holding up a condom between two fingers. “But…it’s your present.” She looks at Lindsay for support.

Lindsay shrugs. “Up to you,” she says. She’s not looking at me, but I can tell my attitude is really starting to piss her off, and to be honest, I’m happy about it. “If you want to be a walking STD farm.”

“You would know all about that.” I don’t even mean for it to slip out; it just does.

Lindsay whips around to face me. “What did you say?”

“Nothing.”

“Did you say—”

“I didn’t say anything.” I lean my head against the glass.

Elody’s still sitting there with the condom dangling between her fingers. “C’mon, Sam. No glove, no love, right?”

Losing my virginity seems absurd to me now, the plot point of a different movie, a different character, a different lifetime. I try to reach back and remember what I love about Rob—what I loved about him—but all I get is a random collection of images in no particular order: Rob passing out on Kent’s couch, grabbing my arm and accusing me of cheating; Rob laying his head on my shoulder in his basement, whispering that he wants to fall asleep next to me; Rob turning his back on me in sixth grade; Rob holding up his hand and saying, Five minutes ; Rob taking my hand for the first time ever when we were walking through the hall, a feeling of pride and strength going through me. They seem like the memories of somebody else.

That’s when it really hits me: none of it matters anymore. Nothing matters anymore.

I twist around in my seat, reaching back to grab the condom from Elody.

“No glove, no love,” I say, giving her a tight smile.

Elody cheers. “That’s my girl.”

I’m turning around again when Lindsay slams on the brakes at a red light. I jet forward and have to reach out one hand to keep from hitting the dash and then, as the car stops moving, slam back against the headrest. The coffee in the cup holder jumps its lip and splashes my thigh.

“Oops.” Lindsay giggles. “So sorry.”

“You really are a hazard.” Elody laughs and reaches around to buckle her seat belt.

The anger I’ve felt all morning pours out in a rush. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Lindsay’s smile freezes on her face. “Excuse me?”

“I said, What the hell is wrong with you ?” I grab some napkins from inside the glove compartment and start wiping off my leg. The coffee’s not even that hot—Lindsay had the lid off to cool it—but it leaves a splotchy red mark on my thigh, and I feel like crying. “It’s not that hard. Red light: stop. Green light: go. I know that yellow might be a little harder for you to grasp, but you’d think with a little practice you could come to terms with it.”

Lindsay and Elody are both staring at me in stunned silence, but I don’t stop, I can’t stop, this is all Lindsay’s fault, Lindsay and her stupid driving. “They could train monkeys to drive better than you. So what? What is it? You need to prove you don’t give a shit? That you don’t care about anything? You don’t care about anybody? Tap a fender here, swipe a mirror there, oops, thank God we have our airbags, that’s what bumpers are for, just keep going, keep driving, no one will ever know. Guess what, Lindsay? You don’t have to prove anything. We already know you don’t give a shit about anybody but yourself. We’ve always known.”

I run out of air then, and for a second after I stop speaking, there’s total silence. Lindsay’s not even looking at me. She’s staring straight ahead, both hands on the wheel, knuckles white from clutching it so tightly. The light turns green and she presses her foot on the accelerator, hard. The engine roars, sounding like distant thunder.

It takes Lindsay a while to speak and when she does her voice is low and strangled-sounding. “Where the hell do you get off…?”

“Guys.” Elody pipes up nervously from the back. “Don’t fight, okay? Just drop it.”

The anger is still running through me, an electrical current. It makes me feel sharper and more alert than I have in years. I whirl around to face Elody.

“How come you never stand up for yourself?” I say. She shrinks back a little, her eyes darting between Lindsay and me. “You know it’s true. She’s a bitch. Go ahead, say it.”

“Leave her out of it,” Lindsay hisses.

Elody opens her mouth and then gives a minute shake of her head.

“I knew it,” I say, feeling triumphant and sick at the same time. “You’re scared of her. I knew it.”

“I told you to leave her alone.” Lindsay finally raises her voice.

I’m supposed to leave her alone?” The sharpness, the sense of clarity is disappearing. Instead everything feels like it’s spinning out of my control. “You’re the one who treats her like shit all the time. It’s you . Elody’s so pathetic. Look at Elody climbing all over Steve—he doesn’t even like her. Look, Elody’s trashed again. Hope she doesn’t puke in my car, don’t want the leather to smell like alcoholic .”

Elody draws in a sharp breath on the last word. I know I’ve gone too far. The second I say it I want to take it back. My mirror is still flipped down, and I can see Elody staring out the window, mouth quivering like she’s trying not to cry. Number one rule of best friends: there are certain things that you never, ever say.

All of a sudden Lindsay slams on the brakes. We’re in the middle of Route 120, about a half mile from school, but there’s a line of traffic behind us. A car has to swerve into the other lane to avoid hitting us. Thankfully there’s no oncoming traffic. Even Elody cries out.

“Jesus.” My heart is racing. The car passes us, honking furiously. The passenger rolls down his window and yells something, but I can’t hear it; I just see the flash of a baseball hat and angry eyes. “What are you doing?”

The people in the cars in line behind us start leaning on their horns too, but Lindsay throws the car in park and doesn’t move.

“Lindsay,” Elody says anxiously, “Sam’s right. It’s not funny.”

Lindsay lunges for me, and I think she’s going to hit me. Instead she leans over and shoves open the door.

“Out,” she says quietly, her voice full of rage.

“What?” The cold air rushes into the car like a punch to the stomach, leaving me deflated. The last of my anger and fearlessness goes with it, and I just feel tired.

“Lindz.” Elody tries to laugh, but the sound comes out high-pitched and hysterical. “You can’t make her walk. It’s freezing.”

“Out,” Lindsay repeats. Cars are starting to pull around us now, everyone honking and rolling down their windows to yell at us. All of their words get lost in the roar of the engines and the bleating of the horns, but it’s still humiliating. The idea of getting out now, of being forced to walk in the gutter while all of those dozens of cars roll by me, with all those people watching , makes me shrink back against my seat. I look to Elody for more support, but she looks away.

Lindsay leans over. “I. Said. Get. Out,” she whispers, and her mouth is so close to my ear if you couldn’t hear her you’d think she was telling me a secret.

I grab my bag and step into the cold. The freezing air on my legs almost paralyzes me. The second I’m out of the car Lindsay guns it, peeling away with the door still swinging open.

I start walking in the leaf-and-trash-filled ditch that runs next to the road. My fingers and toes go numb almost instantly, and I stomp my feet on the frost-covered leaves to keep the blood flowing. It takes a minute for the long line of traffic to begin to unwind, and horns are still honking away, the sound like the fading wail of a passing train.

A blue Toyota pulls up next to me. A woman leans out—gray-haired, probably in her sixties—and shakes her head.

“Crazy girl,” she says, frowning at me.

For a moment I just stand there, but as the car starts to pull away, I remember that it doesn’t matter, none of it matters, so I throw up my middle finger, hoping she sees.

All the way to school I repeat it again—it doesn’t matter, none of it matters—until the words themselves lose meaning.

Here’s one of the things I learned that morning: if you cross a line and nothing happens, the line loses meaning. It’s like that old riddle about a tree falling in a forest, and whether it makes a sound if there’s no one around to hear it.

You keep drawing a line farther and farther away, crossing it every time. That’s how people end up stepping off the edge of the earth. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to bust out of orbit, to spin out to a place where no one can touch you. To lose yourself—to get lost.

Or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe some of you already know.

To those people I can only say: I’m sorry.

I skip my first four periods just because I can, and spend a couple of hours walking the halls with no real goal or destination. I almost hope someone will stop me—a teacher or Ms. Winters or a teacher’s aide or someone —and ask what I’m doing, even accuse me point-blank of cutting and send me to the principal’s office. Fighting with Lindsay left me unsatisfied, and I still feel a vague but pressing desire to do something.

Most of the teachers just nod or smile, though, or give me a half wave. They have no way of knowing my schedule, no way of knowing whether I have a free period or whether class was canceled, and I’m disappointed by how easy it is to break the rules.

When I walk into Mr. Daimler’s class I deliberately don’t look at him, but I can feel his eyes on me, and after I slide into my desk, he comes straight over.

“It’s a little early in the season for beach clothes, don’t you think?” He grins.

Normally whenever he looks at me for longer than a few seconds, I get nervous, but today I force myself to keep my eyes on his. Warmth spreads over my whole body; it reminds me of standing under the heat lamps in my grandmother’s house when I was no older than five. It’s amazing that eyes can do that, that they can transform light into heat. I’ve never felt that way with Rob.

“If you got it, flaunt it,” I say, making my voice soft and steady. I see something flicker in his eyes. I’ve surprised him.

“I guess so,” he murmurs, so quietly I’m sure I’m the only one who hears. Then he blushes bright red like he can’t believe himself. He nods at my desk, which is empty except for a pen and the small square notebook Lindsay and I use to pass back and forth between classes, writing notes to each other. “No roses today? Or did your bouquet get too heavy to carry around?”

I haven’t been to any of my classes so I haven’t collected any Valograms. I don’t even care. In the past I would rather have died than be seen in the halls of Thomas Jefferson on Cupid Day without a single rose. In the past I would have considered it a fate worse than death.

Of course, that was before I actually knew.

I toss my head, shrugging. “I’m kind of over it.” It’s as though confidence is flowing into me from someone else, someone older and beautiful, like I’m only playing a part.

He smiles at me, and again I see something moving in his eyes. Then he goes back to his desk and claps his hands, gesturing for everybody to take their seats. As always the dirty hemp necklace is peeking out from under his collar, and I let myself think about looping my fingers through it, pulling him toward me, and kissing him. His lips are thick—but not too thick—and shaped exactly how a guy’s mouth should be shaped, like if he just parted his lips at all, your mouth would fit directly on top of it. I think of the picture from his high school yearbook, when he’s standing with his arm around his prom date. She was thin, long brown hair, even smile. Like me.

“All right, everyone,” he’s saying as people shuffle and scrape into their desks, giggling and ruffling their bouquets. “I know it’s Cupid Day and love is in the air, but guess what? So are derivatives.”

A couple of people groan. Kent bangs in the door, almost late, his bag flapping open and papers literally scattering behind him, like he’s Hansel or Gretel and he has to make sure someone can follow his trail of half-completed sketches and notes to math class. His black-and-white checkered sneakers peek out under his oversized khakis.

“Sorry,” he mutters breathlessly to Mr. Daimler. “Emergency at the Tribulation . Printer problems. Malignant paper tumor in tray two. Had to operate immediately or risk losing it.” As soon as he makes it halfway up the aisle to his seat, his math textbook—which was riding higher and higher on a wave of crumpled paper inside his open bag—pops out and slams to the floor, and everybody laughs. I feel a surge of irritation. Why is he always such a mess? How hard is it to zip up a bag?

He catches me looking at him, and I guess he mistakes my facial expression for concern, because he grins at me and mouths, Walking disaster . As though he’s proud of it.

I turn my attention back to Mr. Daimler. He’s standing at the front of the room with his arms crossed, his expression fake-serious. That’s another thing I like about him: he’s never really mad.

“Glad the printer pulled through,” he says, raising his eyebrows. His sleeves are rolled up and his arms are tan. Or maybe that’s just the color of his skin: like burnt honey. “As I was saying, I know there’s a lot of excitement on Cupid Day, but that doesn’t mean we can just ignore the regular—”

“Cupids!” someone squeals, and the class dissolves into giggles. Sure enough, there they are: the devil, the cat, and the pale white angel with her big eyes.

Mr. Daimler throws up his hands and leans against his desk. “I give up,” he says. Then he turns his smile to me for just a second—just a second, but long enough for my whole body to light up like a Christmas display.

The angel delivers three of my roses—the ones from Rob, Tara Flute, and Elody—and then keeps sorting methodically through her bouquet, flipping each card over and checking for my name. There’s something careful and sincere about her movements, like she’s super focused on doing everything correctly. As she reads off the addressee she mouths the name quietly to herself, wonderingly, as though she can’t believe there are so many people in the school, so many roses to deliver, so many friends. It’s painful to watch and I stand up abruptly, grabbing the cream-and-pink rose from her hands. She jumps back, startled.

“It’s mine,” I say. “I recognize it.”

She nods at me, wide-eyed. I doubt a senior has ever spoken to her in her life. She begins to open her mouth.

I lean in so that no one else can hear me. “Don’t say it,” I say, and her eyes go even wider. I can’t stand to hear her say it’s beautiful. I can’t stand it when the rose—and everything else—is all garbage now, meaningless. “It’s just going in the trash.”

I mean it too. As soon as Mr. Daimler ushers the Cupids out the door—everyone in class still giggling and showing off the notes their friends have written them and trying to predict how many roses they can expect by the end of the day—I scoop up my roses and sail to the front of the classroom, dumping them in the big trash can right next to Mr. Daimler’s desk.

Instantly, the giggling stops. Two people gasp and Chrissy Walker actually makes the sign of the cross, like I’ve just crapped on a Bible or something. That’s how big of a deal the roses are. Becca Roth half rises from her seat, like she wants to dive in after the roses and rescue them from the fate of being crushed under paper and pencil shavings, failed quizzes, and empty soda cans. I don’t even look in Kent’s direction. I don’t want to see his face.

Becca blurts, “You can’t just throw out your roses, Sam. Someone sent those to you.”

“Yeah,” Chrissy pipes up. “It’s so not done.”

I shrug. “You can have them if you want.” I gesture to the trash can, and Becca casts a wistful look in that direction. She’s probably trying to decide whether the social boost she would get from having four extra roses is worth the ego hit she would take for Dumpster-diving to get them.

Mr. Daimler smiles, winks at me. “You sure you want to do that, Sam?” He raises upturned hands. “You’re breaking people’s hearts right and left.”

“Oh, yeah?” All of this will be gone, vanished, erased tomorrow, and tomorrow will be erased the next day, and the next day will be erased after that, all of it wiped clean and spotless. “What about yours?”

It goes dead silent in the room; somebody coughs. I can tell Mr. Daimler doesn’t know whether I’m deliberately baiting him or not.

He licks his lips nervously and runs a hand through his hair. “What?”

“Your heart.” I pull myself up so I’m sitting on the corner of his desk, my skirt riding up almost to my underwear. My heart is beating so fast it’s a hum. I feel like I’m skimming above the air. “Am I breaking it?”

“Okay.” He looks down, fiddles with one of his sleeves. “Take a seat, Sam. It’s time to get started.”

“I thought you were enjoying the view.” I lean back a little and stretch my arms above my head. There’s a kind of electricity in the air, a zipping, singing tension running in all directions; it feels like the moment right before a thunderstorm, like every particle of air is extracharged and vibrating. A student in the back of the class laughs and another one mutters, “Jesus.” Maybe it’s my imagination, but I think I recognize Kent’s voice.

Mr. Daimler looks at me, his face dark. “Sit.”

“If you insist.” I swivel off the edge of the desk and move around to his chair, then sit down and cross my legs slowly, folding my hands in my lap. Little giggles and gasps erupt around the classroom, bursts of sound. I don’t know where this is coming from, this feeling of complete and total control. Up until a few months ago, I still turned to Jell-O whenever a guy talked to me, including Rob. But this feels easy, natural, like I’ve slipped into the skin that belongs to me for the first time in my life.

“In your own chair.” Mr. Daimler’s practically growling and his face is dark red, almost purple. I’ve made him lose it—probably a first in Thomas Jefferson history. I know that in whatever game we’re playing I’ve just won a point. The idea makes my stomach drop a little—not in a bad way, more like at the moment right before you reach the highest part of the roller coaster, when you know that at any second you’ll be at the very top of the park, looking down over everything, pausing there for a fraction of a second, about to have the ride of your life. It’s the dip in your stomach right before everything goes flying apart in a blast of wind, and screaming, right before you let go completely. The laughter in the room grows to a roar. If you were standing outside, you might mistake it for applause.

For the rest of the class I keep quiet, even though people keep whispering and breaking out into giggles, and I get three notes sent my way. One of them is from Becca and says, You are awesome ; one of them is from Hanna Gordon and says, He’s soooo hot . Another one lands in my lap, all balled up like trash, before I can see who threw it in my direction. It says, Whore . For a moment I feel a hot flush of embarrassment, like nausea or vertigo. But it passes quickly. None of this is real anymore. I’m not even real anymore.

A fourth note arrives just before class ends. It’s in the form of a miniature airplane, and it literally sails to me, landing with a whisper on my desk just as Mr. Daimler turns back from writing an equation on the board. It’s so perfect I hate to touch it, but I unfold its wings, and there’s a message written in neat block letters.

You are too good for that.

Even though there’s no signature, I know it’s from Kent, and for a second something sharp and deep goes through me, something I can’t understand or describe, a blade running up under my ribs and making me almost gasp for breath. I shouldn’t be dead. It shouldn’t be me.

I take the note very carefully and tear it in half, then I tear it in half again.

We’ve been restless all class and Mr. Daimler gives up two minutes before the bell rings.

“Don’t forget: test on Monday. Limits and asymptotes.” He goes to his desk and leans on it, looking tired. There’s a mass exhalation, a collective sigh of coats rustling and chairs scraping against the linoleum. “Samantha Kingston, please see me after class.”

He’s not even looking at me, but the tone of his voice makes me nervous. For the first time it occurs to me that I could really be in trouble. Not that it matters, but if Mr. Daimler makes me sit through a lecture about responsibility I’ll die of embarrassment. I’ll die again .

Good luck, Becca mouths to me on her way out. We’re not even friends—Lindsay calls her the TurkeyJerk, because she eats turkey sandwiches every single day—but the fact that she says it makes the knot ease up in my stomach.

Mr. Daimler waits until the last student files out of the classroom—I see Kent hovering at the doorway out of the corner of my eye—and then walks slowly to the door and closes it. Something about the way the door clicks—so final, so quick—makes my heart skip a beat. I close my eyes for a second, feeling like I’m back in the car with Lindsay on Fallow Ridge Road with the misty headlights of a second car bearing down on us in the darkness, an accusation. They always swerve first, she’d said, but at that second I understand with total and perfect clarity that that’s not why she did it—why she does it. She does it for that one thrilling moment when you don’t know, when you come up against someone who doesn’t swerve and instead find yourself plummeting off the road into the darkness.

When I open my eyes Mr. Daimler has his hands on his hips. He’s staring at me.

“What the hell were you thinking?”

The harshness in his voice startles me. I’ve never been cursed at by a teacher.

“I…I don’t know what you’re talking about.” My voice comes out sounding thinner, younger, than I wanted it to.

“The shit back there—right there, in front of everybody. What were you thinking?”

I stand up so I’m not just sitting there looking up at him like a little kid. My legs are wobbly, and I have to steady myself with one hand against the desk. I take a deep breath, trying to pull it together. It doesn’t matter: all of it will be erased, cleaned away.

“I’m sorry,” I say, feeling a little bit stronger. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about. Did I do something wrong?”

He looks toward the door and a muscle twitches in his jaw. Just that, that little twitch, returns all my confidence. I want to reach out and touch him, put my fingers in his hair.

“You could get in a lot of trouble, you know,” he says, not looking at me. “You could get me in a lot of trouble.”

The first bell rings: class is officially over now. The singing feeling returns to my blood, to the air. I step carefully around my desk and walk straight to the front of the classroom. I stop when we’re only a few feet away from each other. He doesn’t back away. Instead he finally looks at me. His eyes are so deep and full of something it almost frightens me off. But it doesn’t.

I lean casually against Becca’s desk, tipping backward and resting on my elbows so I’m totally laid out in front of him, chest, legs, everything. My head feels like it has floated away from my body; my body feels like it has floated away from my blood, like I’m just dissolving into energy and vibration.

“I don’t mind trouble,” I say in my sexiest voice.

Mr. Daimler is staring into my eyes, not looking at the rest of me, but somehow I know that it’s an effort. “What are you doing?”

My skirt is riding so high I know my underwear is showing. It’s a pink lace thong, one of the first I’ve ever owned. Thongs always make me feel like there is a rubber band up my butt, but last year Lindsay and I bought the same pair at Victoria’s Secret and swore to wear them.

The words come to me from a script, from a movie: “I can stop if you want.” My voice comes out breathy but not because I’m trying. I am no longer breathing—everything, the whole world, freezes in that moment while I wait for his response.

But when he speaks he sounds tired, annoyed—not at all what I was expecting. “What do you want , Samantha?”

The tone of his voice startles me, and for a second my mind spins blankly. He’s staring at me with a look of impatience now, as if I’ve just asked him to change my grade. The second bell rings. I feel like at any moment he’ll dismiss me, remind me about the quiz on Monday. I’ve somehow lost control of the situation and I don’t know how to fix it. The vibration in the air is still there, but now it feels ominous, like the air is full of sharp things getting ready to drop.

“I…I want you.” I don’t mean for it to come out so uncertain. This is what I want. This is what I’ve been wanting: Mr. Daimler. My mind keeps spinning in a blind panic, and I can’t remember his first name, and I feel like laughing hysterically; I’m stretched out half naked in front of my math teacher and I don’t know his name. Then it comes to me. Evan. “I want you, Evan,” I say, a little more boldly. It’s the first time I’ve ever used his first name.

He stares at me for a long time. I start to get nervous. I want to look away or pull down my skirt or cross my arms, but I force myself to stay still.

“What are you thinking about?” I finally ask, but instead of answering he just walks straight to me and puts his arms on my shoulders, pushing me backward so I tip over onto Becca’s desk. Then he’s bending over me, kissing me and licking my neck and ear and making little grunting noises that remind me of Pickle when he has to pee. Pressed against him I feel tiny; his arms are strong, groping all over my shoulders and arms. He slides one hand up my shirt and squeezes my boobs one after the other, so hard I almost cry out. His tongue is big and fat. I think, I’m kissing Mr. Daimler, I’m kissing Mr. Daimler, Lindsay will never believe it, but it doesn’t feel anything like I’ve imagined. His five o’clock shadow is rough on my skin, and I have this horrible thought that this is what my mom feels when she kisses my dad.

When I open my eyes I see the plain speckled ceiling tiles of the classroom—the ceiling tiles I’ve spent hours and hours staring at this semester—and my mind starts circling around them, counting, like I’m a fly buzzing somewhere outside my body. I think, How can the same ceiling still be here while this is happening? Why isn’t the ceiling coming down? All of a sudden it’s not fun anymore: all those sharp glittery things drop out of the air at once, and at the same time something drops deep inside of me. I feel like I’m sobering up after drinking all night.

I put my hands on his chest and try to push him off, but he’s too heavy, too strong. I can feel his muscles under my fingertips—he used to play lacrosse in high school, Lindsay and I found out—and above that, a fine layer of fat. He’s leaning on me with his full weight and I can’t breathe. I’m crushed underneath him, my legs split apart on either side of his hips, his stomach warm and fat and heavy on mine. I wrestle my mouth away from his. “We—we can’t do this here.”

The words just pop out without my meaning them to. What I wanted to say was, We can’t do this. Not here. Not anywhere.

What I wanted to say was, Stop .

He’s breathing hard, still staring at my mouth. There’s a tiny bead of sweat at his hairline, and I watch it trace its way across his forehead and down to the tip of his nose. Finally he pulls away from me, rubs his hand over his jaw, and nods.

The moment he’s off me I scrabble up to my feet and tug down my skirt, not wanting him to see that my hands are shaking.

“You’re right,” he says slowly. He gives a quick shake of his head, as though trying to rouse himself from sleep. “You’re right.”

He takes a few steps backward and turns his back to me. For a second we just stand there, not speaking. My brain is all static. He’s only a few feet away from me, but he looks hopelessly, impossibly far, like someone you can just make out distantly, a silhouette in the middle of a blizzard.

“Samantha?” Finally he turns back to me, rubbing both eyes and sighing, like I’ve exhausted him. “Listen, what happened here…I don’t think I need to tell you that this has to stay strictly between you and me.”

He’s smiling at me, but it’s not his normal, easy smile. There’s no humor in it. “This is important, Samantha. Do you understand?” He sighs again. “Everyone makes mistakes….” He trails off, watching me.

“Mistakes,” I repeat, the word pinging around in my head. I’m not sure whether he thinks he made a mistake, or I did. Mistake, mistake, mistake. A strange word: stinging, somehow.

Mr. Daimler’s mouth, eyes, nose—his whole face seems to be rearranging itself into unfamiliar patterns, like a Picasso painting. “I need to know that I can count on you.”

“Of course you can,” I hear myself say, and he looks at me, relieved, like if he could, he would pat me on the head and say, Good girl.

After that I just stand there for a bit. I’m not sure if he’s going to come around and kiss me or give me a hug—it seems insane just to leave , to pick up my stuff and go as though nothing’s happened. But after he blinks at me for a bit, he finally says, “You’re late for lunch,” and now I know I really am being dismissed. So I grab my bag and go.

As soon as I’m out in the hall I lean up against a wall, grateful for the feeling of the stone against my back. Something bubbles up inside me, and I don’t know whether I should jump up and down or laugh or scream. Fortunately the halls are empty. Everybody’s already at lunch.

I take out my phone to text Lindsay, but then I remember that we’re in a fight. There’s no text from her asking if I want to go to Kent’s party. She must still be mad. I’m not sure whether I’m fighting with Elody, too. Remembering what I said in the car makes me feel horrible.

I think about texting Ally—I’m pretty sure she’s not mad at me, at least—and I spend a long time trying to figure out how to word it. It feels weird to write I kissed Mr. Daimler , but if I write Evan she won’t know who I’m talking about. Evan Daimler feels wrong too, and besides, we did more than just kiss. He was on top of me.

In the end I drop my phone back into my bag without writing anything. I figure I’ll just wait until I’ve made up with Lindsay and Elody and tell them in person. It’ll be easier that way, easier to make it sound better than it was, and I’ll get to see their faces. The thought of how jealous Lindsay will be makes the whole thing more than worth it. I put some concealer on my chin to cover the red spots where Mr. Daimler’s face gave me an exfoliation I didn’t need, and then I head to lunch.

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