Then Mama leaves and closes the door, and I can still smell her perfume.

Chapter 43

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When something that terrible, that horrible happens to you, you don’t want to talk about it with anyone. You want to bury it deep inside you and let it rest in peace. You want to forget it ever happened. You want to stay home from school.

Come Monday morning I tell Mama that I have a stomachache, and she says people who don’t face their problems head-on are the worst kind of cowards. I say that I really do feel sick, and I even manage a tear or two. She sighs and says oh, go back to bed. I practically sprint up the stairs.

I spend the morning watching trashy TV, and then I fall back to sleep.

When I wake up later that afternoon, my eyes are swollen and Elaine is sitting on the edge of my bed shaking my shoulders. “Wake up, Annemarie!”

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“Elaine, what are you doing here?” I sit up and she releases me.

“Are you okay?” She peers at me closely, like she’s looking for bruises, for any sign of permanent damage. I’m afraid I’m already damaged for life.

“I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?” I pull the covers up to my chin.

“Everybody’s talking about it.”

Everybody knows? Dread seeps into my bones. “Talking about what?”

“How Jack pushed Mark into the bleachers over something he said about you.”

WHAT? “WHAT? Jack did what?”

“He shoved Mark, and then Mark shoved him, and then Mark was lying flat on his back.” A giggle escapes from her pink lips. “It was kind of funny.”

I lean back against my pillows, and a smile sneaks across my lips. Mama and I were watching an old movie once, and the two guys fought over the girl. They threw punches and everything, and Mama said there’s nothing quite like having two boys fight over silly little you, is there? At the time, I agreed, but I didn’t really understand what she meant. Now I know, a little. The warm feeling spreads across my chest like a sunburn: two boys fought over silly little me. Well, maybe not over me, but because of me, and that’s better than nothing.

“He got out-of-school suspension.”

“WHAT?”

“Yeah, for starting the fight. God, he’s so immature. Even the other guys say so. He likes you, you know.”

“Who?”

“‘Who?’” she mimics, grinning. “You know who. Jack.”

“You’re crazy. We’re barely even friends. Why do you always have to turn everything into a teen drama? It’s not always about that.”

Elaine looks taken aback. “But he does like you, Annemarie. It’s not just me. Hugh thinks so too—”

“Oh, and if Hugh says so, then I guess it must be true, right?”

“Well, yeah, in this case.” She stares at me. “What’s your problem?”

“This isn’t an after-school special, Elaine. I’m not gonna pair off with that idiot Jack Connelly just because everyone in Clementon has to be boyfriend-girlfriend all of a sudden.”

She narrows her eyes. “Everyone, or me?”

“Just forget it.”

“No, I don’t want to forget it. I want to know what you meant by that.”

“Fine!” I burst out. The words erupt out of me like hot fizzy soda spilling all over the place. “Hugh’s all you ever talk about! You used to be interesting! Now you’re so wrapped up in your little ‘relationship’ you can’t even think about anyone else.”

Elaine stands up jerkily. “I came over here because I was worried about you.”

“Yeah, right. You just wanted to have something to report back to your queen, Mairi. All you think about is yourself.”

“You’re the one who can’t think about anyone else! You’re the one who’s selfish. You think you’re the only one with problems? You need to grow up, Annemarie. We’re not in elementary school anymore.”

“Me? I’m not the one who’s playing house with Hugh. Yeah, sneaking around with your junior high boyfriend is real grown up. You wouldn’t know the first thing about growing up!” I’m yelling now. “You have no idea! You don’t even have your period!”

Elaine is trembling as she walks out the door. Breathing hard, I fall back onto my bed and lie there. I’m trembling, too. I’ve lost my last friend, my best friend.

I stay in my room for the rest of the afternoon. I just read.

Near dinnertime I look out my window and see Mark on his bike, circling the block slowly. Around sunset I look out again, and there he is, inspecting a bike tire in front of my yard. He’s waiting for me. But I won’t be coming out. Let him suffer out there in the cold. I hope his guilt gobbles him up. I hope he feels like a nothing the same way I do.

Chapter 44

When I get to school, Jack is leaning against my locker. “Hey, Einstein,” he says. He’s the last person I want to see. Besides Mark of course. Hate Mark.

“Hey.” I set my book bag on the floor, and then watch as he turns the combination on my lock. He opens the locker door, hands me my English notebook, and turns back to me.

“So look—”

“How—how’d you know my combination?”

He rolls his eyes. “I know I’m not a genius like you, but give me a little credit, Annemarie. I’ve seen you open your locker enough times to know your combination. So—”

“What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you got suspended.”

“Are you gonna let me finish a sentence?”

“Oh, sorry,” I say. “Well, what do you want then?”

Funny how I never noticed he has green eyes.

He says, “I’m here to pick up my assignments. Hey, are you mad at me or something?”

“Yup.” I slam my locker door shut and walk away. I don’t have to turn around to know that he’s watching me go.

Chapter 45

Losing a boy best friend is one thing, but losing a girl best friend, your true best friend, is a whole different story. It’s like losing a rib. There’s something missing inside of you that you didn’t even realize was there, and it makes it hard to breathe.

At school Elaine won’t even look at me. I keep thinking, if she’ll just look at me, everything will be okay. Our eyes will meet, and we’ll both smile sheepishly. But when we pass each other in the halls, she doesn’t look at me; she looks right through me. I eat lunch by myself in the girl’s bathroom. It’s the last day of school before Christmas break, and I should be happy. Instead, I’ve never felt so alone.

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