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Authors: Sarah Darer Littman

want to go private

WANT TO GO PRIVATE?

SARAH DARER LITTMAN

TO THE DEDICATED MEN AND
WOMEN OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT
COMMUNITY WHO FACE UGLINESS
EVERYDAY IN THE EFFORT TO
KEEP OUR KIDS SAFE

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Part I

Chapter 1: August 31

Chapter 2: September 1

Chapter 3: October 3

Chapter 4: October 4, Evening

Chapter 5: October 6

Chapter 6: October 7

Chapter 7: October 8

Chapter 8: October 10

Chapter 9: October 13

Chapter 10: October 14

Chapter 11: November 19

Chapter 12: December 7

Part II

Chapter 13: Lily, December 7 10:00 P.M.

Chapter 14: Faith, December 7 11:30 P.M.

Chapter 15: Lily, December 8 12:30 A.M.

Chapter 16: Faith, December 8 5:45 A.M.

Chapter 17: Billy, December 8 6:30 A.M.

Chapter 18: Huntingville Police Department

Chapter 19: Lily, December 8 12:30 P.M.

Chapter 20: Town of Lenox Police Department

Chapter 21: Faith, December 8 1:00 P.M.

Chapter 22: Lily, December 8 1:30 P.M.

Chapter 23: Faith, December 8 3:45 P.M.

Chapter 24: Lily, December 9 9:30 A.M.

Chapter 25: Billy, December 9 1:30 P.M.

Chapter 26: Faith, December 9 3:45 P.M.

Chapter 27: Lily, December 10 8:30 A.M.

Part III

Chapter 28: Abby, December 10

Chapter 29: Abby, December 11 10:30 A.M.

Chapter 30: Faith, December 12

Chapter 31: Abby, December 13

Chapter 32: Abby, December 15

Chapter 33: Lily, December 15, Evening

Chapter 34: Abby, December 17

Chapter 35: Faith, December I8

Chapter 36: Lily, January 3

Chapter 37: Abby, February

Chapter 38: Faith, April

Chapter 39: Lily, May

Chapter 40: Billy, May

Chapter 41: Abby, June

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Also Available

Praise for
Life, After

Praise for
Purge

Copyright

PART I
CHAPTER 1
AUGUST 31

“How can you
not
be excited?”

Faith, my best friend since second grade, is lying on the edge of the swimming pool watching the ripples as she trails her slim fingers through the water. “I mean, come on, Abby. We’re starting
high school
tomorrow. It’ll be so much better than middle school.”

“And you know this how?” I wonder aloud.

Faith rolls her eyes.

“Well, for one thing, there are all the new kids from Eastern coming in. It won’t just be the same people we’ve been going to school with, like,
forever
.”

“Great. So there will be even
more
Clique Queens to make our lives miserable.”

Faith draws her palm through the water, fast, sending a shower of cold droplets over my head. She doesn’t get the satisfaction of hearing me shriek, because it actually feels pretty good after an afternoon of baking in the last day of summer sun.

“Why do you have to be so negative?”

“I’m not being negative,” I protest, wiping the water from my face. “I’m just … ambivalent.”

Liar
, I think to myself.
What you really are is scared
.

“Ooh,
ambivalent
! You practicing PSAT words already?”

“No. It’s just that … I guess part of me
is
looking forward to it. But a bigger part of me is just … well, scared. About how big Roosevelt is. About getting lost. About how everything is going to be different.”

“Different doesn’t always mean bad, Abs. Different could also be new and exciting, right?”

That’s Faith for you. Miss Always Looking on the Bright Side of Life.

“I guess.”

“Well,
I’m
excited. I can’t wait. I’ve already picked out my outfit — I’m going to wear my new denim skirt with that cute Green Girl T-shirt. How do you think I should wear my hair? Up or down?”

“Um … I don’t know. Down, I guess.”

“You could at least
act
as if you cared.”

“I
do
care — it’s just I haven’t even
thought
about what I’m going to wear tomorrow.”

“Why not? You’re so much prettier than me and you don’t do anything about it. Watch, you’ll show up to school tomorrow in jeans and some random T-shirt that’s too big for you, instead of a cute outfit that shows off your curves.” Faith sighs, looking down at her chest, which is on the small side. “At least you
have
curves to show off.”

“Oh, stop,” I tell her, feeling myself blush. I’ve always considered my boobs more of a curse than a blessing. “You’re starting to sound like Mom and Lily. If I have to listen to one more tag-team lecture from them about how all I need is a fricking makeover, I might just end up murdering someone.”

“Well, you can’t murder me because I’m your best friend and without me, who would you sit with at lunch?” Faith jokes, wiping her face with her wet hand to cool off. “But seriously, Abby, for once, your mom and Lily are right. You could do with a pre-high school makeover. How about we go upstairs and I try some stuff with your hair?”

“How about we just chill in the basement and watch
The Lord of the Rings
again instead? I need an Aragorn fix.”

Faith sighs.

“C’mon, Abby,
please
! This is the
first day of high school
we’re talking about. We can watch
Lord of the Rings
anytime. Besides, Legolas is
way
cuter than Aragorn, and you know it.”

I don’t see the point, but Faith is giving me a pleading puppy dog look with her big, brown eyes and I always have a hard time saying no when she does that.

“Okay. You win. But no putting tons of crap on my face. And afterward I get to see Viggo Mortensen.”

Faith smiles, magnanimous in victory. “Only a little crap. Just enough crap to highlight your best features. And afterward I’ll
definitely
watch Orlando Bloom.”

After what feels like hours but I think is only forty-five minutes, Faith is working what must be the umpteenth hairstyle.

“Come on, Faith. I’m starting to get a headache from all the hair pulling. It’s one that only your mom’s homemade oatmeal raisin cookies will cure.”

“Just a few more minutes,” Faith says, twisting two pieces of hair on either side of my head and then pinning them at the back with a large wooden clip. “This one’s good. It gets the hair off your face so people can actually see your eyes.”

“And that’s a good thing? I
like
it when teachers can’t tell if I’m awake or asleep in the morning.”

“You’re determined to be a pain about this, aren’t you?” Faith says. Her narrowed eyes glare at my reflection in the mirror.

“No. I just … don’t see the point. It’s not like it’s going to make a difference.”

“Just wait till I’m finished,” Faith argues. “Now look up while I put on this eyeliner.”

I tilt my head back slightly and look up at the glow-in-the-dark stickers on the ceiling of Faith’s room. They barely look like anything in the daylight, but I still remember the first time I had a sleepover with Faith in second grade. Mrs. Wilson turned off the lights and closed the bedroom door and it was like this magical constellation appeared overhead.

Faith’s mom is so cool and artsy; she’s like the anti-Mom. She writes articles for craft magazines and is always trying to get us to help her try out new projects, and she never seems to mind the mess we make while we’re doing them. I love the random way she dresses, like she doesn’t care what people think, and how she just twists her long, dark hair in a bun and sticks a pencil through it. I think I can count on my fingers and toes the number of times I’ve seen her wearing makeup. She’s kind of bemused by Faith’s interest in all the girly stuff.
My
mom is religious about getting her “Mom do” trimmed every six weeks and wouldn’t be caught dead even coming down for breakfast on weekends without a little mascara and blush. When I came home from that sleepover in second grade and asked if I could put stars on
my
bedroom ceiling, she told me they would ruin the paint.

I feel Faith’s breath on my face as she carefully draws the eye
pencil across my eyelid. I look down from the ceiling and Faith’s tongue is poking out of the corner of her mouth, like it always does when she’s concentrating hard. I feel this warm glow in my heart — some things never change.
Or do they
? a nagging voice in my head warns. I wish that voice would shut up. I’m nervous enough already.

“Ta da! Look,” Faith says. “And I dare you to tell me you don’t like what you see.”

I stare at my reflection in Faith’s mirror, which has pictures of the two of us stuck around the sides at haphazard angles along with ticket stubs from all the movies and concerts we’ve been to together. I look
different
. The eyeliner makes my hazel eyes appear bigger and more dramatic, and Faith’s put on a pale, almost colorless gloss to make my lips shine. I look older, more like someone who belongs in high school. With my hair up like this, there’s nowhere to hide. I feel exposed and, I don’t know, vulnerable.

“What’s the verdict?” Faith asks. “I think you look really pretty.”

“I … I just don’t know if it’s me.”

“Of course it’s you, silly!” Faith teases, smiling. “It’s just called ‘you making an effort for a change.’”

I turn to face Faith. “Making an Effort Abby” is giving me the creeps.

“Why is everyone so concerned about making me into something else? Why can’t you all just like me the way I am?”

Faith’s smile fades into a look of hurt confusion.

“I
do
like you the way you are, Abs. I’m just doing this because … you know, ’cause I care about you and I thought, well, you’d want to put your best face forward on our first day of
high school. You know, the whole first-impressions-count thing and all that. I’m sorry if you feel like I’m trying to make you into someone you’re not.”

I feel a wave of guilt for making her feel bad. Faith’s the best of best friends, the kind you can count on no matter what. No one understands me like Faith, none of my other friends, my parents, and definitely not my brat of a sister, Lily, who I can’t even believe shares the same DNA.

“I’m sorry, Faith. I guess I’m just … you know …”

“No, Abs, I don’t know. Tell me.”

I take a deep breath and face “Making an Effort Abby” in the mirror as I make my confession.

“I’m scared.”

I turn to look at Faith. “I’m scared about starting high school. I’m scared that things are going to change but I’m just as scared that they’re going to be the same. I’m just one big lump of not being able to sleep at night, sick to my stomach, wish the summer would last forever, scared.”

Faith’s brown eyes glisten, and she envelops me in a hug.

“Everyone’s scared of starting high school. If they tell you they’re not, they’re just full of it. But we were scared of starting middle school and we survived that, didn’t we?”

“Yeah, barely. If you call being ragged on by the Clique Queens every day surviving.”

Faith frowns.

“Okay, I’ll admit, Amanda Armitage and the other Witches of Western did put a kind of a damper on our middle school experience. But it wasn’t a
complete
suckfest — we still managed to have
some
fun.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Trust me, Abby. High school will be better. Just wear something nice tomorrow, and do your hair and your eyes like this. Start with a good first impression. Promise?”

Faith holds up her pinkie like she has ever since we met in second grade. I curl mine around hers and mutter, “Pinkie promise,” even though I’m pretty sure that it won’t make any difference, and I have no confidence that high school will be better.

“What happened to
you
?” Lily says when I get in the car.

“What do you mean?” I ask, reaching to undo Faith’s hair clip, so my hair will fall back into its customary place shielding my face.

“Don’t, darling, your hair looks very pretty up that way,” Mom says, appraising me critically. “Something else is different, too…. Wait, it’s eyeliner —
finally
, you did something to emphasize your eyes like I’ve been telling you. Will wonders never cease?”

I feel like an insect under a microscope. I want to wipe off the makeup, mess up my hair, and go back to being my normal self.

“It’s the wrong color,” Lily says. “Abby should have used gold or brown eyeliner with her eyes, not black. Black makes her look too emo.”

“Well, you can always lend her some, Lily.”

“No way! I’m not lending her my makeup. She doesn’t know how to put it on right. She’ll ruin it.”

“I don’t even
want
to borrow your stupid makeup, okay? Faith was just trying to get me to dress up for the first day of high school.”

“Faith’s right, Abby,” Mom says. “You only get one opportunity to make a first impression.”

I’m going to punch the next person who says that to me
.

“I’ve already
made
an impression on most of the people there. It’s only the new kids from Eastern. And I’ve met some of
them
before at church.”

“Well, I’m going to lend you
my
makeup,” Mom says in her
and that’s final
voice. “Because you look very nice, and it’s important to put your best foot forward on your first day of high school.”


What
!” Lily exclaims. “You never let
me
touch your makeup! And you have all the expensive stuff.”

“That, young lady, is because
you
somehow finagle me into buying you plenty of makeup of your own, which you just refused to share with your sister.”

“It’s still not fair.”

Lily sulks in the backseat the entire way home, which normally I would have considered a blessing, except that it means I have to be the one to talk to Mom, and all she wants to do is discuss in detail what I plan to wear tomorrow, like I have the slightest idea or even care.

Mom and Lily decide to make dressing me a joint project, and they invade my room, rummaging through my closet and drawers to pick out potential outfits. I get the impression Lily’s purposely trying to make me look like a
Seventeen
magazine reject because she’s putting together the most putrid
combinations of clothing I’ve ever seen. My mother finally gives her the “
Lily Ann
!” treatment, and orders her to leave the room.

Mom’s trying to convince me to wear this totally preppy outfit that I wouldn’t be seen dead in.

“You can’t be serious,” I tell her. “Face it, Mom, I’m not you.”

She’s starting to get pissed at me, I can tell. Lily would have caved by now. Scratch that. Lily would have come up with some cute little outfit before Mom even walked in the room, instead of being like some sad Bratz doll, who, even at age fourteen, still needs Mommy to dress her, like yours truly.

“Well, I don’t see you contributing much to this conversation, Abby, other than saying no to everything. Why don’t you pick something out and let
me
say no for a change?”

Great. Way to put myself on the spot. I stare at the clothes on the bed and the clothes in my closet, hoping for inspiration. All I want to do is grab a pair of cargo shorts and my Aragorn T-shirt, but I know that will send Mom into orbit. I will myself to be “Make an Effort Abby,” and take a denim skirt and a green spaghetti-strap tank with a white cotton shirt and lay them on the bed. Even though I don’t really like wearing skirts that much, I figure it’ll get Mom off my case and maybe tomorrow I can switch it for cargo shorts.

Mom smiles approvingly.

“Good. I can see you’re starting to think about your appearance.”

She goes over to my dresser, where my earrings are mixed in a box with my string bracelets, bangles, and necklaces.

“Darling, I bought you this earring tree,” Mom says, starting to hang earrings on the Lucite stand with rows of empty holes. “Why don’t you use it? Then you can actually see what you’ve got so you can accessorize properly.”

What Mom fails to understand is that accessorizing properly is pretty low on my list of priorities.

“It’s okay, Mom. I’ll do that. You’ve helped me enough for one night.”

Mom picks up a pair of pearl earrings that my grandmother gave me as a confirmation present. They practically scream Goody Two-shoes.

“Why don’t you wear these tomorrow, honey?”

“Uh … maybe. Okay.”

At this point I’d agree to wear a freaking nun’s habit to get Mom out of my room.

“Well, I’ll go start dinner. Make sure you’ve got all your supplies packed.”

“Yeah. Will do.”

I’m barely listening to her because I’ve already opened my laptop and started logging on to ChezTeen.com. It’s this new site that’s kind of like Second Life but for teens. Faith and I have been on it for a few months now and I like it a lot better than Facebook because you get to design your own avatar and you can use a screen name instead of your real name. And it’s like your avatars are actually hanging out together in a real place instead of you just chatting. They even have real musicians give concerts in the Hippodrome. Last month Faith and I saw the
American Idols
tour — or at least our avatars did. Plus, like everyone and their
grandmother
is on Facebook now. My mom made me friend her as a condition of getting an account. At
least on ChezTeen.com I have some space to breathe without parental supervision.

I log in and see that Faith’s already there. Her screen name is Faithfull205. I’m AbyAngel99.

Wazzup? I type.

Did u choose an outfit?

I groan and my fingers hit the keyboard harder than usual.

Yes, MOM!!!!

So, what u wearing?

Jeans skirt, green tank, white shirt.

Sounds ok.

Sounds hot!

What? That’s not Faith. It’s this boy avatar with spiky hair and sunglasses called BlueSkyBoi.

AbyAngel99:
Ha Ha

BlueSkyBoi:
What about u?

Faithfull205:
Denim skirt & Green Girl T-shirt.

BlueSkyBoi:
Nice. U guys r like twins.

AbyAngel99:
Well, we R BFFs.

BlueSkyBoi:
What grade u 2 in?

AbyAngel99:
9th. Starting HS tomorrow.

BlueSkyBoi:
Excited?

Faithfull205:
Yes.

AbyAngel99:
Not so much.

BlueSkyBoi:
Why not?

AbyAngel99:
IDK. Scared, I guess.

BlueSkyBoi:
I survived HS. U will too.

All of a sudden, an MSN chat window opens up. It’s Faith.

Faithfull205:
He’s OLD! R u sure we should talk to him? What if he’s a perv?

AbyAngel99:
Not that old. Just out of HS & it’s not like we’re telling him where we LIVE.

Faithfull205:
I guess.

We chat with BlueSkyBoi for a little longer. He asks us what are the top ten songs on our iPods. I can’t believe when his are almost identical to mine.

AbyAngel99:
OMG! We’re music twins!

BlueSkyBoi:
Or soul mates.

Mom calls me for dinner.

AbyAngel99:
GTG.

Faithfull205:
See u tomorrow, Abs! xoxo

BlueSkyBoi:
Later, soulie

No one’s ever called me a soul mate before, and the thought of it being someone I don’t even know, some avatar with spiky hair and a leather jacket called BlueSkyBoi is just … well, funny.

I’m smiling as I head down to dinner.

CHAPTER 2
SEPTEMBER 1

My stomach is turning over as Faith and I walk up the steps to Roosevelt High. Everything seems so much bigger here than it did at Western.

“I hope we have the same lunch period,” I tell Faith.

“I know,” she says, linking her arm through mine. “Otherwise, how will we share cookies?”

I feel weird walking arm in arm, even though last year I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Maybe it’s too middle school. We head to the gym, where we’re supposed to pick up our schedules, and I manage to extract my arm as we go through the doors.
Whew
!

“I guess we have to go to separate lines,” I say. “Looks like I’m in H to P and you’re in Q to Z. Does anyone’s last name actually begin with Q?”

“Anna Quintana,” Faith says.

“Okay, but what about Z?”

“Uh … I know, Emilio Zapata!”

“Okay, know-it-all. Go stand in line, and I’ll meet you after to compare schedules. We
better
have classes together.”

“Don’t worry, Abs, we will,” Faith says as she heads off to the Q to Z line.

It’s sweltering in the gym. I don’t know why I let Faith talk me into wearing this stupid hairstyle, with my hair half down my back. I try holding it up in a ponytail to let my neck cool.

“It is so fricking hot in here!”

I turn and find myself looking up into a pair of bright blue eyes, set in a deeply tanned face that’s framed by close-cut, dark hair. I swallow, suddenly glad that I bothered to experiment with Mom’s extensive makeup selection this morning.

“Uh … yeah. You’d think they’d turn up the A/C.”

“You didn’t go to Eastern, did you?”

“No, Western.”

“Thought I didn’t recognize you. I’m Nick. Nick Peters.”

“Um. Hi. I’m Abby. Abby Johnston.”

“Yeah, well, figured it had to be something between H and P, right?” He smiles, and his teeth are blindingly white against his tan.

Maybe Faith’s right. Maybe high school won’t be so bad after all
.

“Nick! Hey, Nicky!”

Amanda Armitage, queen of all Clique Queens and bane of my middle school existence, is coming across the gym, smiling and waving, and I’ll bet you my favorite Viggo Mortensen poster that it’s not aimed at me. Sure enough, Nick raises an arm and waves back.

“You know Amanda?” I ask him.

“Sure, Mandy and I go way back. Our parents belong to the same country club. She’s great.”

I take it back. High school sucks. Big-time
.

I fake a smile and manage to lie, “Yeah, great,” between gritted teeth.

Great at being a total beeyotch. Great at making other people feel like crap
.

Fortunately, I’m up next to get my schedule, so I’m saved from any further discussion of the Evil Witch’s greatness.

“See you around,” I mutter to Nick as I slink away to find Faith.

“Later!” he says, but he barely looks at me. His eyes are on
Mandy
.

Apparently, there’s room for more suckage in my life. When Faith and I compare schedules, we find that we’re only in one class together, PE, and we don’t have the same lunch period.

“How could this happen?” Faith says, sounding like she’s about to cry. “We’re
always
together. We’re like peanut butter and jelly. Ice cream and hot fudge sauce. Hot dogs and mustard —”

“Okay, okay, I get the picture.”

Faith gets all quiet like she does whenever I upset her.

“Sorry, Faith.” I sigh. “I’m just really freaking out, okay?”

“Me, too, Abs. But we’ll meet at the end of the day and tell each other everything, okay? PP?”

Now that we’re in high school, we agreed not to pinkie promise in public. But old habits die hard, so Faith said we’d just say “PP” instead.

“Yeah. PP.”

“And, Abs?”

“What?”

“You look really pretty today.”

I smile, and even though I’m worried about the PDA thing, I can’t help hugging her.

“Well, you know, someone whose name begins with F gave me all these lectures about first impressions counting.”

Faith laughs and for the first time since second grade, we head our separate ways.

I feel like the ball in an Extreme Pinball game as I try to make my way from science class on one side of the building to math class on the other in the three minutes allowed between classes. Whoever dreamed up these schedules obviously never walked in the hallways when there were actually
people
in them.

I’m a little out of breath when I get to math, but my breathing quickens even more when I see that Nick Peters is sitting at a desk near the back and there are two seats left, one next to him and one in front of him.
It’s my lucky day
.

He smiles at me as I put my books down on the one in front of him. I’m afraid if I sit next to him, I’ll just gaze at him longingly for the entire class.

“Hey … uh … Alison, right?”

“Um … close. Abby.”

“Right, Abby. How’s it going so far?”

“Okay. It’s a little crazy finding my way around.”

“Yeah, I know how that is. But we’ll get it, for sure.”

“I know. I’m just going to have to improve my sprint times to make it to class before the bell.”

Nick laughs and once again, I feel like high school has potential. Until I look up and see Amanda Armitage has just entered the room and is heading for the seat right next to Nick.

“Hey, Nicky! I’m sitting next to you so I can copy all your
answers,” she says, tossing her blond hair over her shoulder as she arranges her books on the desk.

Nick grins. “Not so sure you’d want to do that, Mandy. Math isn’t my best subject.”

“Um … it’s one of mine,” I say, “You know … I mean … if you ever need help with homework … or anything.”

Nick glances at me briefly. “Thanks, Ally,” he says. “I’ll remember that.”

He turns back to Mandy.

He could at least remember my freaking name
.

I feel like plankton. No, I feel lower than plankton, if there
is
anything lower than plankton, which I can’t remember because I feel so miserable. What was the point of putting on all this facecrap and messing with my hair? It hasn’t made any difference. People like Amanda Armitage are still going to be on top in high school, and people like me are doomed to a life as pond scum.

Faith and I sit together on the bus home. I just want to forget about my day, but she wants to compare notes.

“There’s a really nice girl, Grace, in a few of my classes. I can’t wait till you meet her — I think you guys will get along. How about you? Did you meet anyone new?”

I have a dull headache, and I really don’t want to relive my day from hell, but there’s no way I’m going to get out of it.

“Well, there’s this really cute guy, Nick Peters, who’s in my math class, but unfortunately he only has eyes for
Mandy
Armitage. Apparently, she’s an
old family friend
from the country club and he thinks she’s
great
.”

Faith rolls her eyes. “Wow. He must be
seriously
gullible.”

“And despite this whole making-an-effort thing, he couldn’t even remember my name for more than three minutes. He kept calling me Alison.”

Faith manages to look sympathetic for all of three seconds before she bursts out laughing.

“I’m sorry, Alison, I mean Abs. That sucks. But he isn’t the only guy at school. This is just Day One. You shouldn’t give up on the hair and makeup thing because one idiot didn’t remember your name.”

I sigh and lean my aching head against the bus window.

“Maybe you’re right. But it felt like middle school all over again. Seriously, Faith, do you really think putting this stuff on my face and doing my hair differently is going to turn me into someone new, someone who people like Mandy won’t look down on? Someone whose name Nick might actually
remember
?”

Faith takes my hand and squeezes it.

“I don’t know for sure, but I mean, what the heck, it can’t hurt, can it?”

“I’m not so sure,” I mutter.

“Try not to let Amanda get you down, Abs. You know what she’s like. What she’s
always
been like.”

“Yeah. Whatever. I’ll try.”

“So promise you’ll wear makeup again tomorrow?”

“Okay, okay, okay.”

When I get home, I go straight up to my room, drop my backpack on the floor, and throw myself on the bed. I watch the afternoon sunlight dapple patterns of stripes and leaves on
the ceiling, the dust motes swirling in random patterns that seem to mimic the confusing, uncomfortable feelings I have inside.

There’s no homework, so I grab my laptop and log on to ChezTeen.com. Within minutes, I’m surrounded by friends, even though I’ve never met any of them. There, I can pretend that my first day of school was fantastic, because no one is going to know anything different. I can be anyone I want to be when I’m online and I don’t even have to wear makeup.

“So, how was everyone’s first day at school?” Mom asks when we’re all seated around the dinner table.

“Great!” Lily chirps. “Seventh grade is awesome. I don’t know why Abby hated it so much.”

My little sister is
such
a freak.

“Mom, Dad,
now
do you believe me that Lily’s weird? No one
normal
likes middle school.”

“Abby …” Mom warns.


I
liked middle school, or junior high as it was known then,” Dad says.

“Yeah, back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth,” Lily says, rolling her eyes.

“Watch it, sprite,” Dad tells her. “This dinosaur is the one who pays for your trips to the mall.”

The fact that Dad liked middle school just proves my theory. He’s not exactly a poster child for Normal. He’s obsessed with becoming a millionaire before he’s fifty, and when we go on vacation he reads all these business strategy books for fun.
On the beach
. It’s so embarrassing. And he’s been a serious workaholic ever since he left Strickham and Young, the major
accounting firm where he’d worked even before I was born, and started his own practice. A major league workaholic — barely ever home and always totally stressed out. I can’t believe he’s actually here for dinner tonight. Mom must have read him the riot act about it being the first day of school and ordered him to come spend some face time with Lily and me.

“What about you, Abby?” Mom asks. “How was your first day?”

For a minute, I’m tempted to tell my parents the truth about my first day, how it was basically the same crummy scene as middle school in a bigger building. But I know that if I do, Mom will start listing the thirty zillion ways I need to change in order to be a success, and Lily will join in and that will be the cherry topping on my Cruddy Day Sundae.

So I lie.

“It was fine. Except it sucks because Faith and I aren’t in any classes together except gym.”


Omigod
!” Lily shrieks, throwing up her arms in exaggerated horror. “How will you
live
?! You guys are joined at the freaking hip!”

“Lily. That’s enough,” Mom says, giving my sister a stern glance. “Abby, I know that’s tough for you, but maybe this is a good thing. It’ll force you to branch out and make some new friends.”

So now Mom’s not happy with my friends, as well as with me
?

“What if I’m happy with the friends I’ve got?”

“It never hurts to make new ones,” Dad says. “Who knows where some of these kids might end up in the future? One of them could be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company for all you know.”

Trust Dad to bring everything back to business
.

“Not everyone has, like, one
special
friend since second grade,” Lily says. She does little air quotes when she says
special
, whatever
that’s
supposed to mean. “Some of us like to be
popular
.”

I can just imagine Lily and Amanda Armitage having lunch together in the cafeteria, plotting ways to make my life miserable. Not for the first time, I wonder how two people could be raised by the same parents and one end up as a future Clique Queen and the other … well, the other end up like me.

“It’s not that I expect Abby to become wildly popular overnight,” Mom says.

“Yeah, as if!” Lily snorts.

“Lily …” Dad warns.

“I just think that you’ve been such close friends with Faith for so long, it would be good for you to spread your wings a bit and meet some new people. Faith’s a wonderful person, but it wouldn’t hurt you to meet some … different … kinds of girls.”

So, what, they want to try and turn me into Lily? They want me to start hanging out with Amanda Armitage? Not. Going. To. Happen.

“Okay, okay, I’ve got the message. You want me to be different. Can we talk about something else?”

Mom and Dad exchange glances.

“It’s not that, Abby. Your father and I just want you to expand your horizons. We don’t want you to … limit yourself unnecessarily.”

I stare at my plate, no longer hungry. Why can’t my parents just love me the way I am?

“Can I be excused?”

“But you’ve hardly eaten anything!” Mom says, all worried.

“I’m not that hungry, and I’ve got some reading I want to do,” I lie.

“That’s good,” Dad says. “Get your studies off on the right foot. Grades really count now that you’re in high school.”

Sometimes I think my parents majored in cluelessness
.

“Mom, can I have some more steak if Abby isn’t having any?” Lily asks.

“Sure, sweetie.”

I escape to my room and log on to ChezTeen.com. Almost immediately, a chat screen pops up.

BlueSkyBoi:
Hey, wut up, soulie?

Soulie
? It takes a second or two, but then I realize it’s that guy Faith and I were chatting with last night, the one who was my musical “soul mate.” I grin and type back:

AbyAngel99:
Not much.

BlueSkyBoi:
How’d the 1st day go?

I wonder if I should lie to him the same way I’ve lied to everyone else. But then I figure,
What do I care? It’s not like I’m trying
to
impress him. I don’t even know this guy
.

AbyAngel99:
It kind of sucked.

BlueSkyBoi:
Yeah. HS blows. Did your friend like it? Fairyfall or whatever. You always seem to be online together.

It strikes me as kind of … I don’t know … weird that he would notice that, but only for a second. It’s true, after all.

AbyAngel99:
You mean Faith? I mean,

Faithfull205.
She’s my BFF.

AbyAngel99:
And SHE thinks it’s great. All these new people to meet and stuff.

BlueSkyBoi:
So what made your day such a

suckfest?

AbyAngel99:
Well, Faith & I aren’t in any classes 2gether xcept 4 gym.

AbyAngel99:
It’s like the 1st time ever since 2nd grade!

BlueSkyBoi:
That does suck.

AbyAngel99:
And there was this really cute guy but it turns out he’s friends with this girl

AbyAngel99:
who is the biggest beeyotch EVER

AbyAngel99:
& they’re both in my math class and he DOESN’T EVEN REMEMBER MY NAME!

BlueSkyBoi:

BlueSkyBoi:
I would never 4get ur name.

BlueSkyBoi:
If I knew it in the 1st place, that is ;-p

AbyAngel99:
LOL! It’s Abby.

BlueSkyBoi:
I’m Luke.

AbyAngel99:
Hi!

BlueSkyBoi:
Hi!

BlueSkyBoi:
So, this jerk, what’s his name?

AbyAngel99:
Nick. Nick Peters.

BlueSkyBoi:
Well, Nick the Prick is clearly too much of an idiot to know a good thing when he sees it.

“Nick the Prick” makes me giggle. I know Luke’s just flattering me, because how would he know if I’m a “good thing” or not? For all he knows, I could be hideously ugly with a really horrible personality. Or a guy even, like they always told us in the Internet Safety lectures at school. I could be some forty-year-old pervert
pretending
to be a teenage girl.

But even though I know it’s just a line, it’s still good to hear after a day of feeling like plankton. Right now, I’ll take my compliments where I can get them. Anything to feel like I’m not the lowest link in the social food chain.

AbyAngel99:
LOL!

BlueSkyBoi:
I mean it. If I were at ur school, I’d remember everything about u.

BlueSkyBoi:
Like, what’s ur fave ice cream?

AbyAngel99:
Butter pecan.

BlueSkyBoi:
ur kidding!

AbyAngel99:
no!

BlueSkyBoi:
Wow. We srsly *r* soul mates. That’s my fave flave 2!

AbyAngel99:

BlueSkyBoi:
What’s ur fave color?

AbyAngel99:
Purple.

BlueSkyBoi:
Mine’s blue.

AbyAngel99:
Duh! BLUEskyboi?

BlueSkyBoi:
Hahahaha!

BlueSkyBoi:
That’s what I like about u. Ur quick. And funny.

“Abby?” My dad is standing in the doorway.

AbyAngel99:
GTG P911!

BlueSkyBoi:
K

I close my laptop and spin my desk chair around.

“Yeah?”

Dad sits on the edge of my bed.

“So, have you thought about what extracurricular activities you’re going to do, honey?” he says. “Because now is when everything starts to count for college.”

OMG! I haven’t even been in high school for twenty-four hours and my dad’s ready to send me off to fricking college?!

“Um … Dad? It’s my FIRST DAY. I haven’t thought about a whole lot besides trying to find my locker and getting to all my classes on time.”

A
normal
dad might take this as a clue to back off, but no one, least of all me, would ever accuse
my
dad of being normal.

“Still, angel, you need to start thinking about this stuff. Time flies, and before you know it you’ll be filling out college applications. You don’t want to be someone who gets turned down even though she has good grades because there are no extracurricular activities on her transcript.”

I wish, for once, my dad would care about my
now
instead of my future. Like, in my fantasy dad convo, I’d be talking to him about feeling like social plankton instead of my currently nonexistent extracurricular activities.

“Okay,
okay
. I’ll think about it. But can I at least have like
a day or two
to get used to the place first?”

“Sure, honey. Just keep what I said in mind.”

That’s pretty much the end of our heart-to-heart. He says good night and kisses me on the top of the head. And I’m left sitting at my desk wanting … something, I don’t know what. Something
more
.

CHAPTER 3
OCTOBER 3

We’re on the bus about a month later and Faith is desperately trying to persuade me to audition with her for the drama club’s production of
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
.

“Try out with me,” she urges. “Grace is doing it, too. It’ll be fun.”

Hearing that Faith’s friend Grace is going to the auditions doesn’t give me much incentive. I am so sick of hearing about Grace
this
and Grace
that
. All Faith ever talks about is Grace — who’s in
all
of Faith’s classes. I only get to see Faith in PE and we hardly get to talk there because we’re training for the stupid physical fitness test so we have to run laps around the football field. The enormously
large
football field.

But Grace is only part of the reason I’m not exactly falling over myself to do this.

“Faith, you know I hate getting up in front of people. I freak out when I have to do a class presentation. Like I’m really going to be able to speak a part in front of an
entire audience
?”

“C’mon, Abby! Just try. Even if you don’t get a part, there are lots of other things you can do, like costumes and sets and lighting and stuff. And we need extracurricular things for college.”

“You sound like my dad.”

“Well, it’s true,” she says. “Plus, it’s a great way to meet people. And you’ve been kinda grumpy about the whole making-new-friends thing.”

Huh
?

“What do you mean, grumpy? I’m not grumpy!”

Faith gives me a sidewise glance.

“No? So why do you get all quiet and distant every time I mention Grace’s name?”

I look out of the bus window.
Am I that obvious
?

“See! You’re doing it right now.”

Faith puts her hand on my arm and I’m forced to meet her gaze.

“Look, Abs, just because I’m becoming friends with Gracie doesn’t mean that things have changed with us.”

Yes
, it does. It feels like you’re leaving me behind.

“I wish you’d get to know her better. If you did, you’d really like her. Come on. Promise me you’ll stay after school tomorrow and audition with me.”

She surreptitiously lifts the pinkie on the hand that rested on my arm and wiggles it, and she bats her eyelids while mouthing, “Pretty please?”

Even though the idea of being on a stage in front of people makes me want to throw up, I move my hand next to Faith’s and link pinkies.

“Okay, okay. I’ll go. But only because you begged so nicely.”

Faith laughs.

“I’ll get my mom to pick us up so we don’t have to take the late bus. See you tomorrow!”

She grabs her backpack and gets off at her stop, leaving me to worry about what I’ve just gotten myself into.

After I finish my homework, I log on to ChezTeen.com and go hang out at the ChezNous Café, because this band I like, The Domestix, is giving a live concert there tonight. I check my friends list to see if Faith’s online yet, but she isn’t. I’m not sure if I want to talk to her right now anyway. The last thing I need is to hear more about Amazing Grace and how awesome it’s going to be at the auditions tomorrow, while I’m busy freaking out over making a complete idiot out of myself.

Then a familiar spiky-haired avatar appears. It’s that guy, BlueSkyBoi, that I talked to a while back. My “soul mate,” Luke.

BlueSkyBoi:
Wazzup, Abby?

BlueSkyBoi:
Howz the High Skool O’Hell?

AbyAngel99:
LOL.

AbyAngel99:
Still pretty hellish.

BlueSkyBoi:
Did Nick the Prick remember ur name yet?

AbyAngel99:
Ha! NO!

AbyAngel99:
Yesterday he called me Angelina.

BlueSkyBoi:
*snorts*

AbyAngel99:
And that was AFTER he copied my homework!

BlueSkyBoi:
Wait — ur telling me you let that dickwad who doesn’t even remember ur name copy ur homework?!!

AbyAngel99:
*hangs head in shame* Yeah.

BlueSkyBoi:
Come on, sweetie! Ur too good 4 that!

BlueSkyBoi:
Nick the Prick’s just using u.

If I think about it, I know he’s right. But BlueSkyBoi’s never
seen
Nick Peters. He’s never felt his heart start to beat faster the minute Nick walks into math class. Or his face start a slow flush when he feels Nick’s hand brush his as he hands over his homework for Nick to copy. I have.

AbyAngel99:
I know, I know. But …

AbyAngel99:
He might be a prick but he’s just so gorgeous.

BlueSkyBoi:
K, now ur makin’ me jealous!

AbyAngel99:
LOL.

AbyAngel99:
K no more talking about N the P.

I think of something to change the subject and then start typing.

AbyAngel99:
My BFF Faith wants me to try out for a play w/ her.

BlueSkyBoi:
RU gonna do it?

AbyAngel99:
Said yes, but I don’t want 2.

BlueSkyBoi:
Uh … So why do it?

Why do it? Because Dad keeps hassling me about extracurriculars? Because Grace is doing it and I’m afraid if I don’t, I’m going to be left out? Because maybe Faith won’t be my BFF anymore? How pathetically lame does that sound?

AbyAngel99:
Cause she’s my BFF, duh!

BlueSkyBoi:
Yeah, but doesn’t mean u have to do EVERYTHING 2gether.

AbyAngel99:
Well, it’s complicated.

BlueSkyBoi:
Complicated, huh?

BlueSkyBoi:
WTGP?

Go private? Like a private chat room? I don’t usually do private chats with people I don’t know in real life. I’ve had all those Internet Safety talks at school. For all I know, BlueSkyBoi isn’t a “boi” at all. He could be some fifty-year-old dude living in his parents’ basement in California, or something. But then I figure it’s not like I’m ever going to
meet
the guy.

AbyAngel99:
K

Chat room name: BlueSkyBoi

BlueSkyBoi:
So when’s the big audition?

AbyAngel99:
Tomorrow. I’m scared.

BlueSkyBoi:
Why?

AbyAngel99:
Cause I hate to get up in front of peeps.

BlueSkyBoi:
And ur trying out for a
play
?!!! ROTFLMAO!

AbyAngel99:
Yeah, go figure.

BlueSkyBoi:
Srsly, why u doing it then?

I hesitate between truth and excuses, watching the blinking cursor, before typing slowly.

AbyAngel99:
Cause … if I don’t, maybe she’ll be BFFs with someone else. This girl Grace.

BlueSkyBoi:
She can’t be a good BFF if she’d dump u like that.

I feel weird that he’s criticizing Faith when he’s never met her. It’s one thing for me to feel upset with her, but I don’t want anyone else saying bad things about her. She’s still my best friend … I think.

AbyAngel99:
She is, really. It’s just …

BlueSkyBoi:
????

AbyAngel99:
High school. Things r changing.

BlueSkyBoi:
And not 4 good?

AbyAngel99:
IDK. No. At least not 4 me.

BlueSkyBoi:
Well, I’ll be ur BFF, LOL!

AbyAngel99:
LOL.

BlueSkyBoi:
Srsly. Tell me what u look like.

AbyAngel99:
Brown hair, hazel eyes, abt 5’6”.

BlueSkyBoi:
Bra size?

I gasp when I read that, because I’m sure he shouldn’t be asking. I mean, it’s not like most of the guys at school don’t ogle my boobs or ping my bra strap whenever they get the chance. It’s been that way ever since fifth grade, when I was one of the “early developers,” lucky me.

But then, it’s not like I’m going to see this guy in the halls at school or anything. He’s just words on a screen.

My fingers hesitate for a minute and then I type:

AbyAngel99:
34C

BlueSkyBoi:
Nice. I bet the boys at school don’t realize how lucky they are.

AbyAngel99:
Ha! 2 right!

BlueSkyBoi:
If I were there, I’d treat u the way u deserve 2 be treated.

AbyAngel99:
How’s that?

BlueSkyBoi:
Like a queen. Special. Because ur better than all the rest.

My cheeks flush as I read his words, and I can’t stop myself from smiling. But I know it’s ridiculous, right? He doesn’t even know me. He’s never even met me. He doesn’t know what I look like or anything.

AbyAngel99:
Yeah, right.

BlueSkyBoi:
I’m serious. I know these things.

AbyAngel99:
How? U don’t even know me.

BlueSkyBoi:
So tell me about urself.

BlueSkyBoi:
How old are u?

AbyAngel99:
14. U?

BlueSkyBoi:
27. Does that freak u out?

Does it? Kind of. I guess it would more if I ever thought I was going to meet the guy, but I’m not. He’s just someone to talk to online.

AbyAngel99:
A little. But not 2 much.

BlueSkyBoi:
Good. Cause I like u, Abby.

AbyAngel99:
I like u 2.

BlueSkyBoi:

I realize the concert’s about to start, and I don’t want to miss it.

AbyAngel99:
Hey, GTG. The Domestix r about 2 start.

BlueSkyBoi:
K. But hope to TTY tomorrow 2 see how auditions go.

AbyAngel99:
K. Bye!

When I meet Faith outside the auditorium the following afternoon, I’m feeling queasy about what lies ahead.

“Do I seriously have to go through with this?”

Faith links her arm through mine and drags me through the doors.

“Yes, you do. Come on, Gracie’s already inside, saving us seats. It’ll be fun.”

I stare at the stage, which is bathed in light. I don’t think fun is going to play any part in this.

Faith’s friend Grace waves at us from the sixth row. She’s tall and slim, with blond hair and blue eyes, and she’s wearing big dangly earrings with the laughing and frowning drama masks.

Now I know where this whole try-out-for-drama idea came from
.

“Hi, guys! They’re going to start soon. You need to sign up on the form at the front there.”

Faith drags me down to the front of the auditorium, where a dark-haired boy wearing a D
RAMA IS LIFE WITH THE DULL BITS CUT OUT
T-shirt sits holding a clipboard and a pen.

“Love your T-shirt,” Faith says, smiling at him. “Is this where we sign up to audition?”

“Alfred Hitchcock,” the guy says. “The quote, that is, not me. And yes, this is Sign-up Central. Just put your name, grade, e-mail, and phone number down here on this list.”

He hands her the clipboard, and Faith lets go of my arm. If I didn’t know Faith would kill me for doing it, I’d be sorely tempted to sprint up the aisle and get myself as far away from this whole scene as possible.

“I’m Ted, by the way. Ted Barringer.”

“I’m Faith Wilson. And this is Abby Johnston.”

Ted nods in my direction and I notice he has green eyes. In fact, if he had round glasses and a scar, he’d be Harry Potter’s twin brother.

“Well, ladies, break a leg, as they say. Looks like Mr. Hankins wants to get things rolling.”

It doesn’t take much for Mr. Hankins to bring the noisy auditorium to quiet. He has a deep voice that projects without a microphone and he explains that everyone is going to be paired up to read the same scene from the play, a girl with a boy.