For the rest of lunch, I just sat there, making a point of not looking at anyone. When I checked my watch and saw I had only five minutes to go, I figured the worst part was over. I was wrong.
I was stuffing my water bottle into my bag when I heard a car pull into the turnaround at the end of the wall. I glanced over to see a red Jeep pulling up to the curb. The passenger door opened and a dark-haired guy climbed out, sticking a cigarette behind his ear as he ducked down, saying something to the person behind the wheel. As he shut the door and started to walk away, I got a look at the driver. It was Will Cash.
I felt my stomach physically drop, as if from a great height, straight down. Everything narrowed, the sounds around me falling away as my palms sprang into sweat, my heartbeat loud in my ears, thump thump thump.
I could not stop staring at him. He was just sitting there, one hand on the wheel, waiting for the car in front of him—a station wagon out of which some girl was unloading a cello or some other big instrument—to move along. After a second, he shook his head, irritated.
Shhh, Annabel. It's just me.
A million red Jeeps must have passed before my eyes in the last few months, and despite myself I'd checked each one for his face, this face. But only now, here, was it actually him. And while I had told myself that in broad daylight I could be strong and fearless, I felt as helpless as that night, as if even in the wide open, the bright light of day, I still wasn't safe.
The girl finally got her case out of the station wagon, then waved to the driver as she shut the door. As the car pulled for-ward, Will glanced over at the courtyard, and I watched his eyes move across the people there, barely seeming to register anyone in particular. Then he looked at me.
I just stared at him, my heart pounding in my chest. It lasted only a second, and I saw no recognition, nothing on his face but a blank stare, as if I were a stranger, just anyone. Then he was moving forward, the car a red blur, and it was over.
Suddenly, I was aware again of the noise and commotion around me: people bustling past to their next class, calling out to one another, tossing trash into the nearby can. Still, I kept my eyes on the Jeep, watching as it climbed the hill that led toward the main road, creeping away from me, bit by bit. And then, in the midst of all the noise and voices, movement and change, I turned my head, cupped a hand to cover my mouth, and threw up in the grass behind me.
When I turned back around a few moments later, the courtyard was mostly empty. The jocks had vacated the other wall, the grass beneath the trees was bare, Emily and Sophie had left their bench. It wasn't until I had wiped my mouth and glanced to my other side that I saw Owen Armstrong was still there, watching me. His eyes were dark and intense, and I was so startled that I quickly looked away. When I glanced back a minute later, he was gone.
Sophie hated me. Clarke hated me. Everybody hated me. Or, maybe not everybody.
"The Mooshka people loved your pictures," my mother was saying, her happy voice a complete contrast to how I felt as I sat in a long line of traffic, trying to get out of the parking lot after seventh period. "Lindy said they called her and were just raving."
"Really," I said, switching my phone to my other ear. "That's great."
I tried to sound enthusiastic, but the truth was I'd totally forgotten that a few days earlier my mother had told me that Lindy, my agent, was sending my pictures over to a local swimwear company called Mooshka Surfwear that was hiring for their new ad campaign. Suffice to say modeling was not my top concern these days.
"However," she continued, "Lindy says they'd like to see you in person."
"Oh," I said as the line crept another inch or so forward. "Okay. When?"
"Well," she replied, "actually… today."
"Today?" I said, as Amanda Cheeker, driving what looked like a brand-new BMW, totally cut me off, not even looking as she pulled out in front of me.
"Yes. Apparently one of their advertising heads is in town, but only until tonight."
"Mom." I inched forward incrementally, then craned my neck, trying to see who was causing the holdup. "I can't. It's been a really crappy day, and—"
"Honey, I know," she said, as if she actually did, which was totally not the case. Having raised three daughters, my mom was well versed in the politics of girls, which had made it easy for me to explain Sophie's sudden and utter disappearance from my life with the standard "She's just acting so weird," and
"I have no idea what happened." As far as she knew, Sophie and I had just drifted apart; I couldn't imagine what she would have thought if I told her the real story. Actually, I could imagine, which was why I hadn't and had no intention of doing so. "But Lindy says they're really interested in you."
I glanced in my side mirror, taking in my flushed face, flat hair, and the flecks of mascara around my eyes, the result of finally breaking down in tears in a bathroom stall after sixth period. I really did look as bad as I felt. "You don't understand," I said as I moved up barely one car length. "I didn't sleep well last night, I look really tired, I'm all sweaty—"
"Oh, Annabel," she said, and I felt a lump rising in my throat, reacting immediately to her soft, understanding tone, so welcome after this long terrible day. "I know, sweetie. But it's just one thing, and then you'll be done."
"Mom." The sun was in my eyes, and all I could smell was exhaust. "I'm just—"
"Listen," she said. "How about this. Come home, you can take a quick shower, I'll make you a sandwich and do your makeup. Then I'll drive you over, we'll get it done, and you won't have to think about it again. Okay?"
That was the thing with my mother. There was always a How About This, some deal she was able to manufacture and sell to you that, while being not very different from the original proposition, at least sounded better. Before, saying no had been my prerogative. Now, doing so would make me unreasonable.
"All right," I said as traffic finally started moving at a decent pace. Up ahead, I could see the security guard waving people around a blue Toyota with a crushed back bumper. "When's the appointment?"
I glanced at my watch. "Mom, it's three thirty right now, and I'm not even out of the parking lot. Where's the office?"
"It's at…" she said. I heard paper rustling. "Mayor's Village."
Which was a good twenty minutes away. I'd be lucky to get there on time if I headed straight there, and even then I'd need serious stoplight mercy. "Great," I said. "There's no way."