It was an antipsychotic.
I DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO REACT TO NOAH IN CLASS the next day. The costume party seemed like a lifetime ago, but my humiliation was fresh. I was grateful for the long-sleeved dress shirt I had to wear—it minimized the impact of the bandage on my left arm, at least. My mother had become the Keeper of the Pills, and she doled out the Tylenol with codeine before I left that morning. I ached all over but I didn’t take it, and didn’t plan on starting the Zyprexa just yet, either. I needed a clear head.
When I walked into English, Noah was already there. Our eyes met for a second before I dropped my gaze and walked past him. I had to find out about Mabel—was it only a week since I’d taken her?—and figure out how to spring her on my parents now, considering what had happened. But I didn’t know how to bring it up to Noah, how to talk to him after the party. I sat down at a desk on the other side of the room, but he stood and followed me, sitting behind my chair. As Ms. Leib began her lecture, I found myself tapping my pencil on my desk. Noah cracked his knuckles behind me, setting my teeth on edge.
When the bell rang, I threaded through the students, eager for Algebra for the first time in my life. Noah drove girls crazy, and I was already crazy. I needed to let it go. Let him go. As Jamie had so astutely said, I had enough problems.
I was so relieved to see Jamie in Algebra that I might have actually smiled. With teeth. But the glimmer of my good mood didn’t last; Noah caught up with me as soon as the bell rang.
“Hey,” he said, as he fell into a graceful lope beside me.
“Hey.” I gave him the stare-ahead. Ask about the dog. Ask about the dog. I tried to find the words but clenched my teeth instead.
“Mabel isn’t doing so well,” Noah said, his voice even.
My stomach dropped and I slowed my pace by a fraction. “Is she going to be okay?”
“Think so, but it’s probably better if she stays with us for a while. So my mother can care for her,” he said, as he ran his hand over the back of his neck. “Do you mind?”
“No,” I said, shifting the weight of my bag on my shoulder as I approached my next class. “That’s probably the best thing.”
“I wanted to ask—” Noah started, then lifted a hand to his hair, twisting the strands. “My mother wanted to know if maybe we could keep her? She’s gotten attached.”
I tilted my head sideways to see him. He either didn’t notice my bandaged hand or was ignoring it. He seemed indifferent to everything. Remote. His words didn’t match his tone.
“I mean, she’s your dog,” he said, “whatever you want we’ll do—”
“It’s okay,” I cut him off. I remembered the way Mabel had curled into his chest as he carried her. She’d be better off with him. Definitely. “Tell your mom I said it’s fine.”
“I was going to ask you when I saw you at the party, but you left.”
“I had somewhere else to be,” I said, avoiding his eyes.
“Right. What’s wrong?” he asked, still sounding utterly disinterested.
“Nothing,” I said.
“I don’t believe you.”
“I don’t care.” Not true.
“All right. Have lunch with me, then,” he said casually.
I paused, torn between yes and no. “No,” I said finally.
“I have a study date,” I said. Hopefully Jamie would oblige.
“Why do you care?” I asked with an edge. We could have been discussing molecular physics for all the interest he seemed to be paying to the conversation.
“I’m starting to wonder that myself,” Noah said, and walked away. He didn’t look back.
I drew my bandaged hand in Art, even though we were supposed to be working on faces. And when lunch arrived, I didn’t look for Jamie, choosing solitude instead. I withdrew the banana I brought, peeled it, and took a slow bite as I wandered to my locker, letting my teeth graze against the flesh. I was glad to be free of Noah. Relieved, even, as I went to exchange my books.
Until I saw the note.
Folded so that it fit through the slats of my locker, innocently perched on a tower of my books. A thick piece of paper with my name on it.
Acid free, bright white paper.
I unfolded the note and recognized one of my drawings of Noah immediately. The other side simply said:
I HAVE SOMETHING THAT BELONGS TO YOU.
MEET AT THE VENDING MACHINES AT LUNCH IF YOU WANT IT BACK.
A rush of heat ignited my skin. Did Noah steal my sketchbook? My sudden fury surprised me. I’d never punched anyone before, but there was a first time for everything. I punctuated the thought with a ringing, metallic slam of my locker door.
I don’t remember how I got to the bottom of the stairs. One minute I was by my locker, and the next minute I was rounding the corner by the vending machines. And then a horrible thought occurred to me; what if it wasn’t Noah? What if it was someone else? Like—oh, no. Like Anna. I imagined her dissolving into a fit of giggles as she showed my sketches of Noah to her friends.
Sure enough, when I arrived, Anna stood waiting with a smug, satisfied sneer on her generically pretty face. Flanked by Aiden, they blocked my way, dripping with gloat.
When I saw them there, I was still confident I could handle it. I’d almost come to expect her bullshit.
What I didn’t expect were the dozens of students assembled to watch this train wreck unfold.
And what sent a piercing scream through my spine was the sight of Noah, centered in a halo of admirers, male and female.
At that moment, the magnitude of Anna’s machinations insulted my mind. My stomach turned as it all snapped into place; why everyone was there, why Noah was there. Anna had been constructing this three-ring circus since Noah first spoke to me on day one. It was her black Mercedes I almost hit last week—she saw me get out of Noah’s car. And now, all she needed to complete her ringmaster role was a top hat and a monocle.
Oh, Anna. I underestimated you.
All eyes were on me. My move. If I played.
My eyes scanned the assembled students as I stood there, debating. Finally, I simply looked at Anna and dared her to speak. She who speaks first loses. She didn’t disappoint.
“Looking for this?” she chirped innocently, as she held up my sketchbook.
I reached for it but she snatched it away. “You crotch-pheasant,” I said through gritted teeth.