“Two weeks ago.”
“Hmm. The ER doctor must have made a mistake. Probably an intern,” she said to herself.
“What?” I asked, growing nervous.
“Sometimes first-degree burns are mistaken for second-degree, especially on the arms and feet,” she said, turning over my arm and inspecting it. “But even so, the redness usually lasts for quite some time. Any pain when I do this?” she asked as she extended my fingers.
I shook my head. “I don’t understand. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Mara,” she said, staring at my arm. “It’s completely healed.”
nOT HAVING AN ITCHY, SWEAT-COLLECTING bandage under my sleeve was the only bright spot in the next two days. Without Noah, and especially without Jamie, I had even less patience for school, and it showed. I snapped at my History teacher, who I loved, and came very close to punching Anna in the face when she walked past me and banged her bag into my shoulder. She’d gotten my only friend expelled. It would be the least I could do.
I resisted. Barely. But my dire mood followed me home. I just wanted to be alone.
When I walked in the house, I whipped out my sketchbook and went to the family room to draw. Working on the floor was always better for sketching, and my carpeted bedroom was not conducive.
About an hour after I’d started, Daniel peeked his head around the archway. “Hey.”
I looked up from the floor and smiled without feeling.
“Have you thought about going to Sophie’s party tomorrow night?”
I went back to smudging. Self-portraits are tough without a mirror. “Isn’t there some kind of theme?”
“No,” Daniel said.
“Does that mean you’ll come?”
“No,” I said. “Just wondering.”
“You know Mom and Dad are going out tonight, right?” Daniel asked.
“And Joseph is coming with me to help get things ready for tomorrow.”
“Yup,” I said, without looking up.
“So what are you going to do?” Daniel asked.
“I am going to sit here. And draw.”
Daniel arched an eyebrow. “You’re sure you’re all right?”
I sighed. “I just prefer my wallowing with a heaping dollop of self-pity, Daniel. I’ll be fine.”
“If it’s your grades, I can talk to Mom for you. Soften the blow.”
“What?” I hadn’t really been listening before, but Daniel sure as hell had my full attention now.
“You haven’t checked your grades?”
My heart started pounding. “They’re up?”
Daniel nodded. “I didn’t know you didn’t know.”
I shot up from the floor, leaving my sketchpad behind, and darted to my bedroom. I dove into my desk chair and swiveled around to look at the monitor. Anxiety skittered through my veins. I’d been confident a few days ago, but now …
As my eyes scanned the screen, I started to relax.
AP English: A
Algebra II: B
I did a double take. Then scanned the screen again. F. Falls between D and G on the keyboard. F for first. F for failure. First failure.
I couldn’t catch my breath and dropped my head between my knees. I should have known. God, was I stupid. But in my defense, I had never, ever failed a class before, and those things just don’t seem possible until they actually happen. How was I going to explain this to my parents?
Shamed though I was, I hoped Daniel was still around. I sprinted to the kitchen, my face hot. He’d left me a note on the refrigerator.
Went to set things up.
Call me and I can come back and get you.
I swore under my breath and leaned against the stainless steel, getting fingerprints all over it. And then it hit me.
He recorded my exam. He had proof that I aced it. I withdrew my cell phone from my pocket and pressed the picture Jamie installed for himself on my phone. A ram’s head. Weirdo. I tilted my head toward the ceiling and prayed that he would pick up.
It went straight to voice mail.
“Grounded likely means no phone or computer,” Jamie had said. “But if I encounter an owl, I’ll try to smuggle a message to the outside, okay? “
My eyes filled with tears and I threw my cell phone at the wall, scuffing the paint and smashing the phone. Couldn’t have cared less. There was an F on my transcript. An F.
I put my head in my hands and tugged on my face. Dark thoughts swirled in my brain. I needed to tell someone, to figure out what to do. I needed a friend—I needed my best friend, but she was gone. And Jamie was gone too. But I did have Noah. I walked over to my decimated phone and collected the pieces. I tried to put it back together. No luck. I took the house phone off the cradle and pressed the talk button, but then realized that I didn’t even know his number by heart. I’d only known him for a few weeks, after all.
The tears dried on my face, making my skin stiff. I didn’t finish my sketch. I didn’t do anything. I was too upset, furious with myself for being so stupid but even angrier at Morales. And the more I stewed, the angrier I became.
It was all her fault. I’d never done anything to her when I started at Croyden, and she went out of her way to screw with my life. Maybe I could find out Jamie’s address and get the MP3 from him, but would it help? Did Dr. Kahn even know Spanish? The exam was, as Jamie said, subjective. And even though I knew I nailed that answer, I also knew that Morales would lie.
I stared out the kitchen window at the black sky outside. I would deal with it tomorrow.
THE NEXT DAY BEGAN ABNORMALLY. I AWOKE starving at about four in the morning and went to the kitchen to make toast. I withdrew a halfgallon of milk from the refrigerator and poured myself a glass as the machine heated the bread. When the slices popped up, I ate them slowly, turning last night over in my mind. I didn’t notice Joseph until he waved his hand in front of my face.
“Earth to Mara!”
A white drop fell from the triangle lip of the milk container. Joseph’s words were muffled, invading my brain. I wanted to turn off the sound.
I jumped, then slapped his hand away. “Leave me alone.”
I heard a second person rummaging around in the kitchen and swiveled my neck around. Daniel withdrew a granola bar from the pantry and took a bite.
“Who peed in your Cheerios?” he asked me, mouth full.