“Uh … does this Shaw happen to have an overabundance of muscles and wear his shirt with a popped collar? He was on the arm of said girl.”
Jamie laughed. “That description could fit any number of Croyden douches, but definitely not Noah Shaw. Probably Davis, if I had to guess.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“Aiden Davis, lacrosse all-star and Project Runway aficionado. Pre-Shaw, he and Anna used to date. Until he came out of the metaphorical closet, and now they’re BFFs forevah.” Jamie batted his eyelashes. I kind of loved him.
“So what did you do to Anna?” he asked.
I gave him a look of mock horror. “What did I do to her?”
“Well, you did something to get her attention. You’d normally be beneath her notice, but the claws will come out if Shaw starts sniffing around you,” he said. He took a long look at me before he spoke again. “Which he will, having exhausted Croyden’s limited female resources already. Literally.”
“Well, she needn’t trouble herself.” I shuffled my schedule and my map, then looked around, trying to locate the annex for Biology. “I have no interest in stealing someone’s boyfriend,” I said. Or dating at all, I didn’t say, considering my last boyfriend was now dead.
“Oh, he’s not her boyfriend. Shaw dropped her ass last year after a couple of weeks. A record for him. Then she went even crazier—like the rest of them. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and all that jazz. Anna used to be the abstinence poster girl, but post-Shaw, you could write a comic book about the many adventures of her vagina. It could wear a cape.”
I snorted. My eyes scanned the buildings in front of me. None of them looked like an annex. “And the guy she was all cozy with has no problem with this?” I asked, distracted.
Jamie quirked an eyebrow at me. “The Mean Queen? That would be no.”
Ah. “How’d he earn the nickname?”
Jamie looked at me like I was an idiot.
“I mean, specifically,” I said, trying not to be one.
“Let’s just say I tried to make friends with Davis once. In the platonic sense,” Jamie clarified. “I’m not his type. Anyway, my jaw still clicks when I yawn.” He demonstrated it for me.
“He hit you?”
The fountain burbled behind us as we crossed the quad, and stopped in front of the building farthest from the administration offices. I inspected the labels on the classroom doors. Completely random. I would never figure this place out.
“Indeed. Davis has a vicious right hook.”
We had that in common, apparently.
“I got him back later, though.”
“Oh?” Jamie wouldn’t stand a chance in a knife fight with Aiden Davis if all Aiden had was a roll of toilet paper.
Jamie smiled knowingly. “I threatened him with Ebola.”
“I don’t actually have Ebola. It’s a biosafety Level Four hot agent.”
I blinked again.
“In other words, impossible for teenagers to obtain, even if your father is a doctor.” He looked disappointed.
“Riiight,” I said, not moving.
“But Davis believed it and almost soiled himself. It was a defining moment for me. Until that rat bastard tattled to the guidance counselors. Who believed him. And called my dad, to verify I didn’t actually have Ebola at home. Idiots. One little joke involving hemorrhagic fever and they brand you ‘unstable.’ “He shook his head, then his mouth tilted into a smile. “You’re, like, totally freaked out right now.”
“No.” I was, just a tad. But who was I to be picky in the friend department?
He winked and nodded. “Sure. So what class do you have next?”
“Biology with Prieta? In the annex, wherever the hell that is.”
Jamie pointed to an enormous flowered bush about a thousand feet away. In the opposite direction. “Behind the bougainvillea.”
“Thanks,” I said, peering at it. “I never would have found it. So what’s your next class?”
He shrugged out of his blazer and button down. “AP Physics, normally, but I’m skipping it.”
AP Physics. Impressive. “So … are you in my grade?”
“I’m a junior,” Jamie said. He must have registered my skepticism because he quickly added, “I skipped a grade. Probably absorbed my parents’ short genes by osmosis.”
“Osmosis? Don’t you mean genetics?” I asked. “Not that you’re short.” A lie, but harmless.
“I’m adopted,” Jamie said. “And please. I’m short. No biggie.” Jamie shrugged, then tapped his watchless wrist. “You’d better get to Prieta’s class before you’re late.” He waved. “See ya.”
And just like that, I made a friend. I mentally patted myself on the back; Daniel would be proud. Mom would be prouder. I planned to offer this news to her like a cat presenting a dead mouse to its owner. It might even be enough to help stave off therapy.
If, of course, I kept today’s hallucinations to myself.
I MANAGED TO SURVIVE THE REST OF THE DAY WITHOUT being hospitalized or committed, and, after school ended, Mom was waiting for me at the cul-de-sac exactly as Daniel said she would be. She excelled at those small “mom” moments, and didn’t disappoint today.
“Mara, honey! How was your first day?” Her voice bubbled with overenthusiasm. She pushed up her sunglasses over her hair and leaned in to give me a kiss. Then she stiffened. “What happened?”
“You have blood on your neck.”
Damn. I thought I’d washed it all off.
“I had a nosebleed.” The truth, but not the whole truth, so help me.
My mother was quiet. Her eyes were narrowed, and full of concern. Par for the course, and so irritating.
“You’ve never had a nosebleed in your life.”
I wanted to ask “How would you know?” but, unfortunately, she would know. Once upon a time I used to tell her everything. Those days were over.
I dug my heels in. “I had one today.”
“Out of nowhere? Randomly?” She gave me that piercing therapist stare, the one that says You’re full of it.
I wasn’t going to admit that I thought I saw my classroom fall apart the second I walked in it. Or that my dead friends reappeared today, courtesy of my PTSD. I’d been symptom-free since we’d moved. I went to my friends’ funerals. I packed up my room. I hung out with my brothers. I did everything I was supposed to do to avoid being Mom’s project. And what happened today wasn’t remotely worth what telling her would cost.