What did it say about me that the prospect was a lot less daunting than what I actually had to face in the next few weeks?
Shoving the thought away—there wasn’t anything I could do about it, anyway—I started to shrug out of Mickey’s jacket. I was almost dry and only reasonably cold, so I was pretty sure I could make it through the rest of the day without it.
But she gestured for me to keep it. “You can give it back at lunch. Your shirt is still pretty damp and it’s kind of …”
Her voice trailed off and I glanced down, shocked to realize she was right. My shirt was clinging to my chest like it had been painted on, and the fact that I was still too cold was … more than obvious. Mortified, I pulled the jacket closed again and cursed my mother—and the freaky metabolism she’d given me—for what had to be the millionth time.
Too bad it didn’t do me any more good this time than it had the other times.
“Thanks,” I said, gathering up my books and heading for the hallway with an awkward little wave.
I was in a bad mood and I didn’t want to see anyone. My underwear was wet, I looked awful, and to top things off, my neck still hurt like crazy. I ran my hand over the part that ached and it did feel a little warm. I nearly snarled at the thought—getting sick after everything else that had happened today would just be the icing on the crappy cake that was my life.
Not that I had time to dwell on it. It was still raining, so things were an absolute disaster. Because it’s sunny in San Diego something like three hundred days of the year, most of the high schools are built with outdoor hallways—and ours is no exception. The areas close to the buildings were covered, but trying to fit three thousand adult-size students under a series of narrow overhangs was impossible.
That didn’t stop most of us from trying to squeeze under, which led to major traffic jams, assorted pushing and shoving, and at least one or two fistfights on every rainy day.
A year ago, I would have preferred walking in the rain over trying to maneuver my way through the sardine-can passageways, but a lot had changed in a year. Now the idea of getting soaked to the skin—again—was almost as unappealing as the idea of giving up everything and jumping into the ocean like my mother had so many years before.
“Hey, watch it!” I heard Bri yelp from behind me, and I glanced back in time to see some freshman jerk cop a feel as he scooted past her. That was yet another hazard of rainy days: dorks with more hormones than sense. At least she’d gotten in a lick of her own, I noticed with satisfaction. The guy who’d grabbed her ass was now walking with a very pronounced limp.
That was just one of the many things I liked about Bri. Despite the fact that her perfectly styled blond hair, cute face, and bright blue eyes made her look like the quintessential cheerleader, she was more than able to kick a little ass when the occasion warranted. Unfortunately, the occasion warranted it quite a lot at our school—I kept telling her a well-placed piercing or a couple of tattoos would take care of the problem, but she just rolled her eyes and gave me her patented our-bodies-are-temples speech.
I might have agreed with her, if my temple hadn’t been on the verge of completely and totally wigging out.
“Ugh,” Bri said as she elbowed her way through the masses to walk next to me. “I can’t wait until we graduate. I am so over high school guys.”
“We’ve still got a year and a half until that glorious day. Don’t be letting the door hit you quite yet.”
She snorted. “Easy for you to say—you managed to snag one of the best guys in this place. So please, have some pity for the rest of us.”
I kept my mouth shut as we continued weaving our way across the campus to the liberal arts building and our American Lit class. It’s not like I could argue with her—Mark was definitely one of the coolest guys in school. He wasn’t part of the superpopular, clonelike in-crowd—that group was made up of La Jolla High’s football, basketball, and baseball stars and the cheerleaders who dated them—but he was definitely sought after.
He was too hot and too good of a surfer not to be. And, much more important, he cared about me and treated me right. Sure, he had a temper and sometimes he saw more than I was comfortable with, but he also had a really good brain under all that shaggy, sun-bleached hair. If only I could get him to stop pushing me to tell him everything, to stop being so possessive, things would be perfect.
“So, how’d the surfing go today?” Bri asked as we were swept along in the endless tangle of adolescent bodies.
“Like you care.” I rolled my eyes at her and winked so she’d know I was joking.
“Hey, I like to surf. I’m just not obsessed, like some people I know.”
“It’s only obsession if you can’t control it.”
“Spending every spare minute of your day on a surfboard seems obsessive to me.” She narrowed her eyes. “And you’re dodging the question. What happened out there?”
I gave in to the inevitable—the guys may not have said anything yet, but it was just a matter of time before everyone knew. “I totally grubbed, hit the water hard.”
“No way!” The look she shot me was pure astonishment, mixed with a lot of disbelief. “You never do that.”
“Well, I did it today—so hard that Mark had to fish me out of the chowder and tow me back to shore like a total frube.”
With her usual impeccable timing, Bri grabbed my arm just as we passed our classroom and yanked me out of the crush and into the door of Mr. Keppler’s American Lit class.
I swear, the girl was a general in a former life: when she has her mind set on something, she runs over whoever or whatever is in her path. I’d spent the first year of high school following along behind her, trying to figure out how to do what she did. Finally I just gave up and let her take the lead—it worked out much better for both of us.
“So, are you okay?” she asked as we found our seats on the right side of the circle.
Yes, Mr. Keppler arranged our desks in one big circle, so we could all stare at each other while we “ruminated” on the literature of the day. And most days, he even sat with us. If he wasn’t a complete and absolute Greek god, it would be totally nerdy. As it was, Bri and I reaped the benefits because she’d managed to snag us seats directly across from his desk on the second day of class. I couldn’t begin to add up how many class periods I’d spent staring at him instead of thinking about a bunch of dead guys who wrote stuff long before I was even born.
“Yeah, of course.” I slid into my seat—which had the added benefit of being right in front of the heater—and took my first easy breath since getting to school that day. Another big plus for Mr. Keppler was that he always kept the classroom warm, unlike Hein, who I swore was half Eskimo. “It was no big deal.”
“It was a very big deal.” As he sank into the desk on my left, Mark yanked on my ponytail like he always did. “She nearly drowned.”
I was so relieved that he was behaving seminormally that it took me a minute to realize he wasn’t. He hadn’t kissed me, hadn’t smiled at me, hadn’t said a word to me. Instead, he was talking to my best friend like I didn’t even exist.
“Oh my God!” Bri sat up straighter, her narrow eyes cataloging every inch of me for injuries. “I can’t believe you didn’t say anything!”