Hannah Both Ways by Rosie Greenway ~ Preview Chapters 1-3

Chapter 1

My Corner

I GRAB THE YELLOW Post-it note with the number scribbled across it and stuff it in the front pocket of my jeans. 914.5. That’s all it says.

Running late, I gallop down the stairs. “I’m leaving!” I shout to no one in particular.

No one in particular doesn’t answer. No one in particular must still be in bed.

And she’s not alone.

I realize this fact as I trip over yet another unfamiliar pair of men’s shoes in the front hall by the door.

I sit alone on the bus as I’ve done every day for the last three months. At first, I was the centre of all gossip. Now, I’m invisible. Old news. Nobody cares enough to give me a second glance. This is a relief.

At school, I go straight to my locker to stow my coat and grab my books. I close my eyes for a few seconds and breathe, remembering that 914.5 is safely stashed in the front pocket of my jeans.

After being off for the Easter long weekend, my attention span has dwindled, and I can’t get back into the groove. Math isn’t my favourite, so I play with words while Mr. Murray discusses our weekend assign­ment on asymptotes. “Awesome tokes,” I scribble. I’m a huge fan of words.

English Lit class perks me up. We’re each reading poetry, looking through anthologies for a poem to analyze. I can’t write poetry worth a damn, but I love reading it. Within five minutes, I find “You fit into me” by Margaret Atwood. It only has sixteen words, but it’s deeply disturbing and considering the poem’s length, it’s amazingly dense. The idea of a fish hook slipping into a human eye freaks me out. Margaret Atwood does it to me every time.

I take the poem to the front of the room for approval. Mrs. Shore looks at me over her glasses, which sit crookedly on the end of her nose. “It’s a little short, Hannah.” She sighs.

“I like it.”

She seems exasperated, but she’s been told to go easy on me. They all have. It’s getting a little old, and some of them are probably fed up with me by now, but I smile at her hopefully anyway.

I’m such a phony.

She sighs again, probably not fooled. “Okay, it’s your choice. You’re the one who has to put together a 250-word analysis.”

Oh, ye of little faith. “It has an opening simile, a closing analogy, a para­doxical juxtaposition of images and shock value. No problem,” I say.

She rewards my brilliance with a reluctant half-smile.

I drag my butt back to my seat and lose myself in the poem. Writing 250 words will be simple. I could easily churn out four times as much. I’m not saying I’m any good at writing, it’s just that it’s what I like to do. That’s why Writer’s Craft is my favourite class. It’s last period. Some­thing to look forward to during Study Hall after lunch.

I need it to be lunchtime, but the clock moves too slowly. I click the end of my pen in time with the passing seconds. Click . . . click . . . click. The clicking is a nervous habit. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it. A few people sitting near me glare, so I stop clicking and glare right back.

I have awesome eyebrows for glaring. They furrow so beautifully. Not that I’ve ever been what you’d call smiley, but a few months of glaring and frowning has etched a permanent ridge between my eye­brows. To hell with Botox. Why would anyone sabotage their ability to frown like that?

Two minutes pass while I contemplate the beauty of my furrowed brow. The bell will ring in mere seconds. I slide the Post-it note out of my pocket and curl my fingers around it.

914.5.

The bell rings. I jump up and vault for the door before the echo of the bell has died away. At my locker, I swap morning books for after­noon ones, squash what passes for lunch into my knapsack and slam the metal door shut. With a cursory look around to make sure the coast is clear, I hurry down the hall with my head lowered, eyes on the floor ahead of me. The crowds open and close around me.

Girl on a mission, coming through! Nothing to see here. Move aside.

I trust my feet to take me where I need to go. If my feet forget, the Post-it note stuck to my palm will remind me.

914.5 . . . 914.5 . . . 914.5 . . . .

All that matters right now is 914.5 and getting out of the damn hall.

The moment when I heft open the library door is always one of the best parts of my day. Sweet relief. I’m always among the first to arrive at lunch time, so for now, the library is quiet. Soon the panicky study groups and chronic procrastinators will arrive to descend on the com­puters and fill the table area. Those people are not my concern.

I head straight for the last set of stacks, silently chanting please, please, please as I make my way down the shelves, trailing my finger across the spines of the books, row upon row of books. Some are old and decay­ing, some are brand new, but each one is ripe for the picking—assum­ing the numbers are right, of course. I keep walking, past the 800s into the 900s . . . please let there be something . . . .

And there is. Or should I say, there are. On the middle shelf, eight books have the 914.5 call number. Victory. Abundant victory. What will I choose? It’s the first day back to school after Easter Monday, so I decide on the first of the eight books. Excellent logic on my part.

914.5 ADA. Rome. Succinct title, just like the poem I picked in Eng­lish class. I’m having a succinct day. Maybe “succinct” is the word of the day. In Writer’s Craft, I’ll try to incorporate the word into my writ­ing without sounding contrived. This will be challenging, but I think it’s important to set myself a challenge every day.

I take the book and head to the corner of the library.

My corner.

Everyone knows this is where I sit. Since no one wants to be any­where near me, it’s an oasis. There’s not much to it, just three decrepit chairs, the springs long gone, clustered around a small end table. But this is my haven—a quiet nook near a shelf of dusty teacher resources in a forgotten corner of the library. I face the wall and sneak celery dipped in peanut butter into my mouth.

I’m sneaking for two reasons. First, I’m not supposed to eat in the library. Second, no one is supposed to eat any peanut products outside the cafeteria. Some unsuspecting soul could have a severe allergic reac­tion and go into anaphylactic shock. Not that anyone would willingly get close enough to me to even get a whiff of the peanut butter, but if they did, I’d have a field day with an EpiPen. I’d take great enjoyment in ramming that sucker into someone’s leg. I’d save the ever-loving hell out of their life, and I’d be a hero.

Except not.

How can I be a hero when I shouldn’t be eating peanut butter in the first place? Still, I’ve been carrying a tub of it around the school for months, eating some in the library almost every day, and no one has died yet, despite my efforts.

I turn my attention to the book on my lap. Instead of reading from the beginning, I always flip through to see what grabs me. Sometimes the book decides for me, and that’s what happens this time. The spine is well broken-in, and the book falls open in the middle. On one side, there’s a picture of some street in Rome with a canal running along the side. I read the opposite page, licking the peanut butter off the celery and then methodically crunching the stalks.

“We’ve all heard that old cliché, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,’” page 138 says. “In fact, Rome has been evolving since the eighth century BC.”

Huh. That’s a damned old city. I scan the page for new and interest­ing words, listening to the crunching sound in my ears and tuning out the rest of the world. Tuning out the rest of the world is what I do best now. If I don’t look at people—if I stay hidden behind the brown cur­tain of my hair—they can’t see me either. This infantile way of viewing my existence pleases me.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the world is tuning me out too. I’m not worried. It’s a win–win situation. This is called “symbiosis.” Great word. Snagged that one in Grade Ten biology.

“Succinct” and “symbiosis.” Two kick-ass words in a day. I’m on a roll.

My life is predictable. I’m okay with that. Unpredictability is scary. Knowing every day will be the same isn’t as bad as it sounds. I’ve done it for ages.

For example, the next morning, I wake up knowing that my mother probably won’t be waiting to see me off at the door. But I’m almost guaranteed to trip over a pair of unfamiliar men’s shoes. Sure enough, there they are. Brown loafers. Bending to pull on my own shoes, I get a noseful of loafer stench. Yuck. Granted, they’re not as bad as the shoes I found in the hall a few times in the weeks before Christmas. They were revolting. I named that guy Mr. Funky Feet. You’d think someone who wears black Italian leather shoes with a shiny gold buckle would have better foot hygiene. Sadly, this is not true.

I rush out the door, pulling a swath of hair across my face. The scent of mango-citrus shampoo wipes out the reek of man-foot fungus. I sit alone on the bus, alternately staring out the window and glancing at today’s Post-it note in my hand.

577.34

The bus is loud. Now that Easter has come and gone, everyone is talking prom.

“Let’s get our hair and nails done together.”

“I’m telling you man, limo sex.”

“I’ve already got a forty of vodka.”

“Hey, Brett booked the campsite for the after party, right?”

“Did you see Sarah’s promposal on Instagram? So cute!”

The thought of the promposal I won’t receive makes my stomach lurch. I return to that safe place in my head.

577.34 . . . 577.34 . . . .

At school, the Post-it note goes safely into my pocket. I follow my usual route to my locker and then take the remaining 240 or so foot­steps to math class. Mr. Murray is always available for extra help first thing in the morning. Sometimes I have to wait outside the door for him to arrive, but usually he’s at his desk, the door wide open, inviting me in.

Most people don’t find math classrooms inviting. I do. I don’t ask for help. I don’t ask for anything, except a quiet place to park my butt until class starts. Sometimes, Mr. Murray dashes off for a few minutes to do whatever teachers do before class. This thing he does probably involves a boatload of coffee. Teachers always have the worst coffee breath.

Not that I blame them. Faced with the mind-numbing task of trying to educate a bunch of pinheads, I’d need a massive caffeine buzz to make it through the day too. I’d probably slip something stronger into my coffee, just to take the edge off.

Math class is boring. English is worse. We have a substitute teacher with large dark eyes and a wild mass of curly black hair. She wears a chunky silver ring on every finger. Too bad we’re not studying Macbeth. She’d be a shoo-in for Lady Macbeth.

After listening to her drone on about poetic devices, we fill in a work­sheet. It’s easy and should probably only take about twelve minutes to complete, but there’s an unwritten rule among students about sub­stitute teachers. Everyone has to take as long as possible to fill out a worksheet because if even one person hands it in, another boring handout will appear, and everyone will be forced to do that one, too. No one wants that. Not even me. This is one of the few times I’m on the same page as everyone else in the class.

Lady Macbeth thumbs through a magazine while the class pretends to be hard at work. In reality, people pass notes or text each other on phones hidden under desks or behind the backs of the people in front of them. In the row beside mine, a couple of boys are even playing games on their handheld devices. It’s pathetic, really.

Like I said. Pinheads.

As the class nears its end, I slip my Post-it note into my palm and watch the clock. I’m out the door with the bell, the substitute teacher’s voice ringing out behind me—something about a poetry quiz on Fri­day. The quiz goes on the to-do list for later. Right now, there’s some­where else I need to be.

Locker, library, 577.34. In that order.

Usually, my feet are programmed to follow the route from my locker to the library without incident. Today, I’m not so lucky. Just around the corner, mere metres away from my final destination, a sharp object jabs my right boob.

“Ouch, you moron, what the hell are you doing?” I back up, rubbing my chest and glaring at this guy standing stupidly in the middle of the hall with a pencil—a very sharp pencil—jutting from his left hand.

“Oh, sorry. I’m sorry. I’m, ah, I’m lost. I was just trying to figure out . . . .” He brushes hair out of his eyes, frowning and scanning a sheet of paper. He spins the page around in circles and looks up and down the hall.

“Yeah, that was a rhetorical question.” I push past him, which doesn’t go as well as I’d hoped because he’s tall, and I’m not strong enough to shove him out of my way.

Oh well. It’s the effort that counts.

The fact is, people who are sorry or lost slow me down. The longer it takes to get to the library, the greater the chance of crossing paths with someone I’d rather not see. The only thing I have time for right now is 577.34.

As usual, before venturing into the stacks in search of my book, I send up a quiet prayer to the Dewey Decimal deity—kick-ass allit­eration, right?—and my prayers are answered. Today, there’s only one matching book. 577.34 JOH. It’s thin and hard-covered. I pull it from the shelf and look at the title. The Amazon Rainforest. Hmmm. I’ve never read about rainforests before.

In my corner, I haul the contraband out of my backpack and start to eat, spooning peanut butter into my mouth with celery sticks.

Dip, bite and chew. Dip, bite and chew.

I repeat the motion over and over again and flip through the book. I’m disappointed with my pick until I spot an unfamiliar word in a subheading: “Agroforestry.” A new word—and one with five syllables!

A thud directly behind me interrupts this moment of bliss. I cringe and turn my head ever so slightly to look at the floor. It’s a backpack. The chair beside mine slides closer, scraping noisily over the floor, and then two long legs stretch out in front of it. Someone is sitting in my personal oasis.

My corner.

I glare over my shoulder. It’s him. It’s sorry-lost-boy. He tosses a wayward lock of sandy-brown hair out of his eyes. Brown eyes. Or are they hazel? They don’t seem dark enough to be brown. I remind my­self not to care what colour they are and focus on my scowl, because sorry-lost-boy is trespassing. “Hey, sorry-lost-boy,” I snap. “You’re in my corner.”

“I’m sorry?” he says.

“Stop saying you’re sorry. While you’re at it, stop doing crap that’ll make you have to say you’re sorry.”

I try to stare him down.

He doesn’t move. He doesn’t even blink. “I wasn’t apologizing,” he says. When someone says ‘I’m sorry’ in an interrogative tone like I just did, it means ‘Pardon me.’”

“What the fuck did you say?” I try not to raise my voice. It’s not easy. He’s too calm. Too pleasant. He’s rattling me.

“That works too. You could say ‘Pardon me,’ or ‘What the fuck did you say?’” He looks at me blandly. “If that’s what you prefer.”

Ha. That’s clever. It’s bordering on funny—but I don’t want to find him funny.

“What I’d prefer is not talking to you right now.” I retreat behind my hair and return to my book, discovering, much to my amazement, that rubber trees used to flourish in the Amazon rainforests. Who knew?

“Look, you dropped this in the hall. Don’t you need it to find a book?”

He stretches his hand out, invading my space. He’s holding my Post-it note—the one with “577.34” written on it. I must have dropped it when we crashed into each other.

I don’t make a move to retrieve the slip of paper. “Nope. Don’t need it.” Truth be told, I haven’t needed it since writing the numbers down last night. As always, repeating the numbers like a mantra has made the Post-it redundant.

“Come on. Cut the new kid a break, would ya? Maybe we could chill for a few minutes, and you could help me get the lay of the land?”

New kid? He’s new? Who switches schools in April? Every time I’ve transferred, it’s been in September, or at least at the start of a term. Anyway, he’s a newbie, which explains why he’s not running screaming in the opposite direction. No one has gotten to him yet. He doesn’t know that Hannah Forde is radioactive.

“Listen, new kid,” I snap. “I don’t do ‘chill.’ I definitely don’t do ‘help.’”

Apparently I do “lay,” but you’ll find that out soon enough on your own.

I turn my chair, square my shoulders and present him with my back. I smile when I’m rewarded with the sound of a scraping chair and receding footsteps.

Sit in my corner? I don’t think so.

It’s one o’clock. Twenty-five minutes left to kill in Study Hall period. Writer’s Craft is next, and then I can go home. The rainforests book is closed on the small table beside my chair. I’ve given up on it. Some­times the random page I pick sparks a sudden interest in the topic, and I keep reading. But not today. Today I feel like writing. I’m in the mood to vent. To rant. Writer’s Craft is going to be good.

Sneakers squeak on the tile floor. Then there’s a tap on my shoulder. Jesus. It’s him—not Jesus—but sorry-lost-boy. The new kid.

I turn and give him the full effect of my eyebrows.

“So what’s your problem, anyway?” he asks.

“Right now? You are. Didn’t they teach you anything about taking hints where you came from? ‘Cause around here, when someone says they don’t want to talk to you, it usually means go away. And not just for an hour.”

“‘Usually’ doesn’t mean ‘always.’” He blinks at me. His brownish-hazelish-whatever-the-hell-colour-you’d-call-it eyes are unreadable.

“Well, let me clarify. In this case, it definitely means ‘go away.’”

“I don’t think it does,” he insists.

I’m amazed at his persistence. No. “Amazed” is not a strong enough word. I need others. I am nonplussed. I’m agog. Flummoxed. Gob­smacked. Yes, I am absolutely gobsmacked. “Okay, you said you want to know the lay of the land, newbie? Fine. Stay away from me if you know what’s good for you. You’re bugging the hell out of me, but you seem like a decent enough guy. Trust me. Just. Go. Away.” I turn around and pick up my abandoned book, hoping for a better pick tomorrow. I’d much rather be reading about coral reefs or foolproof ways to repel sorry-lost-boys.

The rustle of his bag behind me interrupts my thoughts. Then, he leans over and slowly slides my Post-it note into my hand.

“You don’t fool me. I know you,” he says.

What the—?

I turn to watch him lope out of the library. He knows me? How does he know me? I’ve never met him before. I would remember him. Or maybe he has already heard about me, and that’s what he means. I’m dying to know what he’s talking about.

But now he’s gone, and I can’t ask him.

In Writer’s Craft, I close my eyes and listen to the hiss of the heating vent, the hum of computers and the tapping of keyboards around the room. Someone should make a relaxation CD capturing this chorus of sounds. I’d snap up every copy. Mr. Vesters makes the rounds, his voice a soft murmur as he checks in with students. When he reaches my sta­tion, he pulls up one of the chairs beside mine and sits. Mr. Vesters al­ways sits down when he chats with me, perhaps because there’s always an available seat. I have one of the best seats in the class, right in the middle of a row of computer tables that runs the length of the room facing the windows. Even so, the computers on either side of me have been vacant since the first day of the term. It’s as if no one wants to inhale the air I exhale.

Fine with me.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Mr. Vesters whispers. “You look like you’re in the zone. Everything going okay?”

He leans forward, his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped. His eyes search mine. This is not an idle question, and it might not even be entirely about my writing. Mr. Vesters is one of those teach­ers who cares about what’s happening with kids—and not just in his classroom. He could be ridiculed mercilessly for his seemingly never-ending supply of argyle sweater vests or the saucer-sized raspberry coloured birthmark that stains his right cheek, but most kids would defend him before mocking him.

“I’m just warming up,” I say, cracking a few knuckles for effect.

“And your portfolio is coming along?”

“Getting there.” This is a lie. I’ve been struggling with my monthly portfolio, but panic hasn’t set in yet. There are still a few days to pull things together.

“Well, you know where I am if you need help.”

After my nod of confirmation, he moves on to another student. I close my eyes again, waiting for inspiration to strike, but I can’t seem to focus.

Excited shrieking erupts outside. I crane my neck to look out the window. A bunch of kids from the elementary school next door are rolling down the hill that descends to our track. It must be recess. I miss recess. No—scratch that, I don’t miss recess—I miss snack time.

What I don’t miss is being the serial new kid, the burning desire to be accepted into the other kids’ games. Wandering around alone for fifteen minutes, trying to break into the long-established cliques.

No one would miss that.

A vague lingering feeling scratches at the back of my mind. I recog­nize the feeling. It’s guilt.

Come on. Cut the new kid a break, would ya?

I didn’t cut the new kid a break, but surely he’s persistent enough to manage just fine without any assistance from me. Besides, guys blend in better than girls do. He’ll be high-fiving and fist-bumping new buddies in the hall before the ink is dry on his timetable.

Comforted by this convenient line of reasoning, I turn my atten­tion to my computer screen and finally settle in. I forget everything when I’m writing. It’s the best place to be—lost in a twisted maze of ideas. Words chasing thoughts until they catch them, overtake them and mercifully erase them.

I don’t watch the clock in Writer’s Craft. More often than not, the bell startles me, rousing me from the deep tangle of my words. Be­cause I’m not sitting close enough to the door to bolt out at the first hint of the bell, I wait for everyone else to leave to avoid the potential fallout of getting whisked up by the crowd.

I don’t actually need to worry anymore—because people pretend I don’t exist—but waiting for the room to empty is an ingrained habit now. After long weeks of being tripped, or “accidentally” jabbed with a compass, or hearing hissed whispers about how I’m so dead after school, I’m afraid my luck will run out. Bottom line: invisibility is a good thing. Invisible people don’t get threatened.

Clearly, they were empty threats because I’m still very much alive.

On the outside.

Chapter 2

Going Through the Motions

DESPITE WHAT PEOPLE might say, I’m not a bad person. I’m a victim of circumstances that are beyond my control. You can’t control what other people say and do. You definitely can’t control your parents. My mother’s actions, in particular, are completely out of my control.

Allow me to clarify: my mother is out of control. Period.

I’m not trying to be dramatic. I’m simply stating the facts.

My mother doesn’t hurt me. She’s not physically abusive, and she’s not a druggie or an alcoholic. She keeps a roof over our heads and buys groceries, makes dinner and pays bills, like most mothers do. But unlike most mothers, my mom is a cocktail waitress in a club. A night­club. The kind of place where waitresses wear plunging necklines and short skirts and get huge tips.

Most of the time, Mom leaves for work before I get home from school, and she doesn’t roll in until midnight. Sometimes even later.

I don’t wait up.

We don’t see each other much, except on weekends and her occa­sional night off. Once in a while, I see her in the morning, but mostly, I see the shoes. Then I know she’s otherwise occupied. Emerging from her room to pat me on the head and say, “Have a good day, dear,” isn’t a top priority.

When I get home from school on Wednesday, Mom doesn’t hear me come in. Music blasts in the kitchen, and she’s dancing between the sink, the fridge and the stove. I lean against the kitchen doorway, watching. One thing about my mom, she’s got moves. Even when she’s not dancing, there’s something fascinating about the way she carries herself. It’s no wonder the guys who frequent the club are drawn to her. There’s nothing motherly about her appearance, nothing about her that says, “I have a seventeen-year-old daughter.” The fact that she had me when she was seventeen might have something to do with that. The plunging necklines and short skirts help.

I make my way across the kitchen to turn the music down, and she jumps, clutching her hand to her heart.

“Jeez, Hannah, I didn’t hear you.”

“No wonder. It’s party central in here.” I scan the collection of bowls lined up on the counter. “Are you making lasagne?”

“Yep. Completely from scratch.”

“Huh. Didn’t someone stay over last night? I wouldn’t think you’d have the energy for this.”

“Don’t be sassy.”

Don’t be sassy. That’s what she always says. Or don’t be cynical. That’s a favourite too. I can’t help being cynical. After years of rising hopes and subsequent disappointment, cynicism comes naturally. Sadly, it’s usu­ally Mom’s fault when my hopes get squashed.

I know it’s not easy being a single-mom. My dad bailed when I was five, so she’s been alone for a long time. That’s why I try to go easy on her. She’s lonely. It’s how she deals with the loneliness that gets us into hot water—like accidentally hooking up with a married man at the club, or having simultaneous flings with several of the regulars and causing fistfights among these guys who all think they have exclusive booty call rights. This is what I dread—things getting dicey and my mom being forced to quit her job, or worse still, being fired. That’s when she hauls out the boxes, and I know another new school is on the horizon. This has happened more times than I care to count.

I need a fresh start. She says that line a lot.

The last time she said that, I told her she really needed fresh meat. She told me not to be cynical. I thought I was being honest. Since when did telling someone the truth mean you’re cynical?

She interrupts my thoughts with a jab of a wooden spoon.

“Was your day okay?”

“It was a day.”

I open the fridge and scan the shelves, and then close it without tak­ing anything out. I open a cupboard and close it. I want something, but I don’t know what. This pointless opening and closing is enjoyable. It’s a daily routine. Routine is my saviour.

“You keeping your marks up?”

“Yep. It’s all good.”

As usual, I’m suitably vague so Mom won’t worry. There are prob­ably case studies about kids like me—typical children of divorced par­ents who don’t want to rock the boat more than necessary. Some kids blame themselves for their parents’ divorce, but I was five, how could it have been my fault? Still, that doesn’t mean I want to be a source of misery for my mother.

“Can you get the mozzarella out of the fridge?” Mom hands me the cheese grater, and I become her sous chef.

“Grate the cheese.”

“Stir the sauce.”

“Layer those noodles.”

“Measure some parmesan.”

We work together without talking, the music filling the spaces be­tween her instructions. I wonder sometimes if she has a million ques­tions she wants to ask but is afraid to go there because she doesn’t want to know the answers. She can’t ask me about friends—I don’t have any. Which means questions about parties, dances or other after­school activities are irrelevant.

I sound like a total loser. I’m really not. I know what it’s like to have friends, but I also know what it’s like to leave friends behind. Over and over again. There’s nothing worse than having to start over every year or two, trying to meet new people all the time. It got harder the older I got. With each move, Mom promised that this time, things would be different. This time, we’d put down roots. She’d find a great guy to settle down with.

How many times have I heard those words? Eventually, I had to stop believing them. It was a waste of time. Instead of trying to find a place in the social fabric of the school, I went about my business, going to class, studying and focusing inward instead of worrying about what was going on around me.

I probably would have carried on doing that and had a completely uneventful twelfth grade year at yet another new school if not for my Sociology teacher. She picked groups for an assignment in the middle of October and forced an unfortunate alliance between me and the Dipsy Duo—Allison Dawson and Marla Stevens. They were both to­tal dingbats, but I was stuck with them for two weeks in class, trying to scrape together an assignment worth ten percent of my sociology grade. There was nothing I could do but try to get along with them.

Co-operating with airheads has never been my strong point, but I made an effort to smile and be friendly, which isn’t easy when you’re out of practice and, frankly, socially lazy.

What I’m not is academically lazy. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Allison and Marla were bottom feeders. Not wanting my mark to suffer because of their idiocy, I ended up doing more than my fair share of the work. Ironically, it was my academic prowess rather than my social graces which opened the doors to social acceptance and made me an asset to Allison Dawson.

She started messaging me. We became Facebook friends. We con­nected on Twitter. Marla followed suit. I tried not to notice most of their messages to me involved questions about schoolwork, but let’s face it, my mother is right. I am cynical. I was sure they were using me, so I took their attention with a grain of salt. Okay, maybe it was more than a grain. Maybe it was enough salt to do serious damage to my blood pressure.

The social fringe benefits made the salt go down a little easier.

Mom and I eat dinner in front of the TV. That’s another classic avoid­ance technique. If we’re engrossed in whatever show is on the idiot box, we can’t talk to each other. I’m actually not that interested in the shows my mom likes to watch. She’s addicted to reality TV. I’d much rather watch Jeopardy!

Her phone chimes. She sits up and scans the room. “Is that your phone or mine?” she says.

I want to laugh. There isn’t a single person who’d be contacting me. I pretend to think. “Um, no, I’m pretty sure that was your text alert. Your phone’s on the kitchen table.”

Mom breezes off to the kitchen, plate in hand. She lets out a sharp, high-pitched laugh. Probably one of her “gentleman friends.” He must be a real joker. If the guy were here, she’d drape herself all over him while she laughed, making him feel like the king of the world.

I can’t help envying how easily she interacts with guys. I’ve always bumbled my way through social situations. I’ve never been much of a laugher—never the type to bat my eyelashes at boys and giggle at their dumbass antics. I pretended to be that girl for a while. It didn’t go so well.

I guess it was October when that fateful announcement blared across the school PA system.

“Tryouts for the cheerleading team this Friday! Five girls needed! All new members welcome!”

Allison and Marla, not surprisingly, were cheer squad veterans. They joined in ninth grade. I’ve always watched cheerleaders from afar. They’re like a different species, the way they behave when they’re to­gether, flipping their hair and rolling their eyes, hanging off the arms of the cute boys, flirting and giggling.

Someone like me could never win the attention of those kinds of boys. I would never be flirtatious and extroverted enough to fit in entirely, but I allowed Allison to convince me to try out for squad. How hard could it be? I took dance classes for years as a kid and have rhythm, just like Mom. Before writing, venting my frustrations through dancing kept me sane. Sadly, dancing didn’t work out for me. For one thing, my inability to smile drove my dance instructors crazy. Surly ballerinas tend to have short careers. Then there’s the money fac­tor. Mom simply couldn’t afford it.

Anyway, somewhere in one of the dark recesses of my brain, I de­cided I might actually be a pretty good cheerleader because of the dancing, and at the very least, joining the squad would help me fit in. I’d finally found a way to break in to that impenetrable group: the cool kids. Maybe I would never be naturally playful and outgoing like Al­lison and Marla, but I could certainly go through the motions, at least the physical ones requiring co-ordination and agility.

Allison coached me. She taught me an audition routine. I tried in vain to figure out her motivation. In retrospect, I’m convinced it had to do with the very fact that I didn’t flirt with other girls’ boyfriends or giggle whenever a hot guy walked by.

“It’s so great that you’re not an attention whore, Hannah.” That’s what Allison used to say. I wasn’t a threat. If you want to stand out in a crowd, it’s best to surround yourself with mediocrity.

I earned one of the five coveted spots on the cheerleading squad. Turns out, I was pretty good. I underestimated myself.

So did Allison.

Chapter 3

Invasions

MY SCHOOL DAYS are planned precisely. Mrs. Palmer, a guidance counsellor, helped me work out a manageable schedule. It’s all part of the conflict mediation plan that’s been in place since January, so I don’t get hassled after all the crap that went down. My timetable changed too, so I wouldn’t have to worry about being harassed during class.

As for non-class time, I go straight to the math room in the morning. I spend lunch hour in the library to avoid the washroom and cafeteria, be­cause that’s where they will be. I stay in the library for Study Hall and then go to Writer’s Craft. At the end of the day, I get on the bus and go home.

It’s all very straightforward and usually goes according to plan. But sometimes, shit happens. Anyone doubting this should check out the T-shirt vendors in the mall. They’ll find many shirts exposing this truth in bold, white letters across a black cotton background.

Shit happens.

Does it ever.

It’s Friday and I’m in the library during Study Hall reading Fast Food Nation. At first, I catch myself peering over my shoulder from time to time, wondering if the new kid is watching from somewhere in the stacks. Knowing he could be lurking around and invading the sanctity of my quiet corner aggravates me. Acknowledging that he’s invading the sanctity of my mind more than aggravates me.

It horrifies me.

How dare he?

Every time someone pulls a book from a shelf or shuffles through the stacks behind me, I spin around, certain I’ll see him, but no. He’s not here. Paranoia, that’s all it is. I eventually relax and become engrossed in today’s book. Food Nation was a great pick. There’s a chapter all about why fries taste so freaking awesome. It’s kind of fascinating. When I finally glance at the clock, there’s only a little over ten minutes until last period.

I reluctantly abandon the book early and leave for the washroom before classes change to avoid running into any unsavoury characters. At lunch hour and during class changes, the girls’ washroom is a mine­field of catty bitches—human landmines. You can’t escape without detonating one of them. I know this because I’ve had a limb or two blown off in the main floor girls’ washroom.

Figuratively, of course.

With everyone still in class, I can safely pee without fear of flying shrapnel.

At first, I’m alone, as I anticipated. I’m going about my business in the stall, about to flush, when the outer door crashes open, and two girls’ voices invade the quiet of the washroom.

“Substitute teachers are so clueless,” says one of the voices. “She didn’t even notice us sneak out.”

“I know. They’re the best,” the other replies.

I know both voices. Marla and Allison. Marla is relatively harmless—although “relatively” is a relative term. She’s basically a sheep. Allison is the real problem. She single-handedly ruined any chance I had of enjoying my last semester of high school. Well, not single-handedly. Her boyfriend, Dallyn, was essential to my ruination. But she was the mastermind.

I don’t know a lot about landmines, but I figure when one goes off, it will detonate others. That’s what it’s like with Allison. She goes off and triggers everyone else. Like domino land mines.

If either of them happens to look down the long row of stalls and sees my feet, my shoes might give me away. It would be just like Allison to wait for me to emerge and then ambush me, stealing my shoes and flushing them down the toilet or something. Worse still, they could wrestle my shirt off and push me into the hall in my bra. I may be overreacting a smidge, but I’ve learned the hard way that where Allison Dawson is concerned, I should listen to my gut.

Survival instinct kicks in. I carefully step onto the toilet seat and crouch down, hovering with my feet planted on either side of the toilet seat, waiting for them to get out.

“I heard Brett’s going to prom with Kelly. That sucks,” Allison says to Marla.

“Yeah. I knew he’d never ask me. I’m gonna end up going with a total loser.”

“We’ll get you a date,” Allison says. “Dallyn . . . is . . . working . . . on . . . it.”

From the way she smacks her lips together between words, she’s obviously putting on lip-gloss. She’s always reapplying lip-gloss. The perils of sucking face with your boyfriend non-stop until he’s wearing most of it.

“Those jeans are great by the way,” she adds.

“Hey, thanks.” The pride in Marla’s voice is unmistakeable. You don’t take a compliment like this from the high priestess of fashion lightly.

“So we’re still meeting at the spray tanning place at noon tomorrow, right?” Allison says. “Then we can hit the mall. I’m totally thinking of getting that strapless dress for prom. You know, the hot pink one?”

“Oh, you have to. It looks so awesome on you.”

“I know. It was practically made for me.”

On and on it goes.

Like I was saying, these two are the pinhead poster girls. How I hung out with them for three months without suffering brain damage is a mystery. I tune them out, trying not to focus on how uncomfortable I am, but then Allison says, “Hey, I forgot. I have an awesome Hannah story to tell you!”

Good old Allison. She’s full of awesome stories. Her stories about me lean toward fiction for the most part. I shift my weight from side to side, trying to relieve the pressure on my knees.

“You know how her mom works at that club, right?” she says.

“Yeah.”

“Well, Dallyn’s brother, Dean, is home from college and he took Dall to the club last night—he had a fake ID and stuff—and Hannah’s mom totally hit on Dean.”

I close my eyes and hold my breath. I can almost hear the grenade rolling across the bathroom floor.

“Get out,” Marla says, her voice a shocked whisper.

“I’m serious. Dean said she told him to wait till the end of her shift—”

“No!”

“Totally.”

“Oh my God!”

Oh my God is right. The grenade rolls closer. I cringe, my face burn­ing with shame for my mother, dreading the rest of the story, but des­perate to know what happened.

Did I see shoes in the front hall this morning?

“What did he do?” Marla asks.

No doubt she’s bouncing with excitement. Marla always bounces when she’s excited, her boobs jumping grotesquely in their less than supportive bra.

I clench my jaw, waiting for Allison’s answer.

“Nothing. Dall had to be home by eleven. But Dean said she practi­cally stuck her tongue in his ear. He said he’d totally tap that if he had a chance.”

“That’s insane!” Marla gasps.

It’s not all insane. I’m taken aback by this news, but not exactly bowled over in shock. Just mortified.

“I know!” Allison squeals.

From the sound of her voice, she’s enjoying herself. At this point, she might be bouncing right along with Marla.

“Did Dallyn tell his brother who she was?”

“No. He said it was too much fun watching Dean flirt with her.”

Far be it for Dallyn to ruin his own fun. Jackass.

“The whole thing is gross,” Allison says. I can hear the sneer in her voice. “It’s bad enough that she’s got a kid, but Hannah’s her kid, which makes it super-disgusting. What a skank.”

I can’t stand that word. Allison loves it. I’m sure there’s a correlation between those two facts.

Get the fuck out of here . . . get the fuck out of here . . . get the fuck out of here.

“Although . . . ,” Marla says. “Mrs. Forde is kinda hot, I guess. She’s only, like, thirty-four or something. How old is Dean?”

“Twenty-three. I’m sorry, but that’s freaking rude.” The water runs and then Allison spits out one more word. “Pedophile.

She laughs, the sound echoing around the bathroom. Awesome acoustics. Marla joins in, but hers is an uncomfortable laugh. I can imagine her face, her awkward expression. She’s not cut out for hard-core bitchery. She’s still learning the ropes.

“Don’t tell anyone I told you,” Allison warns Marla. Her tone is ominous. “I’d get in so much crap if I was caught spreading rumours about Hannah. I can’t lose my prom privileges.”

“Oh, I won’t tell anyone. Don’t worry.”

Allison’s suggestion that they go shopping for prom shoes once she’s secured her dress is the last thing I hear as the door swings shut behind them.

I unfold myself, make my way out of the stall and stare at my re­flection in the mirror. There’s a red spot in the middle of each cheek. Lunch gurgles unpleasantly in my stomach. Can I waltz into Writer’s Craft and carry on as if I didn’t hear anything? I’m not up for it. I can’t stay in the bathroom, though.

I emerge into an empty hallway, look left and right and then bolt to­ward the guidance office. Mrs. Croft, the secretary, looks surprised to see me. I haven’t visited in a while.

“Hey, Hannah, what’s up?” she says, sunny disposition in full force.

“I’m not sure.” I hesitate. “I think I need to sit for a sec.”

I perch on the nasty vinyl couch in front of the windows.

“Do you want me to see if Mrs. Palmer is available for a chat?” She picks up the phone to call the head counsellor before I’ve even had a chance to answer her.

“No.” I shake my head. “I’m okay. A little lightheaded. That’s all. Maybe I didn’t eat enough lunch.” I already regret coming in and sit­ting down. I have no intention of telling anyone what happened in the bathroom. “You know what? I think I’m fine.”

As I retrace my steps toward the door, I half expect Mrs. Croft to leap out of her seat and throw her arms around me. Mrs. Croft is the most sympathetic person I know. I could clock her in the nose, and she’d probably look concerned, wondering if I hurt my hand.

All weekend, I debate talking to my mother about what I heard in the bathroom. I’m so angry at her for making a fool of herself and dragging me down with her. Not that it’s possible to be dragged much lower, but she’s given Allison extra ammunition. What’s worse, I’m sure Allison’s not making any of this up. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that there weren’t any guy’s shoes in the front hall Friday morning. And there definitely wasn’t a mysterious car in front of the house when I ran for the bus. All of which lines up with Allison’s story.

Mom struck out on Thursday night, plain and simple. She unsuccess­fully hit on a twenty-three-year-old, who just happened to be Dallyn’s big brother. And since my universe is one notch below zombie apoca­lypse on the screwed up scale, Dallyn also happens to be Allison’s hunky boyfriend, the one who, along with his grenade-throwing girlfriend, made the last three months of my life so miserable.

Excellent pick, Mom.

I’m leery of telling her what she’s done, though. After all, I survived Friday afternoon. Nothing out of the ordinary happened in Writer’s Craft. There was no renewed interest in my existence. No whispers of “I hear your mom’s a pedo” following me around the room. Maybe Allison really is worried about getting caught spreading rumours. She did tell Marla not to blab.

Besides, if I tell Mom, she’ll feel awful. She’ll order me to start pack­ing my bags. I can’t face another move. The townhouse is starting to feel like home, and breaking the lease would cost money we can’t af­ford. Graduation is a mere two months away.

I can do this.

And so I don’t breathe a word of Allison’s story to my mother. She remains blissfully ignorant, while I, unfortunately, don’t.

Mom leaves for work at four on Sunday afternoon. With the house to myself at last, I lose myself in ritual. I eat dinner. I shower. I make lunch for the next day. All this requires is to wash, slice and wrap several celery sticks and to make sure there’s plenty of peanut butter left for dipping. Not much to it, but it’s comforting because I can see myself the next day, sitting with a book in my corner, safely dipping and crunching.

The next part of my ritual is the best part—discovering a new library call number. It’s what allows me to fall asleep at night. It keeps me safe in the knowledge that I’ll have a goal the next day at school—a book to find in the library, one that will allow me to escape from this world and enter a new one or, at the very least, teach me a new word.

In my room, I turn on some music and grab the dice shaker—the one that used to belong with the ancient backgammon set which now sits abandoned on the top of my bookshelf. Dice in hand, pen and a Post-it note ready, I begin.

On Friday, I took a book from the first row of stacks. I want a higher number this time, so I’ll roll two dice the first time. I shake and roll. A seven. I write the number down and use two dice for the second roll. Two fours. Using a single die for the third roll, I wind up with a one.

781.

That’s in the arts area. There are tons of books there. I can safely extend the call number by two more digits. Both times I roll a six.

781.66

I feel a familiar flutter of excitement for the thrill of the chase, which isn’t a chase at all, I guess. The books just sit there waiting to be found. Even so, it’s exciting. But fear settles in when I wonder what’ll happen if there aren’t any books matching that call number. The odds of that happening are slim to none, though. Our library is huge. There’s always a corresponding book for my call number, even if the book is some­times covered in dust with a faint musty basement smell. I squash the fear and stare at that Post-it note like it’s my salvation.

I imagine sitting there alone, reading, munching celery and mind­ing my own business. It’s comforting. Then the new kid intrudes. He shows up and ruins everything with his mysterious one-liners, not to mention his long legs and hazelish eyes.

I know you.

What did he mean? And how did he weasel his way into my day­dream?

No. The chances of him showing up again are minimal. We didn’t cross paths on Thursday or Friday. Maybe he went back to where he came from.

This is probably for the best.

For both of us.