Authors: Stacey Kade
Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult
Text copyright © 2010 by Stacey Kade
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
Printed in the United States of America
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file.
To Linnea Sinclair,
my mentor and my friend.
This truly would not have been possible
Thank you for believing in me.
t was easy enough to sneak out of school. I knew that from previous experience. This time, all I had to do was wait until Mrs. Higgins had led everyone onto the outdoor track and then slip behind the bleachers and walk down to the other opening in the chain-link fence.
Sneaking back in, though … that would be a bitch. But I’d just have to deal with that when I got back. Like always.
I shivered in the cool morning breeze. It was 7:00 a.m., or a little past, on the first day in May, and it wasn’t nearly warm enough to be out walking around in the stupid thin T-shirt and short shorts they made us wear for gym. At least on the track, the bleachers blocked the wind and the black cinders held some of the heat from the day before. Out here, I had nothing but anger to keep me toasty.
How could she do this to me again? Didn’t she get it? It was never going to happen. There would be no fairy-tale ending for her, not this time. And I was sick of all the stupid phone calls from him asking about her, and the thinly veiled questions about him from her.
I picked up the pace, heading toward the tennis courts. After a quick glance over my shoulder to make sure I’d cleared enough distance between me and the track, I opened my cell phone, which I’d kept hidden in my closed hand to avoid Mrs. Higgins’s wrath, and hit speed dial. Number one, of course.
The phone rang on the other end, and I pictured it flashing hopefully in the dark kitchen on the sticky granite counter. She wouldn’t answer. That would defeat the purpose, but she’d know it was me calling. She’d be clutching the upstairs cordless phone to her chest, checking the caller ID, hoping it was
and not me.
I hoped somebody would kill me before I ever became that desperate for someone’s attention. Seriously, it was pathetic. And she was ruining lives. Specifically, MY life. Now, not only would I have to lie again to Mrs. Higgins about why I’d dipped out on class—something I’m not opposed to in the right circumstance for the right reason, but this was neither—I’d also miss meeting up with Chris and Misty, my boyfriend and best friend, before classes officially started, which would require another lie. They only tolerated each other for my sake and would hate it if I wasn’t there to referee. Worse yet, it was Senior Celebration Day, and now Chris’s locker, unlike those of the rest of the senior athletes, would have to remain unadorned until lunch, when I’d have time again to decorate.
would care about any of that. She never cared about anyone but herself.
By the time the answering machine picked up, I was beyond pissed. I stomped past the tennis courts toward Henderson Street, waiting for the piercing beep. When it sounded, I shouted into the phone so she could hear me all the way upstairs in her nest of tangled bedsheets and crumpled-up tissues. “I know you can hear me, and I can’t believe you’re making me do this again. Don’t you have any pride? He called me,
, not you. Are you sensing a pattern here yet? My God, just get over it already and—”
A blast of hot air pressed against my skin, startling me into shutting up for a millisecond, and I realized I’d crossed the curb into the street without even noticing. In that moment, I heard the blare of the horn, smelled the reek of exhaust and burning tires, and witnessed the flat, bright orangey-yellow nose of a school bus approaching my face at an unstoppable speed.
God, buses are so ugly when you see them that close up.
ying should have been the worst moment in my life. I mean, hello, getting run over by a school bus full of band geeks while wearing the regulation gym uniform of red polyester short shorts and a practically see-through white T-shirt? It doesn’t get more tragic than that. Or, so I thought.
On Thursday, three days AD (after death … duh), I woke in the usual way—flat on my back and just to the left of the yellow lines on Henderson Street with the heat of a bus engine passing over my face.
It wasn’t “the” bus, obviously. The one that killed me was probably still being repaired or maybe decommissioned or whatever they do with vehicles that now have bad juju.
I coughed and sat up, waving the hot plumes of bus exhaust away. I know, weird, right? No lungs, no body, no breathing, but hey, whatever. I don’t make the rules, I just live here … sort of.
I got to my feet just in time for Ben Rogers’s Land Rover (his dad owns a dealership … lucky) to pass right through me. I flinched, but it didn’t hurt. These days, nothing did, but it was taking a while to get used to that. Ben, of course, didn’t notice a thing, just kept jabbering on the cell phone pressed to his ear. He couldn’t see me. Nobody could.
If I seem pretty calm about this whole being-dead thing, it’s only because I’ve had a few days to adjust. The first twenty-four hours? Definitely not among my best. Listen, if anyone ever tries to pull that whole “I had no idea I was dead until I turned around and saw my own gravestone” cliché on you, they’re lying.
First of all, headstones, as they’re properly called, take months. Especially special order Italian rose-marble ones with weeping angels on top. Second, if standing by your own crumpled and limp body on the street isn’t enough of a clue, try following it to the hospital and watching a hassled and tired-looking emergency-room doctor pronounce “you” dead, even as you’re shouting at him to listen to you, to please look at you. Then, how about when your dad finally arrives at that cold little room in the hospital basement, where the hospital people show him “you” on this grainy and horribly unflattering closed-circuit television?
I tried to talk to him. My dad, I mean. He couldn’t hear me. Nothing altogether new about that. Russ Dare only hears what he wants to hear—or so he always says. That’s what makes him such a good corporate negotiator … or a complete bastard if you listen to
people. But this time, he wasn’t ignoring me. I could tell—his eyes weren’t doing that squinchy annoyed thing at their corners. And then he started to cry.
My dad—the one who’d taught me that “show no emotion” is the first rule of getting what you want—stood in that tiny antiseptic-smelling room alone, his face gray under his golfing tan, and tears lighting up like silver streaks on his cheeks in the flickering fluorescent lights.
That’s when I knew. Even before he said, “That’s her,” in this choked-up whisper that was nothing like his normal booming voice. I was dead. Maybe not all of me—after all, some part of me was still here and watching everything happen. But it was definitely my body on that television screen, covered by a crisp white sheet, looking smaller and frailer than I’d ever seen myself, and my hair all tangled and snarled around my too-still face.
That had been the breaking point for my dad. Even as the hospital people had shoved forms at him to sign, he’d asked over and over again, “Someone will fix her hair? She doesn’t … it’s not like her to look like that. She would hate it.”
I drew in a deep breath (ironic, I know) and shook my head. None of that mattered now anyway. Sometime soon, very soon, a big bright light was going to shine in the distance and suck me in. Then I’d be living the life—or some imitation of it—of sunbathing on a white sand beach with NO sunscreen, nonvirgin mojitos, and an endless selection of shoe stores where everything was free. Hey, it was heaven, right? Before that happened, though, I wanted to see everything I could. A girl only dies once, you know?
I rounded the corner to the parking lot with a spring in my soundless step and realized that for the first time in my … well, for the first time ever, I couldn’t wait to get to school.
People always assume that being popular and pretty makes high school some big playground. Shows how stupid people can be. When you’re homecoming queen three years running, varsity cheerleader cocaptain, and first attendant on the prom court as a junior, there are certain responsibilities and expectations that must be met. The slightest variation—talking to the wrong person; wearing the same sweater that a geek, in a rare moment of fashion consciousness, wears as well; buying a burger instead of a salad—can tip you into obscurity or worse.
Case in point: Kimberly Shae. Kim had everything going for her—a rich family, flawless Asian features, and a metabolism that let her eat anything and still stay light enough to remain at the top of the cheerleading pyramid.
Like most of us in the inner circle, Kim got drunk, or pretended to, at all of Ben Rogers’s weekend woods parties. Except, this one time, Kim drank too much, or at least enough to forget one of the major popular girl tenets: drink enough to be silly and flirty, not enough to be stupid and horny. Someone with a camera phone caught her in the act with her longtime crush and our host, Ben Rogers, behind the school-spirit tree.
Yeah. All the guys would have killed to be in Ben’s place, and not a single girl at that party could honestly say that she hadn’t fantasized about doing the same thing. (Ben’s been considered the most eligible guy in our class since the third grade, and consequently, every girl dreamed of being the one to break him.) But getting caught? That’s a whole ’nother story.
Pictures circulated within hours, and as of Monday morning, Kim knew better than to sit with us in the caf. She relegated herself to one of the second-tier tables. Our cafeteria doubles as an auditorium, with a big stage at the front of the room, so there are steps and levels built right in. The closer you are to the orchestra pit—the smallest, most exclusive level—the more popular you are.
I’d worked hard pretty much my whole life to maintain my status at the pit table (a disgusting name, but not my idea, so whatever). You can’t just coast on your looks. My mother taught me that, in her own messed-up way. Maintaining the illusion of perfection, and being the envy of every other girl in school, took a lot of time and effort, but I gave it my all, and it was worth it.
I mean, take my funeral yesterday, for example. I’d never seen so many people from my school show up in one place. Outside of school, of course. (Thank God my mother had been too “distraught” to attend the graveside service.
Emotional outbursts would have been okay. Vomiting into the flower arrangements … not so much.) Anyway, someone had gotten organized and handed out black armbands with my name puffy-painted in pink on them. They brought flowers and candles and boxes of Kleenex. People I didn’t even really know—like that one chunky girl in pre-calc who always wore these ugly baggy sweaters like they made her look thinner … yeah, right—came and cried over my casket. Well, near it anyway.
I’d even heard talk of a permanent photo memorial of yours truly in the main hall, right next to the glass case of baseball and soccer trophies. (As a varsity cheerleader, I can assure you we suck at football, and if the trophy cases were any indication, we had sucked at it since about 1933.)
It sounds bad, but to be perfectly honest, I felt a little relieved to be dead. Not at first, of course. After I’d gotten over the shock of it, I’d been well and truly pissed for a while. Then again, spending the night in the morgue with your body does tend to make you a bit grumpy. All I could think about were all the things I’d be missing. No more hot fudge sundaes on the sly? No more
? Or anything else? I’d died a freaking virgin—that was so not the plan.
But then, the next morning, when I’d found myself transported to the center line on Henderson Street, the sun warm on my face, the roar of the buses overhead, I’d realized something else. All the things I
miss. Among them, I’d been dreading the thought of college next year. Starting over, building up followers again, and competing with other girls like me from surrounding schools … ugh, totally exhausting. Now I didn’t have to worry about it. My popularity was frozen forever at its peak. I felt like I’d crossed the finish line of a race that I hadn’t even known I was running. I’d died before I could ruin my life, and while that sort of tanked, in a way it was kind of great, too.
Anyway, after yesterday’s impressive display of mourning, I couldn’t wait to see what my friends would come up with next. Had my fellow cheerleaders, Ashleigh Hicks and Jennifer Meyer, had time to work on the candle-wax sculpture of my face that they’d discussed yesterday between hiccups and sobs?
I picked up my pace, eager to get to the building and take a look at the main hall before the bell rang and everyone started milling around. All those bodies passing through me—they couldn’t see me to avoid me, and I couldn’t dodge all of them—made me feel queasy.
The first sign of something wrong, though, appeared before I got even close to the main hall. Halfway through the parking lot, I caught Katee Goode, a wannabe popular sophomore (third tier in terms of caf tables), glancing around covertly before pulling off the black band around her left arm and letting it drift to the ground.
The fabric caught the brisk breeze and scuttled across the gravel, finally catching on the rough edge of a rock near my feet so I could read the words:
Alona Dare, Rest In Peace.
“Hey!” I called in outrage after Katee, but, of course, she didn’t even twitch at the sound of my nonexistent voice.
I crossed my arms over my chest. Fine. Let her be the one weirdo without the black armband. She’d never make the pit table at that rate.
Except as I watched Katee join her group of stupid little sophomore friends, I realized that none of them were wearing armbands anymore either. The cluster of band geeks (fourth tier, better than math geeks but not as good as science geeks because the science geeks could always be counted on to blow something up), just behind Katee’s group of friends, were also black armband–less.
My heart started pounding a little harder, and a cold film of sweat covered the back of my neck. For being dead, I certainly still “felt” a lot, and right now, that feeling was complete and utter horror.
I turned in a circle, just to be sure, the gravel strangely silent beneath my heels. But no … not a single person in view wore the symbol of mourning they’d all so proudly displayed yesterday. How could that be?
Ignoring the long-held instinct to remain calm and look bored, I bolted for the school entrance and the Circle.
Three wooden benches, donated by alumni, made a U shape around the flagpole out front, and this was the domain of my people. First tier, all the way. The popular crowd had lounged and lingered here for the better part of a decade, handing possession down to the next group of young hopefuls.
The benches were worn smooth by hundreds of perfect asses—like Ben Rogers’s—and the flagpole had borne silent witness to, like, hundreds of pre-first-hour hookups. All of it took place right in front of the office, too, because we could do that. We were “the good kids.” Let a burner try any of that, and you’d see detention slips flying. I’m not saying it’s fair, just that that’s the way it works. Everybody knows it.
I arrived at the Circle a little out of breath (yeah, I know, dead! Still …) and a lot closer to the bell ringing than I wanted to. It was harder than usual to get through the crowds of students ambling toward the building. I never realized how much I counted on people recognizing me and getting out of my way. Shame that was over.
As seniors, we finally rated seats on the benches, and my friends had taken their usual places. Ben Rogers was stretched out full-length on the bench closest to the parking lot, his group of would-be concubines encircling him. Seriously, all they were missing were the grapes to hand-feed him, and those big Egyptian fans.
No armband on Ben’s Abercrombie-covered arm, but then again, he hadn’t bothered to wear one yesterday either.
I wended my way through Ben’s future conquests to find Ashleigh and Jennifer, along with Leanne Whitaker, another senior varsity cheerleader, huddled near the flagpole and texting fashion critiques of the unwashed masses in Target jeans and no-name T’s to each other.
They were armband–less too.
Swallowing the urge to throw up, I turned in a quick circle, looking for the trademark glossy black hair that belonged to my BFF and cheerleading cocaptain, Misty Evans.
After an endless moment, when my heart would have stopped if, you know, it already hadn’t, I found her on the bench farthest from me, half hidden by Leanne and the others.
I could only see Misty’s left shoulder and the side of her head, her ponytail bobbing as she talked to whoever was next to her. That was enough, though, because at the top of her left arm, I caught a glimpse of familiar black fabric and pink lettering.
With a smile of relief, I started toward her, carefully avoiding Miles Stevens as he paced back and forth talking to Ben and Leanne (who refuse to speak to each other for reasons unknown to the rest of us), and then dodging Ashleigh and Jennifer, who decided to ditch Leanne and leap, giggling and squealing, on Jeff Parker’s lap, nearly crushing his guitar in their hurry to pretend to be his groupies.