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Aren’t Fridays supposed to be good?
This one started badly.
The note on my nightstand didn’t tell me anything useful. My eyelids wanted to stay closed; my favorite jeans were in the hamper; and there was no milk in the fridge.
Worst of all, my cell phone was dead: the shiny, candy red one that I’ll have until it falls into a gutter; the one that has the calendar and reminder bells and is essentially my portable, socially acceptable security blanket.
“You’ll be fine,” my mom said during the drive to school this morning.
“How do you know?” I asked. “I could have a huge math test today. There could be a school assembly that I won’t know about.”
“It’s just one day, London. You’ll be fine without your phone for one day.”
“Easy for you to say,” I muttered, looking out the window.
Now, right now, standing here, I have proof that my mom was wrong. I am not fine without my phone for one day.
Today is the day that I needed a new T-shirt for gym class. Had it not been dead, my phone, the phone my mom and I programmed together at the start of the year with important little reminders like this one, would have instructed me, in its tiny block lettering, to bring a shirt for Phys. Ed. today.
Therefore, today is the day I’m standing in gym shorts and my winter sweater, wondering what to do.
I can’t very well wear a sweater for basketball (which is what we’re playing, according to the board near the locker room door), so I ask Page if she has an extra top. We won’t ever really be friends, but she still responds overenthusiastically. “Sure, London, here you go. Forgot your clean shirt again, huh?”
I make a mental note to jot myself a real note later, while at the same time wondering why today’s note didn’t mention bringing a gym shirt.
Page interrupts my train of thought. She smiles and hands me a bright yellow oversized tee with a beaming cat on it that reads: HAVE A PURR-FECT DAY!
“Thanks, Page,” I grumble as I take the shirt from her and quickly put it on. It nearly covers the shorts—shorts!—that I’m already wearing. Why my locker contained shorts and not some other warmer, cuter piece of bottom-covering sportswear, I have no clue.
Note to self: add “bring pants” to note to self, too.
I feel like Page is watching me. I glance at her and, yep, she’s watching me. We exchange pleasant nods before I throw my street clothes into the locker, slam it, and head out to the gym.
As I walk, two thoughts run through my mind. First, I wonder whether Ms. Martinez will let me go to the nurse’s office for a Band-Aid to cover the painful heel blister that I can feel grating against my sneaker with every step. And, second, I can’t help but thank my lucky stars that only the twelve other hapless souls with first-period gym class will see me in this hideous ensemble.
Unfortunately for me, Ms. Martinez is a coldhearted woman.
“No,” she says, when I ask to go to the nurse’s office before the game begins.
“No?” I ask in disbelief.
“No,” she says again, black eyes daring me to argue. She holds her whistle at the ready.
I’m not stupid, so I don’t press the issue. Instead, I hobble back to the bench, join my teammates, and vow to play through the pain.
Then halfway through what I can only assume is the lowest-scoring basketball game in high school sports history, a noise ricochets through the echoing gym that all at once makes my arm hairs stand on end, my eardrums seize up, and my teeth chatter.
For a moment, I don’t know what’s going on.
Ms. Martinez waves her arms in the direction of the exit, and my classmates begin lazily walking toward the doorway.
That’s when I get it.
We are having a fire drill.
We, the students of Meridan High School, are going outside. All 956 of us. While I, London Lane, am sporting a bright yellow cat T-shirt that says HAVE A PURR-FECT DAY! and too-short shorts for the entire student body to enjoy.
Yep, it’s a good Friday indeed.
The gymnasium is close to an exit, so we’re among the first to make it to the safety of the faculty parking lot. Surrounded by the odd assortment of vehicles, from a station wagon here to a cherry red Porsche there, I watch apathetic students saunter out of the concrete block that is our high school, as if they’re impervious to fire.
Not that I believe there’s a fire.
My guess is that some moron pulled the alarm to be funny, not having the foresight to realize that he or she would then be forced to stand in the cold for an hour while waiting for the fire trucks to arrive and the firemen to clear the building and finally make the screeching alarm stop.
It’s windy, and I think I see snow flurries. With every gust, I pull myself tighter into a ball to try to stay warm.
It’s not working.
I yank my hair out of its messy knot at the nape of my neck, hoping it will act as a scarf. Immediately, the wind sets flight to my bright auburn locks, and I am both blinded and repeatedly face-whipped.
As the hordes of students gather, I hear whispers and chuckles, presumably about my outfit. I swear I hear the click of a camera phone, but by the time I peer through my wild mane, the photographer has hidden the evidence. Still, the trace of giggling from the inside of a tight circle of cheerleaders makes me nervous.
I stare at their backs until Alex Morgan whips her head of shiny black hair in my direction and locks eyes with me. She looks like she took time to apply an extra layer of jet-black eyeliner before evacuating the building.
Alex smirks at me and turns back to the huddle, and more giggles erupt from it.
At this moment, I wish for my best friend, Jamie. The girl has her faults, but she’ll never back down from a cheerleader’s slams.
Alone with my bare legs and purr-fect T-shirt, I hear bits and pieces of conversations about weekend plans, the “test we’re missing right now,” and “let’s just take off and drive to Reggie’s for breakfast, since we’re already out here.” I hug my arms to my torso even tighter, partially to shield myself from the weather and partially to obscure the cat.
“Nice T-shirt,” says a smooth male voice, with just a touch of mockery. Using my left hand as a makeshift ponytail holder, I grab all the hair I can catch and turn in the direction of the voice.
And then time stops.
I see the smile first. There is an unmistakable sweetness peeking through the teasing. My armor begins to crumble before I’ve made my way up to the eyes; what’s left of it melts away at the sight of them. Sparkling pale cornflower blue with darker flecks, surrounded by eyelashes any girl would envy.
Looking at me.
Right at me.
Even more than his mouth, his eyes are smiling.
If there was something near me—a piece of furniture, even a nonhostile person—I might reach out and physically steady myself because I feel off balance in his presence. In a good way.
And then it’s all gone. The shirt, the phone, basketball, Alex Morgan.
There’s nothing but the boy before me.
He looks like he belongs in either Hollywood or heaven. I could stare at him all day.
“Thanks,” I say after who knows how long. I force myself to blink. His face looks familiar somehow, but only in the way that I want it to.