The bell rang and I stood, gathering up my notebook and pen as the teacher called out a last minute assignment.
“Excuse you,” Madison said as she nudged me out of the way more forcefully than necessary. After her Genny did the same thing, knocking my notebook to the floor.
“Oops, sorry,” Genny said in a sing-song voice as she flicked her long red hair over her shoulder.
“You know, you really should be more careful, Alissa.” Madison stood with one hand on the size zero waist of her cheerleading uniform. They giggled together as they walked away.
“You okay?” Nick asked as he bent and picked up my notebook.
I nodded, taking the notebook when he held it out to me. “Honestly, I barely hear them anymore.”
“Good for you.” He grinned and I felt a swell of gratitude that we’d become friends again.
Nick Pathos had pretty much been my only friend since starting senior year last month. He’d lived around the corner from me our whole lives, so we played together when we were little. Anything resembling friendship had ended at the end-of-year camping trip in eighth grade. I led him away from the campfire on a dare and suggested we skinny dip in the lake. As soon as he was naked, Madison and Genny darted from the woods and took his clothes.
We ran laughing back to the campfire, waiting to see what he would do. Almost a half hour later, a pudgy, sobbing form streaked past the group. He wasn’t fast enough to escape notice. That night solidified my friendship with Madison and Genny. I started high school as one of the cool kids. Nick had not. We’d barely spoken again until after I’d come out and lost all my old, cool friends. Since middle school he’d turned into a good-looking guy with his absent father’s caramel complexion and his mother’s wide, dark eyes.
“I wish I’d started ignoring them sooner.” We stepped out of the classroom and turned toward my locker.
“Me too.” He laughed. “Got any big plans this weekend?”
“I’m going to Hannah’s tonight, and we’ll hang out this weekend.”
“Cool,” Nick said, but I could sense disappointment.
“Maybe we can catch up Sunday?”
He grinned again. “Yeah, sounds great. I’ll text you.”
“Are you hitting on my girlfriend again?” Hannah was leaning against my locker. She wore a salmon colored sweater that hung off her shoulder to reveal a hint of smooth dark skin, and skinny jeans tucked into boots. Standing beside her in my navy and white striped hoodie and Converse I wondered for the five hundredth time what she saw in me.
“Ha ha.” Nick backed away. “I’ll catch you later.” He nodded to me and disappeared into the crowd of students thronging toward lunch.
“Hey.” Hannah reached over and tugged at my hoodie pocket. “Can I steal you for lunch?”
I reached up to corral my unruly mass of blond waves, twisting it into a quick bun. “Sure, but we have to be back for next period this time.”
She rolled her eyes. “One time we’re late.”
I dumped books into my locker. “One time?”
“One time this week?” She leaned in, tilting her head and smiling. I pressed my lips to hers, enjoying the tart scent of her tangerine lip gloss. I ran my hand through her straightened black hair. She pulled back, smiling at me.
“Come on.” Hannah took my hand and dragged me down the hall. We shoved through the doors into a sunny October afternoon. A scattering of orange and red leaves covered the lawn in front of the school, most of the trees just starting to drop leaves in earnest.
We kicked through the leaves and darted across the parking lot to Hannah’s blue Mini Cooper. Five minutes later, we’d picked up drive-through burgers and fries and set up a picnic near the creek that ran through the center of town. The sun tried to warm our shoulders, but the autumn breeze overpowered it.
“I’m going to miss this.” I popped a fry in my mouth.
“What?” Hannah dipped a fry into her chocolate milkshake. She held it out to me. I bit it, running my lips over her fingers, tasting the salt there.
I smiled and wiped my mouth. “This.” I lay back on the dying grass. “Summer was perfect.”
“It kind of was.” She set the remainder of her milkshake aside and lay on her stomach beside me. I tucked one arm under her and rested my hand on her hip.
“I don’t know how I would make it through one more year here without you,” I said.
She laughed. “Well, you wouldn’t have come out, so it would just be more of you pretending to like boys and doing whatever Madison told you.”
“Hey.” I tickled her side and she squirmed, which only brought her closer. “I didn’t do everything she told me.”
“Please.” Hannah gave me a skeptical look. “She ran your life.”
I sighed and nodded. “Yeah, and it was killing me. I can’t believe how dumb I was.” I covered my eyes with my other arm. My mind briefly darted to Lana Meyers. She’d been the biggest casualty in my desperate attempt to remain in the cool kids’ circle and firmly in the closet. Maybe if I’d taken a chance for her things might have ended differently. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t have met Hannah.
I felt Hannah shift beside me and smelled tangerine a moment before she kissed me. I still couldn’t get used to the feel of it, different than kissing anyone else. When Hannah kissed me, the world seemed to slip away. I didn’t think about what my parents thought about us, or kids at school, or strangers for that matter. With her all that mattered was us. We could get through it all as long as we were together.
I pulled Hannah, tugging her on top of me. I loved the feel of her body pressed against me. She pulled away too soon, sitting up and straddling me. She took my hands in hers and smiled down at me.
“What?” I asked. With her hair falling over one shoulder and sun beaming down on her, she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.
“I was just thinking how much more fun this could be if we didn’t have to get back to class.” She leaned down and gave me a quick peck on the nose before climbing off me, laughing.
I groaned and rolled over to push myself up. We gathered our trash and headed for the car. We rode back to school without talking, hands twisted together between the seats as some new band she had fallen in love with blared through the speakers and out the open windows. I leaned my head back against the seat and closed my eyes, trying to memorize every scent, sound, and feeling of the moment so it could last forever.
Eighteen Months Ago
“So you just twist this knob here until it comes into focus.” Lana pressed her eye to the microscope.
I watched, paying more attention to the way her hair fell around her face and the nimble movements of her fingers than what she said about the microscope. This was probably why we’d been doing these tutoring sessions for almost a month with barely any improvement to my grades. Neither of us had been happy with the arrangement at first, but that changed.
I flushed, thinking about our first kiss. It had been an awkward kiss, full of need and excitement. I’d never expected to kiss her. She was Lana Meyers. Her clothes came from thrift stores or Hot Topic. Her eyes were rimmed with too much makeup and her nail polish was always chipped. She hated the popular kids and I was one of them. But once it was just the two of us, we started opening up to each other. I found myself noticing how pretty she was.
Smart too. She didn’t look up from the microscope as she continued explaining something about the cells she was looking at. I was useless when it came to science, but all of it seemed to come naturally to her. Absently, she pushed her dark brown hair behind her ear. I grinned when the chunk of red hair at the front fell forward again. I reached out and brushed it back. I trailed my fingers down her neck, tickling her warm skin.
Lana pulled away from the microscope. “Alissa, are you listening to a word I’m saying?”
“I’m sorry.” I leaned forward, resting one hand on her upper thigh and squeezing gently. “I can’t help it if my mind’s on other things.”
Lana raised an eyebrow and glanced toward the classroom door. It was closed. I had an hour to kill before leaving for a basketball game with the rest of the cheerleaders, so we were practically alone in the school. With the afternoon sunlight still strong, we hadn’t bothered to turn on the overhead lights and our back corner of the science room was enticingly shadowed.
“You do remember we’re in school, right?” Lana reached forward and gently tugged a piece of my long blond hair. It sent a shiver through me.
“No one’s around.” I scooted my stool closer and moved my hand to her stomach. I could feel it tense through the thin fabric of her shirt. “We could just take a little study break.”
Lana pulled my hand away, setting it on my leg. “Never in school, remember? Your rules, not mine.”
“Stupid rules.” I brushed aside her hair and leaned over to kiss her neck. She let out a small gasp and I smiled. “Want me to stop?” My lips brushed her throat and she lifted a hand to pull me close again. Her fingers brushed the skin between my cheerleading top and skirt. The scent of her cherry shampoo filled my senses, outweighing the industrial cleaner smell in the room.
My hand returned to her stomach, sliding under her skull printed top and brushing the underside of her bra. She pushed my hand back down and I smiled as she turned to kiss me. Her lips were chapped against mine and I reminded myself to make sure I didn’t leave for the basketball game with her dark lipstick on my lips.
She broke the kiss with a smile and I rested my forehead against hers. Her breath was warm on my skin. “Why did you stop?” I asked.
“Because I don’t want to ruin this by getting caught.” She turned back to the microscope.
I caught her hand and lifted it to my lips, kissing her knuckles. “Let them catch us,” I said brazenly. Briefly, I imagined a world where Lana and I walked down the hall holding hands and went to prom together. Not that she would go to prom.
She laughed and shook her head. “I wish you meant that.”
I tugged on her hand, pulling her closer. “Maybe it’s time we told people.”
She shook her head. “Don’t tease.”
“I’m not.” I shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe no one would care.”
She shook her head. “They would care.”
I leaned toward her again. “Maybe I wouldn’t care.”
She half smiled, wrapped one hand behind my neck and pulled my lips to hers. I let out a muffled gasp of surprise and balanced myself on her thigh, feeling its warmth through her jeans. In that moment I really didn’t care if anyone found us.
“Oh, my God.”
Those three words changed everything.
I pushed Lana away, wiping furiously at my lips. Her eyes were wide, mirroring my own shocked expression. Somehow I’d always imagined a smug smile on her face if we were ever caught. I turned to see Genny Warner standing in the now open doorway. Her usually vivid red hair was dull in the dim light.
“Oh, my God,” she repeated. “Was she kissing you, Alissa?” Her nose wrinkled at the words.
“What?” Madison Chan stepped up beside her. “Wow, so gross.”
I stood, almost knocking over the stool in my hurry to put distance between Lana and me. “What the hell?” I glared at Lana. It was the only way I could think to salvage the situation. “I don’t know what you were thinking, but I’m not a lesbian, okay?”
Hurt flashed across Lana’s face, but only I knew her well enough to recognize it. A second later, her usual mask of anger and disinterest fell into place.
“Could have fooled me.” She shrugged and began to gather up her notebook and pencils. “Sorry, I thought I was getting vibes.”
“Ew, that’s so disgusting.” Genny stalked across the room, arms crossed. Madison followed right on her heels. “Who knew crazy Lana was also a big dyke?” Genny looked at me. “How do you attract these people? First Nick and now Lana? Gross.”
“Screw you, Genny.” Lana tried to push past them. Madison and Genny formed a wall though, unwilling to let her through until they were done.
“I’m sorry, isn’t it clear that we’re not into the idea of screwing you?” Madison tilted her head. “Alissa, come here.”
I walked to her side, feeling like a jerk, but unsure what else to do. Lana glared daggers from under the same piece of red hair I’d tucked behind her ear moments before. I could still feel her lips on mine and I knew I should just admit that I’d wanted to kiss her. I couldn’t though. My world would unravel. Besides, just because I liked kissing her didn’t mean I wanted to date her or anything. At least that’s what I told myself.
“Tell her she’s disgusting,” Genny said.
“You’re disgusting.” I tried to make it sound true. I didn’t know how Genny and Madison missed the pained look in Lana’s eyes.
“We don’t want to see you near her again. And you can bet we’re going to tell everyone what sort of creepy lesbian stalker you are,” Madison said.
“Seriously, you just about mouth raped her.” Genny shivered with exaggerated fear.
“Whatever.” Lana shook her head and pushed through us, using me as the weak link in the wall. Her body pressed past me and I knew I would miss the feeling of it against mine.
“We said don’t touch her.” Madison grabbed Lana by the arm. It was almost funny to see. Madison was a head shorter than Lana was. Still, she managed to look fierce as she narrowed her eyes. “Are we going to have a problem with you?”
Lana yanked her arm free. A self-satisfied grin spread over her face. “Problem? Nah, no problem. Have fun cheering for the big manly basketball players. Alissa?” I looked up at the sound of my name. “I’ll see you around.”
She walked out of the classroom before Genny or Madison could say anything else. My face burned.
“God, the friggin’ nerve of that girl.” Madison pushed her pin straight black hair over her shoulder. She reached out and rubbed my arm. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I nodded. It was a lie. I was more shaken than I’d ever been. I’d managed to keep my secret, but Lana would be in for it when the rest of the school heard what happened. “Let’s catch the bus.”
“No way.” Madison shook her head. “We should tell the principal. She can’t just go around kissing whoever she wants.”
“No, really,” I said. “That’s dumb. If it was some guy kissing me, I’d never tell the principal.”
“But it wasn’t.” Genny’s eyes gleamed with the idea of the trouble Lana would be in. When she and Madison got together, there was no stopping them. “She needs to know she can’t just shove her freaky lifestyle on anyone.”
In the end, I let them lead me to the principal’s office. I didn’t think anything would come of it. I figured Mrs. Wagner would blow it off. Maybe if I’d gone alone she would have, but Madison and Genny were Walnut Grove royalty. Their parents belonged to the country club with Mrs. Wagner and if they said something needed to be done, something would be done.
“What if your parents come home?” I asked as Hannah led me into her room.
“They won’t.” Hannah rolled her eyes. “They’re at the club for some fundraiser. They won’t leave there until they’ve gotten their money’s worth in food and wine. Besides, I want you to hear this album.”
I smiled and sank down on the floor, leaning back against her bed. Hannah pulled a record out of its sleeve and started it up. I hadn’t even known you could still buy records before meeting her, but she swore up and down that the music sounded better. I bobbed my head to the music as she sat beside me.
“We could have sat on the bed.” She smirked, raising an eyebrow.
I shrugged. “I’m too scared of your parents.”
“Oh, stop.” She leaned forward, hugging her knees. Neither of our parents had been too pleased about our relationship, but Hannah’s parents seemed to particularly dislike me. “I hate when you say things like that.”
“Hey.” I reached out and ran the back of my fingers down her bare arm. “I was just kidding.” We never got to be alone in either of our rooms and I didn’t want to ruin the evening.
She nodded, still not looking at me. “Can we talk about something?”
I bit the inside of my cheek, worry spiking through me. “Um, yeah?”
Hannah took a deep breath. “So, I heard that you knew that girl who went missing last year. Lana?”
I blinked in surprise. Hannah turned to look at me, biting her lip when her eyes met mine. That was what kept me from lying. It was obvious she’d heard something that didn’t sit well with her. I could see it in her wide, dark eyes.
“Yeah. I mean, we all knew her.” I smiled, hoping maybe I was wrong and we could end the conversation. “It’s a small town. It’s hard not to know someone.”
Hannah frowned and pushed a strand of straightened black hair behind her ear. “But, I mean, did you two ever hang out or anything?”
Did we hang out? What did she want me to say? That we hung out for a while, hooked up in secret, then I let everyone in school make her life miserable? Oh, and she didn’t just disappear, she turned up dead.
I sighed and turned to face her. She did the same. “What’s this about?” I asked.
“People talk is all.” She shrugged, playing absently with a loose string on her jeans. “I just wanted to know what was true.”
I reached out and took her hand, twining my pale fingers through hers. Her skin was always so warm. Holding her hand was like touching a small piece of summer. I studied our hands as I spoke, unwilling to look her in the eyes and lie to her.
“Sophomore year we got paired together in bio because I was pretty much failing miserably. Lana wasn’t exactly the sort of student who handed in homework and never missed a class, but she was always a wiz in science. Since her test grades were so good, the teacher promised she would drop one missing homework assignment for each tutoring session she spent with me. I was just hoping to bring my average up to passing.” I paused, not sure if I could really follow through with what I was about to say.
“Go on.” Hannah squeezed my hand and I looked up to see an encouraging smile. God, she was so beautiful and she thought I was this great person. How could I possibly tell her the truth about how awful I’d been?
“We ended up getting along pretty well.” We’d actually had a lot of fun. I looked around the room, unwilling to meet Hannah’s eyes. Her room was twice the size of mine with three times the amount of clothing strewn about. Posters hung randomly on the walls for bands I’d never heard of before meeting her. “I guess she saw something in me that I wasn’t ready to admit to myself yet because one day she kissed me. We were in the bio classroom and Madison and Genny walked in on us.”
“So it was just that one kiss?”
“Yeah.” I laughed nervously. “Why?”
“Because right after we met you told me you had secretly dated someone.” Hannah pulled her hand from mine, wiping her palm over her jeans. I realized my hands were sweating. “And then I heard that you and Lana had a secret romance going on and you turned on her, instead of admitting it. Are you telling me you’ve had two secret romances?”
I sat slack jawed, wondering how she could have heard that. No one knew about Lana and me. But was that true? I didn’t know if she’d told friends. Maybe now that I was out and dating Hannah one of them had decided to get revenge by telling Hannah what a jerk I’d been.
“No, I mean, yeah, I was talking about her when I told you that, but it wasn’t quite like that.” I was still unsure what I wanted to admit.
Hannah turned to face me, sitting straight and cocking her head to stare at me. Her eyes were hard when she spoke. “How exactly was it? And please don’t lie to me.”
I bit my lip and slouched against the bed. “We weren’t ever a couple or anything. We were just messing around.”
“But you had kissed before?”
“Yeah.” I winced, ashamed to think about how I’d let Lana take the fall for me. “But I couldn’t let anyone know that. I was scared.”
“So you could hook up with her, but when people found out you just threw her under the bus? That’s completely messed up.” Hannah hugged her knees again, using them like a barrier between us.
“I didn’t throw her under the bus,” I said even though that was exactly what I’d done. “I just wasn’t ready to come out then. I didn’t want to be a lesbian, and I definitely didn’t want to be the girl dating crazy Lana Meyers. You know what it was like when I told my friends about you and me. It would have been ten times worse with her.” I shook my head. “Besides, you didn’t know Lana.”
“What? She wasn’t popular?” Hannah rolled her eyes. “Of course that was all that mattered.”
“No, not that. I mean, she wasn’t popular, but she also wasn’t someone I could see myself actually dating. She blew up on me after that day in the bio room. She was almost scary.” I tried to remember the exact details of the last time I was alone with Lana. “She blamed me for her parents wanting to send her to some reprogramming camp for gay kids.”
“Well, you did sort of force her out,” Hannah said. “If you’d done that to me I’d be mad too.”
“Not like she was. She shoved me. Lana had a temper.”
Hannah nodded. “Anyone would in her situation.”
I sighed and nodded. “I guess. So yeah, I wasn’t into her in a relationship way.” But was that the entire truth? There had been times when I’d imagined us as more. “And yeah, my friends would have freaked out.”
“Maybe you would have gotten better friends if you’d just been honest with yourself. I’m sorry, but it kills me that you still act like you did something to offend Madison and Genny. They need to get with this century.”
“You don’t think I know that?” Tears pricked at the back of my eyes as I thought about Lana. I’d acted like an idiot thinking she could handle the backlash for both of us. It had been a selfish and cowardly thing to do. “Last year was hell. I spent the whole year wondering where Lana was and trying desperately to be something I wasn’t. It was exhausting.”
“You did that to yourself though.” Hannah shook her head and hugged her knees tighter. “You should have been honest, forced them to see you for you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Says the girl whose parents pretty much pretend I don’t exist.”
Hannah bristled. “They’re coming around. Mom just asked the other day if you wanted to help us hand out Halloween candy. Besides, my parents flipping out is so not the same as Madison and Genny. Those two were supposed to be your best friends and they dropped you like a bad signal. It isn’t like you try very hard with my parents anyway.”
“Because they hate me.” I bit my lip. “Your dad looks at me like I’m defiling his little girl.”
Hannah smirked. “Well, you kind of are.”
I glared. “Not the point, and not funny. Don’t act like I’m the only one who cares what people think. You tense up every time your parents enter the room with us and half the time you drop my hand.”
“I do not.” Hannah glared at me. “Why are you attacking me? I just wanted to know the truth about you and that girl.”
“And you basically attacked me. You act like I’m horrible because I worried about what my friends thought of me. Newsflash, we all worry about that.” I shook my head. ”Whatever, this isn’t getting us anywhere.” I stood to leave. My face burned and I could feel tears stinging behind my eyes because I knew she was right. Everyone I’d been friends with since eighth grade had bailed on me as soon as I told them about Hannah and me. That hurt more than I would ever admit.
Hannah caught my arm. “Where are you going? I didn’t mean to fight. It just hurt to hear that you could be so mean. Then you bring up my parents. And it sucks that you tried to lie to me about what really happened with Lana.”
“Yeah, well maybe it sucks for me to remember how crappy I was to a girl who’s dead now. Did you ever think of that? She died and I couldn’t talk to anyone about how much that hurt.” I pulled my sweatshirt on.
“So why don’t you talk to me about it then instead of getting all pissed off?” Hannah scrambled to her feet.
“Because it’s over.” I turned to the door. “I just want to forget about it. Don’t you get that?”
“Honestly? No.” Hannah stood. “What if it had been me back then?” She followed me out the door and across the landing. “Would you have thrown me under the bus?”
“Seriously?” I stopped halfway down the curving stairs and turned back to her. “I came out for you. They caught us kissing and I told them the truth. Why are you even asking that?”
“Because the idea of losing you scares the crap out of me.” Hannah started down the stairs.
“So trust me when I say it isn’t going to happen.” I turned and started down the stairs again, speaking over my shoulder. “I don’t care what Madison or Genny think anymore. Honestly, the fact that you think I still do is insulting.”
“I’m sorry I can’t be honest with you about how I feel.”
I stopped and turned. “Did you just invite me over here to start a fight? Because this all seems pretty stupid to me.” I stood with my hand on the front door handle.
Hannah stood on the bottom stair, shifting from foot to foot. Overhead, a chandelier that might well have been real crystal sparkled down on us. “I just didn’t like hearing about you acting like Madison and Genny,” Hannah said softly. “I hate girls like that.”
“Well, I was one of those girls. And then I met you and things changed. I’m not like that anymore.” I opened the door. The early October air felt good against my warm skin. All of a sudden, I couldn’t get out of the house fast enough. “But if my history with them makes you nervous, maybe this isn’t going to work.”
“Alissa.” Hannah rolled her eyes. “I never said that. You’re totally overreacting.”
“Whatever.” I shook my head. “Let’s just talk tomorrow.”
I stepped outside and closed the door. The next day, she was gone.
I leaned against my locker and checked my phone for texts.
Nothing. No word from Hannah.
I stared at the background of my phone, a picture of us, but mostly her. It had been five days since I ran my fingers through her soft hair or across the tight skin on her stomach. Five days since we’d had a stupid argument that I’d expected we would both be over by the next morning. I lifted my head and let it fall back against the cool metal of the lockers with a soft bang. In the picture she had one arm around my neck, trying to tug me into the picture and laughing like crazy.
God, I missed her.
I shut my locker, jumping when I saw Nick standing there. “Jesus, you scared the hell out of me.” I thrust the books I was holding at him so I could pull back my hair. The blond waves fell halfway down my back and sometimes I just couldn’t handle having them in my way.
“Sorry.” Nick laughed. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I thought you would see me.”
“I’m not even here.” I took my books back and turned to lean against the lockers again. “I can’t even think straight.”
“Still no sign of Hannah?” Nick leaned against the lockers next to me, facing me and crossing his arms. His eyebrows knit together over dark eyes that hinted at his mother’s Filipino roots.
“No. Her parents are freaking out too. They weren’t exactly gung ho about us being together and now they keep acting like I know where she is.”
“Sucks.” Nick shook his head, then tugged up his baseball cap to scratch at his short hair. “Where do you think she went?”
I sighed and pushed away from my locker to head toward class. Nick followed. “I don’t know. She has plenty of friends back in Chicago, so maybe there? The cops and her parents have called everyone though. She’s officially a missing person.” I tamped down the fear those words brought to my chest. “I just wish she would call me.”
Someone bumped into me hard enough to make it clear it wasn’t an accident. I looked over my shoulder to see Genny and Madison.
“Nice outfit, lesbo.” Madison sneered.
Back when we’d been friends, I’d done my best to keep my clothes up to her standards. Everything had to be from the right stores, jeans had to fit a certain way, absolutely no sweatshirts. Now, I wore what I wanted, basically living in a few worn pairs of jeans, graphic T-shirts, and thin hoodies. With Hannah by my side I never worried about what Madison thought of me. Without her, the words stung.
“Ouch, that one was good. You been thinking about that since last period?” Nick asked, walking backward with his thumbs hooked in the straps of his backpack. Genny flipped him off and he turned around laughing. “What a bitch.”
“I deserve it.” I shook my head, knowing Hannah wouldn’t agree with me. But then I thought of Lana. She’d been on my mind a lot since Hannah disappeared. Despite my feelings for Lana, I’d helped Madison and Genny make her life hell so it was only fair they did the same to me.
“Those two just think they’re better than everyone because they’re club kids. They crap the same as all of us even if it is in the country club toilet.”
I shook my head, unable to stop a grin. Neither of us had parents who could afford the outrageously expensive country club membership. I’d lost my pass to the world of country clubs and McMansions three months ago when Hannah and I made things official. There was no room in that world for a token lesbian. At least not in our high school. We turned into Psychology, taking our seats at the back of the room with a couple of Nick’s friends.
Focusing on Mr. Bradson’s lecture wasn’t happening. He had this way of beating an idea to death that could make anyone’s eyes glaze over. My attention drifted toward Nick. He was playing tic-tac-toe with one of his friends.
“Alissa?” Mr. Bradson brought me back to the moment.
I sat up straighter, realizing I’d been almost asleep. “Huh?” Laughter tittered through the class.
Mr. Bradson glared. “Do you have any idea what we’re talking about?”
I wracked my brain, but finally had to shake my head. “No, sorry.”
“Please try to stay focused.” He continued the lecture and I did my best to pay attention.
Instead, my mind drifted to Hannah. It had been a week since she went missing. Aside from her parents and me, no one seemed too concerned about it. I wondered at how easy it was for people to forget that less than two years ago another girl had disappeared, never to be found.
I slouched in my chair, hoping Mr. Bradson had harassed me enough and I could let my mind slide to other things.
Six Months Ago
I almost groaned, recognizing Madison’s ex, Tommy, calling to her. I should have known we couldn’t be at Zeke’s party without running into him. There had been a few glorious months when Madison refused to talk to him, but now they were on friendly terms again.
She turned, a smile lighting up her face as she spotted him pushing his way through crowd. Zeke’s parents were out of town, and kids overflowed from the house into the yard. We’d spent the last twenty minutes hovering around the beer pong table as Madison’s boy of the moment, Wyatt, got his ass handed to him. He and Genny were edging past drunk and into hammered and the night was still young.
“Who’s this?” Madison took the words right out of my mouth as Tommy stopped in front of us with the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. Her dark skin was smooth and flawless, and curly, black hair hung to her shoulders. She tugged her hand free of his.
“Hannah Desarno.” She reached out to shake our hands. When she smiled, her eyes lit up. My stomach flipped in a way it hadn’t since I’d been with Lana.
“Alissa Reeves,” I said, beating Madison to her hand. It was soft and warm around mine. I never wanted to let go.
Hannah shook her hand as well, but her eyes lingered on mine. A tingle surged through me. I wished that look meant what I wanted it to mean, but somehow I doubted it. Besides, what would I do if it did mean she was interested?
“Hannah just moved here from Chicago. Her dad works with my dad at the hospital,” Tommy said proudly. “I’ve been showing her around.”
“Really?” Madison sized Hannah up. “How come we haven’t seen you in school?”
“I start Monday,” Hannah said. Her gaze drifted to me again. “I’m glad I’ll know a couple people going in.”
“Maybe.” Madison shrugged, turning to glance at Wyatt. He had his arm around Genny’s shoulders and they were laughing as they held each other up. Madison hurried around the table to put herself between them.
“Don’t worry about Madison, she can be a bitch.” Tommy put an arm across Hannah’s shoulders. “You’ll know me.”
“Awesome.” Hannah shrugged his arm off her shoulders.
I smirked, watching Madison light into Wyatt. He took it like a champ, dropping his head and nodding in somber regret. A tentative hand touched mine and I jumped at the contact. Hannah pulled her hand away, smiling softly.
“Help me find a drink?” she asked.
“Sure.” I smiled far too eagerly. The touch had set my heart racing in anticipation of more. I really needed to chill out.
“Thanks for finding me some girls to hang out with.” Hannah dismissed Tommy as she linked her arm through mine and we slipped away into the crowd.
For the first time in a long time, I didn’t care what anyone thought. I wasn’t worried that Madison would be pissed at me for leaving her with a drunk Wyatt and Genny, or that people would talk about me walking with my arm through Hannah’s. All I was thinking about was how good the press of her arm to mine felt, how easily her hand slipped into mine as we squeezed through a tight circle of people around the drinks.
Hannah and I filled red plastic cups with Zeke’s famous lemonade. One cup of it already had my head buzzing. We shoved our way free of the throng around the drinks and found an empty bit of space to call our own in the library. We slipped into the dark room. I fumbled along the wall until I found the light switch.
“I can’t believe there is a library in the house.” Hannah took a sip of the lemonade before running her fingers across the spines of the books. “You think they read all these books?”
“No way.” I sank into a wide arm chair. “Zeke’s parents aren’t really the literary type. They just like to look the part of rich and sophisticated.”
Hannah laughed. I smiled, wanting to make her laugh again just to hear it. Outside the library, music throbbed like the heartbeat of the house. The thick oak doors to the library kept the music, laughter, and shouting to a dull roar.
“Think we will get in trouble for being in here?” Hannah turned back to the door.
“Do you want to go?” I asked, hoping she wouldn’t say yes.
“No.” Hannah glanced back at me, smiling. I took another sip of my drink, trying to hide my smile. “I was just thinking maybe we shouldn’t be found in here.” She took two steps and flicked off the light, plunging the room into darkness.
I let out a surprised squeak. For a moment, I was blind, but my eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness enough to see her working her way back to me. Big windows lined the wall behind my chair, but they overlooked the woods so the only light that worked its way in was from the moon. For half a second, I thought Hannah was going to sit in the chair with me, but she passed me to look out the window.
“So, are these kids pretty cool?”
I stood up and went to join her at the window. Together we watched a mass of kids on the lawn that sloped down from the house. Hannah leaned forward and blew a hot puff of air on the window, fogging it so she could draw a smiley face with her finger.
“They think they are.” I was surprised at the honesty of my answer.
Hannah smirked. “Tommy’s pretty much a giant tool, isn’t he?”
I let out a sigh of relief. “Thank God you noticed. Everyone else thinks he’s perfect.”
“Right?” I grinned. Hannah grinned back, her eyes lit by the moonlight. I shook my head, looking away before I wanted to. “Anyway, most of them are okay.”
Hannah sank down to sit on the wide windowsill. “Well, you seem pretty cool.”
I laughed. “You don’t even know me.”
“I will after tonight.” Hannah’s eyes dared me to argue. I swallowed hard and hesitated a moment before sitting beside her. I sat closer than I needed to. She turned toward me, the side of her knee pressing to mine. “Tell me a secret.” She lifted her cup to her mouth, raising her eyebrows at me as she drank.
“What?” I laughed nervously, all too aware of the feel of her jean-clad knee against my bare knee. “What kind of secret?” I took a long chug of the lemonade for bravery.
“Something you’ve never told anyone.”
I thought a moment before answering. “I hate monkeys.”
“No way.” Hannah laughed. “No one hates monkeys.”
I grinned, shrugging. “They weird me out. They’re kind of human but mostly not.”
“Okay, officially strange.” Hannah took another sip of her drink, wiping her mouth. “I used to pretend I was one of Will and Jada Smith’s kids.”
“Really?” I couldn’t hide my grin.
“Oh yeah, I would talk to them like imaginary friends.”
“My imaginary friend was named Friendbert.” I barely remembered it until the words were out of my mouth.
“I hid my vegetables under my potatoes to get out of eating them.”
“I threw away all the frozen vegetables one day.” I laughed, getting into the rhythm of sharing secrets with her.
“I don’t like chocolate.”
“And you said I was weird for hating monkeys!”
“It doesn’t do it for me.” Hannah grinned. “Your turn.”
“Um, I used to hide my dad’s car keys so he wouldn’t be able to go anywhere and we could stay home all day. It pretty much never worked.”
“I was kicked out of kindergarten for refusing to nap.” Hannah laughed, leaning her shoulder into mine.
“I stole the hamster from my first grade classroom.” I grinned at the memory, taking a sip of lemonade. It was going right to my head.
“I was hamster kryptonite as I child. They didn’t last more than a month in my house for some reason.” Hannah shook her head and finished her drink. She frowned and looked at the empty cup. “All gone.”
“We can go get more.” I could use it.
“Or you could give me some of yours.” She raised an eyebrow.
“No way.” I grinned, standing and holding the cup up out of reach.
“Going to make me chase you?” She stood.
I backed away from the window as she advanced. My butt hit the wide desk and I let out a yelp of surprise before giggling. I really didn’t need any more to drink, I already wasn’t thinking clearly.
“No where to go now.” Hannah was close enough that only a few inches separated us.
She reached for my cup and I lifted it higher out of reach, enjoying the game. She grinned wickedly at me and closed the space between us, her body pressing against me as she pulled the cup from my loose hand and took a victorious sip without stepping back, her eyes on mine the whole time. She lowered the cup and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, setting the cup on the desk and pressing herself closer to me in the process.
“I wanted to kiss you the moment I saw you,” she whispered. Her eyes searched mine for a reaction almost before I had a chance to process what she said. When I didn’t pull away from her, a half-smile formed on her lips and she leaned in.
Her lips met mine and my hands went to her waist automatically. I pulled her closer, as if that was possible. Her lips parted and our tongues touched briefly, teasing, doubling the taste of lemonade. One minute, I was focused on how crazy she was making me feel, the next I wondered if anyone outside could see us. Her hand came up to rest lightly on my neck and I forgot about everything else.