To-Do

 

     Bring home calculus textbook

     Exam prep: calculus, biology

     Exam prep: English (reread?)

     Exam prep: French (practice exam!)

     Movie night with Alec this w / e?

     Make lunch for Tuesday, slacker

 

 

 

One

On the list of things I’d considered might go wrong in the last two weeks before I had finals, it hadn’t occurred to me to put “teleporting to the aviation museum” among them.

But here I was. At the museum.

The guy behind the ticket counter probably wondered why I’d just walked into the museum and stopped dead with my mouth open. I was wondering the same thing, but not in the same way since just a few seconds ago, I was many kilometers away at school.

“You okay?” he asked, which made me realize just how long I’d been standing there.

“Yep. Yes, I mean. Yeah.” I was nodding so fast I must have looked like a bobblehead. I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself down. Sweat broke out across my forehead. I felt woozy, like I’d just run a small marathon. I didn’t do marathons. Hell, I tried to avoid running at all, unless maybe someone was chasing me.

This was impossible. I was standing in the aviation museum. I could see the gift shop and the cafe and the Lancaster Bomber and it just wasn’t possible, but here I was.

What the hell had just happened to me? Had I snapped and gone completely mental? Maybe I’d get an upgrade in nicknames from Colenap to Colesnap.

I shuddered.

The man was frowning at me again.

Make a plan, Cole. That was my thing. I was good at it. Plans, I mean. Not getting stared at. Although, truth be told, I was pretty good at that, too.

Move. Rather than stand there with my mouth open, I made my way into the gift shop. The guy at the admissions desk finally went back to what he was doing. Immediate crisis averted. Except not at all. Because, again: museum.

I rubbed my temples, shaky and not just a little bit dizzy. Maybe I was sick. Did I eat something funny?

Plusses and minuses. Plus? The longer I stood there trying to calm down, the better I started to feel. Minus? The museum didn’t stop being a museum. I looked at the rack of postcards in front of me without really seeing them.

Okay. Think. How did you get here?

No idea. One second I was at school, the next—

Wait. Was it the next? Had I lost time?

Was it like before?

Oh God, anything but that.

An older woman stood reading a book at the cash register. She hadn’t seemed to notice me, which I was fine with. I circled closer to her, and she looked up and smiled.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hi,” I said, looking at her monitor. The clock and the date was in the bottom corner.

I exhaled in relief. Nope, that was right. No lost time. Same day, same hour, same impossible location.

Lunch will be over soon. How am I going to get back to class?

“Are you okay, dear?”

“Awesome. Great. I mean, I’m good.” I smiled at the woman, going through the lobby again and refusing to make eye contact with the guy at the ticket counter. I pushed my way through the glass doors to the outside.

The aviation museum was basically in the middle of nowhere, off the highway where an old airport had once stood. No one could see me, so it didn’t matter if I just stood for a little bit. It was a nice day, and the air helped clear my head.

Other than feeling suddenly bone-tired, I was very much my usual self.

What, exactly, had just happened to me?

 

v

 

It was a regular lunch. We were sitting at our usual spot outside near the field on the front rows of the bleachers, talking. Rhonda had her head in Lindsey’s lap, and they were taking pictures of each other with their phones. Grayson was texting one of the ever-shifting possible new boyfriends he kept talking about and laughing just loud enough at whatever he was writing or reading to make us look over at him now and then. Nat had their eyes closed and face turned up to the sun, and I had my bullet journal open and was sketching everyone’s faces into the spaces around my latest to-do list.

I had no idea my day was going to take a detour into the surreal. These were normal things. Lindsey and Rhonda were always being super-sweet to the point of giving the rest of us cavities. Grayson always wanted us to notice what he was doing. Nat was always miles away from the rest of us.

I always made lists and then drew all around them.

Finals were coming, and my list was mostly my study plan. I wanted to ace French, didn’t have too much fear about my English exam, and was working on when to go over my calculus and biology notes.

“Why did I take calculus?” I said. I was currently holding on to my B+ by the skin of my teeth.

“Because you’re smart,” Nat said, without opening their eyes.

“I’m not smart.”

“You’re smart,” Nat said again, in that frustratingly confident voice they had.

“Tell that to my B+.”

“Some of us would kill to have a B+ in a math class,” Grayson said.

“Some of us could, if they’d study now and then,” I said.

“See?” Nat said. “Smart.”

I put down my notepad. “I don’t even need calculus.”

Nat finally opened their eyes. “How do you sign math?”

“Two M’s. Like this.” I showed them the sign.

They smiled. “See? It might come up. You might need to interpret calculus for someone.”

I blinked. I hadn’t thought of that.

“You just gave him something new to worry about,” Lindsey said.

Nat laughed. “I did, didn’t I?”

“No,” I said, though I wasn’t sure I meant it. “I’m good.” I wasn’t good. They were right. It was one thing to look ahead at an interpreting career, but it was another to realize once again how many different concepts I still had no idea how to work with.

“I’ll be right back,” I said. “I just want to get my phone and check something.” We weren’t allowed our phones in class, and I hadn’t stopped to pick mine up at the start of lunch. I’d bought my lunch today and wanted to get to the cafeteria before the line had gotten too long.

“You worry too much,” Nat said, but I just shrugged and put down my notebook and pencil.

I didn’t worry, exactly.

I just thought a lot about possibilities. Contingencies.

And interpreting calculus hadn’t been a possibility I’d considered before.

This wasn’t the first time I’d faced vocabulary I hadn’t known. All last summer, my dad had let me shadow him on his video remote interpreting business, and a guy had booked an appointment to talk to the aviation museum. I’d taken a tour of the place and realized pretty quick I didn’t know how to sign a crap-ton of engineering terms. My dad walked me through doing my own research. I’d spent a couple of days there beforehand, reading the plaques and using my phone and my computer to figure out creative ASL interpretations for words like “aileron” and “variometer.” After he’d done the official tour, we’d come back the following week and done a pretend version of our own with him as the “client” and me interpreting, and it had gone pretty smoothly.

Maybe Nat was right. Maybe doing enough homework did make me smart. They were definitely right about being prepared for new topics.

I reached for the door to the school and pulled, thinking about all the stuff I’d learned about the Lancaster Bomber.

And then…

Poof.

 

v

 

Was that it? I looked warily at the door to the museum. I’d been thinking about this place. And here I was.

Should I click my heels?

I closed my eyes and thought about school. The grey brick, the glass front, the library, the computer room, my friends, our spot on the bleachers. Hell, I even thought about the office and cranky old Mr. Bundy.

But when I opened my eyes, I was still right here. Light-headed, a bit woozy, but definitely still at the aviation museum.

Okay, now what? I needed to get my butt back to school from kilometers away without freaking anyone out, and that was going to involve someone who didn’t mind bucking the system and who maybe wouldn’t ask me any questions if I begged them not to.

That left one option: Alec.

I reached into my pocket for my phone and groaned.

My phone was in my locker. Right.

I closed my eyes and tried to think. My brain felt like it got when I forgot to look up and realized just a few minutes of Tumblr had turned into hours. I took a few deep breaths, but it didn’t help at all. I was definitely off. I wasn’t exhausted, but my body was definitely…heavier. I just wanted to lie down for a second.

Maybe I’d left behind some brain cells at the school.

New plan.

I didn’t have many options. I just needed a decent story. Someone was supposed to meet me, maybe. I’d go back inside and ask the guy at the front desk if I could borrow his phone. I could say my ride was very late.

Worst the guy could do was say no, right?

“From now on, get your damn phone before lunch,” I muttered. The pizza hadn’t been worth being first in line, and how hard would it have been to stop by my damn locker before I went?

I pushed at the door to the museum.

And it happened again.

Poof.

 

 

 

Two

Wherever the hell I was, it was dark, cramped, and I barely fit. When I tried to straighten, I hit my head on something and the hollow metal clash it made was so familiar, it clicked. I heard a variation on that sound so many times in a day I would recognize it anywhere: it was just like someone slamming a locker door.

I was in a locker.

I sagged against the tight metal walls, feeling dizzy and weak. Was I going to pass out? I felt even more trashed than I had just a few seconds ago at the museum.

I closed my eyes and tried to breathe through it. One or two breaths’ worth of fresh air in the locker were with me, and then after that the smells of the bright day outside the museum were gone, and all I got were the scents of the locker itself.

Which was shoes, mostly. Gross.

Once I managed to twist around, I saw light coming from the metal slats at the top of the door. And on the inside of the door, I could see a couple of photos and magnets and a whiteboard…

Mywhiteboard. Myphotos. Mymagnets.

I was in my own damn locker.

Well, at least I knew the combination.

Fat lot of good it did me from insidethe locker, though.

Simple plan: get help, get out of the locker. This time, my phone was close enough to make that happen.

Reaching behind me, I tried to find my hoodie. It was hung up on the hook, and if I could find my hoodie I could get my phone from the pocket.

I managed to get my hand into the pocket, but it was a tight fit what with me being shoved up against it. When I pulled out my phone, it came free with a jerk and clattered to the floor of the locker somewhere between my feet.

Of course.

I tried to shimmy down, but I didn’t have enough room to bend my knees. I couldn’t get my hands low enough in the confined space.

I was trapped in my stupid locker. At any moment, the damn bell for lunch was going to ring and then what was I going to do? I’d have to kick and scream to get someone’s attention. Everyone would stare. Austin and his idiot friends would laugh. People would whisper about me every time I walked past for the rest of the school year.

Again.

“Goddamn it!” I yelled.

“Hello?”

The voice made me jerk my head, which hit the hook where my hoodie was hanging, which made me swear.

“Hello?” A guy’s voice. Someone was in the hallway.

I took a deep breath. My choice was public humiliation in front of the whole school, or private humiliation in front of one person.

No contest.

“Hey.” I raised my voice. “I’m stuck in a locker.” I rattled the door.

“Whoa.” Now that he was closer, the voice sounded familiar. Then again, it wasn’t a huge school. Whoever he was, though, at least he wasn’t laughing.

Yet.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s my locker, though. If I tell you the combination, could you, like, let me out?”

“Uh. Okay.”

“Eleven, forty-three, fifteen.”

The sound of the guy turning the lock was louder than I expected from inside the locker. Thankfully, he got it on the first try.

When the door opened, I tried to step out gracefully, but it was hard to crouch and duck my head and lift my feet high enough. My left foot got caught on the edge of the locker, and I went face-first into the guy’s chest. He caught me, which was lucky, and he was strong enough that I didn’t knock us both to the floor, which was even luckier.

“Careful,” he said.

I’d thrown my arms around him, but now that I was out from the locker, I got my feet back under me and let go, stepping back.

And that’s when I realized I’d just gotten rescued from my locker by Malik King.

Because it wouldn’t be my life if the cutest damn guy in school hadn’t just witnessed my humiliation.

 

v

 

“Are you okay?” Malik said. I wasn’t sure if we’d ever had a conversation before.

“I’m fine,” I said. I seem to be teleporting, but other than that, I’m solid.I managed what I hoped was a decent smile. He stared at me. He had great eyes. Dark brown, but with little flecks of gold in them. Good lashes, too.

Malik frowned. I was staring. Shit.

“I just wanted my phone,” I said. It came out in a blurt. I cleared my throat. “Thank you. For…” I waved my hand at my open locker.

“What happened?” Malik asked.

Good question.

I turned my back to Malik and bent down to get my phone. Maybe by the time I turned around again, he’d be gone, and I wouldn’t have to come up with some plausible reason I’d been trapped in my own locker.

No dice. He was still there. Also I had two text messages from Grayson asking me where the hell I was and how long did it take me to get my damn phone.

“Cole?” he said.

Wait. Malik King knew my name? I let the little thrill in my chest play out a couple of seconds before I squashed it. Of course he knew my name. It wasn’t like we had a thousand students. We’d even shared some classes in the last few years since his family had moved here. Also, he was on the same basketball team as Austin. I should probably just consider myself lucky he hadn’t called me the other thing.

“Yeah?” I said.

“Who put you in your locker?”

Oh shit. Well, no sane person would assume I’d willingly locked myself inside. I mean, how would that even work? How would you close the lock?

“It doesn’t matter,” I said.

His crossed his arms, opened his mouth to say something else, and then I was literally saved by the bell, which rang above us.

My phone buzzed, too.

Another text from Grayson.

Nat has your stuff. Weirdo.

Any second now, people were going to start filling the hallways, coming in from the cafeteria and outside.

“Thank you,” I said. “I mean it.”

Malik looked like he wanted to say something else, but then he shook his head and walked away. I watched him go. My jeans never fit me like that. The world was an unfair place.

I shook my head. Man, I could barely stand up straight. My legs felt heavy. As the rest of the student body showed up, I reached into my locker for my biology textbook, turned around, and made it three steps before blackness rushed in from all sides, and I fell over.

This time? No one caught me.

 

v

 

If there’s a way to face down your dad when you’ve got a split lip that doesn’t make you want to crawl into a hole, I don’t know it. In fact, I was pretty sure I was going to burst into tears, which was totally not what I wanted to do. I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible with whatever shreds of dignity I had left.

One of the best things about having a dad who’s basically a professional reader of body language? He got it. Right away. He took one look at me and signed, Want go home?

I nodded, hard.

“I’ll take him home,” he said to the nurse.

“It might just be his blood sugar,” she said, speaking far too loud in the small room. Lots of people did that. It was never not annoying. But my dad read her lips and smiled his crooked smile.

“Got it,” he said.

That was it. I was sprung.

The nurse had given me a juice box I’d sucked back while they’d called my mother. She must have texted my dad, who was much closer to the school since he worked from home, and he’d gotten there pretty fast. On a really nice day, I could walk to school in about twenty minutes. Dad had gotten here in less than five.

Me mess up your work?I asked once we were out in the hallway. My hands were still shaking. I didn’t speak. I didn’t trust myself to talk without bursting into tears.

He shook his head. Have twenty minutes break! Then more work.

That was a relief. Some of the hearing interpreters Dad worked with had booked their sessions weeks in advance, interpreting for really important things, usually over the computer through group video chats, but sometimes in person. He once drove three hours to interpret for a funeral, and he often team interpreted for a doctor talking with Deaf patients. He had contracts with a lot of organizations.

When he got to the car, he turned to me, face-on.

Lunch, eat finish?

“Yes,” I said, finally trusting I could hold my shit together. “I just got really dizzy. The nurse says that can happen, though. I got up too fast, maybe.”

My dad frowned at me. One of the worst things about a dad who’s basically a professional reader of body language? He can tell when I’m not being completely honest.

Seriously, it’s totally brutal.

What happened?

I didn’t know what to say. I mean, I couldn’t tell him the truth, right? No big deal, Dad. I teleported to the aviation museum, and then when I tried to come back, I ended up in my locker. I think the almost-fainting had something to do with that, but I’m not really sure because I might be having some sort of incredibly bad hallucinations, or maybe I’ve lost my mind. Oh, and I finally said more than two words to Malik King, but only because he got me out of my locker.

Yeah. That wasn’t going to fly.

But looking into my dad’s eyes, there was no way I could lie. This was my dad. He was, like, the jackpot of dads. He always took time to make sure I was doing okay and seriously seemed to care if I wasn’t. Okay, he told terrible jokes. Dad jokes reach whole new lows when you can add ASL puns, but he was more patient than anyone I’d ever known. He and my mom were basically a walking, talking life-goal for the kind of relationship I wanted some day, even though my plan involved a husband, not a wife. Heck, even the gay thing? Model parenting, which was more than I could say for some of the rest of the Rainbow Club.

Grayson’s dad had taken months to be okay with his kid being gay, but my dad had opened his arms right on the spot and offered me a hug. It was perfect. After, he told me he’d already noticed how I looked at other boys. Again, professional body-language reader. It had made me supremely self-conscious, but the hug at the time was pretty awesome.

I had to say something to him. He had dad-face, and dad-face would not be denied.

I settled on a very, very literal—but not at all illuminating—truth.

Don’t-know. In ASL, it’s one sign.

He put his hand on the back of my neck, giving me a little squeeze. It helped, though it made me want to bawl again.

I’m pretty sure he noticed, because he faced forward again, turned on the car, and then we were on our way home.

 

v

 

Predictably, my phone started pinging the moment I lay down on my bed.

From Lindsey: Did you really collapse in the hallway?

Rhonda: Answer Lindsey. She’s worried.

Nat: Let us know you’re okay, okay?

Grayson: Gravity sucks.

I sent back quick messages to all of them saying I was okay, but I was going to take a nap. I asked Rhonda if she’d mind letting me know what we covered in biology class, which we shared. Then I turned off my phone, plugged it in, and grabbed my big grey sweater. It didn’t see life outside my room. It was one of my dad’s old university sweaters, and even though I wasn’t cold, I pulled it on and lay back down on my bed. Comfort sweater, activate. I closed my eyes. I’d catch up on whatever we covered in class, and maybe a nap would do me good after my dose of insanity and public humiliation.

No doubt everyone was already talking about it.

Did you hear?

Colenap passed out in the hallway.

What a freak.

Patterns of light moved across my eyelids. My lip hurt where I’d bitten it. I curled up on my side and took a deep breath, my brain spinning too much to fall asleep, no matter how wiped I felt. I didn’t feel quite so dizzy anymore, which also helped. No matter how much I tried to dismiss what had happened as some sort of hallucination, I didn’t think it was.

Which meant…

I opened my eyes. It took way more effort than it should have.

Which meant I’d been at school, and then the museum, and then inside my locker. All within a few minutes. It wasn’t possible, but it had happened.

I sat up. My dad was downstairs in his office, but he’d be starting his meeting any minute, so I couldn’t talk with him. Also, if I told him what I thought had happened, even the best dad in the world would be taking me back to Dr. Macedo, and that was absolutely not a path I wanted to explore.

Not yet, anyway. I mean, if I was hallucinating? Then, okay, therapy was definitely the way to go.

But I wasn’t. I was sureI wasn’t.

I’d been there. And there was no arguing about being in my locker.

I picked up my phone again, sitting on my bed so I didn’t have to unplug it, and sent a text to Alec.

You got a second to talk?

The reply came almost instantly.

Sure. Heard about your day.

Nothing like public humiliation to really wrap up the year, eh?

You passed out?

Not quite. I sort of fell down. Bit my lip. It’s attractive.

Hey, chicks dig scars.

I don’t dig chicks.

Life is pain, princess.

I smiled. Trust Alec to work in one of our favorite movies. This was exactly what I needed. Alec was the coolest guy I knew, and my best friend. If anyone would be able to handle my insane story, it would be him. But could I tell him?

I typed in: You free tomorrow after the meeting?and then hesitated.

Before I’d decided whether or not to send the text, another message popped up from him. Seriously, though, you okay?

I blew out a breath and hit Send on my text.

Sure. Talk then?

Talk then.

Okay, see you tomorrow.

Kisses, I sent.

I felt better already. I leaned back on my bed, wondering if maybe I should get up and find my biology textbook. I closed my eyes. That felt better. My brain might have been going a mile a minute, but my body was heavy. And honestly? Biology could wait.

I fell asleep.

 

 

To-Do

 

     Bring home calculus textbook

     Exam prep: calculus, biology

     Exam prep: English (reread?)

     Exam prep: French (practice exam!)

     Movie night with Alec this w / e?

 X  Make lunch for Tuesday, slacker

 X  “What happened?” joke

     Laundry

 

 

 

Three

Tuesday morning, I took a deep breath and told myself I would make it through the day. Breakfast had been as normal as it ever was at home, the typical routine being my mom and I falling behind and running late because no one in my family can resist our snooze buttons. The kitchen had been chaos with three of us on a deadline. My dad had an early VRI call, so he’d barely waved and swallowed some coffee before he changed into a shirt and a tie to sit in front of his computer.

He wasn’t wearing pants, but you can’t tell that sort of thing on a webcam.

My mom and I were even more of a mess, despite Dad making us packed lunches. By the time I’d run out to the roadside to catch my bus, half a piece of toast in one hand, I’d not really allowed myself to think too much about what had happened on Monday. Even my mother had barely tossed a “you feeling better?” my way as she dashed out the door, which had made it easy to not think about it.

I mean, okay, the split lip was a bit tender and really, reallyugly, but so long as I avoided reflective surfaces, maybe I could get through the whole day without thinking I had lost my mind. Instead, I threw together a quick addition or two to my to-do list on a piece of paper in my pocket. I even had a joke prepared.

Then I got to school and found myself face-to-face with my locker.

Right. That.

My hand was shaking so hard it took me two tries to dial the combination. When I finally opened it, a slick oily feeling dropped into the pit of my stomach.

My calculus textbook had a footprint on it. Also, the thin metal shelf was dented. That was new, and pretty much shaped like the top of my head. My photos were crooked, the little whiteboard had slid halfway down the inside of the locker door, and the week’s plan was all smudged.

So. That made it official.

It wasn’t a hallucination.

“Here you go.”

I jumped, and Nat stepped back, blushing.

“Sorry,” they said. They were holding out my stuff from yesterday.

“It wasn’t you.” I took my books, my bullet journal on top. “Thanks for grabbing this.”

“Are you okay?” They had on a long, black button-down shirt with a cool lime-green bow tie. They had a whole collection of bow ties. They also had the habit of looking at me like they could see right through me. Nat reminded me of my dad sometimes.

“Low blood sugar isn’t sweet,” I said. “Apparently it’s what makes all the cool kids pass out.”

“Uh-huh.” Nat’s frown made it clear they weren’t buying it, but they didn’t press. “You coming to the meeting today?”

“I’ll be there.”

They nodded and gave me one more long look. “You’re sure you’re okay?”

“It’s my lip, isn’t it? It’s ugly.”

“It’s not so bad.”

“Oh my God, what happened to your face?” Grayson said, joining us.

Nat sighed.

“I bit my lip when I fell down,” I said. I wanted to put my hand in front of my mouth. “Low blood sugar is not sweet.” I wagged my eyebrows.

“What?” Grayson said.

“Sweet. Sugar?” I said.

“You shouldn’t try to be funny,” Grayson said. “It’s not really your thing.” He put his hands in the pockets of his skinny jeans and sort of posed.

“Leave him alone,” Nat said.

“Oh wow, that looks super-painful.”

I turned. Oh, hurray. Lindsey and Rhonda were here now, too. It was the complete rainbow set except for Alec, but he hadn’t been much for completing this particular set lately.

“It doesn’t really hurt.” Much.

“You should tell people you got into a bar brawl,” Grayson said.

“Except lots of people saw me face-plant right over there,” I said, pointing.

Grayson looked. “Do you think anyone got it on video? We could make a gif. You could be a meme.”

Oh God. Was that possible? Of course it was. I groaned.

“Stop talking, Grayson,” Lindsey said.

“What?” Grayson said.

The bell saved me from more humiliation, and we broke up for our homerooms, Rhonda and Nat walking with me. We took our seats, and I noticed a few stares right away. God, I hated that. I ducked my head down a bit, pretending to be really engrossed in whatever I’d written in my notes yesterday. I hated it when people stared. I’d had a lifetime supply of that already.

Mr. Jones took attendance, and then the announcements came on. I listened with only half an ear—I so didn’t care about the last rally game of the season—and then glanced out the window at the field. Only instead of looking out the window, I noticed Malik King was watching me.

I glanced down again. Yep, those notes were superinteresting. Certainly as interesting as Malik’s brown eyes. And way more interesting than the way he could crook his right eyebrow up like he’d done. Maybe he was looking past me, at someone behind me. I looked up again.

Nope, his eyes were still on me. He repeated his little eyebrow-rise thing. The smile was gone, though. Instead of friendly, he was looking at me like maybe I was about to faint again or something. God, he was cute.

Not for the first time, I wished I had instincts. There’s a reason I’m a planner. My bullet journal might be totallynerdy, but when stuff happens and I’m not ready for it, I have no idea what to do. Like, say, when the cutest boy in the freaking class is looking at you and doing the eyebrow thing? There’s a response that doesn’t make you look like a complete moron.

People with instincts know what that response is.

People who plan? We do not.

I nodded at him and tried to smile in a way that said, “Hey, look at me, I have instincts and they are good.”

He frowned.

I flashed him an okay sign. That, at least, wasn’t open to interpretation.

He nodded once, and then Jacob said something to him. Malik turned his attention behind him.

Not even first period, and I was pretty sure today was going to be a Freak day.

Fantastic.

 

v

 

“Did you see Colenap?”

I’d had years of practice at not reacting to that word, and even then I had to work at it to just keep walking. I’d made it through first period and had thought maybe I’d be in the clear, but nope. Right there, between my first and second class, bam. Colenap.

Shit.

I didn’t know who said it. It sounded like one of the guys, of course, but I didn’t turn to find out. I went into Biology like everything was fine.

It wasn’t.

Thing is? I knew it wasn’t personal. If anyone else had passed out in the hallway, I know it would have been gossip, too. I’m not dumb. I knew people were gonna talk about it, and I’d done my best to prepare for today. I had my plan. Anyone who asked? They’d get the carefully prepared discussion of the dangers of low blood sugar in the teenage male I’d given Grayson, complete with the perfectly hilariouspunchline, thankyouverymuch.

But the problem was I wasn’t anyone else.

I was Colenap. It’s a portmanteau, and it wasn’t even a smart one. “Kidnap” plus “Cole” equals “Colenap.” Get it? Hi-larious.

Who was Colenap? Colenap was the kid who’d gotten snatched from his house when he was four. Colenap was the kid Old Mrs. Easton had taken. Colenap had been gone from his house for half a day. Who knew what that old lady had done with Colenap for those hours?

No one. No one did. Not even Colenap himself.

The cops had found me when a neighbor had spotted me lying in her backyard with her many, many cats. It had been a big freaking deal. The neighbor had thought I was dead.

I wasn’t. I mean, obviously. What with the being alive now.

But a thing like that? It doesn’t go away.

Old Mrs. Easton had sworn her innocence to her last breath. She said she hadn’t taken me, and she denied locking me in her backyard with her cats. Never mind she lived on the other side of town, or that there was no way I could have gotten into her backyard-cum-cat-shelter. Even running I couldn’t have gotten that far, and definitely not barefoot. That had been a big deal: my feet were clean. But it wasn’t just the lack of dirt. The doctors hadn’t found any other signs of abuse, either. In the end, Old Mrs. Easton didn’t even go to jail.

Which was more than I could say.

Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. I mean, “jail” is pushing it. But my parents? They flipped. I wasn’t allowed out of their sight for years. I didn’t get to go to so much as a friend’s birthday party after sundown. I was the first kid among my friends to get a phone, which sounds great except they gave it to me so I could tell them where I was at all times. I’d sat through more lectures about Stranger Danger by the time I was six than I could count.

My parents and I didn’t argue much, but when we did fight it was almost always about me wanting to go somewhere. If they could keep me on a tether until I turned eighteen, they would.

I mean, I guess I get it. Someone took their kid. That’s gotta be frightening. But I was fine. Four-year-old me had no clue. I mean, I was upset, sure, and I freaked out and cried once the cops showed up with my parents and stuff, but honestly? If Mrs. Easton hurt me or did anything to me, I don’t remember. And the doctor that looked me over came to the same conclusion. If she’d intended on doing something with me, she hadn’t done it. The only thing they could really prove she’d done was leave me locked up and unsupervised in her backyard to have a nap with her cats.

I didn’t even get a sunburn.

I barely remember it. As far as I’m concerned, the worst part is the nickname. Because adults talk, kids listen, and that’s how I got saddled with “Colenap.” Walking bags of idiot meat like Austin loved to remind me not to wander off in case some crazy old cat lady took a liking to me. He was the one who’d come up with the word back in elementary school. Calling me Colenap was a great way to make me miserable and make almost everyone else laugh. Now it’s more like an unwelcome nickname. No one laughs, but people use it. Well, Austin laughs, but Austin’s taste in humor hasn’t evolved much since grade school, let me tell you.

The last few months, I don’t think I’d heard “Colenap” even once. I thought maybe, finally, it was done. I’d just keep my head down, try not to get anyone’s attention, and honestly it seemed to be working. Down to literally days left in this school, and no one cared to remember me at all. That was fine by me.

Until now.

Because I passed out.

Because I teleported, and then passed out.

Colenap was back on the radar.

Mrs. Salisbury started talking, and everyone settled down. I stared straight ahead and tried to listen.

I told myself it didn’t matter. I should just let it go. Like every adult in my life had told me, I could choose not to let what other people thought bother me. I had two weeks left, plus exams. Once they were done, I’d never have to be in this room again.

No matter how many times I said that crap to myself, it didn’t matter. How do you let gobeing considered a freak? There’s no letting that go. Not when you’ve got people like Austin willing to remind everyone. Not when one face-plant in a hallway is enough to resurrect interest in the school freak.

I fingerspelled the word. Freak.

Head down. Grades up. Graduate. Leave. I’d made it this far. I could do another couple of weeks.

When I got out of town and made it to university, “Colenap” was going to be a thing of the past no matter what it took.

 

v

 

I grabbed my lunch—and my phone—and headed off for the field behind the track. The last thing I wanted was company, but it wasn’t possible to be alone indoors at school. Well, it was, but only in an “alone in a crowded room” kind of way. Still, the field behind the track was a pretty close second, with a row of large trees where small groups of friends gathered most nice weather days to eat. I was quick enough to claim a tree of my own, sat back against it, and exhaled. You couldn’t see me from the bleachers, which was the goal.

“Hiding?”

I jumped. For a loud guy, Grayson could be quiet when he wanted to. He grinned at me.

“Not hiding, exactly,” I said. “More like wallowing. But you can join my pity party if you want.”

Grayson sat beside me. He had a giant container of pasta. How he was so little blew my mind. I’m not tall, and I didn’t get my dad’s shoulders, but beside Grayson, I didn’t feel quite so tiny. He popped the lid, swallowed a forkful, and leaned over, bumping my shoulder with his.

“Why wallowing?”

“You want the list alphabetically or chronologically?”

“A is for assholes? B is for blood sugar?”

I couldn’t help it. I smiled. Grayson was an idiot and had zero filters, but he could always make me smile. When I didn’t want to punch him. “And C is for Colenap. I got Colenapped again today.”

Grayson winced. He’d recently bleached and dyed a really dark purple streak into his black hair, and he’d pierced his ear again, which I think meant he now had a half dozen rings in his ear. I kept meaning to count, but Grayson never sat still long enough.

“Sorry. That really sucks,” he said finally. He seemed honestly sympathetic. Grayson was hard to read. He moved all the time, but it didn’t always feel honest. My dad had taught me a lot about body language and nonverbal stuff, but Grayson muddied the waters. I was pretty sure he did it on purpose.

I shrugged and took a bite of my sandwich. The lettuce crunched, and I was pretty sure I had real mayonnaise and tandoori chicken. My dad made the best sandwiches.

“You seem more out of it than usual,” Grayson said, pausing to swallow. “No offense.”

“None taken.” Grayson had no idea how right he was about that. Not dwelling on Colenap was one thing. Not dwelling on maybe losing my mind or maybe teleporting was another. “Out of it” was as good a descriptor for deep, deep denial as anything else. “I guess.” I took another bite.

“Who Colenapped you? Was it Austin?”

I looked at him. Grayson had a tight look on his face, and he was stabbing his fork into his pasta like it needed to be punished.

“Did he say something to you?” I asked instead, worried.

“Oh, he’s not that dumb,” Grayson said. “Well, no, he’s a fucking idiot, but he learned after last time. He just stares. Or he ‘bumps’ into me. Always says sorry, but, y’know.”

I did know. Austin got suspended last year for a week for dumping a cup of pop down Grayson’s back. He tried to play the accident card, but between zero tolerance and bad luck on his part—Mr. Jones had seen it happen—his so-called defense was tossed out the window. Ergo, suspended. Austin hadn’t done anything obvious since then. Instead, he’d gotten subtle. Well, as subtle as Austin could be. Especially with Grayson.

Part of that? Grayson stood out, and not just because of the earrings and the hair, either. He seemed to do it on purpose, despite how much negative attention he sometimes got. That day Austin got suspended, Grayson had come to school in his “Real Men Kiss Men” T-shirt. It hadn’t gone over well with quite a few of Austin’s crowd, but only Austin had been dumb enough to go too far.

Sometimes I wondered if Grayson was only being true to himself, or if he really just wanted to pick a fight.

“You want to tell Nat?” I said.

“Do you?” Grayson said. “You’re sure you just fell down?”

Ah. There it was. The reason he’d tracked me down.

“It wasn’t Austin,” I said. “Not today and not yesterday. I really did just pass out.”

He stabbed some more pasta. Then he sighed. “Two weeks.”

The countdown mantra to the end of the year. I held out my fist. He bumped it.

We ate in silence for a bit.

“It’s just…it’d be so him, y’know? Trip you up,” he said. “You’re sureit wasn’t Austin?”

“I’m sure,” I said. “Let it go, Elsa.”

He grunted. “Too bad. I would love to have him kicked out just before graduation. Maybe he’d have to re-do a whole year.”

I grinned. “You’re vindictive. I like that about you.”

“I’m down with vengeance. It’s my best quality.”

“No way. Your best quality is your optimism and faith in humanity.”

He laughed so suddenly he choked on his lunch. The other kids at the other trees stared as I whacked him on the back until he coughed up some pasta.

Okay. So high school wasn’t entirely bad. Maybe I’d miss a few things.

“Jerk,” he said, once he recovered. “I keep telling you, don’t do jokes. Not your thing.”

I finished my sandwich and looked across the track. Someone was standing there, looking right at us. Not a student, an adult. He had a beard, and he was wearing a suit. I didn’t recognize him, which was weird.

My stomach clenched, an old and entirely unwelcome reflex I wished I didn’t have. Stranger Danger. Some days I wondered if I’d ever recover from a knee-jerk reaction to spotting someone who didn’t maybe belong where they were. It was stupid. I was totally safe. Heck, Grayson and I were surrounded by students at every one of the trees along the field, but some rando staring in my direction across a field?

It gave me the squicks.

“Who’s that?” I said, giving in to the feeling.

Grayson glanced up and looked where I was looking.

“I don’t know. A sub, maybe?”

The man turned and walked back toward the school.

My heartbeat returned to normal the moment he’d turned his back on us. I took a couple of deep breaths.

“You okay?” Grayson said.

“No,” I said, shrugging. “Of course not. Have you met me? I’m a complete freak.”

“No more than any of the rest of us,” he said, going back to his pasta. It might have been meant as a joke, but I heard the feeling beneath it. Grayson was a good guy. An annoying, loud, incrediblyfrustrating good guy, but a good guy despite it all. And maybe he’d nearly ruined almost everything when he’d decided Alec was the one, but…

But really? He wasjust like the rest of us. Looking at him now, it might have been the way the sun was showing off the purple streak in his hair, or it might have been the way he was stabbing at his food, but it occurred to me maybe the person Grayson wanted to pick a fight with was himself.

You’re worth love, I thought. A shiver spread across my skin. I rubbed the goosebumps off my arms.

He frowned, glancing over at me. “What?” he said.

“Just thinking.”

“On second thought? I take it back,” he said, but unless I was mistaken, Grayson was blushing. “You make lists. You like studying. You actually knowwhat you want to do with your life. I think you’re sort of the biggest freak of all of us, y’know?”

I laughed and went back to eating. I glanced up a few more times before the bell rang, but the man didn’t return. Grayson was probably right. Just a sub.

So why did I feel so anxious?