I glanced at the clock over my teacher’s head and yawned. After two hundred years, school hadn’t become any more exciting.
Of the twenty-two kids in my English class, fifteen of them hate me. I'd counted last Thursday. I was the first to finish my test and I didn’t have anything else to do. Mrs. Davenport had given me her famous death glare for looking around the room during testing, but she knew I’d never cheat off those idiots. I guess it’s not fair to call them idiots. I only knew so much because I had taken eleventh grade language arts many times before and would take it many times after. There was only so much you could learn about the symbolism used in The Scarlet Letter or the moral philosophy of The Grapes of Wrath.
We had begun a book called Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, which made me feel uncomfortable every time we read it. I wondered how much of this version of Beauty’s story was actually true. I bet her name wasn’t even Beauty. My own story had been twisted and tangled throughout the years, and I found it quite frustrating. How could people who weren’t even there write a story about my life? My real life, was much more tragic, much more terrifying than the watered-down stories they tell.
As Mrs. Davenport delved into a lecture of how we were to look for differences and similarities between the retelling and the original as we read, my mind wandered to the seven kids who didn’t hate me. . . yet.
Aubrey Hayes was one of them. Aubrey was my only true school friend. I say “school friend” because outside of school I preferred to keep to myself. My life was nowhere near normal and the less people knew about me, the better. While Mrs. Davenport droned on and on, Aubrey twirled her long, auburn hair around her pen. I tried to make eye contact with her because she was always good for a funny face or an exaggerated eye roll, but her green eyes remained focused on something above Mrs. Davenport’s head.
Noelle Crawford, the most popular girl in our class, was also one of the seven. She didn’t hate me because she was too occupied by her always-present crowd of admirers to know I existed. Noelle sat in the back beside Aubrey. She listened intently to Mrs. Davenport as she ran her fingers through her lustrous black hair. Noelle and I had the same features—ebony hair and ivory skin, except her hair fell past her shoulders, and I kept mine cut short, just to the bottom of my chin. We could easily pass for sisters, although no one would ever call me pretty out loud. I didn’t take that to heart. I knew I wasn’t an ugly girl. After all, my beauty was the reason my life sucked. My classmates would never admit I was beautiful, because to them, I was just some random weirdo who kept to herself. At Rock Canyon High, there was no such thing as a pretty loser. Beauty is overrated anyway. It’s never caused me anything but problems.
No one had a problem raving about Noelle’s beauty though. Good looks were a requirement of her clique, which included Mia Rosen and Hadley Fowler, who sat to the left of me. They hated me the most. Noelle, Mia, and Hadley would be sitting together if it weren’t for Mrs. Davenport’s set-in-stone seating chart. Mia and Hadley had thrown a fit on the first day of school when Noelle had been assigned a seat far away from them, but Mrs. Davenport wouldn’t bow to their demands. She ran a tighter ship than most teachers, but I liked her, mainly because she didn’t take any crap. Over the years, I’d found that poor student behavior and lack of respect had greatly increased. It seemed liked yesterday that a kid would get paddled just for chewing gum and we sat still with our desks in neat rows, not daring to make a sound unless spoken to.
Noelle didn’t seem to mind the seating arrangement and took her assigned seat graciously. Honestly, I think she was happy to have a break from Mia and Hadley. Those two stuck to her as if their lives depended on being attached to her hip. Hadley had pitched another fit when she realized she was sitting next to me, whom she referred to as a “pasty-white-socially-inept-weirdo-freak.” According to her, whatever social disease I had was contagious.
Hadley and Mia were a part of what Aubrey called the Blonde Brigade. Aside from the raven-haired Noelle, their clique was made up of blonds. The group traveled in a herd and wreaked havoc throughout the school. Hadley and Mia mostly kept their blond tresses in long perfect ponytails. The main difference between them was their height, since Hadley easily towered over Mia. The two of them were awful, but they were far from my biggest problem.
Mrs. Davenport cleared her throat, calling for my attention. I spun around in my seat, trying to focus, but it was hard for me. Long ago, I’d been cursed to repeat my sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school over and over again by a wicked queen who was jealous of my looks. I’d grown tired of the repetition over a century and a half ago. At first it wasn’t so bad, every time my life was reset it was a chance to do things differently and start fresh. Yes, over the years, things changed slowly here and there, but for the most part school was school—mean girls, worshipped jocks, average kids who blended into the background, outcasts, school dances, bad cafeteria food, and too much homework. I’d watched schools transform from one-room school houses to huge modern buildings with the latest technology. In my first life, I didn’t go to school. Private tutors lived in the palace for the sole purpose of educating me.
Once I graduated from high school, my father and I would pack up, move somewhere else and begin again. My father had been cursed too. Like me, he never aged more than three years. I’d lost count of all the places we’d lived.
Mrs. Davenport removed her gold-framed glasses from her nose and placed them on her head. They almost blended in with her short blond curls. “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like you to read chapter two on your own now and chapter three for homework. There may or may not be a pop quiz tomorrow.”
Translation: There will definitely be a pop quiz tomorrow.
A few kids groaned as we cracked our books open. Some read while others pretended by merely staring at the pages.
I took a deep breath and focused on the black letters marching across the page in monotony. I had read three sentences when I was distracted by the crinkling of a candy wrapper. Beside me, Hadley unwrapped a Sour Apple Jolly Rancher. My mouth watered. I looked away and tried to concentrate on the book. I read the same sentence over and over. I glanced over at Hadley again. She whispered something to Mia on her left. She had the candy fully unwrapped and held it between two hot-pink polished fingernails. Just eat it. I swallowed hard and clasped the edges of my desk. Joshua Riggs, who sat in front of me, turned his head slightly, then went back to reading. I salivated as the processed smell of apple-flavored candy invaded my nostrils. My nose was sensitive to the scent. I could smell an apple in the next room.
Hadley held the candy out, as if tempting me. I took a deep breath and all self-control left me. I reached over, snatched the candy from her hand, and shoved it into my mouth, all in the matter of a second.
“What the hell?” Hadley squealed. Everyone looked up from their books. The kids in front of us turned around.
“Is there a problem?” Mrs. Davenport asked from her desk.
Hadley glared at me with ice-blue eyes. “Did you see what she just did? She snatched my candy out of my hand!” Mia laughed uncontrollably on the other side of her, but Hadley was not amused. “You are such a freak!”
I didn’t care what she had to say about me. After decades of being hardened by the same insults, the words simply bounced off me. Weirdo. Freak. Loser. Those words meant nothing to me. I closed my eyes, savoring the taste of the candy in my mouth. No, it wasn’t an apple, but it was close enough. A few kids snickered. I understood why, but I couldn’t help what I’d done. I had an insatiable hunger for apples or anything made from them. I was going to pay for it later, but for the moment, I was satisfied.
“Girls, please, back to reading,” Mrs. Davenport ordered, obviously not concerned with Hadley’s candy problem.
“Oh, my God,” Mia said, between giggles. “Maybe she’s never had a Jolly Rancher before.”
“Ms. Rosen!” Mrs. Davenport yelled sharply. “One more sound, and you can do all the laughing you want in detention. Read!”
Mia tried to stifle her laughter as she opened her book. I sensed Hadley glaring at me, but I refused to look at her.
Thankfully the bell rang a few minutes later. Knowing it was in my best interest to get out of the vicinity as soon as possible, I grabbed my backpack, not even taking the time to put my books inside. Also, it was lunch time and I was starving.
“What was that?” someone asked, looping their arm around mine. Aubrey. I wasn’t sure what to say. My quirks were hard to explain.
“I don’t know.”
“Neva, you just snatched her candy from her hand? Why would you do that?”
“I don’t know, Aubrey.”
“Dude, I know Hadley’s not the nicest person, but pick your battles. You don’t want her coming after you over a piece of candy. I mean, let it be for something that’s worth it, like screwing her boyfriend.”
Shaking my head, I unhooked my arm from hers. The sleeve from her leather jacket was making my arm sweaty. No matter what the weather was like, Aubrey wore her black leather jacket, even on a warm spring day like this one. The jacket, paired with a pleated, plaid skirt, black fishnet leggings and black boots made me want to sweat just looking at her.
We turned down the hallway that led to the cafeteria—one of my least favorite places. To me it was simply a place to gather all the jerks in the same room for a group feeding.
“I didn’t mean to do it. It just happened.”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatevs. Forget about it. I hope they’re serving something good today.”
The thundering noise of the cafeteria reached my ears from the end of the hallway. My stomach tightened. Loud places crowded with people always gave me anxiety. Aubrey hopped in the lunch line to get herself something to eat, while I went to our usual lunch spot: the back table in the corner.
I reached inside my backpack and removed my lunch, which I always brought from home. The cafeteria never seemed to serve enough apple-infused food. While most of the kids wanted junk, I needed apples. From my brown paper bag, I removed a plastic container of applesauce, an apple turnover wrapped in foil, a plastic bag filled with dry apple slices, and a bottle of apple juice.
I was halfway through my applesauce when Aubrey plopped her tray on the table. “Jackpot! It’s tater tot day.”
She had what looked like three servings of tater tots and nothing else. Aubrey had always said the school cafeteria made the best tater tots she’d ever tasted, which I found hard to believe. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a shiny green apple. “Got that for you.” All the school lunches came with a mandatory serving of fruit, but Aubrey never ate hers.
I held my hand up. “Eat it. You need it.”
She plopped the apple down in front of me. “You know I hate apples. I’m more of a banana kind of girl,” she said with a wink.
I grabbed the apple and took a generous bite. There was nothing in the world like a fresh, juicy apple.
Aubrey squeezed ketchup over her tater tots. “Speaking of bananas… Have you seen Tate today? He got a new haircut and looks especially delicious.”
“No.” I hadn’t seen Tate. I tried my best not to think about him, but Aubrey made that almost impossible. Telling her about my crush on him had been a huge mistake. Now every time he was in my vicinity she urged me to make a move.
“You should talk to him.”
I rolled my eyes. “What for?”
“What do you mean ‘what for’? You’re in love with him, and you’ll never know if he feels the same way unless you talk to him.”
I glanced down the table to make sure no one could hear our conversation. Four boys were playing some weird complicated board game at the far end as they did every day. “I’m not in love with him. I just said I thought he was cute. I’m not talking to him, so just drop it.”
“All right, all right,” Aubrey said before tossing two tater tots in her mouth.
I didn’t mean to be rude, but she didn’t get it. Aubrey was a boy-eater. She didn’t get along very well with girls, but she knew just what to do and say around boys. At any given time, she was juggling three of them. I told her once how I didn’t agree with that, but she told me, “Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.”
I guess a part of me was jealous. Of course, I wanted to date and have a boyfriend like everyone else, but that just wasn’t in the cards for me. For one, a boyfriend would want to know things about me. Maybe he’d want to come over. That would be impossible, because my father would never allow anyone in our home. Aside from that, why bother getting attached to anyone, when I would up and disappear around my eighteenth birthday? At midnight, just as I turned eighteen, I would revert to my fifteen-year-old self. Try explaining that to someone. Between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, I grew half a foot, my A-cups developed into C-cups, and transformed from a beanpole to a young woman with noticeable curves. Then it would all go away and I’d look like my fifteen-year-old self again. How do you tell someone that you’ll never grow up? How do you explain why they’re getting older, but you’re not? That you’re a princess, not because it’s some pet name you’ve been given, but because your parents had literally been a king and queen?
Most importantly, at some point a boyfriend would expect a kiss, which was out of the question. My kisses were poison. Literally. Exhibit A: Max Feldman. Almost fifty years ago, he died from what everyone assumed was an allergic reaction to something he’d eaten, but they were wrong. It had been me and I’ve never forgiven myself for it.
I had wanted to see if that part of my curse was really true. I shouldn’t have used that poor boy as a guinea pig. He liked me and asked for a kiss. I should have said no, but I had never kissed a boy before and I wanted to know what it felt like. Besides, maybe the witch had been bluffing. I puckered up, pressed my lips against his, and the next thing I knew his lips had turned blue and he was lying on the ground motionless. Once I had absent-mindedly kissed my father on the cheek and he had fallen ill for weeks. Since then, I’ve learned to keep my lips to myself.
Lunch period always flew by too fast, mostly because I had PE right after and I hated that class more than I hated reading fairy tales. It wasn’t that I didn’t like sports. PE was probably the one class I didn’t get tired of repeating, but Hadley and Mia made the period unbearable. They spent the hour making snide remarks and throwing balls at my head.
Aubrey patted me on the back as she walked me to the gym. “It won’t be too bad. Maybe she forgot about the candy thing already.”
I gave her a half smile even though she was lying. It was going to be worse than usual and there was no way Hadley would ever forget the candy incident or let it go unpunished. “See you after school. I’ll be fine,” I lied. Then I headed to my impending doom in the locker room.
As soon as I entered, I averted my eyes from the mirrors in front of the sinks and headed straight for the stalls. I never looked in mirrors no matter what. The locker room always made me feel ill. The smell of chlorine from the pool. The somber gray walls that were almost the same color as the rusted lockers. The aging Let’s Get Physical and food pyramid posters that hung from the walls. The room almost felt like a dungeon.
Not many girls changed behind closed doors, but I didn’t see the point in giving Hadley and Mia more ammunition. Who knew what they’d do or say if they saw me in my underwear? I changed into the baby blue T-shirt and navy blue shorts required for class. I kept on the black sneakers I’d been wearing the entire day.
Mia and Hadley were somewhere in the room. Hadley’s cackle was a dead giveaway.
“Maybe her parents don’t let her eat candy,” a girl suggested. “I hear they don’t allow her to do anything normal. That’s why she acts the way she does.”
Obviously, Hadley had told everyone about the incident in Mrs. Davenport’s class. I swallowed hard as I stuffed my school clothes into my backpack, not caring if they got wrinkled. There was a locker I could have used, but I’d learned the hard way that it was best to keep my clothes on me. Mia and Hadley had gotten their hands on my clothes once and I didn’t want that to happen again.
“What?” Hadley asked. “Is it against her weird religion to eat candy?”
I cringed. That rumor had started during my second week at Rock Canyon. At first I was the beautiful mysterious girl everyone wanted to know about. Girls wanted to be my friend, but when I wouldn’t share details of my life, they called me weird. Boys asked me out, but I turned them all down. Someone, probably Hadley or Mia, told everyone my father was like the mother from the movie Carrie. They said I wasn’t allowed to do anything but stay home and pray. They had no idea the truth was a million times worse than that.
I braced myself and left the stall, walking briskly, hoping to go unnoticed. When I was almost to the exit of the locker room, something hard hit me in the head. A red Jolly Rancher landed by my foot. The random chit chat of the locker room turned to cruel laughter. Noelle shook her head and muttered something to Hadley. I took a deep breath and continued into the gymnasium.
Coach Woods thought it would be a great idea to start a unit on dance that day. I wasn’t happy about that, not because I didn’t like to dance, but because I was good at it. In my first life, I’d taken formal dance lessons since the time I could walk. All princesses had. It helped that I had been born with poise and grace. I’d learned last year that being good at anything annoyed Mia and Hadley to no end. They tripped me countless times during the soccer unit and let me land on my tailbone while they were supposed to be spotting me when we did a week of gymnastics. Both of those incidents occurred only after Coach had praised my abilities. Now I cringed any time she paid me a compliment.
“Okay, girls. Stretch and give me two laps,” Coach ordered.
We knew the routine. Forming six lines across the gym floor, we followed Coach’s instructions. I made sure to stay in the back line each time we stretched. I knew better than to make myself an easy target for the Blond Brigade. Mia, Hadley, and Noelle stood on the front line as usual, where everyone’s eyes would be on them. I watched Mia and Hadley’s almost identical blond ponytails bob back and forth as we did lunges. I smiled to myself as I imagined tying their ponytails together in a tight knot.
Coach blew her whistle. “Two laps! Let’s hustle!”
I fell into the line of girls running. I didn’t mind running laps like the others did. It was a mindless activity that helped me blow off steam. I was usually one of the first girls done. I had almost completed one lap when something hard bounced off my shoulder. I knew exactly what it was, but I refused to react to it. A few moments later, another piece of candy hit me on the back of the neck, and another on my head. Who knew small pieces of hard candy could hurt so much when thrown with the right amount of force?
I looked over at Coach Woods, who was scribbling something on her clipboard. With thirty girls running laps at the same time, it would be hard to see one jerk throwing candy, especially if she threw it quickly enough. Another candy hit me in the butt, and I stopped running. Enough was enough.
I spun on my heels. Hadley and Mia stopped too, wearing satisfied grins. Some girls kept running while others paused to watch the show.
I narrowed my eyes at Hadley. “Those things hurt, you know.”
“Hey, clearly you’ve never had a Jolly Rancher before today. I was just helping you out.”
Coach blew her whistle again. “Keep moving, girls. What’s the hold-up?”
The spectators returned to running probably figuring the show wasn’t worth the wrath of Coach. Mia tapped Hadley’s arm before taking off. “Come on, Had. She’s just weird.”
But Hadley didn’t move. She and I stood there having a silent war with our eyes while girls jogged around us.
“Albano and Fowler! What’s the problem?” Coach yelled.
I didn’t want to be the first one to look away and let Hadley have the stare-down victory, but I also didn’t want to get in trouble with Coach.
I jogged past Hadley, but not before “accidentally” bumping her shoulder to let her know I wasn’t afraid of her.
“Hey!” she cried, but I offered no apology.
After class, I slunk into my usual stall and changed as quickly as possible. I’d gotten changing back into my regular clothes down to a science. The less time I spent in that locker room, the better. It took me less than a minute to slip back into my jeans and long-sleeved shirt. When I attempted to open the door to my stall, it wouldn’t budge. Something was blocking it. Peeking through the crack, I spotted the back of Mia’s ponytail.
“Open the door,” I ordered.
“Not until you apologize to me,” Hadley called from somewhere in the room.
“I will die in here before I apologize to you!” I’d learned from many years of high school that cowering to bullies was the worst mistake I could make. Of course, I was always outnumbered. Mia and Hadley usually got the upper hand, but when I went down, at least I went down fighting.
“Fine. We can make that happen,” Hadley replied. A round of amused giggling came from her friends.
“Let her go,” Noelle said, but her voice was so gentle and motherly it didn’t sound like an order. “We’re going to be late for sixth period. Really, all this over a piece of candy?”
“It’s not the candy,” Hadley argued. “It’s the flat-out disrespect. She stole from me and I demand an apology.” Then she lowered her voice. “Come on, you’re supposed to be on my side.”
The locker room emptied as girls hurried to their last classes for the day, not one of them concerned for me. I knew the less witnesses there were, the harsher my punishment would be. I banged my fists against the door of the stall. “Open this door!”
Finally, the door swung open. Noelle held it for me. I grabbed my backpack and stepped out. “Thanks,” I muttered to her.
I had walked a few steps before someone grabbed my backpack and pulled me back.
“Hadley!” Noelle snapped.
Hadley came close to my ear, speaking through clenched teeth. “You think this is a game? You better stop playing with me, freak.” She shoved me away, sending me crashing into a girl named Tasha from my science class. Tasha was the only thing that kept me from hitting the ground. She gave me a sympathetic look as I followed her into the sea of students hurrying to their next class. How much more could I take of mean girls, repetitive classes, and fantasies of love that could never happen? This wasn’t a way to live. I had to find a way to end this curse. Never growing up? What the hell was Peter Pan thinking?
I couldn’t get away from school fast enough. I wasn’t waiting for Aubrey to walk home with me because she would ask how PE went and I didn’t want to talk about it.
As I rushed to leave the school grounds, I glimpsed something from the corner of my eye that stopped me dead in my tracks. Stasi Walters. She sat hunched over on a bench holding her phone in her trembling hands. Half of me wanted to keep moving and focus on my own problems, but my better half wouldn’t let me. I hurried over to see if she was okay.
“Hey, Stasi.” I settled down beside her on the bench. “You okay?”
She gave me a sly smile as she pushed her short white-blond hair behind her ears. “Hey, Neva. Sure, I’m good.”
Her voice cracked like she was about to break into tears at any moment. “Stasi, you don’t seem good.”
A single tear and rolled down her cheek. “I hate this school. I hate everyone here and they hate me.”
I wrapped my arm around her as the courtyard emptied and kids eagerly left the school grounds. Stasi was a tiny thing—she almost reminded me of a bird. Most of the time she wore long skirts and heavy sweaters and shoes that looked like moccasins.
I’d met Stasi the first week of school—well, rescued her actually. I’d lost my bracelet and thought that maybe I’d left it in the locker room during PE. I went to check for it right after school. The freshman girls were in there changing. A group of them had gathered around the shower laughing hysterically and chanting, “Stanky Stasi. Stanky Stasi” over and over.
I went in for a closer look. Two girls wrapped in towels crouched over another girl who was fully dressed. They were lathering the girl with soap and scrubbing her all over her body. The other girl lay there in the fetal position covering her head with her hands. I waited, wanting the girl to do something. To shove them away and stick up for herself, but she did nothing. She lay there covered in soap, probably just hoping to escape the situation alive.
After shoving my way through the crowd of girls, I cut the shower off and pushed the girls away from Stasi. The one with the wet red hair matted against her head frowned at me. “Who the hell are you? Mind your own business.”
“What do you think you’re doing?” I shouted.
The other girl, a blond, looked down on Stasi, who was still shaking and cowering on the cold shower tile. “We’re doing her a favor. You have no idea what this girl smells like. Vomit and month-old garbage. None of us should be subjected to that smell so we’re giving her a bath. Back off!”
I pulled Stasi up from where she lay. She looked so pathetic and I couldn’t take another second of it. I narrowed my eyes at the two girls and the others watching on. “Listen, I know you guys are new to Rock Canyon and you have a lot to learn, but the one thing you’d better remember is that I’m not the one to mess with. You touch this girl again, I will ruin your lives before they even start.”
They rolled their eyes at me, but looked just the tiniest bit afraid. Even now when I passed them in the hallways, they tried not to make eye contact.
I knew exactly how Stasi felt, but I also knew this wouldn’t last. Soon the Mia and Hadley’s of my life would be gone. Sure, there might be other girls to take their places, some school experiences were better than others, but unlike me, Stasi had an escape from the horrors of high school. In four years, she wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. I couldn’t say the same for myself. Ever since that day, I’ve made sure to check in on Stasi from time to time.
I leaned in close. “I know it seems hard right now, but soon, before you know it, this will be over and none of these people will matter. You’ll find your place and your tribe and live a good life. Right now, you must be made of rubber. Let what they do bounce off you, but don’t be a sitting duck. Fight back.”
This wasn’t the first conversation we’ve had about that. When I complained to my father about school being a monotonous, mundane experience, he told me it would help to find my purpose. I wouldn’t be bored if I were doing something useful that I enjoyed. I’d tried volleyball, chorus, and the drama club, but none of those things were for me. Helping Stasi and kids like her was my purpose and Dad was right. It made this whole curse thing more bearable.
Stasi’s smile brightened. “Will you meet my other friends? We started an afterschool club just for us, but we’re not exclusive or anything. Anyone can join as long as they’re nice. I keep telling them how cool you are and they want to meet you.”
I took her hand and squeezed it. “Sure. Just tell me when and where and I’ll be there.”
“Awesome.” Stasi squeezed my hand back before rising and slipping her earbuds in. I watched her lumber away with her long skirt trailing behind her, fluttering in the wind. I imagined it being a superhero’s cape. That’s what Stasi needed to be to get through the next few years and I hoped she would be okay after I was gone.
At home, I dropped my backpack on the kitchen table, breathing a sigh of relief. I took in the scent of fresh apples and pine air freshener. Home was my sanctuary—the only place where all my secrets were safe.
Our home was small and cozy. The walls were painted in Father’s favorite color, a deep rustic green. Our furniture was antique, carved from an array of different woods. The mossy greens and caramel browns almost made our house look like a forest. Everything was neat and tidy and in its place because Father couldn’t stand clutter.
My room however was my own space. The walls were a light, airy blue. It looked like the sky. My curtains and furniture were a crisp white. Paintings of blood red apples hung from each wall.
The house was still and quiet except for the hum of the refrigerator.
I grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl on the kitchen island and glanced at the clock. Father wouldn’t be home from work for a few hours.
I opened the back door and headed for my favorite spot in the whole world—our picket fence. I walked to the back of the yard and settled down in the corner, the part where the two fences intersected.
Sighing, I took a huge bite of my apple. Juice dribbled down my chin, but I didn’t bother to wipe it away.
“Rough day?” asked a voice from the other side of the fence.
“Yeah,” I answered with a mouthful of apple.
Something lime-green slid between the slats of the fence. A Green Apple Airhead. I took the candy gratefully. “Thanks. How did you know?”
“It’s Monday. Mondays are always hard for you.”
I sighed again. “You’re so lucky you don’t have to go to school.”
Over the years, plenty of friends have come and gone, but Henry was the best one I’d ever had, even though I’d never really seen him. He was a year younger than me and home-schooled. Henry said it was because he had issues and the kids picked on him. Even the teachers couldn’t bear the sight of him. I’d begged him countless times to let me look at him, but he refused. The last time I asked, he got angry and stormed inside his house, so I’d decided I wouldn’t ask him again. As much as I loved Henry, it was tough having a best friend I had never seen.
Sometimes I would peek through the slats, but I could only catch flashes of his clothing and he always wore a hoodie covering his head. Whatever was wrong with him had to be awful, because he never left his house.
“What are you reading?” I asked.
“It’s my favorite book.”
Henry was always reading something. The fence was also his favorite spot. That was how we met a year before.
I’d come home from one of the worst days of school ever. During PE, Mia and Hadley had stolen my clothes from my locker and shoved each separate piece into different trash bins around the school. Not wanting to dig through garbage cans, I considered the clothes a loss and went to my next class in my PE uniform because I had no choice. Principal Weaver, who was monitoring the hallways, yelled at me like a lunatic in front of everyone for being in shorts and violating the dress code. Being screamed at by Principal Weaver with that booming, bass voice of his was a humiliating experience, especially when I wasn’t used to being reprimanded. Kids laughing at me as they walked by made it worse.
I wanted to punch Mia and Hadley’s faces in, but instead I came home and kicked our picket fence over and over as hard as I could.