Authors: Jennifer Murgia
by Jennifer Murgia
reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in
any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in
or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s
rights. Purchase only authorized editions. Thank you for respecting the hard
work of this author.
Cover design by
association with MacGregor Literary, Inc.
For Chris ~ who has
always known the real me.
earth could I have let things get so screwed up?
blew the hair out of my eyes and opened my locker, knowing I couldn’t go back
and fix things. Out of the corner of my eye, a flash of white dangled from a
slat inside the door. It was probably hate mail from Shane telling me to stay
away from Evie. Or worse, from Evie explaining the obvious—that lunch was
a mistake, the project was off, and shoving a note in my locker was way easier
than facing me.
reached for the paper and unfolded it.
Shellinger’s. Friday. 10
was a joke, right?
never been invited to one of Jake Shellinger’s weekend bashes before. Make that
me and a hundred other kids. Regardless, there was no way I was going to set
foot through the door of that party and hang out with them, joke with them,
pretend I was one of them.
unfolded the paper again and stared at it, seeing it a bit differently than
before. Maybe I could live through being in the same room with them, just for
it would be worth it, as long as Evie would be there.
I took my
time walking into sixth period, to find Mr. Floyd at the Smart Board, outlining
the week’s Social Communications assignment. As usual, Evie Cunningham and Tara
Reynolds snuck in ten seconds after the bell, but Mr. Floyd didn’t seem to
notice. Instead, he set his marker to rest and turned to us. “Who’s up for a
class sprang to life with a unified breath of anticipation.
a rare word in this class.
Coleman and I will be combining a social psychology project with the current
English Lit lesson plan.”
surfaced, while a few faces pinched in confusion, but our good-natured teacher
gave a chuckle and dove in to explain. “From now until the end of the marking
period, these two classes will be combined and count towards three-quarters of
this semester’s grade.”
let’s kick things off before I have a riot on my hands.” Mr. Floyd held his
palms out to stifle the overwhelming enthusiasm. “In English Literature you’re
discussing the works of poets who have segregated themselves from society. I
believe the topic this week is Sylvia Plath. Am I correct?”
took his time meandering down the first aisle, amid the muttered acknowledgment
that swelled around him, then wove his way up the next to stop in front of
Evie. He leaned and tapped his pointer on the paperback resting on top of her
Cunningham, describe, in a word, the emotional state of the poet in question?”
she replied in her clear, soft voice.
Mr. Mitman, if you’re awake back there, another adjective, if you will.” Eyes
that held Evie in an ethereal spotlight reluctantly found their way back to me,
and my own dropped to study the veneer sheen of my desktop.
I shifted in my seat then saw Mr. Floyd nod at my answer.
Ms. Plath chose to be of a different mindset. She suffered from manic depression,
isolated herself from the world, and became suicidal, trying many attempts to
end her life, which she viewed as miserable.”
filled the classroom as we listened. It was one thing to study poetry, but
another to dive into the mind of the poet, and Mr. Floyd had a way of
she conform to society?” he continued. “No. She played by her own rules. Did
society ridicule her for a mental illness they couldn’t understand? No. Even
now we seek to dissect her, to understand her pain so that we, as a society,
might be able to embrace her and find beauty in her words. This is critical
thinking ladies and gentlemen. Do we study the obvious, or do we dig further?
Do we dare try and see a little of her in us?”
quiet cloud of thought hovered over us. This is what Mr. Floyd did best: he
made us think, drawing out all sorts of possibilities like a thick, sticky
salve. Of course, a few were immune to the discussions that often took place.
Tara Reynolds, for one, found her fingernails entirely more interesting than
the tormented soul of a writer.
you name a piece written by Ms. Plath, Mr. Mitman?”
attention immediately snapped back to the moment. I had a number of Sylvia
Plath’s chapbooks at home. Her despair had been oddly comforting to me a few
The Colossus, Cut,
were as familiar to me as breathing, but instead of answering right away, I
flipped my pencil and began smudging the smoothness of my desktop with the
eraser, suddenly eager to add something unappealing to its unmarred surface.
Floyd waited for my answer while my mind turned to the battered paperbacks
stowed beneath my bed; to the one that was especially dog-eared and bent, one
of its pages folded over in a permanent crease.
voice rang out.
air felt still. Heads turned, as if connected by a string, to the front of the
room, as we waited for our teacher to comment. Only I seemed to notice how Mr.
Floyd ate his words, how he empathetically stared at me from behind those
wire-rims of his. He cleared his throat. I saw the inconspicuous nod aimed my
way then heard the squeaky wheels of the projector as it rolled to the front of
the room. The lights above us went out, and an illuminated outline flashed in
and out of focus on the drop screen. Notebooks shuffled around me.
in the dark it was hard to ignore her.
knew she was trying to understand what had just happened, could feel her
chipping away at it. I let my eyes dip to my pencil then I looked back up. Part
of me wished I hadn’t. She was no longer turned in her seat, but facing front,
scribbling away in her notebook. Tara mouthed something that Evie shook her
head to. I stared at the back of her head. She was one of those girls –
the kind that got under your skin. In a good way. But I kept that to myself
because, as far as I knew, Evie was untouchable.
Floyd started talking again and directed our attention to the bulleted items on
the transparency, and just like that, it was like nothing ever happened.
project is one of similarity,” he explained. “You’ll be broken into groups
where the main objective is to focus on what’s alike, rather than what’s
different. Let’s start with basics.
and Evie are both female and sit in the front row. Similar, yes?”
Floyd nodded, intending to garner a response from the girls.
want you to dig deeper. Discover opinions, attitudes, even habits; as opposed
to what lies on the surface. The point is to see the other person as a unique
individual, and also one who is much like you. You’ll be expected to spend time
with your project partners. Get to know them,
better understand yourselves.”
Floyd read off names from his list. Four were assigned to a group, with the
exception being the last; a group of three. I rolled my eyes as he included
Evie and Tara in one breath then nearly choked as he read the last name. Mine.
bell rang and the clamor of squeaking chairs and voices filled the air as Mr.
Floyd raised his voice and continued to give instructions. “Professor Coleman
will also be assigning a research project on Sylvia Plath. You’ll meet with him
next week for the double class and continue to work with the same study
partners for both assignments.”
blew the last of the eraser nubs from my desktop, grabbed hold of my books, and
stood up after the room emptied to my liking.
I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.”
nodded, and watched the sympathy on Mr. Floyd’s face bloom into quiet relief
that I didn’t hold it against him. I was one of his best students. Sure, I was
quiet. I looked like the kid who didn’t care in the back of the classroom half
the time. Not many people got that. They saw what they wanted to see, but Mr.
Floyd was one of the few exceptions. He understood what April 18
meant to me, how that date would hang over me like a black cloud for the rest
of my life.
tucked my books beneath my arm. Deep down, I knew this assignment would be more
of a test for me. How much would I be willing to reveal about myself, my past,
the skeletons in my closet. I’d have to keep the obvious close at hand, because
right now there was no way I could let anyone dig too deep. Especially Evie.
in her usual hurry we approached the top of the main staircase. To my right,
eyes of former Whitley Prep Headmasters followed me as I descended past their
oversized portraits to the glossy black and white marble floor beneath me. The
foyer stretched to meet three arched walkways. Tara waited beneath one,
impatience etched across her face. Despite the crappy mood I could sense she
was in, I took my time. My thoughts were preoccupied, leaving me little time to
create a mask she couldn’t see through.
Mitman’s preference of sitting at the back of my last class was the perfect
excuse to turn around and check out the back wall. But there was something even
the elusive Chase couldn’t hide. He couldn’t hide how his eyes lit whenever
mine met his. They changed. They brightened, deepened, made me weak.
I’m pretty sure he knew it.
not going to like this,” Tara huffed.
the mention of Shane’s name, the moment was ruined. Reality was back, and I
felt myself pale. “He’s in Debate. Besides, it’s an assigned project. We have
murmured something indecipherable. Chase wasn’t the sort Shane and his friends
hung out with, and that included Tara, which also included me by default since
I was Shane’s girlfriend. And since Shane’s uncle was Headmaster that sort of
allowed the world of Whitley to revolve around him.
created a bigger problem. One I couldn’t help. The little crush I had for the
bad boy at the back of the room in Social Communications.
let out a deep sigh as my feet touched the marble. To make this work, Tara
needed to be bribed. I bit my tongue and pulled out my most convincing tone.
“So let’s prove Mr. Moody can interact socially. It’s a guaranteed A.”
stared at me with her usual “you’re an idiot” look on her face. She stared long
enough to know I would eventually squirm, and deep down, part of me knew I
couldn’t hide anything from her. I feared she knew I looked at the back of the
room more often than anyone else, and all that was back there to look at was a
half-filled bulletin board.
plotting grin bloomed across Tara’s face and before I knew it, she grabbed my
elbow, and we were racing down the hallway, passing beneath the arch that led
to the science wing and another long row of white lockers.
I stopped short and pulled my elbow back, rubbing where she’d held it tight.