I knelt in front of the library, tears dripping down my face. My backpack lay on the ground, paper strewn everywhere. I reached for them slowly, but the breeze carried them out of my reach.
“You okay?” A male voice startled me. I looked up to see Mark Fletcherson, the smartest kid in my grade, leaning down to pick up some of the papers.
“I’m fine,” I growled, and his face changed from sympathetic to wary.
Just then, Emilie and one of her friends walked out of the library. She saw me and Mark, ran to grab a loose paper flying by, and brought it over.
Mark took it before I could and turned back to me. “You’re sure you’re okay?”
I nodded, trying to get Emilie’s attention. But she had turned and left.
There went that plan, thanks to brilliant, helpful Mark Fletcherson, who couldn’t mind his own business.
I needed to get her when she was alone.
Emilie's mom picked her up every day after 3 p.m.
So at 3 p.m., I rode my bike past the white Lincoln and bit the dust spectacularly.
“Oh my gosh, are you okay?”
There she was. Walking quickly toward the car. Toward me.
I tried to stand, but my knee was scraped up pretty badly, my leg tangled in the twisted bike tire.
Emilie helped me up. Her flowery scent filled my nostrils as I overdid my limp.
“You’re really bleeding.”
“It’s okay. I just don’t know how to get home.” I looked down at my broken bike and grimaced. I hadn’t wanted to destroy my only means of transportation.
“What happened?” Emilie’s mom got out of the car, the wrinkles of worry on her forehead the only thing showing that she’d aged since the last time I'd seen her.
“I--lost-- control.” I gasped. “I don’t know what to do about my bike.”
“Maybe we could fit it in the trunk.”
They helped me into the car and somehow managed to get the bike in too. My knee stung, and I didn’t have anything to stop the blood.
“I’m so sorry, dear.” Mrs. Young handed back a napkin. “Where should we take you?”
“You really don’t--”
They both cut me off. Mrs. Young didn’t remember who I was, but when Emilie told her, she was even more kind.
“We really missed you when you stopped coming around. How have you been?”
Never been worse.
“Well, you’re welcome to come by any time.”
What did Emilie think about that offer?
I told her the address to Grandpa’s. I saw Emilie and her mom exchange glances as the car pulled over on the side of the street. Grandpa didn’t necessarily live in the ghetto, but it was pretty close.
Emilie helped me out of the car onto the cracked sidewalk.
“I’m sorry.” I started sniffling. “I didn’t want to ruin your day.”
“You didn't. Don’t even worry about it.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without my bike. That’s the only thing I have.”
Emilie’s face was close, her lips drawn in worry. “What happened to you, Jodi?”
I shook my head, letting a few tears leak out. “A lot of stuff. I couldn’t handle it, so I had to cut you out. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She rubs my back. “There’s nothing to apologize for. You can tell me.”
How much should I give her?
“It’s just my mom. She’s in rehab, so I have to live here, and all I had was the bike...”
Emilie kept comforting me until I couldn’t muster any more tears.
When she stood to go, she turned back to me. “Hey, want to sit with me at lunch tomorrow?”
I nodded, smiling a genuine smile.
Phase one of the plan was complete.
Sitting with Emilie and her friends was a new experience. When we were friends in elementary school, being popular wasn't as big of a deal. In high school, it was celebrity status. It was hard to stay in my zone when I was getting surprised stares from others and confused, skeptical looks from Emilie’s friends.
Talk at the table flowed from one thing to another, criticizing our Algebra teacher, talking about the homecoming in a few weeks, dissecting some reality show they all watched. I listened, studying each of the girls at the table.
They seemed like a package deal. The most outspoken one was clearly Summer Sanders, and the rest seemed to look to her when there was a disagreement. There was little distinction between the other girls. Emilie also seemed high on the rung, though she was distracted, staring at the table by the window, where the “hot guys” sat.
“Em, you daydreaming about Liam again?” Summer jabbed her with her elbow, and the other girls laughed.
“Shut up.” Emilie blushed.
“You just need to invite him to homecoming,” one of the girls said.
Emilie twisted her shiny hair. “No. He needs to invite me.”
I watched the faces as the girls discussed Liam. Most of them were teasing or alight with gossip, but one face wasn’t smiling as much as the others.
She was my in.
I didn’t catch her name until later, when Summer yelled, “Alysha!” when the girl bumped her arm while she was drinking.
None of the girls talked to me the whole lunch, but when I stood to leave, Emilie touched my arm. “Want to eat with us again tomorrow?”
By the end of the week, my presence at lunch became a normal thing. The girls still didn’t talk to me, but they didn’t glare either. Every now and then, I would chime in, and I even started watching their dumb show so I’d have something to say. Thankfully, Grandpa didn’t care what was on TV as long as he could stare at it.
When I’d been around a week, I decided to invite myself over to Emilie’s.
It wasn’t hard. I told her Grandpa was giving me a hard time and I couldn’t get my homework done.
“Why don’t you just come over to my house? We can do some work together.”
I smiled back at the heavy mascara and pink lips. “I wouldn’t have a way to get home.”
I had to take the bus since my bike was out of service.
“Dad will drive you home.”
So a couple hours later, there I sat in her huge, turquoise room with pictures of Emilie and her friends covering every inch of one wall.
She spent a lot of our time texting. Almost every time she put her phone down, it would buzz and she’d grab it.
Finally, she said she needed to go to the bathroom and jumped up, leaving her phone. I bit my lip, my eyes on the phone until I was sure she was gone.
I ran for it and tapped the button. The lump in my throat dropped when it unlocked. Thankfully it was delayed lock, and she hadn’t been gone long enough.
My thumb flew over the screen, speedreading her most recent texts.
Summer. Mom. Liam.
I tapped on Liam’s name. There were several flirtatious texts back and forth, but I didn’t see any invitation to homecoming.
I went on Summer’s texts.
I haven’t told anyone
Mom would kill me if she found out
My eyes stopped on those words, then I quickly scrolled up.
Emilie: You have to stop, it’s not healthy
You should see a dr
I did it again. I can help it, food doesn’t stay down anymore
I heard footsteps, and I closed the app, flinging the phone back on the chair, running back to the couch to land on it right when Emilie came inside.
I pretended to be picking up another book. She didn’t notice anything.
When my heart stopped racing, I looked over at Emilie, pouring over her phone again.
“Did you hear anything from Liam? About homecoming?”
Her head jerked up.
“I overheard you girls talking at lunch.” I felt like I’d crossed some line.
Her face grew softer and she sighed. “No. I can’t tell if he’s playing me or is too scared to make a move. Homecoming is only a few weeks away.”
“Could you go with someone else?”
She shook her head. “It would be embarrassing to go with anyone else who invited me.”
That night, next to Grandpa watching old black-and-white films, I came up with phase two.