Authors: CJ Lyons
Copyright © 2013 by CJ Lyons
Cover and internal design © 2013 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Eileen Carey
Cover image © Rob Webb/Getty Images
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Despite Long QT, your heart is too big and generous to ever be broken.
If you want to get noticed fast, try starting high school three weeks late as the girl who almost died.
Unfortunately, attention is the last thing I crave. Give me anonymity anytime. Every time.
I just want to be a normal girl. No one special.
Saw a movie once, don’t remember what channel, but it was in the dark hours of the night when it was just me and the TV. My favorite time of day.
It starred John Travolta back when he was young. The kid was so sick he lived in this plastic bubble and he was so excited when he got to leave it.
Me? When I saw the boy leave his bubble, I wanted it for myself. Coveted it.
God, how I’d die for a cozy little bubble to live my life in, safe from the outside world.
Only I’d paint my bubble black so no one could see me inside.
There are two metal detectors inside the main doors of Smithfield High and 337 students plus one trying to crowd through them. I’m the plus one. Not sure which line to stand in or if there’s even a real line at all hidden somewhere in this mass of humanity. It’s the largest crowd I’ve ever been in.
The school lobby echoes with voices and the stamping of feet. We’re herded like a bunch of cows headed for slaughter. All that’s missing are the cowboys and the branding irons.
No one else is nervous about this. They don’t care about the metal detectors or what’s in their bags or even the two guards manning the operation. They’re not worried about being trampled or that there isn’t enough oxygen or how many billions—no, trillions—of bacteria and viruses are wafting through the air, microscopic time bombs searching for a new home.
All they care about is me. The stranger in their midst. They shuffle around me uneasily, quickly sniffing out that I don’t belong.
A girl with a pierced nose and heavy eyeliner looks at me like I’m a tacky rhinestone necklace on display at a pawnshop counter. She hides her mouth behind her hand as she whispers something to her friend with the purple streak in her hair.
A guy wearing a white and orange Smithfield Wildcats letterman jacket trips over the backpack I wheel behind me, almost smashing into a wall before he catches himself. “Out of my way, loser.”
His snarl is accompanied by a sneer. He stares down at me—he’s huge, at least six feet tall, with shoulders that block my view. “I said, move it.” I try to steer my backpack, but his feet get tangled as he zigs the same direction I’m zagging. “You don’t want to piss me off. Understand?”
The crowd pushes him even closer so all I can hear is his voice. My heart booms in response, sending up its own distress call. His name is on his letterman jacket, embroidered above the wildcat with the long, sharp fangs.
. I shrink against the wall, making myself even smaller than my usual five feet two, and pull my backpack between my legs, giving him room to cut in front of me.
He joins a cluster of football players and continues to stare at me. His look is easy to read: what kind of loser brings a wheeled backpack to high school?
Not cool. Neither are my virgin-white, just-out-of-the-box-this-morning sneakers that a guy in a pair of work boots stomps on. And why didn’t I think to put on at least a little lip gloss this morning?
I scan the crowd, searching for the normal kids—and fail. Seems like being normal is out of style this season. You have to be “someone,” create an alter ego: a jock, a church girl, a rebel, a loser.
Even I understand the danger of that last label.
I’m too skinny, too pale; my hair’s all wrong; I should’ve tried to figure out makeup (as if Mom would ever let me!), shouldn’t have worn this jacket (but I love my faded, soft, frayed denim jacket; my dad gave it to me). It’s out of style and doesn’t go with the new-blue of my jeans that everyone can tell are a last minute buy from K-Mart, because who needs clothes when you live in a hospital and—
An elbow nudges my back. My turn at the metal detector.
I roll my backpack—heavier than any other student’s—over to the guard. He hefts it onto his examination table and zips it open. “What’s this?”
“My AED.” I try to sound hip and casual, like doesn’t every kid carry their own advanced life support resuscitation equipment?
The guard snatches his hand away from my bag. “An IED?”
Now everyone is staring. At me.
“New kid has a bomb in there,” Mitch, the guy I accidentally tripped earlier, shouts in mock dismay. His voice booms through the crowded space louder than a real IED going off.
Not everyone thinks it’s a joke. A gasp goes up behind me, traveling down the line of waiting students faster than a roller coaster. I’m imagining that last part—I’ve never been on a roller coaster. Their stares push me forward.
“No. It’s an
ED.” Sweat trickling down the back of my neck, I rush to explain before I’m branded a terrorist or, worse, a freak. Too late. Mitch and his group of football players are snickering and pointing at me. “Automated External Defibrillator. I need it for my heart.”
Actually, I hope I never need it, but even though the school has an AED in the gym, Mom convinced the insurance company that I should have my own, smaller model to carry with me at all times. Just in case.
Story of my life in three words: Just In Case.
Just in case my heart does a backflip at the sight of a cute guy and lands on its ass, unable to spring back on its own.
Just in case the fire alarm goes off and startles me, releasing adrenaline, shocking my heart into quivering, cowardly surrender.
Just in case I’m too hot or too cold or eat the wrong thing or forget to take my meds and my heart decides today is the day to go galloping out of control, leaving me lying there on the floor for guys like Mitch Kowlaski to walk over while everyone else points and laughs at the girl who finally died…
Mom has a thousand and one Just In Cases. Like she keeps reminding me, if I were a cat, I’d already have used up more than nine lives.
Swallowing my pride and the chance that I’ll ever be accepted here—who am I kidding? I never had a chance, only a hope—I pull my Philips HeartStart AED free from its case and show it to the guard.
He stares from the AED to me, taking in my way-too-skinny frame, paler-than-vampire complexion, sunken eyes, and brittle hair, and nods wordlessly. “Humor the girl-freak before she does something crazy” kind of nodding.
“See? Here’s how you use it, it talks you through everything,” I prattle on, trying desperately to sound nonchalant. Normal. I call the defibrillator Phil for short. The perfect accessory for any fifteen-year-old girl, right? The bright-blue plastic case matches my eyes, can’t you see?
“Aw, look. Freakazoid has a broken heart,” Mitch says. “Waiting for Dr. Frankenstein to shock some life into you, sweetheart? I got everything you need right here.”
“Shut it, Kowlaski,” the other guard yells at him. He turns to me. “You must be Scarlet Killian.”
I now realize that the second line has also stopped to witness the end of my short career as a normal high school sophomore. Everyone now knows my name. Knows my heart is broken. Knows I’m a freak.
“Your mom told us to be on the lookout for you. Go ahead through.”
Our hands collide as we both reach to return Phil to my pack. He jerks away. Reluctant to touch the complicated machine—or the girl whose life it’s meant to save?
Why does everyone assume dying is contagious?
I shove Phil back in, zip the pack shut, slip through the metal detector without anything exploding, and bolt.
The football players, including Mitch, are crowded together on the other side, forcing me to push past them. “Must be tough having a heart ready to go tick, tick, boom!” Mitch laughs. His friends must think it’s funny because they join in.
Totally embarrassed and certain everyone is staring, I keep my head down and walk away, hauling Phil behind me. My heart is beating so fast spots appear before my vision. Not a Near Miss, just plain, old-fashioned, let-me-crawl-in-a-hole-and-die mortification.
Time spent in high school: three minutes, forty-two seconds. Time spent as a normal sophomore girl before being outed as the freak with the bum heart: fifty-five seconds.
Time remaining in my high school career as a freak: 5,183,718 seconds.
Maybe less if the doctors’ predictions are right and I get lucky and drop dead.