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Authors: C. J. Omololu

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Dirty Little Secrets

BOOK: Dirty Little Secrets
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dirty little secrets

c. j. omololu

For Bayo, who always knew

Table of Contents

chapter 1

chapter 2

chapter 3

chapter 4

chapter 5

chapter 6

chapter 7

chapter 8

chapter 9

chapter 10

chapter 11

chapter 12

chapter 13

chapter 14

chapter 15

chapter 16

chapter 17

chapter 18

chapter 19

chapter 20

acknowledgments

chapter 1

before

Everyone has secrets. Some are just bigger and dirtier than others.

At least that's what I told myself whenever I stood in a crowd of normal-looking people and felt like I was the only one. The only person on the planet who had to hide practically everything that was real. It was soothing to look at all the unfamiliar faces and try to figure out the thing each person hid inside—true or not, it made me feel like less of a freak.

I'll bet that guy in the red hoodie picks his nose when he thinks
nobody is looking. And the kid with the baseball cap pulled too low
over his eyes? Totally stoned on the pain pills he steals from his
mother. See how that girl in the corner stands just a little apart
from everyone else? Her dad probably smacks her around when he's
had too much to drink.
Mom never laid a hand on me. There was that, anyway.

Despite the press of bodies, it was nice to know I could stand in the middle of a swirling mass of people and nobody would really see me. Nobody would know what my life was like, and nobody would ask me questions that were impossible to answer. I loved the glazed, faraway look people got as they glanced at you with a smile that faded as they quickly realized they didn't know you—their eyes scanned your face and, without a flicker of recognition, moved on to the next person. You were a factor in their life for a nanosecond and then you were gone.

Which is why being friends with Kaylie this year had been so stressful. With her, the nanosecond in art class had extended into months of hanging out, and there was always that nagging worry in the back of my head that it would turn out just like it had before. I always tried to be careful—watching what I said and what she knew, but sometimes it got exhausting. It was nice having a friend, though, nicer than I'd ever imagined, and that made it worth the effort.

As my eyes traveled over the people in the lobby, I couldn't help glancing in Josh's direction. Whether we were in the school hallway teeming with bodies or in a crowded movie theater lobby, my eyes went straight to him. Not that he had a clue or probably even remembered my name, but the last thing I wanted was for him to catch me staring. Which I wasn't. Much.

“Lucy, what do you want to see?” Kaylie was standing beside me, squinting up at the movie listings. She said that sticking her finger in her eye to put in contacts was gross and glasses made her look like a mathlete, so for now, she just wandered through life squinting at things. “The new one with Johnny Depp isn't out until next week, so it's either a chick flick with an unrealistically happy ending or an action/adventure with cute guys constantly in danger.”

“You choose,” I said, not wanting to make the wrong decision and pick a movie she really wouldn't like. It was great that I'd finally found someone who shared my deep Johnny Depp love. Kaylie even had the complete set of
21 Jump Street
DVDs, and we'd spent hours at her house devouring every episode—well, at least through season four when he left the show.
Jump Street
without Johnny was pointless. I fished around in my bag for my wallet. “I've got this one.”

“Are you sure? I have money . . .”

“I'm sure,” I said. “Dad sent me a fat check for Christmas. Technically,
he's
taking us to the movies.” It wasn't like I was trying to buy Kaylie's friendship. At least I didn't mean it that way. It was just that sometimes I felt a little guilty. With everything I had to hide, the least I could do was pay for a movie now and then.

“Thanks,” she said, putting her money back in her purse. “It's so cool he sends you cash. It would almost be worth having divorced parents if I could get paid regularly.”

I grinned. “Not regularly, just sometimes when he's feeling particularly guilty. Like Christmas. Sort of his way of saying, “Thanks for NOT coming.”

“What do you mean
not
coming—don't you ever visit him?”

I made a sound that might qualify as a snort if it was any louder. “Not if I can help it. His new wife, Tiffany, likes to think Dad never even dated before she came along, forget about the whole married-with-kids thing. She's only twenty-nine or something, and now that they have the baby, it's better that I don't exist in their reality.”

“Ugh,” Kaylie said. “She's twenty-nine? Isn't your sister that old?”

“Almost,” I said. “Sara's going to be twenty-six in a couple of months.”

“That,” Kaylie said, making a face, “is gross. It's like he's doing his own daughter.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, smiling a little. It was nice to hear this stuff out loud and know it wasn't just me. “These days, he's nothing more than a sperm donor as far as I'm concerned.”

“So that's why you hardly mention him?” She looked at me like she was waiting for more.

I scrambled for a good answer—it was stupid to have brought any of this up. Dad left when I was five, and he rarely looked back, so I tried not to care. Lately, all I saw of him was his pointy signature at the bottom of the checks I got every now and then, but talking about it always led to more questions, and you could never be too careful where the truth was involved. I tried to act casual, like I was concentrating on something on the opposite wall. “It's really no big deal,” I said with a laugh that sounded fake even to me. “People get divorced all the time.”

Kaylie shrugged. “Sometimes I bet my parents would like to pay me not to show up. That way they wouldn't have to stress over my grades all the time.”

I relaxed into the safety of talking about something other than me. “No way. Your parents are totally cool. They just care if you get into a good school, is all.” Her mom was like something out of one of those Nick at Nite sitcoms—their house was always so nice, and she didn't seem to mind that my sleeping bag was a permanent fixture on Kaylie's floor. I promised myself tonight was the last night I would stay over there for the rest of winter break. Hang out too long and people get tired of you.

Kaylie squinted up at the board again. “So, chick flick?”

“Sounds good.” I gave the ticket info to the guy behind the little round window and handed him the cash.

Kaylie's little brother ran up and poked her in the shoulder. “I need five bucks.”

“Mom gave you money, Daemon.”

“That was for the movies,” he said. “I need money for video games with the guys.”

I took the tickets and my change from the cashier and stepped away from the window.

“Well, now you have a choice,” Kaylie said. “You can either go to the movies like you're supposed to, or you can blow the money on loser video games and sit here for two hours until we're done.”

Daemon frowned and looked back at the group of seventh-grade boys. I remembered how much it sucked to be the youngest and have to beg for everything. Sara and Phil were so much older than me that I always felt like I had extra parents instead of siblings. They were always talking about how they weren't given half as much stuff when they were kids and how Mom spoiled me just because I was the baby. Ever since they moved out, they seemed to have totally forgotten what it was like living there. “Here,” I said, handing Daemon a couple of singles.

“Thanks,” he yelled back as he raced toward his friends.

“You didn't have to do that,” Kaylie said, glaring at him. “He's such a leech.”

I shrugged, trying to play it off. The last thing I wanted was for her to think I wasn't on her side. “I'm loaded, remember?”

We still had fifteen minutes until the movie started, so I tried to decide if I wanted to blow more money on an industrialsized box of Milk Duds. They were such a rip-off here, but what was a movie without gobs of melted chocolate and caramel stuck to the roof of your mouth? Kaylie stood on her tiptoes beside me, looking for people she knew. She nudged me with her elbow. “He's totally staring at you.”

“Who?” I asked, looking around. Somebody staring was generally not a good sign. Even worse if they were pointing.

She glanced over my shoulder and then back to me. “Like you don't know who. Josh Lee who. In the popcorn line.”

As if I didn't already know where he was standing, or that he was wearing the blue jacket with the koi design he got at the beginning of the year. As if I didn't secretly watch him at lunch on the quad or practically lose my powers of speech every time our hands touched passing papers in physics.

“Right. I'm sure he's staring at you, not me.” I pushed my hair out of my face and tried to look casually around. Kaylie was the one guys always stared at—tiny and cute, she could have been a cheerleader if she wanted to. Why she picked me to be her friend was still a mystery, but hanging out with her made my life seem almost normal.

She also never let a little thing like subtlety bother her. “Ooh, he's with Steve Romero! We should totally go over there and talk to them.” She was a foot shorter than me but freakishly strong, pulling me in that direction before I could think up a good excuse not to go.

“No, Kaylie. Wait . . . ,” I tried, but we were already there.

“Hey, Steve, hey, Josh,” she said effortlessly. “What are you guys going to see?”

“That new Will Smith movie,” Steve said, peering over the heads in front of him. “If this line ever gets moving.”

“Oh, my God,” she said, sounding surprised. “We are too.” She bumped me with her hip and I managed a weak smile. I knew the smartest move I could make right then was to stand there and shut up.

“Hey,” Josh said to me. He didn't look too annoyed and was even smiling a little.

“Hi,” I managed, glancing up at those deep brown eyes. He had a certain Johnny Depp-ness that made my heart race and my cheeks burn. Somebody somewhere in his family must have been Asian—he had the deepest almond-shaped brown eyes. I was afraid to look at them too long in case they swallowed me up.

Josh had been in my eighth-grade English class when I'd first transferred in from Catholic school three years ago. He'd sat right in front of me, and I spent the entire semester staring at the back of his head, fighting with myself not to reach out and run my hand over the short, bristly hairs where they faded into his neck. He always smelled like soap and laundry detergent, and I leaned forward on my desk as often as I could to get a whiff of the light, clean scent. No matter how hard I tried, I could never smell like that.

“Poetry,” Mr. Manillo had written on the board that first week. I groaned inside. I liked English well enough, but I absolutely hated poetry. Poets never said what they really meant, and your job was to spend hours trying to figure it out. In the end it usually wasn't worth the effort.

Mr. Manillo turned to face us as he spoke about the mysteries of poetry. His eyes locked on mine and I quickly glanced down at my desk.

Too late. “Ms. Tompkins,” he said. “You must have a favorite poet. I'm sure they gave you a good poetry foundation over at St. Ignatius.”

Like most of the other teachers in this place, he either thought too highly of a Catholic school education, or he was making fun of me. I was never sure which it was.

“I don't . . . ,” I started to say, but then noticed every eye in the room was on me. I knew my face was bright red and could feel droplets of sweat trickling down my back. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, cleared my throat, and recited the only poem I had ever memorized.

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