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Authors: Wilson,Rachel M.

Don't Touch

BOOK: Don't Touch
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HarperCollins Publishers


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HarperCollins Publishers

This is an advance reader's e-proof made from digital files of the uncorrected proofs. Readers are reminded that changes may be made prior to publication, including to the type, design, layout, or content, that are not reflected in this e-proof, and that this e-pub may not reflect the final edition. Any material to be quoted or excerpted in a review should be checked against the final published edition. Dates, prices, and manufacturing details are subject to change or cancellation without notice.


HarperCollins Publishers



HarperCollins Publishers



To my parents, Joe and Janet, who have always supported my most far-fetched dreams, and to my sister Laura, who gets it






Act One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Act Two

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Act Three

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Act Four

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Act Five

Chapter 40


About the Author

Author's Note


About the Publisher


HarperCollins Publishers



I am too much i' the sun.



HarperCollins Publishers



“Cadence Finn? Take yourself right out there, hon.”

The office lady points toward the academy's courtyard and goes back to her magazine:
Crafting for the Southern Home.

“I think I'm supposed to get a Peer Pal?”

“Hon, yours is late. I'd stick you with another group, but you're our only new junior. You just wait right on out there.”

“I can't wait inside?”

Outside, the air's thick and wet, the sun scalding. It's like the sauna at Mom's fitness club with the temperature dialed up to hell.

Instead of answering, the lady sniffs and sets down her magazine to pour me a Dixie cup of lemonade from a pitcher on the dividing wall. “You're not dressed for the heat,” she says with a pinched smile.

That's an understatement.

It's ninety degrees out, but I'm wearing jeans, long sleeves, and a scarf. The humidity's plastered my hair to the back of my neck in a sticky shield. Alabama in August calls for pixie cuts and ponytails, but I don't dare leave my skin exposed.

Don't touch.

“I guess I wanted to wear my new school clothes?”

She holds out the cup, saying, “This will keep you cool.”

I wait for her to set it down and move her hand away before I take the cup. Her smile's puckered into a knot with my delay, so I say my politest, “Thank you, ma'am,” and head out to sit on the courtyard's brick wall, where I squint at the sun, sip watery lemonade, and shake.

Don't touch. Don't touch.

The words chime in the background, a constant and nagging refrain. The threat of touch pulses and swells the way skin gets raw after a burn. It's constant and secret and eager to catch me off-guard.

There's too much empty space behind me. My Peer Pal could sneak up, put her hand on my shoulder—or
hand! There I go shaking again.

If somebody asks why, I'll claim that I'm cold.

They probably won't challenge me, but I plan out the script anyway:

(eyeing my long sleeves)
What's with the shivers?

I guess I'm cold-blooded.

NOSY PEER PAL: There's something about you. What

(confident, mysterious, a little tragic even)
I'm just me.

to try out for the fall play!

ME: That's part of my plan.


My life is not a play. I am
on stage.

People talk about stage fright, but life is what's scary. In a play, you know where to stand, what to say, and the ending's already been written. I've played crazy characters, emotional wrecks, but not one of them ever stopped breathing.

Don't touch.

The magic words help my pulse slow, if only for a second. It's like scratching an itch that won't stay in one place. I shouldn't give in, but thinking the words
right, safe.

I almost want to call Dad—he's always been good at calming me down—but Dad
to remove himself from our lives, and I'm going to respect that. I'm going to
that choice till he feels what he's making us feel.

If I called, he'd play I-told-you-so: “This might all be too much for you, changing schools? Hanging out with a bunch of temperamental artsy types?”

So far, I'm not hanging out with anyone. The other new students sit in tight, buzzing rings among the statues on the courtyard lawn. There's a plaque explaining this sculpture garden as a student project made of recycled materials from Birmingham's old steelworks and mines. The statue nearest me has a wire frame filled with chunks of limestone roughly in the shape of a giant man. Small stones have been allowed to slip out in a pile at the giant's feet as if he's crumbling.

“Titan of Industry,” the giant's called. Somebody passed his class in irony.

I resist the urge to help the Titan by stuffing his stones back in his frame.

Maybe they couldn't find a Peer Pal willing to take me. Maybe I'm not supposed to be here—there's another Cadence Finn, a freshman one, and I got her acceptance letter by mistake.

And then Mandy Bower waves at me, an honest-to-God Peer—and I hope, hope, hope Pal. Mandy glides through the circles of freshmen as if barely tethered to earth, the half-human product of some Greek god's indiscretion. She's forever cursed to fraternize with the merely mortal, and it bums her out.

Still, Mandy smiles for me. A perfect Greek-goddess smile. “I'm your new Peer Pal. Aren't you so excited you could puke pink?”

She doesn't rush to hug me. That's a good thing, I guess, a safe thing, but Mandy used to squeeze me nearly to death every time we saw each other.

“Hi, Mandy.”

This year, she's fashioned herself as a boho badass with rings of black eyeliner and a long, flowing skirt. She still has a ton of blond curls, but now there are streaks of pink on the undersides. Pointy sticks pretend like they want to keep her hair up, but it's an act. Messy curls fall in just the right way all around Mandy's face.

“What did your mom say about the pink hair?” I ask, knowing Mandy's pageant-obsessed mom would never approve.

Mandy pouts mischievously. “She threatened to cut it out. I told her I'd dye it back for competition but that if she cut it, I'd switch my dance to a dubstep.”

“Can you
a dubstep?”

“No! But I sure can make an ass out of myself faking it.”

She does a couple of twisty moves with her legs, some robot arms, and I laugh.

Mandy and I spent every possible second together from birth into middle school. We started drifting even then, but since she started at the academy, we've only seen each other at her family's Christmas parties or the occasional mom-daughter brunch.

We made plans.

They fell through.

Mandy bounces on her toes. “How's your life?” she says as if it's been a few days and not a few years since we were friends. “Did you miss me?”

I'm afraid to answer:
Yes, of course, every day.

“How's Bailey?” Mandy asks, naming the girl who became my closest friend by default after Mandy.

“She says Oregon is nice. She moved away in the middle of freshman year.”


“How's Lena?”

“Beats me,” Mandy says. “Lena was a capital B.”

I want to holler applause, but I just say, “Ah,” and nod.

“You still dominating the science fair?” she asks, and I sigh my assent.

Starting in seventh grade, thanks to Dad, I won four in a row. I love that Dad says the world needs more female scientists. I just wish he'd stop pushing me to be one of them.

“Okay, here's a fun game,” Mandy says, hiking up her skirt to straddle the wall, her knees just a couple of inches away from me. Touching through clothes doesn't count, but having Mandy within poking distance still doesn't feel safe.

I scoot back, trying to pass it off like I'm just making room.

Mandy goes on. “The freshmen are split up by discipline. Can you tell who's who?”

She's always been good at filling up awkward spaces, making things fun that weren't fun before.
Let it last. Please, please let this last.

I scan the circles of freshmen. Any group of mostly girls is likely to be dancers, but the prevalence of bunheads and unnecessary stretching clinches it. When I guess, Mandy says, “No doubt.”

I decide one group is studio artists based on creative wardrobe choices. One girl wears feather epaulettes like wings, and a guy wears a T-shirt that's been cut in half and stapled back together.

Mandy goes
like a game show buzzer. “Musicians,” she says.

I thought the musicians would be more reserved. “How can you tell?” I ask.

“Context clues.” She points to the girl with the feathered shoulders—who has her arm draped over a cello case.

“Oh, duh.”

One circle screams theater, dressed to impress. There's a Louise Brooks clone, with a bob and cloche hat, and a guy going for steampunk cowboy. This group's louder than the others, splashy and bright, but one sure clue tells me they're in theater: they've barely met, and already they're touching.

I take a deep breath—I
breathe—and hug my hands tight to my ribs. There's my chest moving up and down. An accidental touch is so easy. The words are my antidote:
Don't touch, please, please.

I thought I'd outgrown this game or at least squashed it down into something I could ignore, but the moment Dad left, it started again, and this time it feels deeper and harder to shake.

BOOK: Don't Touch
5.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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