Authors: Denise Grover Swank
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, #Love & Romance, #On the Otherside Book One
I shrug. “I felt like being alone today.”
Her eyes narrow. “If you wanted to be alone, then why was Evan Whittaker’s backpack found with yours in the choir room?”
How should I know? Maybe you should ask him.”
We would, but it appears Evan has left the campus.”
“Julia, you’re already having difficulties with your grades. Now you’re hiding in restricted areas and Sarah Chapman told me that you purposely pushed her into the wall after fourth period today.”
That’s not what happened! She ran into me.”
Her lips pinch and her eyes burn into me as though she’s trying to scan my thoughts. It’s obvious she doesn’t believe me. I suppose I haven’t given her much reason to. “Julia, you were always such a model student but since the accident—”
I cringe at the word.
you’ve been different. More belligerent. Talking back to your teachers and other students. This last incident just confirms we’re not qualified to meet your needs. We’ve decided it would be best for you to go to alternative school.”
We planned to do it at semester if tutoring didn’t work out, but after this incident, it seems wise to accelerate the timetable. It doesn’t have to be permanent placement, perhaps long enough for you to get things worked out and then you can come back. That’s what another student did recently. In fact, he just came back yesterday.”
My head’s fuzzy and black spots dance in my peripheral vision. I will not let myself pass out. “What do I have to do to keep from going there?” It’s not as though I want to be at James Monroe High School, it’s that alternative school seems a hundred times worse. Alternative school is for the rejects of society.
Maybe I belong there after all.
Just until you get things straightened out. It’s not a death sentence, Julia. There are worse things. Like I said, if you work hard enough, you can come back here.”
Can’t I do something to stay? Is it definite?”
She smiles apologetically. “I’m afraid it is.”
So, what? The other student came back and cleared out a spot for me?” The bitterness in my words matches my growing anger.
Good heavens, no. It doesn’t work that way.” She sighs and her face softens. “Julia, this might actually be a blessing. You’ll get more specialized attention there. You’ll probably catch up faster.”
I bite my tongue. Any disagreement on my part will be a waste of time. “When do I go?”
Tomorrow? I give myself a moment to recover.
Mrs. Hernandez sees my stricken face. “Julia, please try to look at this in a positive light.”
I want to laugh but with my luck, I’ll look crazy and they’ll probably send me to a mental institution. “So do I go home now? Am I expelled?”
No, you can finish out the day, but you’ll need to clear out your locker. You’ll need to take your textbooks with you. We’ve made arrangements for a bus to pick you up at your house tomorrow morning. Do you have any other questions?”
I have no more questions. No more protests. All the fight in me has fled.
We’re done here. You can go now.”
I stand up, looking down at the floor.
I pause, my back to her.
I nearly snort. Apparently, she doesn’t know I only have bad luck.
Evan’s not in history. When I look down into the parking lot, his car is noticeably absent.
Did I really think he’d come back to sit by me? Not that I want him to, anyway. His reaction to my bracelet still burns. Who does he think the bracelet belongs to? The girl he loved? Does he think I snatched if off her arm when she wasn’t looking? Like I even know who she is since he refuses to tell me.
I heave a sigh of disgust, the rush of air blowing a chunk of stray hair from my cheek. My eyes lock with a girl two rows in front of me. Her mouth parts as she realizes she’s been caught gawking and she quickly turns her attention to the front of the room. Maybe at the alternative school, I’ll at least blend in with all the other freaks.
I draw in my notebook, not even pretending to take notes. Seeing Evan’s name jump off the sheet is like a shard of glass piercing my heart. Thankfully, my hand has picked a new spot to draw and begins making an intricate
with scrolls and swirls, all looping around to become part of the other pieces.
I’m dying to know who Evan thinks the bracelet belongs to, in spite of his reaction. I still can’t help but wonder if this all has something to do with his disappearance a week and a half ago. His necklace and my drawings—I need to put it all together.
No more thinking about Evan
. But it’s easier said than actually done. Drawing on the page takes little concentration, so my mind has nowhere else to wander. I relive the day, from the joy of his attention in the morning to his anger at lunch. Every time I see his horrified face, my chest squeezes and the air rushes from my lungs anew.
The bell rings and I ignore everyone, including Mr. Archer, who calls after me as I head for the door. I open my locker and unzip my backpack to shove the contents inside. Instead, they fall from my grasp, books and papers spilling everywhere, getting trampled under feet. Laughter fills the hallway as people pass by. I swallow a sob and bend down to retrieve the mess, haphazardly shoving everything inside my bag, but I have more books than space. As the hall clears out, I sit on the floor, my back to the lockers, and take a deep breath. This is not the end of the world.
Just the end of the world as I know it.
By the time I get outside, the buses have pulled away. I sit on a bench next to the main entrance and drop the heavy backpack on the ground next to me. As I set the books in my arms on the seat, I weigh my options. I can call Mom, but she won’t be off work for another hour. Evan is God knows where. I only have one option. Walk. Carrying a twenty-pound bag, an armload of books, and walking in my heeled boots.
God, my luck sucks.
Tears spring to my eyes and I hiccup, trying to stifle the sobs that follow close behind. I lift my hand to wipe the tears when a tissue appears in front of my face.
With reluctance, I grab it, afraid to find who’s on the other side.
Reece stands in front of me with a cocky smile and a leery look. His brown hair is shaggy but not unstyled. He wears an unbuttoned plaid long sleeve shirt over a heavy metal band t-shirt. It should make him look sloppy. Instead he kind of resembles a Hollister model. His thumb hooks through the belt loop of his jeans as he shifts his weight to the side. “Are you always this helpless or is it just a particularly bad day for you?” His words are laced with arrogance.
Shut up. What do you care?”
I don’t, just curious.” He sits on the bench next to me.
I shoot a sideways sneer before I blow my nose in the tissue. His attitude makes it clear I repel him, so there’s no sense pretending to be delicate. “Don’t you have better things to do?”
What? And miss the horn solo? Are you and your nose practicing for band tryouts?”
Yeah, I’d consider it, but I don’t think they have band at alternative school.”
Reece leans back on the bench, stretching his arm along the back. I scoot a few inches away and he releases a throaty laugh. “You definitely don’t seem like a candidate for alternative school.”
How would you know?” But I figure it out before I finish asking the question. Reece is the guy who just came back from alternative school.
He scoots closer and grabs a strand of my hair, fingering it between his thumb and forefinger. After studying it for several seconds, he looks up into my eyes. “I’m not sure how long someone like you is going to last there.”
I shrug my shoulder, pulling my hair out of his grasp. “You don’t know anything about me.”
He cocks his head sideways, raising an eyebrow. “Really? Maybe I know more than you think.” He pauses, waiting for my reaction. “Julia Phillips, junior. You were in a car accident last spring that killed your best friend.”
My mouth drops open.
He picks up another strand of hair, but his green eyes lock on mine, the teasing glint now gone. “A very pretty girl who thinks her life is over and has all but thrown it away. But then, that’s what you’re trying to do, isn’t it? Throw your life away?”
My eyes narrow as anger escalates. “How would you know?”
His hand drops and he stands. “Maybe I’m more like you than you think.” He picks up the stack of books sitting between us. “Come on,” he says and starts to walk away.
” I shout, rising from the bench. “Bring back my books!”
He pauses and looks over his shoulder. “You need a ride home, don’t you? Or were you waiting for school to start tomorrow?” A mocking grin spreads across his face as he snaps his fingers. “Oops, that can’t be it. You won’t be going here tomorrow.” He turns and walks into the parking lot.
I pick up my bag and follow in a huff. “You don’t have to be so nasty about it.”
He stops at an old model black Trans Am, the kind of car Dad would drool over. Thinking about my dad pisses me off even more.
Who do you think you are?” I ask when I reach him. “What makes you think you can just order me around?”
Tell me how you feel right now.” He gazes down at me, his expression serious.
I’m pissed as hell!”
Good, and how did you feel a few minutes ago?”
The difference slams me like a brick wall. “Dead.”
He leans over and touches my cheek with his fingertips. “And which would you rather feel Julia Phillips? Dead or pissed?”
I smack his hand away then snatch my books out of his arm. “Neither.”
Leaning his head back, he laughs, the sound filling the parking lot. He opens his car door and tilts his head toward the passenger side. “Get in.”
I stomp, pain shooting through the ball of my foot. “I’m not going anywhere with you!”
He slides into the car. “Suit yourself. Have fun walking home.” The engine starts, but the car doesn’t move, giving me time to reconsider.
Grumbling, I walk around the car and fling the door open. Reece sits behind the steering wheel, gripping it with both hands, a cocky grin spreading across his face.
I plop into the seat with an exasperated groan. “You’re an ass.”
He chuckles. “I’ve been called a helluva lot worse.”
When the door shuts, it occurs to me I’ve lost my mind getting in a car with this maniac.
He tears out of the parking lot, tires squealing, confirming my fear. I grab onto the door, my knuckles white. “Oh, my God. Do you have to drive like that?”
He grins, looking mischievous. “Yes.” Shooting out of the parking lot, he turns the opposite direction from where I live.
This isn’t the way to my house. You better take me home
.” Panic bubbles to the surface. I really am an idiot.
Calm down, Newbie. I’ll take you home, but I kinda like you so I’m gonna teach you some things to help you survive at your new school.”
The heavy textbooks smash my legs so I push them to the floorboard. They land on my backpack and slide on top of my foot. “Ow!” I scoot my legs, trying to make them fit with everything in the way.
You’re not the nicest guy in the world, are you?”
He turns and shoots me a wicked smile. “You better believe it.”
Fine. You want to share your old-school secrets. Spill.”
He laughs again, speeding down the road.
Suddenly, I have a moment of déjà vu. Riding in a car with Reece. I’ve never been in a car with him before, but this moment seems so strong and familiar, like reliving a memory. Maybe I really have lost my mind.
First rule, never,
let them know you’re scared.”
Come on, Reece. It’s alternative school, not juvie hall.”
He shrugs with a grin. “Nevertheless, it’s a good rule to live by, no matter what your circumstances. Now repeat it.”
No.” I scoff. “That’s stupid.”
Some deep-seated intuition tells me he won’t stop until I do, like I somehow know him. The thought shakes me. “Uh… don’t ever let them know you’re scared.”
He turns to me with an arrogant smile before turning back to the road. “See? That wasn’t so hard, was it? Although you could have used more conviction.”
I’m not saying it again.”
Okay, fair enough. Second, don’t ever lose who you are, no matter how much they try to reform you.”
What exactly goes on in alternative school? Waterboarding?”
He smirks. “Repeat it.”
Don’t lose who you are,” I say in exasperation.
You’re getting better. Next, always have a number two pencil.”
I roll my eyes. “This is stupid. You don’t have any hints. You’re making this up as you go.”
No. I’m done. Take me home.”
Okay, but not yet.” He drives toward the business section of town and turns into the McDonalds parking lot.
I stare at him, bewildered. “McDonalds?”
Reece ignores me as he drives around to the drive-thru line, pulling up to the menu board. “What do you want?”
I shake my head. “I don’t have any money and I don’t need anything anyway.” But my stomach betrays me and rumbles loudly at the thought of food.
He leans toward me, his voice softening. “James Monroe spreads rumors faster than CNN can air a live update. I know you didn’t have lunch and you look like you could blow away in a strong wind.” He sits up and his gruff demeanor returns. “Now what do you want?”
If you don’t tell me, I’ll just order you something anyway. Hope you like fish sandwiches.”
I don’t. “Um, a hamburger.”
He orders two Quarter Pounder value meals. The cashier asks what he wants to drink and his eyebrows raise, looking at me.
Diet Coke.” I can’t believe he’s doing this. I can’t believe I’m letting him.
Make that two Cokes,” He says then drives forward to the window.
I said Diet Coke.”
I know. I heard you.” He gets the bag and hands it to me as he pulls away.
I took out my hamburger and hand the sack to him. My face burns with embarrassment. “Thank you.”
He grunts as he takes a bite of his sandwich.
I eat a few nibbles, then wrap up the rest. I’m nervous sitting here with him and it’s hard to choke down the food.
Reece shoots me a sideways look. “I’m not taking you to your house until you eat it all. You can take all night for all I care. You’re the one eager to get home.”
I glare. “Who do you think you are?”
Hey, you’ll thank me later.”
Fat chance,” I say with a scowl. But again, somehow I know he means what he says even though it sticks in my craw that he’s bossing me around.
He’s silent the rest of the way to my house. I finish the last of my hamburger and he turns down my street after I give him directions.
Why are you doing this?” I ask.
He parks at the curb in front of my house. “Solidarity.”
You’ve joined the club now, the alternate school kids.”
Is there a secret handshake or something?”
He laughs again, his green eyes dancing. “You almost make me sorry I left there already.”
That’s the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard.”
And you haven’t even started your new school yet.” He winks. “Have a fun first day. Tell Mrs. Humperdinkle I said ‘hi’.”
I scoop up my books and backpack. “Yeah, I don’t think so.”
Good luck, Julia Phillips.”
I climb out and just as the car door closes, he speeds away. As I walk to the porch, the fog in my memory burns off and I realize where I’ve seen Reece before. He was the boy in my dream. Before I have time to process this development, Mom is waiting in the front door. “Who was that?”
No one.” I push past her into the house.
You come home late from school in a car with a boy, who speeds in a residential neighborhood I might add, and you say it’s
I deserve an explanation, Julia.”
I’ve started down the hall but whirl around to face her. “You want an explanation, Mom? Let’s start with the fact I got kicked out of high school today and start alternative school tomorrow. It occurs to me they wouldn’t make a decision like that without talking to you first. Am I right?”
The guilt on her face answers for her.
I had to clean out my locker today, ‘cause guess what, Mom?
I’m not going back there
. My academic record is completely screwed now.” So it was already screwed. I conveniently leave that part out. “It took so long to clean out my locker that I missed the bus. I had thirty pounds of books, wearing a skirt and boots, and a two-mile walk home. Reece was nice enough to give me a ride.”
Reece?” Mom asks. “What happened to Evan?”