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Authors: Caroline B. Cooney

Night School

BOOK: Night School
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Night School
Caroline B. Cooney

Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

A Biography of Caroline B. Cooney

Prologue

T
HERE WAS A STRANGE
moment before the engine turned over, as if something were laying on the car’s motor. Julie felt faintly uneasy. Her headlights didn’t penetrate the night the way they should have. And the dashboard no longer lit the interior the way it usually did; the inside of the car was blacker.

She had forgotten to check the backseat before she got in. With a sickening lurch, Julie knew that somebody was in the car with her. Julie whirled, and saw nothing, but it was too dark to be sure, a darkness thick as black pillows. She reached for the overhead light, to turn it on, but nothing happened. She put her hand between the two front seats to pat the leather backseat, and reassure herself that nothing was there.

Something was there.

Her hand was taken by another hand and squeezed. The hand was sweaty and thick.

Julie screamed and yanked the car to a stop, leaping out in the middle of traffic. But when she stood panting on the yellow dividing lines of the pavement, and stared into her own car, fully illuminated by street lamps, it was empty.

How could she have frightened herself so badly? Julie didn’t even get hysterical when circumstances made hysteria reasonable.

She got back in the car, waving apologies to furious drivers on all sides, trying to smile, feeling like a jerk. Her knees were jelly and her foot could hardly find the accelerator.

She drove slowly, but her pulse went faster and faster. Traffic vanished. Streets were empty. She turned the radio louder and louder. She could get nothing but static, as if broadcasting had ceased; as if some huge catastrophe had struck California and missed only Julie.

The drive home seemed endless and unknown, as if she were driving in a foreign country. She was gripping the wheel so tightly she got cramps in her fingers and finally took her right hand off the wheel to shake it up and down and loosen the joints.

Outside the passenger window, people were looking in at her.

Their faces were like moons, blue and shivery.

No features, just skin.

The faces were pressed right up against the glass. They were laughing, and pointing at her, and getting ready.

Chapter 1

M
ARIAH FREDERICK’S LIFE WAS
constructed around two secrets. If she had ever talked about her secrets, they would have sounded ordinary—minor stuff everybody suffered now and then. But Mariah’s secrets were not ordinary. They were addictions.

Mariah had had a crush on Andrew Todd since third grade. Usually, a third-grade girl thinks of boys as rarely as possible. But Mariah adored the eight-year-old Andrew, and as the years passed, her adoration never wore away. It deepened and widened, and eventually, it consumed her.

In real life, Andrew might say “Hi there,” once a week. Andrew didn’t even use her name, which hurt, because Mariah loved her name.

But in Mariah’s imagination, she and Andrew had lengthy conversations about everything. When she went clothes shopping (with her girlfriends), she would silently ask Andrew’s opinion on her purchase. (Andrew thought she had wonderful taste.) In the privacy of her secret crush, Mariah would go for long drives with Andrew, although in fact, she was the only one in the car. (Andrew thought she was a very skilled driver.)

She and Andrew had a long history together, and often laughed with each other about previous adventures, or blushed over early mistakes. None of which, of course, existed—anymore than the laughter or the sharing really existed.

Mariah had snacks with Andrew in front of the television, and once her mother actually caught her fixing a sandwich for Andrew—the way he liked it, and not the way anybody in the Frederick family did. (Mariah was alone at the time.)

An invisible Andrew loved playing computer games with her and although they’d never been on a court together, he was her best tennis partner. Sometimes, when Mariah was with her best friend Sal, she actually started to tell Sal what Andrew had said to her yesterday … forgetting, since it felt so real, that she had made it all up.

It went way beyond what anybody could call an active imagination. It was another world. Her own private soap opera that required new scripts every day.

Every day she told herself to stop it, it was getting out of hand, she had to get a grip on herself—and every day, she enjoyed her secret crush too much to quit.

Andrew never suspected. Nor did Andrew develop a crush on Mariah. In fact, Andrew hardly noticed Mariah. He passed through elementary school and junior high without changing much. He stayed adorable and got taller, stayed smart and got more athletic.

But Mariah’s crush got larger and larger. Her crush was like a member of the family; it was there; it had always been there; she had learned to make the compromises it required.

She certainly understood that Andrew would be shocked if he knew the part he played in the life of a girl he barely thought about.

But stopping the crush would have been like stopping any addiction: very difficult. And completely undesirable. In her dream, Mariah had managed to have a wonderful, rewarding social life. If she gave up the Andrew of her dreams, she’d have no social life at all.

As long as nobody knew and it didn’t hurt anybody, Mariah reasoned, what difference did the crush make? It wouldn’t destroy her body, like drugs. It wouldn’t turn her into a criminal. It wouldn’t upset her parents—well, yes, it would upset her parents. But they would never know, because she was so good at keeping the crush on the inside.

Even Sal, her best friend, didn’t realize that Mariah had an inner life; a complete world, really; with Andrew.

Sal certainly, did not know that Mariah had a
second
secret life. Because when Mariah wasn’t invisibly and silently with Andrew, she wasn’t hanging out with Sal, either. She was with the famous Julie-Brooke-Autumn-Danielle.

Julie-Brooke-Autumn-Danielle were a clique that had begun in fifth grade with Julie and Brooke. In fifth grade they were just two girls playing with Barbies, sharing sandwiches, and sleeping over. Autumn moved to town in sixth grade and became a very tight third member, while Danielle arrived in seventh grade.

It was a source of pain to Mariah that Julie-Brooke had not chosen her, but waited for Autumn; and that Julie-Brooke-Autumn had not chosen Mariah, either, but waited for Danielle.

Sometimes Mariah stared into her mirror, wondering why she didn’t look right for Julie-Brooke-Autumn-Danielle. (Andrew, of course, thought she looked perfect, and that even changing a molecule would be a disaster. He kissed her cheek and his invisible lips comforted her as they always did.)

Julie-Brooke-Autumn-Danielle were greatly to be envied, for they always had laughing company. Their phones always rang and their cars were always full. Each was very pretty, in her own way. Depending on her mood, Mariah would find herself admiring one girl more than the rest. Sometimes she didn’t pretend to be a fifth member of Julie-Brooke-Autumn-Danielle, but pretended actually to be one of them. Usually Autumn.

When she was also pretending that Andrew was in love with her and walking beside her, her interior life could become quite complex. At these times speech was difficult for fear of using the wrong script and being found out.

How Mariah envied Julie-Brooke-Autumn-Danielle.

Her buddy Sal did not. Sal was annoying because she didn’t envy anybody. She liked being plain old Sal.

“But you don’t date!” Mariah would say. “You don’t have tons of friends and you don’t go to parties.”

Sal would shrug. “Oh, well. Someday that will come or else someday it won’t.”

How could Sal be so casual? What if the second part were the true part?
What if boyfriends never came?

“Meantime,” Sal would beam at Mariah, “I’m having a great life.” If there was one thing Sal had, it was a beautiful smile. “I have a best friend,” Sal would say, her eyes reflecting Mariah. (Although to Mariah’s eyes, their friendship was mild and infrequent compared to Julie-Brooke-Autumn-Danielle.) “I get good grades, I have a walk-on in the musical, I made swim team, and my parents think I’m perfect. What else is there?”

But oh! for Mariah, there was so much else.

And all of it … pretend.

Once or twice a week, Sal and Mariah went horseback riding. For whatever reason, the crush on Andrew didn’t go along when Mariah was riding. On horseback, Mariah was free of him, and it was as wonderful as being free of any other addiction—cigarettes, or drugs, or bulimia.

That was when Mariah saw the extent to which her crush had taken over her thoughts. Inside her mind, she was carrying on long intense dialogues
that would never be spoken,
to a boy
who would never be listening.
How sad. How pitiful. There was the rest of the world, actually living and taking risks—and here she was, faking literally every moment of her life.

If she actually told anybody and they actually believed her, she would end up in therapy forever and ever.

It was on a Wednesday that Mariah Frederick happened to go down the main hall of the high school and find Andrew Todd standing alone.

Oh! he was perfect. He was perfectly photogenic, perfectly nice, perfectly smart, perfectly athletic, perfectly perfect. Mariah’s heart quickened. She felt thick and stupid just looking at him. For all the years of practice dialogue, she could think of nothing to say. In her secrets, she knew everything about Andrew—every detail of his existence—but in real life, she knew very little.

Andrew was in front of the bulletin board by the library. Reading the board was a good excuse to stand next to Andrew. So she walked up, and he of course turned and smiled. “Hi, Mariah,” he said, in his friendly, meaningless way.

“Hi, Andrew.” Her heart surged like the kind of dangerous tide caused by volcanic eruptions. “Anything interesting?”

Andrew Todd pointed to a single piece of paper, carefully centered on the huge bulletin board, as if somebody had gone to the trouble of measuring right down to the quarter inch. The announcement was in black. Icicle-hung printing from some strange computer font crept and dripped down the page. It was an eerie, creepy announcement, and seemed to Mariah’s eyes to glow with fingerprints, evil crusted whorls of dark plans and sick thoughts.

NIGHT CLASS

“Night Class,” said Andrew, and it seemed to Mariah that his voice turned to Night also, that his voice grew dark and shadowy, like the letters on the board.

But Mariah had made up so much about Andrew she could no longer tell when she was making things up. “Night Class?” she repeated. Can’t I say something intelligent? her heart cried. Can’t I be the interesting, intriguing sexy person he loves when I make him up?

She forced herself into reality. Every year this got a little harder, and every year she got a little more afraid of being stuck in her unreality, and never getting out.

Okay: Night Class: Okay, that meant subjects and study.

Mariah had her hands full this year. Chemistry, algebra, English literature, second-year Spanish, and geography. She was good at anything to do with numbers, so chem and algebra, though difficult and time-consuming, pleased her. But she was not fond of lengthy reading and she detested all writing, which meant English lit, Spanish, and geography were exhausting. The last thing Mariah Frederick needed was to go to night school.

It was a sign-up sheet. Nobody had signed up. The more she stared at the fingerprints, the less real they seemed, like Andrew. Perhaps they weren’t even there. Like Andrew. “It doesn’t actually say what the class is, Andrew,” Mariah pointed out. She loved using his name for real instead of silently inside her thoughts. Andrew. So beautiful. What would he do right now if she told him her entire world consisted of him? Quickly she moved into real speech, guarding the syllables, to keep herself from exposing the secret. “It could be anything, Andrew. Computer Repair for Dummies or Opera Appreciation for Senior Citizens.”

BOOK: Night School
12.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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