Famous Last Words(9)

By: Katie Alender

“Oh,” I said.

“Listen, I know you don’t think you have anything to write about, but I think if you just let yourself try … Even if it’s just one line every day.”

“It’s great.” I wished I could inject even a hint of sincerity into my words. “Thanks.”

“Don’t do that.” Mom’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Don’t just say ‘great’ when things aren’t great. I’m your mother, Willa. You can say anything to me.”

Anything? Maybe there was a time when I could have told her about trying to communicate with Dad. Maybe I could have told her that the headaches and visions never really went away. Maybe even that I thought I’d seen a corpse. Or that something had held me down in the pool last night.

But now, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Telling her about any of it would mean telling her all of it. And I’d been hiding things from my mother for so long that I couldn’t get a toehold.

She didn’t even know the real reason my ex-boyfriend, Aiden, had broken up with me back home. She thought it was because he’d found another girl, when really it had been — how had he put it? — my “wall of pain.” Shutting myself in and shutting him out. My mother considered Aiden the bad guy, when the truth was that I was the one who couldn’t deal with being close to another person.

Rather than answering, I leaned forward, unzipped the monstrosity, and slid the journal inside.

“I should get going,” I said. “See you after school?”

Mom nodded and leaned over to give me a hug and a kiss. Then I got out of the car before she could say anything else.

Lunchtime. Where the lonely and friendless go to be devoured.

I told myself that by the time I made it through the food line, the universe would, in an uncharacteristic fit of benevolence, find a way to show me where I was supposed to sit. Some girl from one of my morning classes would take pity, wave me over, and then BOOM, instant BFFs.

Instead, I found myself holding my tray, staring out over a sea of people who seemed sophisticated, comfortable, and totally not in need of a new friend.

The Langhorn lunchroom looked like the mutant offspring of a regular high school cafeteria and a hip nightclub. The ceiling was vaulted, with real wood beams, and the lights were nice hanging lamps, not cheap fluorescent bulbs. Then there were the couches, two semicircles in the center of the room. (So in case you wondered what thirty thousand dollars a year in tuition buys you — it’s the right to eat your lunch without a table.)

As I made my way past the tables of smiling, laughing kids, someone called, “Hey, Connecticut.”

A girl beckoned to me from one of the couches.

I froze.

She clucked her tongue at me, like I was a dog, and patted the sofa next to her.

“You look agonizingly lonely.” Her voice had that detached flatness I was used to hearing from the kids at my old school who spent too much time in New York City. Only I could tell this girl really meant it, because the boredom went past her voice, into her eyes and the turned-down corners of her mouth.

She wore exactly what the rest of the female students wore: a green-and-black-plaid skirt, white collared shirt, green cardigan, and black tights. But she seemed much older and wiser, like a twenty-five-year-old trapped in the body of a high school junior. Her blunt-cut black hair brushed her shoulders and her glasses were cat-eyed with rhinestones at the corners.

“You’re staring, and it’s creeping me out,” she said. “Just sit, please.”

I blinked. And then I sat.

“I’m Marnie Delaine.” She nodded at the other kids next to us. “That’s Kas, Kinde, Rami, and Alana. And you’re Willa, right? Willa from Connecticut. I’m in your French class, second period. How do you like Langhorn?”

I sat primly, my legs crossed at the ankles, lunch tray balanced on my lap. “Seems all right so far.”

“Well, it’s only your first day. You’ll discover the sordid truth soon enough. Go ahead and eat.”

My appetite had vanished, but I started picking at my food anyway, because I didn’t want Marnie to think I was weird.

“Your father is Jonathan Walters, right?”

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