THE NEXT FIVE SECONDS FELT LIKE FIVE hours. The second bell rang, and I was pushed aside by a blond girl named Vera toting a guidance counselor behind her. Vera was crying. Hmm.
“She was choking when I got here but I didn’t know what to do!” Vera blew a snot bubble as she cried, and the mucous dribbled down past her lips. Nasty.
“Everyone stand back!” Mrs. Barkan, the guidance counselor shouted. The doorway was overrun by students freaking out.
I heard a siren in the background and soon EMTs and police were pushing students out of the way, creating a little bubble of space around the classroom door. People were crying and shoving and generally annoying the hell out of me, so I backed out of the throng. I trotted down the stairs two at a time until I hit the ground. I hadn’t eaten lunch. I was starving and dizzy and I didn’t sleep last night and so help me, this could not be happening. Did I even take my pill this morning? I couldn’t remember.
I stumbled out from under the archway on to the sprawling green. The sun blinded me and I wanted to punch it in the face. And thinking that made me giggle. Then my giggle turned into a cackle. Soon, I was laughing so hard tears streamed down my face. My neck felt wet and I was out of breath and I dropped to the ground beneath a tree at the far corner of the campus, laughing madly and twisting on the grass, gripping my sides because they hurt, damn it, but it was just so funny.
Out of nowhere, a hand gripped my shoulder and folded me up into a sitting position. I looked up.
“Mara Dyer, isn’t it?” Detective Gadsen said. His tone was curious and even, but his eyes were not friendly.
A blur of movement behind him attracted my attention. Noah appeared in my field of vision; when he saw who I was talking to, he stopped. I looked at my feet.
“How’s the dog?” the detective asked.
It was all I could do not to look up in shock. I shifted my head to the side and my hair fell around my face in a curtain. The better to hide me with, my dear.
“Funny thing,” he said. “That dog you called Animal Services about a few weeks ago? After I talked to you, it just up and disappeared.”
“That is funny,” I said, even though it wasn’t. Not at all.
“Was Ms. Morales your teacher?” he asked, without missing a beat.
Was? So she was dead, then. That, at least, was real. Impossible, but real. I nodded.
“This must be very difficult for you.”
I almost laughed. He had no idea. Or maybe—maybe he did?
You have to admit, the paranoia was humorous. What could the detective possibly know? That I thought Morales should die and she died? Crazy. That I wanted the dog’s owner punished for what he did to her and he was? Laughable. Thinking something does not make it true. Wanting something does not make it real.
“Yes, it is very difficult,” I said, nodding again, making the hair fall farther over my face to mask my insane grin.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said. My shoulders trembled with the attempt to stifle my laughter. “Did you know whether Ms. Morales was allergic to anything?”
I shook my head.
“Did you ever see her with an EpiPen?”
I shook my head, then stood up on shaky feet. I was a lawyer’s daughter, after all, and even with my tenuous grip on reality, knew the conversation was over.
“I have to go,” I said.
“Of course. Feel better, and I’m very sorry about your teacher.”
I walked away. Away from the detective and away from Noah.
But Noah caught up. “What happened?” He looked unusually concerned.
“You didn’t show this morning,” I said without looking at him.
“Don’t. Just—don’t.” I stared straight ahead and focused on the route to class. “It’s fine, Noah. I’m not mad. I just—I have to go. I’m going to be late for Bio.”
“School’s over,” he said slowly.
I stopped. “What?”
“It’s almost four.” Noah’s voice was quiet. “And last period was canceled. I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Two hours. I’d lost more than two hours. I felt like I was falling, like someone pulled the ground out from underneath me.
“Whoa,” Noah said as he placed his hand on the small of my back to steady me. I shook it off.
“I need to go,” I said, feeling sick. But then another hand clapped my shoulder, and my knees almost buckled.
“Hey, guys,” Daniel said, his voice serious. “Crazy day.” I swallowed the bile rising in my throat. “You don’t look so good, Mara,” Daniel said. His tone was lighter, now, but there was a note of anxiety in it.
I wiped away a strand of hair that stuck to my forehead. “I’m fine. Just feeling a little sick.”
“Right in time for your birthday,” Daniel said, and gave a tight smile. “I’m sure that disappoints you.”
“Your birthday?” Noah looked from me to Daniel.
I shot my brother a look of pure poison. He ignored me. “Mara turns seventeen tomorrow. March fifteenth, the little imp. But she’s weird about it,” Daniel explained, taking off his glasses and wiping something from the lens. “She gets all mopey every year, so it’s my brotherly duty to distract her from her birthday ennui.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Noah said immediately. “You’re off the hook.”
Daniel gave Noah a broad smile. “Thanks, bro, you’re a sport.” They exchanged a fist bump.
I couldn’t believe my brother did that to me. Now Noah would feel obligated to do something. I wanted to punch them both in the face, and puke.
“All right,” Daniel said, putting an arm around me. “I think I’d better take Mara home. Unless you feel like throwing up in Noah’s car instead?” Daniel asked me. I shook my head.
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at eleven,” Noah said to me, holding my gaze as Daniel led me away. “There are some things I need to say.”