Read Freefall Online

Authors: Mindi Scott

Freefall (4 page)

BOOK: Freefall
6.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

I jerked away from her. “Why are you saying this to me?”

“I’m trying to
help
you,” she said.

Typical, unbelievable Kendall.

Telling her what I thought of her so-called help would take a while, and I’d let her waste too much of my time already. So I jumped in and started up the Mustang, slammed it in reverse, and peeled the hell out of there, not giving two shits about the gravel spraying behind me or how pissed Kendall was going to be about being ditched.

6:45
A.M.

Alone in the car with my foot heavy on the gas pedal, I blazed through the first stop sign—no one’s ever coming from the other direction, anyway—and squealed the tires around the corner. Then I really gunned it. As usual, the speedometer wasn’t budging, but I figured I was probably going around fifty. The speed limit was only thirty miles per hour, but slowing down was not on my agenda. Fast helped take the edge off and gave me something to focus on. Also, I needed fast if I was going to get to the guidance office on time.

A few blocks from school, I was screeching around another turn when I caught sight of some chick in the crosswalk in front of me. The same second I realized I was about to get a human hood ornament, she saw me coming and ran out of the way. I hit the brakes, jerked the steering wheel, and found myself skidding into the wrong lane. Another swerve and I was back where I should have been.

Adrenaline was still coursing through me after what had
gone down at home with Kendall, and now my hands and legs were shaking too. I pulled to the side of the road and stuck my head out the window to give the girl a piece of my mind. I couldn’t stand it when pedestrians acted like they owned the road.

As she jogged toward my car with her backpack bouncing, I recognized her right off as the cute girl wearing flip-flops at Pete’s party. Her hotness factor was seriously lessened at that moment, though; her face was bright red, her eyes were almost bugging out of her head, and she was dressed in some boring, preppy white shirt/gray skirt combo.

If she was in any way glad to see me, she didn’t let on. “Oh my God!” she shouted. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?”

“Why don’t
you
?” I countered. “I had a green light!”

She gestured wildly at the intersection. “Hel
lo
! Me too!”

I looked over my shoulder, but I didn’t have a clear view of the traffic signal from that angle. “How does that work?”

“It works
best
when the person in the car doesn’t break the law. When the person in the car yields to the
pedestrian
, who happens to have the right-of-way!”

Now that she mentioned it, I realized she was probably right. “Sorry. I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t know? I was almost killed because you don’t know how to drive?”

This conversation, this whole miserable morning, was exhausting me.

“You wouldn’t have been killed,” I said, hoping to chill her out. “I’d have
given you mouth-to-mouth if it came down to it.”

She fixed me with a good hard glare. “You’re disgusting.”

The girl was still hot, but she obviously had it out for me now. Disappointing, but I’d never been stupid enough to think I had a chance with her. Not really.

I looked at the clock on my stereo. Five minutes and counting.

“I have to go, so we need to wrap up this talk,” I said. “You want a ride the rest of the way to school, or what?”

It seemed like the least I could do.

She looked at me like I’d asked her to run away to Africa.

“Are you kidding? I’m not going anywhere with you.”

“Suit yourself.”

When I got to Kenburn High School, I parked the car, raced inside the building, ran though the hallway, and threw open the door to the main office right as the bell rang. I sat across from Ms. Naylor one minute later, panting like an old dog that had chased too many sticks. But at least I’d been able to get one thing right that morning.

7:09
A.M.

Ms. Naylor was gazing at her computer monitor and clicking her mouse all over the place while I sat there waiting for her to say something and wondering why she’d made me rush to meet
her. She was supposed to be pulling up my records, but she sure was taking her sweet time about it. I started thinking she was playing a game of Minesweeper instead.

She sipped from her Starbucks cup and tucked a few strands of highlighted hair behind her ears. “This system takes a long time to load first thing in the morning.”

“It’s okay,” I said.

And it was. I mean, I wasn’t looking forward to this talk, anyway, and Ms. Naylor—or Ms. I Wanna Nail Her, as Daniel liked to say—was at least decent to look at.

When the computer system was finally ready a minute later, Ms. Naylor folded her hands on top of her desk and looked at me all serious, like she was about to tell me my mother flatlined on the operating table. “As you know, I am very concerned that you’ve failed basic-level algebra twice. And I’m disappointed that you wouldn’t let me help you. We could have fixed this sooner. But you never showed up for the tutoring I arranged, and then you skipped out on summer school. Again. This is very serious now.”

The woman made it sound like the end of the world instead of just
math
. Back when she’d called to harass me about this appointment, she’d even gone so far as to throw around words like “severe consequences.”

I didn’t have anything to say for myself, so I studied the big freckle near the edge of her bottom lip instead. Such a weird—and weirdly
hot
—place for a freckle.

She went on. “We’re to the point now where you don’t
have the option of flaking out on me. If you want to graduate, you’re going to have to get passing grades in two full-year math classes. We’re running out of time.” She flashed her perfect teeth in a way that she probably meant to be encouraging, but was mostly annoying. “What are your thoughts on how to accomplish this?”

“Three strikes, I’m out?” I suggested.

Her smile vanished, like I’d known it would. If there’s one thing I’ve figured out during our times together, it’s that Ms. Naylor gets pissy about “self-defeating attitudes.”

But then I decided to cut her a break; it was only the first day back, after all. “What I meant to say is that the third time’s the charm.”

“I think so too,” she said, nodding. “I worked on your schedule and figured out a plan to keep you on track for finishing high school with the rest of your class. You’ll need to follow it. To the
letter
. It’s the only way this can work.”

I sat up a little straighter. For once she didn’t sound like she was being all guidance-counselor dramatic. Maybe this
was
urgent, which I hadn’t seen coming. The thing is, yeah, I’ve been kicked out of a few classes for attendance problems, and my report card has more D’s than a Victoria’s Secret model’s lingerie drawer, but Algebra for Idiots is the only one I’d ever actually
flunked
.

Ms. Naylor took another drink of her coffee or latte or whatever. “Before we go over your revised schedule and I
send you on your way, is there anything you’d like to talk about with me?”

She always did this. Set up a meeting over some school thing, tried to get me as stressed as she was, and then slipped in the “how are things at home?” crap when she thought I wasn’t paying attention.

I shook my head.

“Nothing at all?” she asked.

I knew what she was getting at, but I said, “Should there be?”

“I’m not just here to help with your academic planning, you know,” she said. “I’m more than willing to listen if you want to discuss Isaac Thomas’s death.”

Sure she was. She’d probably love hearing all the gritty details.

I was sort of curious about which version of the story she’d been told: the one where Isaac drank himself to death, OD’d on smack, or—my personal
least
favorite—had a heart attack after huffing ten cans of whipped cream. I wasn’t curious enough to ask her, though.

“No, thanks. I’m good,” I said, giving the 8 Ball a quick pat to make sure it hadn’t disappeared or anything.

“Just know the offer stands, okay?” Ms. Naylor said. Then she cleared her throat, handed me a sheet of paper, and got back to business. “Here’s your schedule.”

I held up the page to take a closer look. The list of classes was like the one I’d turned in, but there were two very
screwed-up additions. “No way,” I said, letting the page drop onto the desk. “You stuck me in zero period
and
seventh?”

“It isn’t as bad as you think,” she said in a soothing voice. She pointed. “See, the first one is tutoring lab, which isn’t even a graded class. I think working on your algebra for two full periods every day is really going to help you get it this time.”

I hated to admit it, but she was probably right. Numbers were a foreign language to me—a difficult-as-hell foreign language—and I needed all the help I could get. But that didn’t explain seventh period. “What’s this Interpersonal Communications crap?”

“You need more electives,” Ms. Naylor said. “Interpersonal Communications is a class we’re offering from a new teacher who comes highly recommended. It’s supposed to be a fun course with very little homework and no tests, which seems great for you. I think you’ll agree that your grade point average could really use a boost.”

I leaned forward and put my face in my hands. Of
course
my GPA needed a boost. But did I really have to rot away at school for eight straight hours, five days a week, to make it happen? “There’s no way I can do this.”

“I think you can, Seth. And if you put your mind to it, you
will.

It was hard to keep from rolling my eyes. Once again Ms. Naylor had trampled right over that fine line between encouraging and annoying.

2:28
P.M.

By seventh period I was dragging more than ever. The only person I’d spoken to all day since leaving Ms. Naylor’s office was the lunch lady who’d given me corn dogs and curly fries. What a switch from last year when I’d spent my lunches getting stoned with my brother and our friends. Now Jared had dropped out to get his GED, Mikey had graduated, Isaac had been cremated, and Daniel—who had no excuses—seemed to be missing. It sucked being alone at school.

But what sucked even more was that nobody seemed to care that Isaac was dead. When a girl drowned during the summer before our sophomore year, there had been a tree-planting ceremony on the first day back where some kids and teachers stood in a big circle and said nice stuff about her. No one did anything like that for Isaac. In fact, if it weren’t for the occasional stares and whispers as I walked past—and that shitty thing Vicki had said at Pete’s party—I might have thought Kendall, Ms. Naylor, and I were the only people at school who remembered Isaac had ever existed.

When I finally got to the room listed for my so-called easy elective, the door was closed and blocked by a stocky woman with gray-streaked brown hair and huge glasses. Something about that combo and the slump of her shoulders made me think of an owl. “Are you here for IC class?” she asked in a high-pitched, chipper-sounding voice.

“Um, Interpersonal Communications.”

“Exactly.” Her nose kind of crinkled up as she smiled. “But isn’t that a mouthful? Ten syllables between those two
words, if you can believe it. We’ll call it IC, okay?”

“Sure,” I said, shrugging.

“I’m teaching this class.” She held a clipboard out for me. “Welcome! Before you go in, I need you to find your name on the roster and mark off that you’re here.”

I did as she’d asked.

“Perfect,” she said. “Go on in now. Sit anywhere. Talk with whomever you’d like about anything you’d like. Just make sure not to introduce yourself by name, okay?”

These had to be some of the strangest instructions a teacher had ever given me.

She opened the door only far enough for me to fit through. It was dark inside, with a few lit candles scattered around. I turned back to her, wondering what was going on.

“It’s perfectly safe,” she said, nodding. “I’ll be in after a minute or two.”

As soon as I was inside, she pulled the door shut again. When my eyes adjusted, I saw that I wasn’t alone. About ten other students were sitting on beanbags in a large circle, but they weren’t following the “talk to whomever about anything” directions. They just plain weren’t talking.

What the hell had Ms. Naylor gotten me into?

I set my bag down and dropped onto the first empty beanbag. Too late, I realized that Flip-Flops—of all people—was right next to me. Just my luck.

I decided to give peace another chance. “Long time no see.”

She didn’t reply,
and her frown and forehead lines didn’t seem to be about charity and goodwill toward Seth.

The door opened again and that Xander guy came in and took a seat. His shaggy hair fell over his eyes, but I could tell from the bottom half of his face that he was as confused as I was. The teacher was right behind him. After shuffling over and lowering herself onto a beanbag, she cleared her throat. “Good afternoon, class. All thirteen of us are here, so let’s get started. I think thirteen is going to be our lucky number, don’t you?”

No one answered, so she plowed on, smiling in that crinkly nosed way. “I want to remind you again not to tell
anyone
your name. You’re each going to be choosing your own identities for this class, so start thinking of what you’d like to be called. I’m going to use Mrs. Dalloway from my favorite Virginia Woolf novel. But you don’t have to choose something from fiction just because I did. Make up something you like!”

Xander raised his hand. “What if people already know our real names?”

“Then they’ll have to forget those so-called real names while they’re here,” she said, using quick air quotes at the words “forget” and “real.” “Don’t worry. I’ll supply name tags starting tomorrow so you won’t get too confused.”

Then she gave this honest-to-God, Wicked Witch of the West cackle that would have given a five-year-old nightmares. Hell, it could have given
me
nightmares. I couldn’t
guess why she was laughing so hard; what she’d said wasn’t funny.

BOOK: Freefall
6.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Night Walker by Donald Hamilton
Letters from Yelena by Guy Mankowski
Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido
Fake Out by Rich Wallace
Daughters of the Heart by Caryl McAdoo
SEAL Team Six: Hunt the Fox by Don Mann, Ralph Pezzullo