TEN MONTHS LATER
"And then I told Willow that her shoes were totally the wrong color for that outfit and actually, the shirt is really hideous anyhow, and I couldn't believe she was going to actually go out in that, never mind go to the movies with me, and then Melixa said to me..."
Sydney droned on and on from the front seat as I tried in vain to tune her out. Her high-pitched, squeaky voice made that pretty impossible, though. My best friend, Jennica, and I had decided that she must be trying to attract boys by sounding like a squeak toy, but until recently, I'd been sure that it only attracted dogs and whales and whatever else could hear such a high frequency.
But then she landed Logan, who apparently found squeakiness enticing. This pretty much meant that I was stuck with her, because she was now our official ride to school. Mom had refused to let me or Logan take our driver's tests since the accident, so it was either the school bus or hitching a ride with Logan's popularity-obsessed girlfriend.
"Uh-huh," Logan said patiently from the passenger seat, as if he were actually listening. As far as I could tell, Sydney was telling the longest story in the world about a bunch of senior cheerleaders who didn't matter to me at all.
"So what do you think?" Sydney finally paused for what I was pretty sure was the first breath she had taken since picking us up ten minutes ago.
"Um...," Logan began, his voice trailing off. I hid a smile. He obviously hadn't been listening either. I watched in amusement as he struggled for words. "What do I think?" he said finally. "I think you're the most beautiful girlfriend in the world."
Oh, gag me. I waited for Sydney to realize that he was completely copping out, but instead she giggled, turned a weird shade of pink, and glanced at me in the rearview.
"What do you think, Lacey?" she asked. "Don't you think Summer was acting totally slutty? I mean, considering she's practically engaged to Rob Macavey?"
I sighed. "I don't even really know her."
"Everyone knows Summer Andrews," Sydney said, looking at me like I was a mental patient.
"Right." I bit my tongue. What I wanted to say was that everyone knew who Summer Andrews was--the cheerleading, BMW-driving, shiny-haired queen bee of our school--but that there were few people she actually deigned to talk to. And I was not one of them.I was pretty popular in my own grade, but I was definitely more bookworm than beauty-pageant contestant, which meant that Summer and her crowd hardly knew I was alive.
Logan was a different story. Since he and social-climbing Sydney had begun dating six months ago, he had come home more than once proudly reporting--out of Mom's earshot, of course--that he'd gotten drunk alongside Summer Andrews and her clones, Willow and Melixa, at parties. Like that was some major accomplishment.
But I refrained from saying any of this, because Logan would kill me if I did. He always seemed to be walking on thin ice around Sydney. I must have been making a face without meaning to, though, because Sydney glanced at me once more in the rearview and snorted.
"Oh come on, Lacey," she said. "Just because you're too busy making straight As and going to student council meetings and whatever else you think is so important doesn't mean that the rest of us can't have a social life."
I simmered for a minute. I was good at shutting my mouth, pressing my feelings into a little lockbox inside, and turning the key. I took a deep breath, blinked a few times, and said, "Wow, look at that! We're here already!"
Before either of them could respond, I hopped out of the car and began striding across the junior lot toward the school building without bothering to look back. Somewhere behind me, Sydney was babbling about how she couldn't believe I'd jumped out of hercar before she'd even had a chance to park.
It was the end of the third week of school, and already, it seemed to have turned to fall. Last summer, the heat had hung on for ages, taunting us cruelly from outside the classroom windows with persistent rays of sunshine. But this year, the New England dreariness had moved in early, bringing hulking gray clouds and winds with a chilly edge. The first leaves on the trees were turning, seemingly overnight, from muted greens to the deep reds, oranges, and golden yellows that always reminded me of a sunset. I wasn't ready for it to be autumn again, but the seasons seemed to march on without caring.
Forty-five minutes after hopping out of Sydney's car, I was in trig class, trying to pay attention, which was hard to do considering that Jennica, who sat beside me, kept trying to get my attention. I was attempting to ignore her.
Math came easily to me. I had always wanted to be an architect when I grew up, like my dad. Plus, there was something about the clear-cut right and wrong of math equations that I found appealing. In math, there were no gray areas. There were rules, and I'd discovered that when you stayed inside the lines, life made a lot more sense.
"Psst!" Jennica hissed. I glanced to my right, where she had angled her desk closer to mine and was holding out a folded square of paper.
I glanced to the front of the room, where Mrs. Bost, our twentysomething teacher, was jotting a series of cosine problems on the board. In the few weeks we'd been in school, I'd already discovered that she had superhuman hearing. I suspected she could hear a note unfolding from miles away. So I coughed loudly to cover up the crinkling sound as I quickly unfolded Jennica's message. You'll never believe this: Brian told me he LOVES ME last night!
she'd written. I could feel Jennica's eyes on my face, so I was careful not to do anything inappropriate like, say, wrinkle my nose or stick out my tongue. It wasn't that I didn't like Brian. He was okay. But he and Jennica were so lovey-dovey with each other that I felt nauseated half the time I was around them. And much as I hated to admit it, I was a little jealous. I was the one Jennica had done everything with and told all her secrets to since we met in the first grade. And now Brian was her constant companion, and I felt like the third wheel.
It was like I'd lost my best friend. But it was selfish to feel that way, so I told myself not to. I'd gotten good at deciding how I should and shouldn't feel. Sometimes I felt like the director of the movie of my own life, yelling action in my head andthen setting scenes in motion the way I'd decided they'd go.
I pulled out my cell phone, checked to make sure Mrs. Bost wasn't looking, and quietly texted Jennica: great. I watched as she silently pulled her cell from her purse, read my text, and frowned. She thought for a second, and I tried to tune back in to Mrs. Bost while Jennica typed. But the lecture was boring, and I was tired of thinking about trig and boyfriends and all the other dumb stuff that went along with eleventh grade. I was itching to graduate and get out of this place, to move on to the next phase of my life and leave Plymouth East behind, but I had a year and nine more months to go. It was endless.
Excerpted from After by Kristin Harmel. Copyright © 2010 by Kristin Harmel. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.