September 5, 2012
Devon’s eye caught the harsh glare of the setting sun. She blinked and looked down, realizing she was rubbing her right palm where Hutch had kissed her years before.
"Devon? Are you sure you can handle this?”
She looked up at Mr. Robins. The sunlight suffused the wooden blinds behind him, highlighting the chaos of his curly brown hair. He scrunched his flabby cheeks, pushing his thick, black-rimmed glasses further up his nose. A bushy eyebrow flickered. He wanted an answer.
“Devon? If it’s too much—”
“No, Mr. Robins. It’s fine. I can handle it,” she said.
He leaned back in his chair. “Good. You’re certain?”
“I’m certain,” she said. Her voice tightened.
“And remember from the training guide, you don’t need to have all the answers. You just need to listen. That’s the most important thing you can do for them right now.”
The backlighting found the details in Mr. Robins’s tired face: the end-of-day stubble around his chin and upper lip, the wrinkles that were beginning to make a home at the edge of his eyes. He looked as exhausted as she felt. “Your fellow students are really going to need you.”
“Whoever you think needs a session, I’m here to help,” she said.
“Whomever,” he corrected her.
“Sorry, whomever,” she said through gritted teeth.
“You don’t have to do the push-ups this time,” he offered.
“Thanks,” Devon seethed. Could he really be thinking about grammar right now? Mistaking ‘who’ and ‘whom’ in front of Mr. Robins actually resulted in push-ups. Sometimes the whole class would have to do them for one person’s mistake. But, no, even he had no interest in these Keaton-isms today. He studied his fingernails.
“Imagine if my program had been around earlier. Maybe Jason would have sought refuge in a peer instead of turning his anger inward….”
“I realize we’ve only been through a basic amount of training over the summer, but we’ll do the best we can, hmm?” He flashed Devon a tight-lipped smile. It was at once a supportive gesture combined with a hint of I’m watching you
Devon nodded. What do you mean ‘we’? You’re not the one being thrown into the lion’s den
, she wanted to say.
“Like I said, I’m here to help. So, if we’re good here….” she let the words drag out, but Mr. Robins didn’t get the hint. He was still pondering the mystery of his fingernails.
“You know, if you and Jason were close we can arrange—”
“Hutch. And no, not really. We talked a bit freshman year, but that was like once, ages ago . . . no, I’m fine. These things happen.” Devon took a deep breath to keep her rising thoughts from spilling out. These things happen.
Like getting locked in an off-limits kitchen with a guy after curfew. Sure, that happens all the time. Those damn Nutter Butters. That night in the kitchen.Their
night in the kitchen.
Mr. Robins started shuffling through papers on his desk. “You should get yourself some dinner.”
Devon jumped up. As she swung her worn-in backpack over a shoulder she caught a glimpse of her own haggard reflection in the window. She’d grown a few inches since freshman year. That flat chest was no longer a problem by the time she was a sophomore. She now lived in the Keaton sweats she used to loathe, and kept her hair in a messy ponytail most of the time. It was as if someone had thrown her chipper freshman RA, June, the month, into a washing machine—and Devon was what came out, her smile left behind long ago in the spin cycle.
“Thanks,” she said on autopilot.
“I’ll send Matt over to you first thing tomorrow,” Mr. Robins replied, focusing on his desk. “Classes will be cancelled, so you can take all the time you think you need. Just remember what we talked about this summer; listen, take notes, and then we’ll discuss afterwards, okay?”
The next thing she knew, Devon was standing in front of the milk machine in the dining hall. It was all the same meaningless swirl: The dull whispering voices of other students eating dinner, faculty trying to keep their toddlers quiet out of respect, and the kitchen staff yelling behind the scenes. Noise in a place that should have been dark and empty.All I wanted was some milk.
What would she do if she could go back to that night? Would she have done it differently? She wanted to experience that newness again. She thought of that apple juice dribbling down his chin. What if he hadn’t been there in the dark? She would have just gone back to her dorm without the milk. She would have shared that bag of cookies with the girls in her dorm and watched Bring it On
. She wouldn’t know him like she did. And she wouldn’t be feeling this . . . whatever feeling the gnawing pit in her stomach was called. She wouldn’t be feeling that.
But Hutch was
there in the dark. And despite what had happened over the last two years, however less frequent their conversations became, however much his secret glances at her across the classroom dwindled, she did know him.
A plate clattered to the floor somewhere in the back of the dining hall. She heard applause for the klutz at fault. A few people laughed. How is anyone laughing right now?
Hutch was right; he’d always been right. They were just a bunch of organ donors. Drones cycling through the prep school system and getting spit out on the other end with their fancy college acceptance letters in hand. They were moving parts in the machine. Replaceable parts.
But Hutch wasn’t replaceable.
Devon hated them. Hated that she was one of them. She had become a part of their machine. The same machine that Hutch had tried so hard not to be a piece of.
The words escaped her lips before she could stop herself.
“ . . . bunch of organ donors.”
The metal milk machine blurred in front of her, morphing into a rippling molten bubble. She reached for a glass, but her hand looked fuzzy. Only then did she realize she’d been crying.
Excerpted from Escape Theory by Margaux Froley. Copyright © 2013 by Margaux Froley. Excerpted by permission of Soho Teen, 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.