Fumbling with my NOOK, my choice eReader, I opened the closed door to English class. Mrs. Engstrom kept her eyes on me in that late-again fashion. I actually could feel those words emanate from her pores and penetrate my skull. Tripping on a television cable wire, I stumbled to the carpeted floor, dropping my NOOK and purse. Oh, God, please let no one be watching. Please let no one be watching this. I picked up my items hurriedly and then flung my body upward, propelling myself into an open seat. Damn; the whole class stared and a few giggles permeated the room. Awkward. Dameon sat in the back with his eyes locked on mine the whole time. No squeezing out of this embarrassment.
Plopping into the front row with a shake of my head, I let my graciously long dark hair wisp over my oval shaped face. Sea blue eyes begged me to cover them up; I didn’t want to see any more. Kids stared, and faces that once held shape and names became a conglomeration of taunting flesh. I felt dizzy with the rush of adrenaline. Emotions pulled me in opposing directions. Fight or flee? Dameon kept staring from the back. I could make him out in my peripheral vision. God, his stare even looked sexy. Sliding down in my seat, I hoped to become invisible. But I didn’t.
Mrs. Engstrom had called roll and shouted my name just to be sure I paid attention. “Allison Maney?”As if she didn’t see the circus act I performed in front of the class.
“Here,” a defeated whisper escaped my pink-hued lips. I only used lipstick because my lips tended to chap. Molly used to tease me about my preference for wearing little make-up. Her mom, being a free spirit, allowed her to wear make-up since sixth grade. Molly said I must be the only girl in the city without it, so I added lipstick to my daily morning regime. But in truth, I didn’t need much make-up. I was one of those blessed girls without blemishes, pimples, or uneven-toned skin. Yes, one of those girls. But I quickly remedied my natural beauty with the oversized garb. My attire choices made Jennifer roll her eyes every day at lunch. She wanted to be a cheerleader; one of those “it” girls, smart and sassy. But she never made the squad.
Sliding the NOOK across my desk, my fingers clasped the delicate touch-screen and I flipped to the required English reading assignment.
“Allison, could you read paragraph one?” Mrs. Engstrom asked, but her request sounded more like a command from the captain of a sinking ship. She had lost everyone’s interest months ago.
“It’s Ali.” I arched my left brow like a dog about to bark. She returned a quizzical look. “My name is Ali. I’ve only told you this since school started.” The second sentence rolled out under my breath. The teacher looked like she might explode any minute as she took in a deep breath, as if fumes might just blow out of her nose. I sighed as I glanced back down at my eReader.
I guess her patience ran thin six months into school. Homework to grade. Mischievous students to send to the principal’s office. And then there was the fact that she hardly ever had anyone’s attention. She appeared surprised when I flipped my NOOK to the page that corresponded to the one on the whiteboard.
“Just read, please,” Mrs. Engstrom replied.
When the dreadful paragraph ended, the room felt suspiciously quiet. Not a peep. No one ever listened in this class. Was I really that interesting? I tilted my flushing face around in Dameon’s direction just as his side of the class stood up from their seats and watched out the adjacent side window. With eyes mesmerized, the other side of the class jumped to their feet with jarred expressions as two jocks took off like a marathon over a few desks to get closer to the window. I made out a blur of something dropping past the window to the ground, but it all happened so fast I couldn’t be sure what I saw.
“Tommy?” the quarterback shouted in question, and then I heard a loud thud. His nose pressed up against the glass. “Tommy Bachelor?” The dread in his voice shot through my veins and brought back the day Mom told me about Dad’s fatal heart attack. I had just turned sixteen and was supposed to have a sweet sixteen party. Dad made the arrangements for a limo to drive my friends and me to the local dance club. I had gone to the hospital instead and cried all night.
What the hell just happened?
I leapt from my chair and darted toward the window to stand behind the broad-shouldered linebacker just as Mrs. Engstrom, at a remarkable sixty years old, managed to squeeze between the two large athletes.
“I saw him fall!” a student in the back shouted, his forefinger pointing to the window.
“Is he dead?” a female voice questioned from somewhere in the middle.
“Couldn’t be!” The linebacker nudged the quarterback. “Could it?”
“Someone do something!” A shriek sounded from behind me.
As all these questions and statements circled, my eyes focused on a lump on the school ground. Crimson color washed around him as he lay face-down. I couldn’t be sure if it was him, but the body wore a green turtleneck, and I had seen Tommy in something similar before heading to my locker this morning.
Buttons on phones clicked, texting. Someone finally called the front office as Mrs. Engstrom panicked. Maybe it was the female student from the middle of the room.
“This is Mrs. Engstrom’s class...we just saw someone fall from the rooftop. YES! He is there now on the ground outside!” The shrieking voice shot goose bumps up and down my arms.
Mrs. Engstrom drew away from the window and appeared to be in shock.
“Never in thirty years of teaching.” She shook her head as if she just couldn’t believe what she saw. But I had my doubts. I heard the rumors...the rumors of students jumping from the rooftop of the school years before I attended. Mrs. Engstrom had only started teaching at Millennium High several years ago. She wouldn’t know that the school, the city, had its fair share of suicides and suspicious deaths. Wherever she had taught for the past twenty-seven years must have been fairly tame compared to this.
A tap on my shoulder from behind spun me around on the ball of my foot, and my dazed eyes met his. Dark as night, his eyes searched my face for expression. What he searched for I couldn’t be sure, but I felt pulled to him like a magnet.