By Aprilynne Pike
Her hands stopped. “Language, Laurel.”
“Well, it did. And there’s not a better word to describe it.”
“You have to give it some time, hon.”
“Everyone stares at me like I’m a freak.”
“They stare at you because you’re new.”
“I don’t look like everyone else.”
Her mom grinned. “Would you want to?”
Laurel rolled her eyes but had to admit her mother had scored a point. She might be home schooled and a little sheltered, but she knew she looked a lot like the teens in magazines and on television.
And she liked it.
Adolescence had been kind to her. Her almost translucent white skin hadn’t suffered the effects of acne and her blond hair had never been greasy. She was a small, lithe fifteen-year-old with a perfectly oval face and light green eyes. She’d always been thin, but not too thin, and had even developed some curves in the last few years. Her limbs were long and willowy and she walked with a dancer’s grace, despite having never taken lessons.
“I meant I dress differently.”
“You could dress like everyone else if you wanted to.”
“Yeah, but they all wear clunky shoes and tight jeans and like three shirts all layered on top of each other.”
“I don’t like tight clothes. They’re scratchy and make me feel awkward. And really, who could possibly want to wear clunky shoes? Yuck.”
“So wear what you want. If your clothes are enough to drive would-be friends away they’re not the kind of friends you want.”
Typical mother advice. Sweet, honest, and completely useless. “It’s loud there.”
Her mom stopped kneading and brushed her bangs out of her face, leaving a floury streak on her brow. “Sweetheart, you can hardly expect an entire high school to be as quiet as the two of us all alone. Be reasonable.”
“I am reasonable. I’m not talking about necessary noise; they run around like wild monkeys. They shriek and laugh and whine at the top of their lungs. And they make out at their lockers.”
Her mom rested her hand on her hip. “Anything else?”
“Yes. The halls are dark.”
“They are not dark,” her mom said, her tone slightly scolding. “I toured that entire school with you last week and all the walls are white.”
“But there are no windows, just those awful fluorescent lights. They’re so fake and they don’t bring any real light to the hallways. They’re just . . . dark. I miss Orick.”
Her mom began shaping the dough into loaves. “Tell me something good about today. I mean it.”
Laurel wandered over to the fridge.
“No,” her mom said, putting up one hand to stop her. “Something good first.”
“Um . . . I met a nice guy,” she said, stepping around her mom’s arm and grabbing a soda. “David . . . David something.”
It was her mom’s turn to roll her eyes. “Of course. We move to a new town and I start you in a brand-new school and the first person you latch onto is a guy.”
“It’s not like that.”
Laurel stood silently, listening to the slap of bread dough on the counter.
Laurel drew in a deep breath. “Do I really have to keep going?”
Her mom rubbed her temples. “Laurel, we’ve been through this already.”
“No. We’re not going to argue about it again.” She leaned on the counter, her face close to Laurel’s. “I don’t feel qualified to home school you anymore. Truth be told, I probably should have put you in middle school. It was just such a long drive from Orick and your dad was commuting already and . . . anyway. It’s time.”
“But you could order one of those home schooling programs. I looked them up online,” Laurel said hurriedly when her mom started to speak. “You don’t actually have to do the teaching. The material covers everything.”
“And how much does it cost?” her mom asked, her voice quiet, but with one eyebrow raised pointedly.
Laurel was silent.
“Listen,” her mom said, after a pause, “in a few months that’s something we can consider if you still hate school. But until our property in Orick sells, we don’t have the money for anything extra. You know that.”
Laurel looked down at the counter, her shoulders slumped.
The main reason they’d moved to Crescent City in the first place was because her dad bought a bookstore down on Washington Street. Early in the year, he had been driving through and saw a For Sale sign on a bookstore going out of business. Laurel remembered listening to her parents talk for weeks about what they could do to buy the store—a shared dream since they’d first gotten married—but the numbers never added up.
Then, in late April, a guy named Jeremiah Barnes approached Laurel’s dad at his job in Eureka with interest in their property in Orick. Her dad had come home practically bouncing with excitement. The rest happened in such a whirlwind Laurel could hardly remember what happened first. Her parents spent several days at the bank in Brookings and by early May the bookstore was theirs and they were moving from their small cabin in Orick to an even smaller house in Crescent City.
But the months crept by and still things weren’t finalized with Mr. Barnes. Until they were, money was tight, her dad worked long hours at the store, and Laurel was stuck in high school.
Her mom laid one hand over hers, warm and comforting. “Laurel, aside from the cost, you also need to learn to conquer new things. This will be so good for you. Next year you can take AP classes and you could join a team or a club. Those all look really good on college applications.”
“I know. But—”
“I’m the mom,” she said with a grin that softened her firm tone. “And I say school.”
Laurel humphed and began tracing her finger along the grout between the tiles on the countertops.
The clock ticked loudly as Laurel’s mom slid the pans into the oven and set the timer.
“Mom, do we have any of your canned peaches? I’m hungry.”
Her mom stared at Laurel. “You’re hungry?”
Laurel traced swirls through the condensation on the soda can with her finger, avoiding her mom’s gaze. “I got hungry this afternoon. In last period.”
Her mom was trying not to make a big deal of this, but they both knew it was out of the ordinary. Laurel rarely felt hungry. Her parents had bugged Laurel about her weird eating habits for years. She ate at each meal to satisfy them, but it wasn’t something she felt she needed, much less enjoyed.
That’s why her mom finally agreed to keep the fridge stocked with Sprite. She railed against the as-yet-undocumented detriments of carbonation; but she couldn’t argue with the 140 calories per can. That was 140 more than water. At least this way she knew Laurel was getting more calories in her system, even if they were “empty.”
Her mom hurried to the pantry to grab a bottle of peaches, probably afraid Laurel would change her mind. The unfamiliar twisting in Laurel’s stomach had begun during Spanish class, twenty minutes before the last bell. It had faded a little on the walk home, but hadn’t gone away.
“Here you go,” she said, setting a bowl in front of Laurel. Then she turned her back, giving Laurel a modicum of privacy. Laurel looked down at the dish. Her mom had played it safe—one peach half and about half a cup of juice.
She ate the peach in small bites, staring at her mother’s back, waiting for her to turn around and peek. But her mom busied herself with the dishes and didn’t look once. Still, Laurel felt like she’d lost some imaginary battle, so when she was finished, she slid her backpack from the counter and tiptoed out of the kitchen before her mom could turn around.