People can be so weird. You think you really know somebody—your best friend or even your mom or dad—and then something happens. Something huge and unimaginable. Something that changes everything.
Afterward you realize you don’t know anyone the way you thought you did.
You don’t even know yourself.
That’s what I kept thinking the first day of school. I’d hardly even left the house since the accident. And now, as I walked down the hallway and sat in my morning classes, everyone seemed like a stranger, giving me funny looks, whispering behind my back. Maybe I’d expected some of that. But I didn’t expect people to stare right through me, as if I were invisible. As if I were the ghost, instead of Matt.
By the time lunch rolled around, I just wanted to see my friends. My mom had dropped me off late, and I’d missed meeting up with them before the first bell. The cafeteria was a complete and utter zoo, but it wasn’t hard to pick my gang out of the crowd. They were sitting in the usual spot, third table down on the left, next to the courtyard windows.
“Grace! Over here!” Rebecca saw me first. She smiled and waved. When I walked over, she jumped up and slung her arms around me in a quick, tight hug. For a second I felt like my normal old self again, instead of Harding High’s new sideshow, the girl whose brother had died that summer.
I dropped into a seat at the end of the table and took out my lunch. Sara Kramer was in the middle of a story, as usual, making everyone laugh.
“. . . so then this really hot guy walks up and says, ‘I can get it open. Let me try.’ He yanks on the door and practically tears the locker right off the wall. I swear, he was like a superhero or something. And he was totally hot . . . Did I mention that part?” She sighed and rolled her eyes. “So I get my books out. Finally. But then I can’t close the door because the Mighty Hunk has bent it totally out of shape. Now I have to go down to the office and tell somebody, and they’re probably going to charge me to fix it. But the worst part is, I didn’t even find out his name . . .”
She took a sip of her soda and sighed heavily. Sara is our drama queen. She can’t help herself. She can leave a room for two minutes to get a drink of water and relate an entire adventure when she gets back.
“I know who you mean.” Andy Chin nodded. “Shaggy brown hair? He has on an orange T-shirt with a surf logo?”
Sara leaned across the table. “You know him?”
“He’s in my chem lab. I don’t think he’s that hot.”
“In matters of taste there can be no argument,” Sara declared in an elegant tone. “And that boy is totally tasty.”
Andy laughed and took another bite of salad. Quiet and incredibly smart, Andy never loses her cool. She always eats healthy stuff she brings from home in a plastic container and has a pin on her knapsack that says, meat is murder.
“So, what’s his name already?” Rebecca prodded.
“Rob Schneider, I think.” Andy shrugged. “Something like that.”
“He’s not new.” I shoved my half-eaten sandwich back into the plastic bag. “He transferred last spring from Ridgefield. He used to hang out with Matt sometimes.”
Suddenly quiet, they all turned to look at me.
Sara looked embarrassed. “That’s right. I guess I did see him around last year. Maybe he’s been lifting weights over the summer . . . Grace . . . ?” Sara’s blue eyes widened. She’d been so absorbed talking about her mystery man, this was the first time she’d taken a good look at me. “Whoa . . . you totally cut your hair. When did that happen?”
Andy and Rebecca exchanged swift glances. I could tell they’d noticed my hair but didn’t want to make a big deal over it. I’d basically been hiding out in my room for a month and a half, ever since Matt’s funeral. But the haircut was a recent development. As recent as last night, in fact. In sort of a fit, I’d just chopped it all off. I felt so different inside, I wanted it to show.
I’d done it in the bathroom with a pair of sewing scissors. My mom was in her bedroom watching TV. I could hear the sound of a home-decorating show through the half-closed door.
With Matt gone, our house felt empty and strange and lonely. Some nights I would go to my parents’ room and stretch out beside my mom on the bed. We didn’t really talk. We didn’t have to. We each knew what the other was feeling. Other nights I’d sit on the floor in the dark hallway outside their door, wanting to be near my mother but not wanting to actually face her. Our dog, Wiley, would drop down next to me. Wiley missed Matt, too. He just couldn’t say so.
Wiley and I would sit there, side by side, listening to the TV babbling away and my mom crying quietly, pulling tissues from a box on the bed, thinking no one could hear her.
Meanwhile my dad would disappear into his home office in the basement right after dinner and stay at his computer until everyone else went to bed. Sometimes I’d hear the keyboard tapping away. And other times nothing at all. He never used to work at home, but since the accident, he did it a lot.
It had been easy last night to sneak some beers out of the fridge and up to my room. I’d never had muchinterest in alcohol. None of my friends drank. But now I felt like, why not? A nice buzz sure softened the edges and helped numb the pain. I’d felt scared about coming back to school and the beers helped that, too. That’s when the makeover impulse had struck, I guess.
I cried when I finally realized what I’d done. Another beer helped that, too.
After the initial shock I decided I liked the choppy look of it. It was out there. Edgy. The new Grace. So of course I had to find an outfit this morning that matched the hair, something radically different from my usual look, which was a semigrunge, no-slave-to-fashion-but-no-nerd-either style.
I’d tossed aside a T-shirt and cargo pants for a short denim skirt, then made it even skimpier using those handy scissors again. I layered a few tank tops and found a pair of ...