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Authors: Barry Lyga

Goth girl rising

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Table of Contents 

Title Page

Table of Contents

Copyright

Dedication

Epigraph

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

Twenty-two

Twenty-three

Twenty-four

Twenty-five

Twenty-six

Twenty-seven

Twenty-eight

Twenty-nine

Thirty

Thirty-one

Thirty-two

Thirty-three

Thirty-four

Thirty-five

Thirty-six

Thirty-seven

Thirty-eight

Thirty-nine

Forty

Forty-one

Forty-two

Forty-three

Forty-four

Forty-five

Forty-six

Forty-seven

Forty-eight

Forty-nine

Fifty

Fifty-one

Fifty-two

Fifty-three

Fifty-four

Fifty-five

Fifty-six

Fifty-seven

Fifty-eight

Fifty-nine

Sixty

Sixty-one

Sixty-two

Sixty-three

Sixty-four

Sixty-five

Sixty-six

Sixty-seven

Sixty-eight

Sixty-nine

Seventy

Seventy-one

Seventy-two

Seventy-three

Seventy-four

Seventy-five

Seventy-six

Seventy-seven

Seventy-eight

Seventy-nine

Acknowledgments

Copyright © 2009 by Barry Lyga, LLC

All rights reserved. For information about permission to repro-duce selections from this book, write to Permissions, HoughtonMifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South,New York, New York 10003.

Houghton Mifflin is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin HarcourtPublishing Company.

www.hmhbooks.com

The text of this book is set in ITC Legacy Serif.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

T.K.

Printed in the United States of AmericaMP 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Molly, who told me I should.And look, I did.

my hair my hairmy hair's gone browni look in the mirrorand who do i see?a brown—haired girlwho is she?

One 

MY MOTHER ANDIBOTHspent a lot of time in hospitals. Unlike her, I survived.

Before she went and died, my mom told me to stop bitching about my cramps all the time. "It's nothing that every other woman on the planet hasn't gone through," she said.

And besides, she went on, your period is a good thing. It's a sign that you're alive and healthy.

Easy for her to say—cancer was eating her lungs from the inside out, so what's the big deal about some cramps, right?

Still, I knew that what I was experiencing wasn't right or normal. It wasn't what other girls were feeling every month. (I know—I asked around.)

Weird thing, though: After she died, my cramps sort of got better. It's not like they went away; they just stopped being so intense and so consuming. I started to think that, OK, maybethisis what other girls felt. Like I had been abnormal before, but now I was somehow becoming normal, that now the world was working properly and everything was good and normal and usual.

Everything except my mom'sface...

My mom's face before they closed the casket looked like a Barbie doll's.

A Barbie doll someone had left in the sandbox too long.

All plasticky and too shiny, but somehow gray at the same time.

And then one day after the funeral—it was a pretty nice day, too—I took a box cutter from my dad's workshop and slashed across my wrist. It hurt, but not that much. Not bad at all.

So I slashed the other one, too.

And that's how I ended up in the emergency room and then in front of a judge and then locked up in a mental hospital.

That was my first time in the hospital. And I got out and I covered up my scars and I went on with my life and I tried to figure out what it was all about, and I'mstilltrying to figure it out.

But it just gets more and more complicated all the time. Every day. The world doesn't slow down long enough for you to figure out anything; it keeps adding things in. Things like geeky guys and comic books and comic book conventions and effed-up teachers and...

And another stay in the hospital.

Two 

GODI'MDYINGFOR A CIGARETTE. I turned sixteen while I was away but this stupid state says you have to be eighteen to smoke, so they wouldn't let me smoke in the hospital.

When I got home this afternoon, the first thing I did was look for my cigs. But Roger had tossed them already. Now thathe'squit, he's an effing cigaretteTaliban,even though it's, like, years too late for that.

"Mom's already dead!" I yelled at him. "Who the hell do you think you're saving?"

And he just gave me his Sad, Tired look. It's one of the three he's got, the other two being Pissed Off and Blissed Out on ESPN.

"you, Kyra." Like it's some big revelation. "Someone has to protect you from yourself. From all the crap out in the world."

"Don't do me any favors," I told him.

He took a deep breath. "It's your first day back home. Can't you behave just a little bit?"

I went to my room. Home all of five minutes and I was already isolated in my room. Living with Roger isn't much different from being in the hospital. He's in charge, just like the doctors and nurses are in charge in the hospital. I have no say. I have no rights.

To make things worse, I'm going back to school in the morning. I don't want to go back to school.

See, I haven't been to school in a while. Six months, which includes all of summer break, when everyone else in the universe was off having fun. Except for me. I got put away. Now I'm supposed to go back to school like nothing happened.

School seems like something that happens to other people.

Last spring, I met this guy. And I guess I fell in love with him a little bit, which was a stupid thing for me to do because it never works out and it's pointless. So I kicked him in the balls and walked away from him and even flipped him off over the Internet.

And then my dad started in on me because, see, before all of this, this kid—thisFanboy—had a bullet. And I guess I sort of stole it from him and he figured out I had it and he called my effingdadand then all hell broke loose at home because my dad was all freaked out, like I was going to try to kill myself again. And he spent all this time tearing apart the house, looking for this goddamn bullet, which he couldn't find because I'd already given it back to Fanboy ... right at the same time I kicked him in the balls, actually.

And I kept my mouth shut, too. No matter how much my dad screamed and yelled and ranted and raved, I wouldn't tell him anything about the bullet. Not about where I got it. Not about where it went. Not about the kid who called him at work to tell him about it.

So Roger—my dad, officially—gave up. He sent me to the hospital again.

And now I'm back home. Because as bad as it was, I'm tougher than my mom.

The Last Time I Saw Her 

the room the room the room is rosevomit because

Three 

THINGS ARE A LITTLE BIT BETTERat home, of course—I have myownroom, without a crazy roommate who got knocked up at fifteen and used to let her boyfriend beat her up. So I've got that going for me.

And I have my computer.

It's beenmonthssince I've been able to do anything on a computer. They had computers in the hospital, but we were monitored and we only got, like, fifteen minutes at a time, so I didn't bother.

I fire up the computer and log on to my chat program and there's Simone, like she's waiting for me. Simone's my best friend—I know all of her shit and she knows all of my shit.

So it goes like this:

 

simsimsimoaning:welcom back!!!!!

Promethea387:Thanks. Already feel like I'm in jail or something. Roger is being a PITA.

simsimsimoaning:u need 2 get oiut

simsimsimoaning:uv ben cooped up for MONTHS

Promethea387:Yeah, I know.

simsimsimoaning:grounded?

Promethea387:I don't think so. He's just watching me real carefully.

simsimsimoaning:shit

Promethea387:So? Never stopped me before.

simsimsimoaning:lol

Promethea387:I'm dying for a cigarette.

simsimsimoaning:i can hook u up

Promethea387:Roger is still home. I'll have to sneak out tonight when he's asleep.

simsimsimoaning:meet me @ jeccas house big party 2nite

Promethea387:OK.


Page 2

Four 

ISPEND THE REST OF THE DAYin my bedroom, just sort of trying to avoid Rogerandthe thought of school tomorrow. I'm not real successful at either one.

I turn up some music and try to drown my own brain, but I only succeed a little bit.

Roger knocks on the door a bunch of times. I talk to him just enough that he won't get too suspicious and start coming in without knocking. He told me on the way home from the hospital: "This is how it's going to be, Kyra—if you give me enough reason to worry about you, I'll just come in without knocking." And then, as if he read my effing mind: "And if it's locked, I'll knock it the hell down."

He thinks when he busts out "hell" I take him more seriously. Yeah. Insert eye roll here. (Man, I wishlifehad emoticons, you know? So that when your dad pisses you off you could like click a mental button or something and just show him one of those rolleyes. That would rock.)

Anyway.

After, like,forever,it's finally nighttime. There are no nurses to come in and check on me. No one tries to give me meds or anything like that. No psycho roommate crying herself to sleep.

Just me. In my own bedroom.

Roger knocks and then comes in and sits down. I'm lying on the bed. He sighs because that's what Roger does—he sighs a lot.

He gives me Sad, Tired.

"Are you going to behave in school tomorrow?"

"I guess."

"I need more than a guess, Kyra."

"What do you want from me, Roger?"

He flicks to Pissed Off for a second before returning to Sad, Tired. "I want you to think straight for once."

For some reason I feel sorry for him all of a sudden. That happens sometimes with Sad, Tired.

"I'll try, Dad."

He nods and leaves. I hear him head into his bathroom, then into his bedroom. Pretty soon the TV's on, just loud enough that I can hearsomethingbut not loud enough to tell what it is.

I give him an hour to fall asleep.

Then I stuffa bunch of clothes and old stuffed animals and shit under my covers to make it look like I'm in bed. I get dressed for the real world for the first time since spring—all black, of course; minimizer bra, of course. In the hospital, my black hair dye washed out, so now I have this ugly brown stuff. Nothing I can do it about it right now.

I sneak out the back door because that one squeaks a lot less than the front door.

Outside. I'm outside.

I'm in my own clothes.

I'm free.

Freedom! Like in that old Mel Gibson movie they made us watch in history. I want to scream it to the night sky:FREEDOM!

I stand in the cold and shiver a little bit. It's OK, though. The cold's OK. It's better than being in the hospital.

The only real problem is that I have no car. I used to be able to boost one pretty regularly, but I've only been home for a few hours, so I haven't been able to sneak out and steal one. So I'll have to walk to Jecca's. Damn.

Oh, well. I breathe in deep. The air's cold, but it feels good in my lungs. Better than the air in the hospital, that's for damn sure.

I start to walk.

Fanboy 

AND I CAN'T HELP MYSELF. Even though I try to think of other things—Jecca, Simone, the party—I keep thinking about Fanboy.

And his graphic novel. And the way he kept trying to check me out without really checking me out and how for the first time in my life that, like, totally didn't bother me or freak me out. Except it freaked me out that itdidn'tfreak me out.

I don't get it.

I remember kicking him in the balls. And e-mailing him a picture of me flipping him off. I was so pissed at him. I was so angry.

There was this senior named Dina Jurgens, and she was this totalMaximbimbette with the tits and the ass and the legs and the tan and the blond hair and all that shit that makes guys turn into such jackasses. Against all odds, she even put the moves on Fanboy. I found out that at a party one night she started sucking face with him, which is so stupid.

So maybe I was right to be angry because I liked him and I shouldn't have, but he shouldn't have kissed effingDina Jurgensof all people, but she graduated while I was gone, so she's not an issue anymore, right? Out of sight, out of mind.

But he's justscarytalented. I mean, I've read a lot of comic books and manga and shit, andSchematawas just totally kick-ass. I busted him a lot about some of the stuff he put in there, and it really pissed me off that his main character was just wank-bait Dina all grown up, but still. It was amazing. I read most of the script and saw like twenty pages of artwork, and it was phenomenal. I still can't believe that bald little shit Bendis didn't realize he was looking at genius. (Yeah, big-shot Brian Michael Bendis. Big-shot comic book writer. Whatever. Prick. He didn't deserve to see my boobs. Long story.)

Cute, in that geeky way only guys have, really. Geeky girls can't really pull it off. Not the same way. Geeky guys have this shyness that works because it's, like, so different from the normal asshole guy behavior. So when you see a shy guy, it makes you sit up and take notice. It makes you want to understand them or makes you feel like you already understand them or...

I don't know. Protect them? Does that make sense?

I hate jocks. I hate big buff guys who think they were handcrafted by God to dispense orgasms to the world. They're more into themselves than anything or anyone else. And that's just bullshit. Because here's the thing: No one in this world is so great that they're worthy of self-obsession. Believe me, I know. It's just the truth. We're all flawed, broken half-people. None of us is complete or even worthwhile. We all suck.

But Fanboy...

See, for a while there, I thought of him as just "fanboy." Lowercase. It wasn't his name—it was just his description, you know? The way you'd call someone in the army "soldier," or the way obnoxious pigs call guys "sport" or "son."

But somewhere, somehow ... while I wasaway,it changed. It became atitle.It became like a proper noun, you know?

I guess he wasn't so bad. I mean, it pissed me off that he was obsessed with Dina, butallguys are obsessed with her, so I should really let that pass. And he kept messing up stuff about women in his graphic novel, but I realized something while I was away—hetried.He was a fifteen-year-oldboyfrom effingBrookdaleand he was trying to create a graphic novel about women and their problems.

I have to give him props for that.

And a part of me ... a part of me thinks that maybe I can help him. Maybe I can help make his graphic novel even better. I mean, I was the only one he showed it to. The only one he trusted. He never even showed it to his "best" friend, this superstar stud jock who's like a secret geek or something.

He showed it tome.

But I really treated him like shit. I shouldn't have done that.

My shrink in the hospital—Dr. Kennedy—told me that every day is a chance to start your life over again. Which is bullshit, really, but nottotalbullshit. I guess wecanmake changes. Things aren't always set in stone, right?

Fanboy didn't call while I was in the hospital. He couldn't—he didn't know where I was. So I forgive him for that. But he also didn't send me any e-mails, which sort of pisses me off because he could have e-mailed me at least once, right?

But...

Look at it this way: He didn't e-mail me, which is a mean, shitty thing to do. But I was mean to him, too.

So we're even.

So everything is cool, then.

Yeah.

This is what I'm going to do: Make it all better. I can do that.

At school, he'll be excited to see me. I'll apologize and then he'll apologize (see, I'll even go first) and we'll pick up where we left off and this time...

This time I'll try really, really hard not to eff it up.

Five 

JECCA LIVES ABOUT TEN MINUTES AWAYby car, but it takes me a while to get there on foot. That's OK—all that time walking and thinking is good for me.

There's a bunch of cars parked along the road, but the house is dark.

I walk into the middle of a "quiet party." Everyone's in the living room, all the furniture pushed into a circle. There's like twenty kids, all dressed in black, some with white makeup like I wear, some with exaggerated black or smoky gray eyeshadow. I'm the only one here without black hair. I feel like someone should revoke my Goth Girl membership card.

There are some candles lighting the room, but that's it.

Most everyone ignores me. They all know I've been in the loony bin for six months. Word got out. Only Simone and Jecca knewwhichloony bin, though, because even though I know almost everyone here, Simone and Jecca are the only ones I would actually call friends.

Jecca squeals and jumps up to hug me. Simone slips me a pack of cigarettes. Bless her.

I get this weird minute where I can't talk. It's like I'm totally overwhelmed. I realize: This is the first time in six months I've been with afriend.Six months of nothing but doctors and nurses and whacked-out mental patients and visits from Roger. I talked to Jecca and Simone on the phone a little bit, but that was it.

"You're back," Jecca whispers, still hugging me.

"Yeah." It's the only thing I can manage to say right now. How do you talk to normal people?

"Let her breathe," Simone says, prying us apart. She gives me one of those little one-armed hugs and then pushes a guy off the sofa so that we can sit down.

"What took you so long?" Sim whispers.

"I had to walk."

Sim frowns. "I'll take you home later."

I hate that I have to bum a ride from her. I should have my license by now. I should have a car—my own car, not a stolen one—by now.

The air's thick and sweet with pot. A bong is being passed around. The guy Simone pushed moves that slow way stoned people move. The word islanguid,I think.

It's weird because I figured I would have all of this shit to talk about when I finally saw Sim and Jecca again, but now that I'm here, I don't want to talk. I don't want tothink.I'm really glad that the party is "quiet." It's like everyone just sits around and gets mellow and stays quiet. And you have to turn off your cell and shit to come in and it's pretty cool to be in the dark and the quiet for a while. You can talk—you just have to talkquiet.

So we all just sit here and smoke and relax and it's cool. The chatter's low. No one's talking about anything that matters.

But then someone passes the bong to me and I take a hit and it's not a cigarette, but it's great, really. God, it's been so effing long.

My lungs go all orgasmic with it and I hold my breath so long that I think maybe I've figured out how to never breathe again, how to survive without exhaling. God, would that be cool or what? That's what it feels like, like I don't need air anymore, not as long as I have the sweet smoke in my lungs.

And then my eyes start to spark. That's the only way to describe it—they spark. I start to see little bursts of color. I close my eyes and they're still there and I exhale, letting all the smoke out in a cloud. The whole room's a cloud.

God, this is what I needed. I needed to be with some friends and just ease my way back into the real world after being in the hospital for so long. Now I can go back to school tomorrow. Honestly. I can. I really can.

Simone giggles at nothing and takes a hit and passes the bong along.

Bong along. Heh.

"What's so funny?" Simone asks.

I didn't realize I actually laughed.

Across the circle, Jecca waves to me, slowly,languidly.She's totally blissed out. Her parents travel a lot and she has these great mellow parties for the goths in Brookdale and canters-town, even Finn's Crossing. No one's allowed to eff with any of her parents stuff, but that's cool because we're all just here to get away from the rest of the world anyway.

And then it's time for hide-and-seek.

The hide-and-seek we play isn't totally like the old kid game: You get all stoned out of your mind first, and then you go hide and someone has to find you, and it's awesome because you're just blitzed unbelievably.

Last time I played wasmonthsago, before I met Fanboy even. I was the seeker and everyone scattered while I sat with my eyes closed, counting to a hundred. And when I opened my eyes, it was like the rest of the world had just vanished, just gone away.

And I loved it.

I mean, I knew deep down that the world was still there. That I wasn't alone in the house, that there were, like, twenty kids hiding just around the corners and up the stairs and all that. But the illusion of complete aloneness was there and that's all I cared about at that moment—the illusion. It worked for me. I didn't question it.


Page 3

So I had counted to one hundred and I was sitting there on the sofa all by myself and I was supposed to get up and go seeking, but instead I just sat there. Just sat there, slightly stoned, completely alone in the dark. I didn't think about anything, didn't want anything, didn't really evenfeelanything. I just absorbed the solace and the solitariness of it all.

And did nothing.

I don't know how long I sat there. Could have been five minutes. Could have been five hours. Time stopped meaning anything.

Eventually, people started to get antsy and move. I didn't care. I just sat there as they slowly began to drift back into the living room.

"What the hell, Kyra?"

"You suck at this."

I ignored them.

"You're supposed to come looking for us."

"Leave her alone. She's totally stoned out."

Still ignored them. Grasped for just one last moment of peace, of alone. Clung to it. Wouldn't let go. Couldn't let go. Can't let go.

Six 

SO NEEDLESS TO SAY, THIS TIMEno one says I should be the one to seek. Which is fine by me.

I don't know what's happening to me. The whole time I was in the hospital, all I wanted was to get out and be with my friends. And now suddenly all I can think about is being alone. Maybe it's the pot. Maybe it's just, like, culture shock. I don't know.

Some guy I've never seen before closes his eyes and starts to count. Everyone steals away, sneaking off into the darkness to hide. I creep away to the kitchen. The pantry is a big walk-in, and there's a spot under a shelf where I can tuck myself in if I lie down. Since no one is allowed to turn on lights, if I stay very still you can't see me even if you walk into the pantry.

After a minute or two, I start to drift off, buoyed by the pot and the silence. It's all peaceful until I start to think about Fanboy. I feel really bad for him, like he needs someone to touch him and hold him maybe, someone to—

The pantry door creaks open just a bit.

I lie perfectly still, my heart hammering.

"Kyra?" It's Jecca, whispering.

"Yeah."

She slips in and closes the door. Then she's next to me, lying next to me, the heat of her radiating to me, her breath a hush between us.

Her hand finds my face. I'm holding my breath for some reason. I let it out against her fingertips as she leans in, following her hand in the dark, and her lips touch mine.

Seven 

THIS HAPPENS SOMETIMES. WITHJECCA. It doesn't really go any further than kissing, which is no big deal, right?

Jecca makes a little noise down deep in her chest. I've been holding her out. I open my mouth and she sighs her relief between my lips and I realize that I sort of feel sorry for lesbians. I mean real lesbians, the genuine article. The women who truly feel love and passion for other women. Because it's likeeveryoneis doing it these days. It's like their very sexuality, the core of their beings, has become a ... afad,something they throw into soap operas to up the ratings, or something girls do to turn their boyfriends on. It's like it's been made meaningless.

I mean, I don't love Jecca or anything. And she doesn't love me. It's not like we're gay. Because we're not.

I don't think.

This just happens, is all.

She kisses me. I kiss her back. It's no big deal.

Except it does feel good. It does feel nice. When it happens ... sometimes when it happens, I can forget things. Big things. Little things. All kinds of things. Her lips are really soft; her tongue's soft, too. Sometimes she licks my neck or nibbles my ear, and that's great.

I guess some people would call this "experimentation," but that's not it because experimentation is, like, indicating that you would do something full-time after trying it out. And I don't think I'm a lesbian or anything. I like boys. I know this because when I fantasize, I think about boys all the time.

But I also think about Jecca. Not other girls. Just Jecca.

This is just ... God, it's just comforting. And safe. And Ineverfeel comfortable or safe, so these times with Jecca, when this happens, it's like a vacation for me, like being sent away again, only this time being sent away somewhere Iwantto go, somewhere I like.

It's looking for a touch, warmth, connection, heat, anything.

"What's wrong?" she whispers, which is weird because she usually doesn't say anything.

"Nothing." And I lean up a little bit to kiss her. I've been thinking the whole time. Stressing. And she could tell. So I shut off my brain for a little while and just let the safety and the comfort take over.

Eight 

LATER. I'M STILL STONED.SOSTONED. And smoking my way through my first pack of cigarettes inmonths.God, it feels good! I lick my lips and imagine I can taste Jecca's lipstick, which I can't, but I imagine it, which is just as good.

I'm in the kitchen, giggling with Simone as she tries to open a bag of potato chips.

"I think I need scissors," she says, pronouncing thecso that it comes out "skissors," which for some reason makes us both convulse with laughter until we're giggling right there on the kitchen floor.

"Skissors," she says again.

"Suh-gar!" I say, spying the sugar bowl on the counter.

"Skissors!"

"Suh-gar!"

"Va-guy-na!"

I snort laughter. "No, it has to start with ans."I don't know why, but it's funnier that way.

She licks her lips and tries the bag again. She gets it open without making it explode all over the place.

"She-mata!" she says, holding out a handful of chips.

I stare at her. The chips are wavering right in front of me and my gut is telling me to eat them so fast that she doesn't even know they're gone, but my brain is thinking,What did she just say?

"Huh?"

"Chips!" she says, and giggles becausechipsis a funny word, especially when you say it like Simone does when she's stoned.

"No, what did you say before?"

She shoves some of the chips into her mouth. "Skissors!"

"No, not that."

"Suh-gar!"

"That was me."

"She-mata! Like the comic book."

"It'sSchemata," I tell her automatically, pronouncing it correctly, but at the same time, I'm trying to think ten million things at once. How does Simone know aboutSchemata?Howdoes she know anything at all? Did I tell her? I don'tthinkI did. I don't think I ever mentioned it to her.

Simone isn't paying any attention to me—she wanders off with her bag of chips, leaving me in the kitchen by myself. I feel like the world's spinning around me and like my brain is spinning, too, but in the opposite direction, and it makes me all dizzy and crazy.DidI tell her aboutSchemata?What did I tell her?Whendid I tell her?

Holy crap. How could I tell her about something likethatand not remember it? Am I totally losing my mind?

And goddammit, now I don't feel stoned anymore. I'm totally straight now, totally sober, totally pissed, and I wish Jecca was here in the kitchen, because I need someone to kiss me, someone to kiss me and not to talk, never to talk.

Dear Neil, 

So, here I am, back home, writing to you for the first time from somewhere other than the hospital.

In case you're interested, my first day back home sucked bigtime.

I had a fight with my dad, which is nothing new, but still. It's never fun. And I went to a party and got high and made out with someone, which confuses me every time it happens. And then someone said something that really just ... It just didn't make any sense.

I'm babbling. Wow, babbling with a keyboard! Babbling with a keyboard in a letter to Neil Gaiman!

Then again, it's not like the letters I wrote to you in the hospital made much sense, either, I bet. I bet if I looked at them now, I would be like,What the hell were you talking about, Kyra?But I wrote them and they're done and I'm not going to look back.

That's my new thing, Neil: Not looking back. I'm going to try to look ahead. Like, I'm going to forgive Fanboy and I'm go ing to try to be his friend again. That's a good thing. That's what adults call "a step in the right direction."

It's not always easy for me. And I think that's what pisses me off more than anything else. People say, "Behave!" and "Don't do bad things!" and "Be nice!" as if those things are easy, as if they're simple. But they're not, Neil. They just aren't. The world is a really, really shitty place, so doing those good things, those nice things, isn't always easy.

And sometimes you have to be mean. Or angry. Sometimes that's the only way to get something done or explain something to someone. And sometimes it just feels good and right and—more important—honest.Isn't honesty important? Doesn't honesty matter?

OK, it's really late and I'm really tired and I think I'm still a little bit stoned, so I'm going to bed now.

Nine 

THERE'S A LOUD BEEPING SOUNDfilling the universe, waking me up. I lie in bed for a minute, wondering what the hell the sound is before I realize it's my alarm clock.

God, how weird. I haven't woken up to an alarm inforever.I'm in my own room. Not the hospital. My own room. Strange.

Last night is already fading ... I have the real world to deal with now.

God, it's November. I can't believe it. I missed the end of my sophomore year and the beginning of my junior year. All because my dad freaked out.

As if he can hear me thinking, Roger taps on my door. I want to yell out,Eff off, Roger!(I want to do that alot!All the time!) Instead, I don't say anything. His taps become more insistent and he finally gives up being nice and says, "Kyra, I'm counting to three and then I'm opening the door!"

By the time he comes in, I'm at my closet, picking out my clothes for my big ole triumphant return to South Brook High. Ha.

"Didn't you hear me?" he asks.

"I'm thinking," I tell him.

"What's there to think about? It's all black."

This is true. My closet is like a refugee shelter for black clothes.

"What do you want?" I ask him.

"Your teachers all know what you've been going through," he says. "They'll be sympathetic. Like last time."

I just keep staring at the closet. I want to say,Eff off, Roger!Again. Because "last time"—back in middle school, when I tried to kill myself—sucked bigtime. Everyone treated me like a freak when I came back to school. Besides, how can my teachers know what I've been "going through" whenI'mnot even a hundred percent sure?

Here's the thing about parents—about adults in general, really: They think they're In Charge. They think they Rule the World.

But in reality they're just as clueless and effed up as everyone else. The world is just a gigantic effing wave, atsunami,and it washes away all of us—kid, parent, student, teacher—alike.

That's the world. That's afact,OK?

"Did you hear me?" he asks.

I sigh out a "yes" like it's the longest word in the world. "Can I get a shower now?"

The bathroom is another weird place for me. My own bathroom. My own stuff. No one messing with it. No one pounding on the door to come in.

I left the cap open on my hair gel while I was gone, so it all dried out. No spikes for me today.

No hair dye, either. Did I run out before I went away, or did Roger pitch it while I was gone? Roger probably pitched it. He never liked my black hair.

I don't have many options, so I just take the top and back and tie it into a stub, leaving the long bangs to hang down. Not bad. My bangs are not normal bangs. They're awesome.

Roger sees me on my way out the door and says, "Can't you get that out of your eyes?" He means my Bangs of Doom.

And I think,Uh, no, dumb-ass. Because then people couldseeme.


Page 4

And he says, "people can't even see you."

Duh.

And he says, "You know, Kyra, the world isn't so bad when you can actually see it."

Gag.

Ten 

IHATE THE BUS. ANYONE WHO'S SANEshould hate the bus. Ugh.

I have no friends on the bus, so I have time to think. I start thinking about Fanboy and that makes me remember Simone last night, talking aboutSchemata.Was that real? Did I just imagine it? I don't do pot a lot—maybe a couple of times a year—so maybe the whole thing was in my imagination. Maybe that's it.

Maybe.

I look at the schedule they sent me. Gross—I have Miss Powell for English. IhateMiss Powell. I had her for English freshman year, with Simone. Miss Powell sucks for many, many reasons. I can't believe this.

The bus stops at South Brook High, and for the first time my stomach does a weird little lurchy, hiccupy type thing.

Chill, Kyra. This is no big deal. It's just school.

I go inside and head for the office. That's where I'm supposed to "report" today. To Assistant Principal Roland J. Sperling, known far and wide (especially wide) as the Spermling. One of my favorite adults to eff with.

And once I'm there, I crack my first smile of the day. Because the Spermling isn't alone in his office—he's got Miss Channing, the secretary, there with him. Probably because the last time I was in his office alone with him, I walked out crying and with my shirt untucked so that everyone would think he molested me. Sucker.

The Spermling harrumphs and is nearly strangled by his own fat and tells me where my new homeroom is and how he's aware of my "issues" and how if I have any trouble I should feel free to come see him...

"As long as we have a chaperone, right?"

He clears his throat, and his meaty lips clash together in a way that makes me realize that—somewhere under that fat face—he's gnashing his teeth.

"You created this situation, Miss Sellers. We're merely living it."

"Yeah, I control things. don't you forget it."

"Miss Sellers! We aretryingto help you. One more comment like that and you'll have the dubious distinction of ending up with detention before you've even gotten to homeroom!"

I think about it for a second. That would be kinda cool, actually. It would really rub the Spermling's nose in it and it would piss off Roger, too.

But no. I have to stay focused. I need to find Fanboy.

Of course, I'm not about to tell the Spermling any of that, so I just sit there with a smirk on my face and glare at him from behind my Bangs of Doom and tap my foot because I'm dying for a cigarette.

He lets me go. I resist the urge to look over my shoulder and say, "Stop looking at my ass!" as I leave.

Eleven 

IHAVE A FEW MINUTES BEFOREthe bell rings, so I go looking for Fanboy. I feel all light and puffy inside, like someone filled me up with a cloud or something. The Spermling doesn't bother me. Roger doesn't bother me. I'm going to find Fanboy and then everything is going to be fine.

No, wait. That's wrong. Everything is going to beperfect.Because I'm going to make it that way this time.

I'm halfway down the hall when something catches my eye. It's a poster on the wall, sort of a combination of computer type and artwork...

The artwork...

Jesus! It'shis.It'sFanboy'sartwork. I would know that style anywhere.

The poster saysLITERARY PAWS VOL. XX#3 and thenCOMING BEFORE THANKSGIVING.

And then ...

Holy shit.

Under that:FEATURING THE NEXT CHAPTER OF SCHEMATA!

No. Effing. Way.

Twelve 

IT'S NOT JUSTSIMONE. THE WHOLEworld...

The posters areeverywhere. Literary Pawsis the school's literary magazine. No one gives a shit about it. It's like a total joke. It's run by Mr. Tollin, this eight-hundred-foot-tall English teacher who spends all day talking about how he played college basketball and almost made it into the Final Four one year. (Whateverthatmeans.) He's a total loser and he only runs the magazine because he's the newest English teacher and they must pass this thing along like it's a pissed-off skunk.

I don't get it.Schematais running inLiterary Paws?Did the whole world go crazy while I was away?

The bell for homeroom will ring soon, but I can't help myself—I have to see him. I have to find out what's happened.

So I rush to his homeroom, hoping for maybe just a minute before the bell.

And...

Yes, the world has definitely gone crazy.

Because there he is, there's Fanboy in all his Fanboy glory, sitting at his desk.

Surrounded.

Surroundedby like half a dozen people. They're all laughing, and here's the thing—they're not laughingathim. They're laughingwithhim.

And then his friend—the jock, Cal—starts waving them all away and busts out this fake ghetto shit: "Yo, yo, all y'all gotta back off my dawg here, OK? My man needsspaceto be theace!"

I want to puke. What the hell?

And Fanboy kinda chuckles and starts drawing something. He holds it up and it looks like some caricature of one of the kids standing around him and everybody laughs and...

Caricatures?

He's wasting his effing time drawingcaricatures?

And since when is hepopular?God, I was the only person he showedSchematato. Now he's ... he's serializing it? In the effing literary journal?

None of this makes any sense.

I back out of the room before anyone can see me. Dimly, like it's off in the distance somewhere, I hear a sound—the homeroom bell.

And I don't care.

Thirteen 

I'M LATE TO HOMEROOM, BUTMrs. Reed doesn't say anything other than "Welcome back, Kyra," which makes everyone look up at me, which I don't like, but whatever. I plop down in my seat and I stare out the window. I can see the roof of South Brook Elementary, which is across the street and down a hill from here. It makes me think of the playground there, the first place I met Fanboy.

The last place I saw him before I became DCHH.

That's what they called me in the hospital when Roger sent me there six months ago. DCHH. I didn't know what it meant at first, but I found out. Oh, yeah, I found out.

And why were you in the hospital, Kyra? Well, Kyra, becauseFanboyratted me out. Told Roger about the bullet, so Roger decided to hustle me off to have my brain scrubbed clean.

Thanks a lot, Fanboy.

What an asshole. I wasrightto be pissed at him. I was right to hate him. Why did I ever think I was wrong? Why did I ever think I owed him an apology?

He talked so big about being an artist, and what does he do? He publishes his "great masterpiece" inLiterary Paws.God, how lame can you get?

And it wasn't evendoneyet. He still had all this work to do. How could he start publishing it when it still had so far to go? He's compromising his art. I was helping him with it and he just ... he just goes off and does this, this stupid thing, without thinking about ... thinking about...

God, I'm so pissed I can't even think straight!

He doesn't deserve to succeed. Not if he's willing to settle forLiterary Paws.Pathetic.

"Kyra?"

I blink and turn away from the window. The room is empty, but some kids are starting to file in from the hall. What the hell?

"Didn't you hear the bell?" Mrs. Reed asks.

I didn't. I was totally off in fantasyland, but I'm not about to tellherthat. I stare at her instead.

"Kyra? Are you OK?"

Why do people always ask me that?

"I'm fine."

"You look a little ... spaced out. Maybe you should—"

"I was justthinking,OK? God! Get off my back."

"The bell—"

"I don't need abellto tell me how to live my life," I say to her.

She looks over her shoulder at the kids clustered in the doorway, all watching. Great.

Then she looks back at me and holds out a hall pass. "I think you should head down to the office, OK? Maybe talk to a guidance counselor."

I roll my eyes behind the Bangs of Doom.

"Your first day back can be tough," she goes on, and just to shut her up, I take the hall pass. Before she can keep lecturing me, I push my way through the kids coming through the door and head to the office, where I get to hang with the Spermling and Miss Channing again, lucky me.

"This has got to be a record, Miss Sellers," the Spermling wheezes. "Even for you."

For once, I can't think of anything to say. Because it reallyisa record, and I'm kind of distracted by that. So I just sit and stare at him.

"Your father and your therapist assured us that you were doing better. That things would be different this time. What happened?"

I shrug. "She wouldn't leave me alone, is all. I wasn't hurting anyone."

He watches me with his beady little eyes. They look like tiny chocolate chips in a huge bowl of lumpy cookie dough.

"Maybe we should have you speak to the county psychiatrist," the Spermling says.

"Jesus Christ!" I can't help it. "All I did was space out for a minute and you all are acting like I brought a gun to school or something!"

"Given your history—"

"The hell with my history! Just leave me alone and let me do the shit I have to do here and..."

I trail off because there's no point in talking anymore. The Spermling's not listening. He's made up his mind already. Hell, he probably made up his mind the minute I walked in here with Mrs. Reed's hall pass. Blowing up in his face just confirmed the decision for him.

I sit in silence as he sighs and picks up the phone. Pretty soon he has Roger on the line and he's saying things like "Maybe it was too soon" and "I'm sure you did" and "Right now, I don't see any other choice."

The Spermling hangs up. "Your father is coming to pick you up. You may wait in the outer office with Miss Channing."

I go into the outer office with Miss Channing, who types away on her keyboard and answers the phone and shit. You'd think after all the times I've come here and sat outside with her that she would, like, talk to me or something, but no. It's like I'm not even here.

Time goes by. Bells ring. Some kids and some teachers come in and out. I ignore their stares. I just glare at them from behind my Bangs of Doom.

Eff all of them.

And effhim,too.

Who said he could be happy? Who said he could just forget about me?

Roger arrives. Great.

Well, at least I don't have to deal with Miss Powell today.

Fourteen 

THE DRIVE HOME IS FILLEDwith shit like "...made me leave workagain" and "...couldn't behave for one day, could you?" and "Here we go again, Kyra. Here we go again." He sounds like he's tired of saying it all.

I know I'm tired of hearing it all.

"Whatever, Roger." I say it because I know it drives him crazy.

"Goddammit, Kyra!" He slams his hand on the steering wheel and for a second there I imagine what would happen if the air bag suddenly exploded open right in his face.

"I thought this was the end of it, Kyra. You told Dr. Kennedy you wanted to go back to school."

"No. I told him I wasreadyto go back. I never said I wanted to."

I guess the worst part about it is this: I was ready to try. I really was. But then I was betrayed. How am I supposed to be nice to people who stab me in the back? Fanboy shared the thing that had only been between the two of us. And Cal, acting like he had always been there, like he was the best friend, when I know for a fact that it wasn'tCalthat Fanboy first showedSchematato—it wasme.It wasme,andIshould have been the one standing there, brushing off the admirers and telling them to givemyace some space...

"—listening to me?" Dad rants. "I can't even tell if you'reawakewith your hair down over your eyes like that."


Page 5

Then shut up,I want to say to him,and let me sleep.

At home, he tells me that I'm grounded for the day, the night, forever. I can go back to school in the morning and I'd better "shape up." For now, I'm banished to my room and he's going to have to stay home and "keep an eye" on me.

Great. My room. Like the hospital. Roger sends me places—that's what he does. That's all he does.

So I sit in my room and stare at the computer. I think of how I first saw Fanboy, standing in gym class, all noble and unyielding while this big blond asshole punched him over and over in the shoulder. Took a picture with my cell because I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Here's the thing about Fanboy: He's really smart and talented and all that, but he's also like really stupid. Naive, I guess. He thinks that not having anyone looking for you is the same thing as hiding.

Wrong!

That's how I found him the first time—an old MySpace page of his that he didn't use anymore, but the account name was XianWalker76 and I figured that he would probably use that for everything ... and he did. It was his IM name, so it wasn't hard to track to him down. And you know what?

He couldn't be bothered to do the same. To track me down when I went away. To eventry.The whole time I was gone, the whole time I was DCHH—nothing. I came back home and I checked my computer and there was no e-mail from him at all.

I was disappointed, and then I figured...

I don't know what I figured. There weren't many e-mails from Simone or Jecca, either, but they knew where I was and they knew I couldn't get e-mail there, so they called me and sent me letters and stuff.

Buthim...

He's moved on. obviously.

He's gone.

And I'm ...

What?

Dear Neil, 

I wish it were easy. I wish life were easy, like one of your comics.

I don't mean that your characters have it easy. That's not what I mean. Because you do some really terrible, really awful things to your characters sometimes. (And I kind of like that, so it's cool.)

What I mean is that I wish life could be simple like the actual page of a comic book. You look at a comic book page and there are rules, rules that make sense. The page is always the same size. There are panel borders and you know that the artwork goes inside the panel borders. Word balloons. Caption boxes. One panel leads to the next, one balloon to the next, and it makes sense, OK? It all fits together and if you tried to look at just part of it, it really wouldn't work. You look at the whole thing, though, and you have a little piece of the story.

It's simple. You can do anything on a comic book page, but at the end of the day, it's all based on these simple ideas, right? It's all lines and blocks and that's good.

Everything makes sense.

So I wish life were like that. That's all.

Fifteen 

SO, ROGER HAS BANISHED MEto my room. Like this is supposed to change anything. Please. I can outlast Roger. I've been sent to my room byprofessionals,man.

After writing a letter to Neil, I log on to chat, but no one's available. Which makes sense, because everyone's in school, but I thought maybe Simone might be in the library.

Literary Pawsis on the school's website, but I don't think I can bring myself to even look at it. But then I do anyway.

And I see it, but I don't believe it. My brain just won't accept what my eyes are showing it. This can't be. This is impossible. What was hethinking?What the hell is he trying to do?

Schemata.There it is.

It's too painful to look at the whole thing. I do notice, though, that Fanboy has made some changes: The main character's—Courteney's—hair is no longer blond like Dina's, but jet black. Her nose is shorter and her eyes are wider. It's still Dina, but only if you know what you're looking for and sort of squint really hard.

I can't bear looking at all of it, though. Every time I try, I get all caught up in a bunch of different emotions and they're all bubbling and gurgling inside me like I swallowed a bunch of seltzer and salsa.

It's not even noon yet. I can hear Roger moving around out there in the rest of the house. I roll up my sleeves to look at the scars on my wrists. They haven't changed much in the years since I put them there.

You and your scars,Fanboy said. That day in his bedroom. That's what he said to me:You and your scars.Like they didn't mean anything. Like they didn't matter.

I touch my right wrist. The slight raise-bump there. I remember every second, everyinstantwhen I did it. When I pulled the box cutter across, it's like all of a sudden my eyes and my mind became completely clear. It's like I could see the sharp lines and edges of the world, where the blade met my flesh, where the blood bubbled over, where the cuff of my shirt lay crisp against the skin. And it was all burned forever into my brain so that I could never ever forget it, even if I wanted to, which I don't.

And he sneered at me. At me and atit.At this ... thismomentin my life, when for the first and only timeeverthings made perfect, almost holy, sense.

(The blade, sliding...)

And he said,That's just a cry for help. That's just attention. Everybody knows that. Cutting across just gets you to the hospital.

Remembering it, it's like I'm there again, in his bedroom. How could hedothat to me? How could he treat me that way? God, I tried toexplainit to him. Tried to explain women to him. I ... I showed him myself. opened myself to him in every way possible. But all he could do was mock me.A cry for help.

Everyone knows that.

But everyone doesn't.

I didn't.

That day. That day I made the first cut and received that amazing clarity of vision, I really thought I was killing myself. And I really wanted to die.

But I effed it up.

You didn't really try to kill yourself,Fanboy said to me.You just wanted attention, but you screwed up.And then ... And then the harshest...

Try harder next time.

That's what he said to me:Try harder next time.

And I left his house that day thinking,I will.

Magic Bullet 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED THAT DAYwhen I came home from his house...

I'm surprised I made it home at all—my eyes were all blurry and effed up with tears because Fanboy was such an asshole to me.

But that didn't last long. Because by the time I got home, I was angry, not sad. And the tears went away and I got madder and madder and then I started to think about what he'd said, about how I wasn'treallytrying to kill myself. He thought I was faking. Even if he thought I really wanted to die, he would think I was stupid for effing up. I didn't know which was worse.

But I had something. I had his bullet now. I had stolen it from his hiding place while his mom was yelling at him.

I slid my hand into my pocket and I touched the bullet there and God!I got it.I understood. I understood why he carried it with him.

It was power.

I mean, a gun isuselesswithout a bullet. Bullets do all the damage. The gun just, justthrowsthem.

I couldn't keep my hands off that bullet. I lay in bed that night, rolling it between my fingers. I loved the brassy smell it left on my skin.

And I thought how easy it would be. If I had a gun, it would beso easy.One bullet. One shot.

I could show him. I could show him that Icouldget it right.

I actually got out of bed. I went into the kitchen and got the big knife Mom used to cut up chicken and stuff—before she died.

I sat on the floor. The cold kitchen tile made my butt go numb.

This time I wouldn't screw it up. This time I knew how to do itright,Fanboy, and this time you wouldn't be able to call me a wannabe.

But I turned my wrist up and my hand was closed and I had to open my fist, I justhadto, and I saw the bullet lying there, a perfect little dull spot of brass.

Not with the knife,I thought.Not like that. Been there, done that. Do it with the bullet this time. Withhisbullet. That'll teach him. That'll show him.

So I put the knife away. I put it away and I stood up and went back to bed. I slept with the bullet clutched in my hand and I thought,I'll find a gun. I'll find a gun and do it that way and I'll win.

Sixteen 

SO, YEAH, THAT'S WHATI thought that night as I drifted off to sleep. Obviously, I didn't do it, because I'm still here, six months later.

I don't know what happened or what changed in my sleep, but by the time I woke up the next day, I wasn't suicidal anymore. Angry, yes. Still, I ... It was weird. As angry as I was at Fanboy, as much as I hated him, I still cared aboutSchemata.So I called him that night and I told him what was wrong with it, and I thought that was going to be it, but...

God! Eff him! Eff him!

I tried to help him. I was hispartner.I was giving him advice and shit and then I went away and he just forgot about me and went on with his life and now whenever I think about him, my gut feels wrong and my head hurts and my breath doesn't come out right.

It takes a while, but eventually all my hot rage burns out and goes cold. which is better. when you're hot, you're not thinking clearly. You just sort of lash out and do stupid shit.

But when your anger goes all cold ... That's when you can think straight. when you can plan and execute.

I've made up my mind. I've decided.

I'm going to destroy him.

Ah. I feel better already.

Seventeen 

ITOSS AND TURN ALL NIGHTand wake up with my head pounding from thinking too much and sleeping too little. That's bad enough. But I also want to wear a skirt to school today and that's when I realize that Roger has taken away my razor.

Please.

He's in the kitchen, making coffee. "Roger. I need my razor." I'm standing there in a ratty old bathrobe, and my boobs would be spilling out of the damn thing if I wasn't holding it closed really tight.

He doesn't even look at me. "Sorry."

"'Sorry? What does that mean?"

"I can't let you have it."

I'm trying to imagine how someone could kill herself with a Schick Silk Effects. You'd leave a nice, smooth corpse.

"I have to shave my legs. And my pits." Ugh. I effing hate having to evensayit to him! It's none of his business.

"I'm sorry, Kyra."

"What the eff am I supposed to do, Roger? Walk around like Bigfoot or something?" And this is the worst part of it all—that suddenly I give a flying eff what people think about my appearance. Why can't I wear a skirt without shaving my legs? I mean, why should I care if I have hairy legs or armpits or whatever? But I guess I do. And that bugs the shit out of me.

"Hang on." He disappears into the garage for a second, where we keep all kinds of shit. Then he comes back with a container of Nair. "Here."

I take it and start to walk off. "No thank-you?" he asks.

Bite me,I want to say. Somehow, I restrain myself. "I want a razor."

"I'll get you an electric one, how about that?"

It's better than nothing, I guess. I go off to de-hair myself. The Nair smells and burns. That's it—I'd rather go hairy than use this stuff again.

Before I go out to the bus, Roger stops me. He's at the mirror in the hallway, tying his tie.

"Are you going to behave today?"

"Sure. Why not? Might be interesting."

"If you can get through to Thanksgiving break without getting kicked out again, maybe we can take you to get your driver's license."

Oh, damn. Here we go. Roger likes to hold that over me. He has no idea how much driving I actually do. or did. I haven't been behind the wheel since before I went away.

"OK." I keep it short and to the point.

And then he does something really disgusting: He brushes my Bangs of Doom out of the way and plants a kiss right on my forehead. Gross. I'm gonna get zits there now.


Page 6

"I want you to think before you do or say anything, OK? Just try to behave. I know it's tough, Kyra. I swear, I know that. I know you don't think I do, but I do. OK?"

Yeah, right, whatever. I nod my Bangs of Doom back into place. God, do I love my Bangs of Doom.

Phase One 

SCHOOL. MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, I'VE MADEit to third period— Miss Powell, ugh—without any trouble or incidents. Mostly, people leave me alone. My teachers don't seem to want to talk to me. I was tutored in the hospital a little bit, so I'm nottoofar behind, and they just pretend I've always been sitting there.

I tune everything out.EspeciallyMiss Powell, who's talking about "metaphor" the way people on TV talk about personal lubricant.

There was some preliminary "Hey, Kyra!" stuff from, like, the ten people I can stand at this place and that's it. Basically, I've spent the day doodling in my notebook, thinking of ways to destroy Fanboy.

Because he totally deserves it.

Best part of it is this: We don't have any classes together. We don't hang in the same circles. He doesn't even know I'm back, and if I keep my head down, hewon'tknow.

Until it's too late.

My plan is pretty simple. Fanboy has a big ole hard-on for Dina Jurgens, right? Dina's gone now, off to college somewhere, but her sister, Michelle, is still around. They're what my mom used to call "Irish twins"—there's only, like, eleven months between them. So Michelle's a senior now.

I wonder how she would feel knowing that Fanboy based the main character in his comic book on her big sister? Especially with all those scenes of Courteney in her lingerie and shit. All those fantasies. All the sex stuff that's coming up.

Iknowwhat's coming up because I read most of the script and saw a whole crapload of the artwork. Stuff that hasn't been serialized inLiterary Pawsyet.

If I had a sister, I would be pretty grossed out that some guy was fantasizing all kinds of sex stuff about her. And even if that didn't gross me out, I would definitely be grossed out that he was writing it all down and drawing it all and then publishing it for the world to see.

And even if Michelle doesn't care aboutthat,here's the thing: It's a secret. Fanboy was really embarrassed when I pointed out that Courteney looked like Dina. I mean,obviouslyhe was embarrassed—he changed the way she looks! So if he was all embarrassed bymeknowing, he'll be embarrassed to death when Michelle knows. And tells Dina. And the rest of the world.

So at lunch, I skip the cafeteria. I asked around a little bit in homeroom and found out that Michelle's involved in the senior play. Which means she'll be spending lunch in the auditorium, working on sets or something.

There's a bunch of drama nerds and some popular kids like Michelle in there. The senior play is where people who wouldn't normally hang out together end up hanging out, I guess, because they're all talking and joking.

God, I hate Michelle Jurgens. I hate her sister, too. I hate effing blond bimbos who flaunt their giant boobs. I mean, yeah, I'm well endowed in the boob department, but I have the decency to keep them under wraps, all praise the minimizer. Michelle just lets them jut out there for everyone to see. I hate it.

But I swallow the hatred. I make myself smile and I walk right up to her. She's wearing a sweater that hugs her boobs and has a v-neck, so you can see, like, an effing Grand Canyon of Cleavage. And tight jeans and boots and her hair up in a ponytail because she's supposedly, you know, Hard at Work.

I wait. I linger for a few seconds until the people around her start to turn away, and then I say, "Hey, Michelle?"

She turns around and smiles at me like we're old friends, and God I hate that phony shit. She doesn't know me. Why is she smiling at me like that?

"What's up?" she asks. "You with the stage crew?"

"Uh, no. I wanted to talk to you for a second."

Not even a flicker in the smile or in her eyes. You'd think she was genuinely happy to see me.

"I need to show you something."

"OK." And she says it like the word canbounce.Ugh.

We go off into a corner of the auditorium and I pull out the page ofSchematathat I printed from the website. It shows Courteney getting up in the morning, basically, and she's all disheveled and—I guess—sexy. I hold the page out to her.

And now the smile falters, just a little. She looks at the page. "Yeah?"

I wave it at her, urging her to take it. She takes a step back like I'm a strange dog or something. "Look, I don't know what you re—"

"Look at it!" I tell her. "Look ather!"

"I don't know what you're after. I mean, I guess I've seen this in the lit mag, but it's just a—"

"Don't you see it? can't you tell?"

Michelle's smile goes all nervous. She's trying to be polite, but she wants to get the hell away from me, I can tell. "I don't know what you want me to say," she says at last.

Shit. Goddammit.

He changed Courteney too much. The art. The resemblance. She doesn't recognize her own sister. It's obvious tomebecause I know. Because I saw the original art. And it's no good if I tell her. She needs to notice it on her own. It's more shocking that way. And when she's shocked, when she sees how Fanboy lusts after her sister, she'll spread the word and Fanboy will be a laughingstock.

At least, that's the plan.

"Never mind," I tell her, lowering my head so that I can only partly see her through the Bangs of Doom.

Shit.

The Last Time I Saw Her 

the room the room the room is rosevomit becauseroger left roses andmom threw up before i came inperfect timing

Eighteen 

SIMONE AND I BLOW OFFstudy hall, which, like, isn't even achallengeanymore. We go hang out in the teachers'bathroom on the second floor near the English department. The plumbing's been busted for months, Sim says, so it's supposed to be locked up and off-limits, but I figured out how to pick the lock. I'm good like that.

So we just kick back and light up and chill.

She hands me a fresh pack, the cellophane still intact. "Here. I know your dad's making it tough for you to get cigs."

"Thanks." I go to put it in my messenger bag, moving things around to hide the pack in case anyone decides to look inside for some reason.

Simone grabs my wrist, stopping me. "Hey, what's that?"

With her free hand, she plucks theSchematapage out of my bag. "I didn't know you were so into this. I shoulda guessed. You like that comic book stuff."

"I don't really like it." I snatch the page back from her and feel guilty even for saying it, because it's not just that it's a lie. Lies are fine. I tell lies all the time and don't feel guilty about them in the slightest. What bothers me now is that I'm telling a lie about something important. AboutSchemata.About art.

"Then why are you carrying it around?"

"I used to hang out with the guy who does it." I blurt out the truth before I can think of a lie.

Simone's eyes go wide. "Are you serious? You know him?"

"Used to," I clarify.

"How do you know him?" It kills me that she even cares. A few months ago, no one knew who Fanboy was, and if theydidknow they sure as hell didn't care that they knew. Now he's some kind of high school celebrity or some shit like that.

"I was friends with him for a little while," I tell her.

"He's kinda cute," Simone says. "In a geeky way."

And that's when it hits me. I know exactly what to do. Exactly how to get to him.

"He's gay," I tell her. "I was in his bedroom alone with him and he didn't make a move."

Simone arches an eyebrow and snorts smoke through her nose. She thinks it makes her look sophisticated. And it sort of does. (Not that I'd ever tell her that.)

"Really?" She doesn't believe me. "Just because he didn't make a move on you?"

"Yeah, he told me himself."

"No way. Are you making this shit up?"

"Way. He has, like, some boyfriend that he has sex with and everything."

"Wow. Like, oral or anal? Because oral's no big deal. I mean, I do that all the time."

I don't want to hear about Simone's sexual exploits. I love Simone to the end of time and she's like totally my best friend, but the thing is, I have to be honest: Simone is a Big Freakin' Ho. I wish she weren't, but she is. It was bad enough when she would call me after every milestone or every "event." Eventually, though, it got to the point where she was making out with every guy in sight, so evenshegot bored with calling me all the time.

"It's really not a big deal," she goes on, "having that thing in your mouth."

Oh, God. I wish I could, like, turn off my ears or something. I don't want to hear about this.

"Right."

"But I have to admit, most of the time I'd rather just have sex with them instead. It's much better."

Sexual philosophy courtesy of Simone. Thank you, God. Just what I needed.

"So he didn't make a move at all?"

Good. Back on safe ground. Back to lies.

"Yeah. I mean, he..." Hmm. Do I tell her I had my shirt open? And my bra? or does that make me sound like a slut?

Oh, hell, who am I kidding? This isSimoneI'm talking to. She's probably gotten laid twice since homeroom.

"I wasn't sure," I tell her, editing reality a little bit, "and I wanted to find out, so I showed him my boobs."

Simone's eyebrows jump. "Yeah?" It's like she's pleased. Like I'm a show dog she's been training and I finally figured out how to jump through the ring of fire. Because, you know, everyone should be as easy as Simone.

"I had my shirt open and my bra off and he didn't do anything." Which iskindatrue. He actually moved toward me, but I cut him off. Simone doesn't need to know that, though.

All Simone needs to know is this: Fanboy is gay. The new hotshot artist, the school's new hero, is gay. That's all she needs to know.

Because Fanboy's a horny little piece of shit. I know that. And nothing will kill him like everyone thinking he's gay. He'll argue and protest and the more he does, the more people will believe it.

But that's not enough.

I need to do more.

Dear Neil, 

An entire day at school without being called down to the Spermling's office. I even went to most of my classes. That's got to be a record or something, right?

But that's not why I'm writing. I want to know: Why does it have to be so complicated when it comes to guys and girls and sex and all of that?

InA Game of You,you sort of try to explain the differences between boys and girls, the different ways they think and react. I spent a lot of time reading that particular part ofSandman,over and over again.

And I just want to know why it has to be so hard.

Why do people like Simone feel like they have to sleep around in order to get what they want? And why do people give a shit about things like other people's virginity? Simone is always telling me just to go and get laid. Why should she care? Why does it matter to her?

Why does any of it matter to anyone? I mean, I'm going to make people think that Fanboy is gay, and that will be great because it'll embarrass him and make no girls want to go out with him, but, really, why should anyone care in the first place? And am I only wondering that because I'm also wondering what people would think if they knew that Jecca and I had kissed a bunch of times? And why do I even care that other people care?

But peopledocare, so it's like you have to keep all this shit straight ... This person slept with this person and this person blew this person and this guy tried to screw this girl, but he couldn't get it up or he only lasted five seconds or this girl made out with this guy and her best friend found out and they got in a fight because the best friend liked the guy and on and on and on. God! It's such a pain in the ass! Why do we have to care? Why do we have to keep track? Why does any of it matter?

In a way, I feel sorry for boys. They're weak. You show them boobs or a butt and they just fall apart.

But I feel sorry for girls, too. Because girls get screwed, even when they're not naked with a guy. Everyone hates girls—even other girls. I mean, "girl" is like aninsult,you know? "That's so girly." "Stop being a girl." "You're like a little girl."


Page 7

Hey, you know what? I was a little girl once and Ikicked ass.I was awesome.

But no. It's all ... It's like this story my dad told me once. There was this football coach and his team was losing the game at halftime and he made his team sit in the locker room and wait and they all sat around and were waiting for him to come in and yell at them, but he didn't show up, so they just sat there and waited and waited and then—at, like, the last minute—the coach just pokes his head into the locker room and says, "Oh, I'm sorry, ladies—I was looking for the Notre Dame football team." And it pissed them off so much, they went out and won the game.

Because, like, the worst effing thing in the world—the worst thing in theworld,the thing that enrages you and pumps you up—is being called agirl?

Really?

And even other girls do it. They get sucked into it. They say they're strong—Miss Powell, my English teacher, does it all the time—but they're not. They go ahead and they watch the stupid movies and TV shows, like the ones where the guy kisses the girl and she resists, but then she gives in. Because, oh, yeah, sure, like if we don't want to kiss you it can't possibly be because we don't want to—it's got to be because we just didn't know how great a kisser you are. Well, if I don't want your tongue down my throat, you're not going to change my mind by trying to put it in there anyway.

Or the ones where these strong career women end up having these miserable, empty lives until they get a husband and a kid because—right—life isn't worth living without them. It's like they're selling this idea to me, like the whole effing world wants me to get married just because ... I don't know why. I don't know why they care if I get married or if I kiss Jecca or if Fanboy's gay or not. I don't know.

But people care. They keep butting into other people's lives and other people's business. And so much of it is about who's kissing who and why.

Why, Neil? Explain it to me. Explain why it matters at all.

You know all of this. You understand it. I know that's why you made Death a girl. The most powerful force in the universe and you decided that it was a cute, slender, cheerful goth who had dimples when she smiled.

God, I love that.

But even though you get it, you can't explain why the world is the way it is. You understand a lot, but evenyoudon't know the answer to this.

Online 

simsimsimoaning:r u sure hes gay

Promethea387:Yeah. He told me.

simsimsimoaning:becuz lisa says he chex her out

Promethea387:Bullshit. He's gay. He's not checking her out. Lisa thinks she's hot shit.

simsimsimoaning:u don't even kno her

Promethea387:Whatever. Just trust me.

simsimsimoaning:i told billy & he totally blieves it

Promethea387:Good.

Nineteen 

ROGER'S NOT HOME YET, SOI wander the house, alone. It doesn't feel like I belong here anymore, if I ever did. I'm like the ghost of someone who's not dead yet, haunting a place where no one wants me.

And when I catch myself in the living room mirror...

I see a girl.

I see someone who's tough.

But Idon'tsee...

I don't seeme.I don't know how to explain it. I know it's me in the mirror, but sometimes I just don't recognize myself. The mousy brown hair doesn't help.

I have a red stone through my nose and a cute little silver ring at the corner of my mouth. I love my piercings. They make me look like me; they make it easier for me to identify myself. But people like to give me shit about them. My grandparents and my dad, for starters. But even just random people. They see my piercings and they assume that I'm, like, a skank. Or a druggie. or whatever they don't like.

Roger had such a shit fit when I came home with them a couple of years ago. And even now—even after all this time—he still looks at me like I did something dangerous. something wrong.

"I guess I should be glad you don't have any tattoos," he said once, like he'd just dodged sniper fire.

And just because he said it, I considered—for, like, the millionth time—getting a tattoo. simone has a dragon that winds around her left leg, starting near the ankle and ending somewhere around midthigh. Here's the thing, though: I don't have the patience for it. Waiting forever for some guy to finish inking me. I don't think I could stand it.

I've got all this time before Roger gets home, so I hide my cigarettes and scrounge around the house, trying to find my razor and stuff like that. He also took my scissors ("skissors"—heh; it's still funny). He tookeverything.Hell, there's nothing sharper than a butter knife in the kitchen, and even the frigginhedge clippersare missing out in the garage.

He's taking this seriously.

On one of the cabinets in the garage, there's a big padlock that wasn't there before. It doesn't take psychic powers to know that my razor's in there.

I spend some time trying to pick the lock, but it's not happening. Stealing cars is actually easier. For one thing, you can usually find someone who's been stupid enough to leave their car unlocked. Back doors are the best—people are always putting shit in the back seat and then forgetting to lock it. But even if it's locked, there's still a bunch of ways to unlock a car that have nothing to do with picking the lock.

But you can't slim-jim a padlock. You have to get in there and make it happen, you know? I dick around with it for a little while, but then I give up and go look on the Internet for some tips. At least it's not a combination lock. I would have to find Roger's combination or just cut the damn thing off.

The whole time I'm working on the lock, I'm also working on my Fanboy problem. Telling Simone he's gay is fine—by the end of the week, it'll be all over the school. Hell, if Simone just tells the guys she makes out with this week, that'll be half the school right there. I picture it:Ooh, baby, oh, yes, ooh, baby, yes, hey did you know that kid's gay? Ooh, yeah.Or something like that. I imagine there's a lot of "ooh" when Simone has sex.

But it's not enough. What I really need is the original artwork. I know he has sketches in his sketchbook and shit like that. Probably original files on his computer. He has to have images of Dina somewhere. I need to get my hands on them and show them to Michelle. I'm not sure exactly what will happen—she might get pissed, she might laugh—but the thing is, he's kept his Dina-worship a secret, so exposing it can only be a good thing for me.

And there's only one way to do that.

I have to be his friend again.

Twenty 

BY THE TIMEROGER GETS HOME, I haven't managed to pop the lock—even with the instructions from the net—but I'm all sweaty from trying. I get out of the garage when I hear his car in the driveway and I'm sitting innocently at the kitchen table when he comes in.

"What have you been up to?" he asks, all suspicious.

"Nothing, Roger."

He glares at me for a second, giving me Pissed Off because I guess I don't look as innocent as I thought. Pissed Off is OK—it's easier to hate him when he's showing Pissed Off.

It's actually easy to hate him a lot of the time. He's such an effing phony. When he meets people and gives them that big man-handshake and that big shit-eating grin, he always talks about how "Roger means I get it," as in "roger, over, and out" and all that nonsense. What he never says is that "roger" is also an old colonial-era euphemism for the F-word. So when I call him "Roger" it's not because I'm trying to be one of these hip, well-adjusted brats who call their parents by their first names. I'm just telling him to eff off.

"Seriously, Roger. Nothing."

He nods slowly, slipping into Sad, Tired. He hands me a plastic bag from the drugstore. There's a Lady Remington inside, along with batteries.

"Thanks, Dad."

Oops. I called him "Dad." He shifts to maybe halfway between Sad, Tired and Blissed Out. He sits down at the table with me, like we're a big happy family or something.

"We need to talk a little bit, OK? About what happened right before you, you know, went away."

Andeffhim!Any sympathy I just felt because of Sad, Tired is nowgone.Because I didn't "go away." I wassentaway. Byhim.Made DCHH.

"That boy who called me at work. The one who gave you a bullet. I need to know his name."

Fat chance. They tried to get that out of me in the hospital, too. But I'm no narc. I have my own ways of getting revenge.

"Kyra, talk to me. Please. I don't want you being mixed up with someone like that. you've had a tough enough time without someone else making it worse for you."

God, what an idiot! He doesn't get it. Being with Fanboy didn't make thingsworse.It made thingsbetter.I could talk to him like I couldn't talk to anyone else, not even Simone or Jecca. I could...

Shit. Now I'm leaking tears.

Roger sees 'em. He tries to take my hand, but I pull it away. Goddammit. Why am I doing this? Fanboybetrayedme. He sold me out to my dad, and I could have forgiven that, Ididforgive that, but then he moved on without me and sold out his art. And those things Icannotforgive. Those things Iwill notforgive.

"Leave me alone, Roger." I mean to say it angry and loud, but the tears do something to my breathing and it barely comes out at all. He gets up and comes around the table to put his arms around me and there's a second—just a second, but it's there, I have to admit it—where I just want to let the tears go and fall into his arms and wail like a baby and call him Daddy and let him make everything better.

But he can't. He can't make everything better. I know that. I know it because he's screwed up too much.

So I just get up and I can barely see through the tears, but this is my house and I know how to get around, so I make it to my room and slam the door and he's calling out to me, but I don't care, don't care, don't care.

Twenty-one 

ALITTLE WHILE LATER, HE KNOCKSon my door and says he's coming in no matter what. So I let him in.

"We'regoingto have this conversation, Kyra. Whether you want to or not."

So I sit on my bed with my arms crossed over my chest and stare at a little crack in the paint on my windowsill. Because here's the thing: You need two people to "have this conversation." And if I'm not one of them, I don't know where he's going to get another one.

"Did you really have a bullet? Or was it just a prank call? Because he sounded really worried and really convincing to me. I need to know who it was. The police will want to talk to him, and I want to at least talk to his parents."

The police ...There'sa thought. But no—Fanboy would just say I stole the bullet and I could lie and say he gave it to me, but it would be his word against mine and he's a goody-goody, so they would believe him and not me.

"Do you have any idea what I went through? Hanging up the phone? Rushing out of work, driving home at a hundred miles an hour, thinking you'd be ... you'd bedead?"

Yeah, I know. I know because he told me over and over again when he sent me away, and then he told me again every time he came to visit.

"You owe me an explanation."

No, I don't. I keep staring at the crack. I don't owe him anything. I'm allowed to have my secrets.

Just like Fanboy has his. His "third thing." He told me that there were three things in the world that he wanted more than anything. Three, OK? One, two, three. And then he only told me two of them.

And when I asked about the third, he lied and said he meant there were only two, so I kept at him and he admitted there was a third, but he wouldn't tell me what it was.

The thing he wants more thananything else in the world.And he wouldn't tell me. Bastard.

I told himeverything.Even when I lied, I was telling him something.

"Kyra, goddammit!" Into hard-core Pissed Off. I can always count on Roger.

Staring at the crack. Wondering where it came from. It was justthereone day, like it had always been there. I don't remember doing something to cause it. It's like the world just decided to break right there, right on my windowsill.


Page 8

"I don't understand how you can be in the hospital for so long, dealing with all those wackos and doctors, and not understand how goddamn serious this all is!"

"Eff off, Roger!" I spin around to him and he actually takes a step back, which is so. Damn. Cool. "I was in the hospital be causeyouput me there. And guess what?Iwas one of the wackos. So get the hell off my back!"

He stares at me. Still Pissed Off. But bleeding back into Sad, Tired. Because the truth hurts, bitch.

"You gave up the right to ask me questions when you locked me up somewhere forotherpeople to ask me questions."

Ooh, to the gut! He deflates. He goes all guilty-looking. Easiest thing in the world, making him feel guilty. I'm pretty good at it.

"You can't blame me for that," he says, but there's no strength behind the words. None at all. "You were out of control."

"You got a phone call. A goddamn phone call. And you committed me."

"You have a history—"

"Of slitting my wrists, not blowing my head off."

Now he's fully in Sad, Tired. He's guilty. He's wondering if he's a Bad Dad.

I could go on, but there's no point. Right now, nothing I say—absolutelynothing—could be one-tenth as bad as what he's got scrolling through his brain. So I just look back at the crack, staring at it until he leaves.

The Dreaming 

IHAVE A DREAM SOMEONE IStouching me.

Not just, like, touching me on the shoulder or something. I meantouchingme. Hands from behind, cupping my breasts, and for the first time in my life, I don't mind them. For the first time in my life, Ilikethat they're big. The weight of them—the heft—feels good in someone else's hands.

Lips touch the back of my neck. The side of my neck. My collarbone. Oh, God—I'm naked. I just realized it. I'm totally naked. And someone is behind me, arms wrapped around, lips on my skin, hands on my breasts and now moving down, down, and God oh God I didn't know. I didn't know—

It's Jecca. I know her lips. Oh. Jecca. I turn. Turn to see her. To kiss her.

But it's not Jecca.

It's not aherat all.

Twenty-two 

IWAKE UP.NOT A HER. Oh. Shit. Shit and goddamn. What the hell iswrongwith me?

I lie there in bed, confused, messed up, effed up. My breath is coming too fast. I feel warm but I want to shiver at the same time.

I don't understand. What was I...?

No. Just stop it. Just stop it.

I amnotgoing to think about this. It was just a dream. It doesn't mean anything.

I crawl out of bed. I can't shake it, no matter how much I want to. I keep thinking about ... I keep thinking about the way he looked at me there in his bedroom. When I was open to him.

At first—when I was just unbuttoning my shirt—it was just this shock. He just couldn't believe it was happening. And then, when I opened my bra...

God.

He just...

Ten million things all warring on his face, in his eyes: Surprise. Disbelief. Want. Need. Concern. Fear. Joy. Lust.

And I made it all happen. Icreatedthat moment for him, created those thoughts and feelings. Me.

And now...

And now, what the hell is he doing to me in return? Why am I dreaming...?

In the Sandman series, there's this bit ... It's early on. I think it's inThe Doll's House.Where Morpheus goes into this woman's dream and he's flying with her and she says something about how when you dream about flying, you're really dreaming about sex.

And Morpheus says, "Well, then what are you dreaming about when you're dreamingaboutsex?"

God.

Shit.

There's a full-length mirror on the back of my door and I stand before it, staring at myself in my T-shirt and my sleep-messed hair and my puffy eyes.

And you know what? I'm sort of OK with what I see, minus the brown hair. I don't get these girls who go all schizo over their bodies. I mean, sure, my boobs are just out of control. I get that. But that's why God invented the minimizer bra.

It pisses me off when these bulimic and anorexic chicks go all spastic. Or the girls who, like, cut themselves and shit. I mean, give me an effin'break, OK? If you don't like your body, just fix it. Deal with it.

When you feel like things are out of control, youtakecontrol.

So, yeah.

I go into the bathroom and look at myself in thethatmirror. Nothing has changed; no magic in this mirror. My pits are stubbly. My legs are rough. I wield the Lady Remington and glare at myself in the mirror from beneath my Bangs of Doom.

When you feel like things are out of control, youtakecontrol.

Yeah, that's what you do. Take control.

I thumb on the Lady Remington. She whispers to me in a buzz.

Oh, yeah.

Twenty-three 

IT TAKES LONGER THANI thought it would take. I thought it would be like in the movies—zip, zip, zip and you're done.

But no. My hair's thick and when I try just plowing through it with the razor, the whole thing jams up and stops. So I take, like, five minutes cleaning the thing and getting it to work again.

I stand in the shower with a makeup mirror in one hand and a pair of cuticle scissors in the other. I found the cuticle scissors in the back of the medicine cabinet—it's the one sharp thing Roger forgot to hide. It takes a long time to cut my hair down enough that I can get the Lady Remington to go through it. At one point, Roger gets agitated and knocks on the door. "Kyra? Everything all right in there?"

"I have cramps!" I tell him, which usually shuts him up.

Back to my hair. Between the scissors and the razor, I manage to get most of it off my head. My body isn't so lucky—I'm covered in hair clippings. I look like the floor of a barbershop. This is a little more complicated than just dyeing it, it turns out.

I run the shower to wash it all off of me and the drain starts to clog up. Shit! This is supposed to beeasy.

I scoop up as much wet hair as I can. The drain starts, y know, draining again, like it's supposed to. The water feels strange on my semibald head. It's too cold, then too warm, while my skull skin gets used to it. My head's, like, supersensitive. I run the tips of my fingers over it, skipping the patchy, stubbly parts. Maybe this is what babies feel like? All new and just born?

Wow.

New.

Just born.

I wash off all the hair clippings on me, then scrape clear the drain and dump the hair into the trash can. When I'm clean, I turn off the shower and dry my head—the towel's scratchy and coarse against the new skin.

Roger knocks on the door again. "Kyra. I have to get going to work. You're gonna miss the bus."

"I'm almost done!" I tell him. I look at myself in the mirror. ugh. This didn't work the way I wanted it to: I'm all ... mangy. I have patches of stubble and patches of longer hair, broken up by swaths of naked head. I look like one of those topographic globes, with hair representing altitude or something.

"You need to get going," he says.

"Jesus Christ! I'm almost ready!" Which is a total lie, but whatever.

I can almost hear the gears turning in his head on the other side of the door. On the one hand, he totally doesn't trust me to get ready and go to school on my own. On the other hand, he's thinking,Haven't I lost enough time at work already because of her?

So the other hand beats the one hand and Roger leaves. Excellent.

I scrounge around in his bathroom for his shaving stuff. But Roger now uses an electric razor. Damn! Doesn't he know I could just get a knife or something from Simone or Jecca or someone else at school? What does he really think he's accomplishing here?

So I have to do a little better. I have to think this through.

First of all, I have to get rid of school, so I use my favorite trick: I log on to Roger's e-mail account and send an e-mail to the Spermling:

 

Roland,

I've decided to keep Kyra home today. We had something of a breakthrough last night and I'll be staying home from work as well to work through it with her. Thanks for your understanding, and I'm sorry again about the incident at school.

Roger

 

Classic. The Spermling has never even noticed that I set the e-mail to respond tomyaccount, not Roger's. So I'm the one who gets the "Roger, no problem, thanks for letting me know, hope everything works out" bullshit that the Spermling always sends back.

So now I'm free for the day. Excellent.

I can do a lot in a day.

First, I need a car.

How I Steal Cars 

IT'S ACTUALLY NOT AS TOUGHas you'd think. Most of the time, you can just rely on people's stupidity.

The first time I stole a car, it was a crime of opportunity. I was at the mall, waiting for my dad to pick me up, and I saw a car parked off all by its lonesome. I wandered by and saw that the keys were in the ignition. I figured that the owner must have locked his keys in the car, because who would be so effing stupid that they'd leave their car keys in the ignition and the door unlocked, right?

But for some reason I tried the door. And it opened right up.

And then it was like I couldn't help myself. I couldn'tstopmyself. I didn't even look around. I just slid into the driver's seat like I belonged there and started the car.

And for the first time ... For the first time in a long time, I felt great.

I feltin control.

I drove that car all around the parking lot. I weaved in and out of spots, threading the other cars. Roger had been teaching me to drive with Mom's old car even though I was only fourteen at the time. He claimed he wanted to get me "ready early," but I knew the truth. He was trying to buy my love and my caring and my giving a shit by putting me behind the wheel. Tempting me with the promise of a learner's permit and eventually a license.

So I knew how to drive pretty well and I just hauled ass around that parking lot until it occurred to me that a mall cop might pull me over. I parked the car on the other side of the mall. I left the keys in the ignition, but I locked all the doors before I left.

Some people need to learn the hard way, you know?

The second car I stole was my mom's.

She was dead, but we still had the car and Roger promised me I could have it when I was old enough to drive. So I figured I wasn't really stealing it—I was borrowing it from my future self, which totally ought to be cool, in my book.

Roger was out somewhere, so I opened the garage door and just drove that sucker all over town. And again—in control.

After that, it's like the effing universe was justbeggingme to steal cars.

Everywhere I went, it was like I was noticing people leaving their doors unlocked or their keys in the car or both. It happensa lot.It's just that most people don't notice it. But it also confirmed something I've always believed, which is this: Most people are idiots.

So, getting into cars is easy. Even if people don't leave a door unlocked, it's pretty easy to slim-jim a lock.

Getting themstartedis tougher. New cars are the worst because they're all protected and shit. Older cars, though, like ones from the eighties, they're pretty easy. You can hotwire them or you can actually rip out the whole ignition and put in your own. That's kind of cool, but it takes a while and it's tough. I've done it a couple of times and I always end up banging my knuckles with the slide hammer. I learned all of these cool tricks from this repo man on the Web.

When I'm really desperate, I sneak onto a used-car lot, find some old eighties piece of crap, and swipe it. I'm always real careful to wipe everything down when I leave, too, so that I don't leave any fingerprints. But here's the thing—I always return the cars. I drop them off in a parking lot or car sales place or something. So it's not like I'm stealing themforeveror anything. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

That's all.

I guess technically I'm notsupposedto do it. But if that's the case, then why the hell is it so damneasy?

Twenty-four 

ICOVER MY HEAD WITH A SCARFbecause right now if I go out in public the way I look, someone will probably try to cart me right back to the hospital.

I feel conspicuous looking for a car to jack in broad daylight. I can't take Mom's car because Roger caught me with it once and now he checks the odometer. So I have to steal one. There's a little shopping center about a half a mile up Route 54, so I head there. Even this early in the day, there are plenty of cars.


Page 9

I mosey around the parking lot a little bit, checking out the insides of the cars. I'm looking especially for baby seats in the back. Moms are always freaked out that they're going to lock themselves out of the car with the rugrat trapped inside, so there's a good chance they'll have one of those magnetic key boxes with a spare.

Sure enough, I find a sedan with a car seat and a key box in the driver's side wheel well. I look quickly—no one's around.

This is the toughest moment. You just have to commit at this point. I mean, I could get royally screwed if Mommy suddenly comes out of the store and I'm climbing into her car. But I could be equally screwed if I just stand here waiting to get busted.

I don't get all excited or anything in these moments. It's not like in the books: "Her heart raced!" or whatever. Nah, I get real calm. I figure whatever happens, happens. I just get this peace that flows through me.

And then I unlock the car and climb in and slam the door.

The key slides into the ignition. I bite my lip and turn it. You're only supposed to put special keys in those boxes, keys that only unlock the car and don't work the ignition. This way people like me can't steal your car.

But most people—like the people who own the car I'm in—don't bother getting the special key. They just make a dupe of their regular key. The car starts up on the first try, and I ease it out of the parking space and out of the parking lot, and then I'm gone, and my heart feels warm like it does when Jecca kisses me.

Twenty-five 

THE WOMAN WHO OWNS THIS CARhas shitty taste in music. Her CDs all suck, so I blast the radio instead, which is only a little bit better.

I go to the mall. I park in the most inconvenient place I can find so that it's less likely anyone will be around to see me when I leave. When I get out of the car, I take off my scarf to wipe off the steering wheel, the door handle, the gearshift, and the radio knobs.

I toss her CDs in the trash. Trust me, I'm doing her a favor.

OK, it's officiallyweirdto be at the mall during a school day. Because there's no one here worth seeing or talking to. It's all old people. I don't mean parent old. I mean, like,grandparentold. Maybe evengreat-grandparent old. Why do old people evencometo the mall?

I go buy a new razor and some blades. That's only twenty bucks, so I still have money to spend and God knows when I'll get back here. So I should spend it now, right? I should get some clothes to match my new look.

On my way to my usual store (all black, all the time), something in a window catches my eye. It's a display for some new store, and I guess I notice it because the manikins in the window are all bald. They don't have fake hair or anything, so they kind of look like what I'm going to look like as soon as I get home and shave off the rest of this stuff.

Anyway, I stand there for a minute, looking at the display, and then I go in and I try some stuff on and I buy it. It's a totally new look for me. The guy at the counter looks at me a little weird, like, "Why areyoubuyingthis?" but he just rings me up and then I'm done.

I still have about fifteen bucks left, so I go to the music store and poke around in the bargain bin until I find a CD that has a few decent songs. I take it back to "my" car and put it in the CD player. Then I wipe everything down again, lock the car, and put the key back. Too risky to drive this back to where I found it—by now, Mommy has called the cops, I bet.

So I wander the parking lot, looking for another car to swipe so that I can drive home.

Twenty-six 

AT HOME, ILAY OUTmy new outfit. Weird. How am I going to look in this?

I stare in the mirror as I unwind the scarf from my head. I'm all knobby and gross. It's worse than I remember from just a few hours ago. Gotta take care of that.

I unpack the razor and the blades at the sink in the bathroom. I try not to think of the way the blade felt on my wrists. It was years ago, but I can stillfeelit. It's like it happened yesterday. It's like I could look over my shoulder andIwould be standing there, the me of then, the me ofago,standing right there, smiling up at me while blood ran down her palms and dripped off her fingertips.

I look into the mirror, but there's no one behind me. I'm all alone.

"Are you there, Despair?" I ask the mirror, because inSandman,that's where Despair lives—in a world behind all the mirrors in the world. It should be creepy to think that some pale fat chick who likes to cut herself is living on the other side of the mirror, watching me all the time, but it's actually OK. It's sort of nice not to be alone all the time.

So I snap a blade into the handle and before I can think about it any more, I work on finishing what I started before and pretty soon my head is totally naked and totally smooth and I only nicked myself once just above my left ear.

Wow.

I'm a total chrome-dome.

I look like...

Like...

Fanboy's voice pops in my head for some reason: "Professor X."

Ugh.

No. Not some stupid comic book character. It reminds me of—

Bendis.

Looking in the mirror, imagining him, it's like a few months ago, when I saw him at the comic book convention, where he rejected Fanboy and I taught him a lesson. My eyes are all wide and surprised by myself, surprised the wayBendiswas when I flashed him and scared him and made him run away.

Great. Bendis. What the eff. I'm obsessing about him, just like Fanboy does.

Stop it, Kyra. Stop thinking about it. About him. About them. Just stop it.

This is why I tried to ... This is why I tried to go away. Why I tried to make it all end. Because I couldn't stopthinking,no matter how much I wanted to. No matter how much I tried I couldn't stop thinking about

The Last Time I Saw Her 

the room the room the room is rosevomit becauseroger left roses andmom threw up before i came inperfect timing

 

("Honey?" she saidIn that clouded, confused way.)

 

cancer had eaten a path to her brainyum-yum cancer loves brainslike zombieseat her memoryshe has trouble remembering meremembering the year

 

(When I was eight years old, IHad the stomach fluAnd threw up in the kitchenAnd then in the hallwayAnd then twice in the bathroom—Only hitting the sink once)

 

i should understandbut I can'tFluvomit does not equal rosevomit

Twenty-seven 

ISHAKE MY HEAD AT MYSELF. I imagine Despair laughing at me through the mirror. Well, no. Not this time, bitch. I'm not giving into you or to little-ddespair.

So I try on my new outfit and look at myself in the mirror and it's totally unreal. It's like I'm another person. With my white makeup on, it's like I'm already dead. It's like I reallyama ghost now.

See, the outfit I bought is totally, purelywhite.

It's the complete opposite of everything I normally wear. The shirt is this high-necked thing with a little collar and the sleeves have buttons halfway to the elbow. I love it. It comes all the way to my chin, practically, and there's no chance in hell of any cleavage ever showing. And with the sleeves buttoned all the way, my scars will never show, either.

Just to be safe, though, I put on a whole bunch of white rubber bracelets.

The pants are white jeans. They're a little tight, but they fit fine. I even have white sneaks and socks that I dug up from my closet. It's all awesome. I look like some kind of pissed-off angel or something. Final touch is my reverse-smiley button. It's the only bit of color anywhere—the black background and yellow eyes and mouth. But I have to wear it. Ialwayswear it.

I walk around the house, checking myself out in every mirror. The only thing that doesn't work is my black lipstick, so I wipe it off and use the only other color I have: a deep blood red.

God. That'sit.That'sperfect.

I've lost the Bangs of Doom, but it was a sacrifice worth making. Because, I mean, I honest-to-God only know it's me in the mirror because Iknowit's me. But it's like looking at another person entirely. The shirt doesn't hide my boobs as well, but it's like for the first time ever, I don't care. Because it's notmein the mirror. It's someone else.

For some reason, that makes me really, really happy.

Twenty-eight 

ROGER COMES HOME A LITTLEwhile later and walks into the kitchen, where I'm getting something to drink.

"Kyra, are you—"

I turn around. He's staring at me, whatever he was going to say forgotten. Now that I'm facing him completely, he just stands there, his jaw working, no sound coming out.

Thud.

His briefcase, dropped. It lies there on its side next to him. He just keeps staring.

It's pretty cool. He's totally spazzing.

"Kyra, what the ... What thehell?"

"What the hellwhat?" Like there's nothing new.

"What did youdo?"

"This? You're the one always saying I should wear more than just black."

"Not that! Your head! Your goddamn head!" He's shaking.

"Oh. That." I touch it. It feels slippery—I rubbed some moisturizer on it before. "Do you like it?"

His jaw works again—open, close, open, close. His eyes bug.

"Go to your room."

What? Did he really say that?

"Go to your room," he says again.

"Bite me. I can shave my head if—"

"Go to your room!" he screams, and spit flies from his mouth and his face is all red and veiny. "Go! Now! Go to your goddamn room thisinstant!"

What thehell?

Fine.

Like I care.

I was going back there anyway.

I take my soda and I go to my room and I slam the doorsuperhard, just to make my point. Eff him. Eff him up his stupid ass. I can shave my head. It'smyhead. He can't make me do what he wants me to do. He doesn'townme. He can'tcontrolme. Effhim. I hate him. God, I hate him.

I'mgladI hate him. It feels good.

So why am I crying all of a sudden? I don't get it.

Online 

simsimsimoaning:were were u 2day

Promethea387:Home. I needed a mental health day.

simsimsimoaning:lol u go grl

Promethea387:Did I miss anything? (Yeah, right.)

simsimsimoaning:no

simsimsimoaning:bio was boring, english sucked, math = teh worst

simsimsimoaning:u back 2morrw?

Promethea387:Probably. I want to get out of here. I need a mental

health day from THIS place now.

simsimsimoaning:roflmao!

simsimsimoaning:want 2 com her e2night?

Promethea387:Better not. The Pirate is pissed.

simsimsimoaning:arr matey

simsimsimoaning:jolly roger is ANGRY

Promethea387:Screw him.

simsimsimoaning:yuk no ur dad is NOT hot

simsimsimoaning:lol


Page 10

simsimsimoaning::)

 

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx is joining the chat

 

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:do u think brad likes me?

Promethea387:Hello to you, too.

simsimsimoaning:totally

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:he ignored me 2day n bio

simsimsimoaning:hes totally nto u

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:yeah?

simsimsimoaning:yeah right k?

Promethea387:Whatever. What are you talking about?

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:come on kyra!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!! brad lewis. from the summer

Promethea387:I don't know. I never pay attention to Brad Lewis.

simsimsimoaning:what?!?!?!?!?!

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:hes only teh HOTTEST junior @ sb!!!!

Promethea387:Why do you care if he's into you or not?

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:duh hottness ^^

Promethea387:So what?

simsimsimoaning:prometheas a VIRGIN

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:she can stil thik a guys hot

Promethea387:Get off my case.

simsimsimoaning:get it overwith

simsimsimoaning:its no boig deal

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:leav hera lone

simsimsimoaning:just havin fun

simsimsimoaning:i don't mean anything

simsimsimoaning:does promethea still love me?

simsimsimoaning::-)

Promethea387:Yes, you dumb bitch.

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:lol

simsimsimoaning:i knew it :) :) :) :)

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:how can i make brad lik me?

Promethea387:LICK you?

simsimsimoaning:LOL!!!!!!!

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:LIKE me!

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:shit

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:help me out

simsimsimoaning:jecca needs to get her groove back lol

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:don't make fun - i really LIKE him

simsimsimoaning:u need new clothes

simsimsimoaning:god i know he cheks out shari cause she wears that designr slut shit

simsimsimoaning:fea rnot slutgoth is here!!!!!

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:is kyura stil on???

Promethea387:Yeah.

simsimsimoaning:shes no help w/this stuff

simsimsimoaning:hav u talked 2 him since last week?

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:no :( hes ignoring me ALL MONTH!!!!

simsimsimoaning:we hafta chang that!

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:ill do whatev u say sim

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:so hell like me AND lick me lol

simsimsimoaning:thats my girl :)

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:don't want 2 go another month

Promethea387:I have to go.

Promethea387:Jolly Roger is knocking.

simsimsimoaning:avast!

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:walk the plank

Promethea387:See you tomorrow.

Twenty-nine 

ILOG OFF TO THE SOUNDof Roger pounding on the door.

"Now, Kyra! Or I knock it down."

I think about letting him do that. That would be cool, actually, just to see if hecould.Would it be like in the movies? Would the door go flying into pieces, Roger coming through it like some monster or something? or would it just drop off the hinges and fall in one big slab to the floor?

But he won't knock it down. He'll just go get a screwdriver and pop the lock. And that's boring.

So I unlock the door and throw myself on my bed as he comes in.

"We need to talk." He's got Pissed Off going, but he's moving into sad, Tired.

Whenever Roger says "We need to talk," what he really means is thatheneeds to talk and I'm supposed to listen. Ideally, I'm supposed to pay attention and something he says is supposed to magically make me all better (as if there's somethingwrongwith me) and I turn into this ideal, perfect daughter.

But he keeps saying the same thing every time. And it's never worked before, so what the hell does he expect?

When I was in the hospital—when I was DCHH—Dr. Kennedy said to me, "Do you know the definition of insanity, Kyra? It's doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time."

By that definition, Roger is a total effing lunatic.

"Why did you do this?" he asks, his voice very, very hoarse.

"You always bitch that I only wear black, and now I'm—"

"Not that. Notthat." His face is all tight and angry and hurt. "That." He points to my naked dome. "Yourhair."

"What the hell do you care? You hated the black dye and the spikes anyway."

"You look..." He sinks into my desk chair and puts his face in his hands and takes a deep breath. I think if I push it just a little bit more, he might actually start crying.

"Jesus, Kyra! Why are you doing this? Why?"

I've never made my dad cry before. I always figured it would feel pretty good to nail him like that, but now that I'm right there, I just feel cold instead. I start shivering. It's just gross and weird and wrong somehow to think of him sitting there bawling his eyes out like a little boy.

"You look likeher." He looks up at me. "Christ, you lookjust. Like. Her."

And now I'm not shivering anymore because I'm totally paralyzed. Just frozen on the bed.

"After all the chemo. And the radiation? Jesus Christ..."

I close my eyes, which is a mistake, because when I do that, I can do more than remember—I cansee.I see her. All skinny and smooth-headed.

"Why?" he whispers. "Why would youdothat to me?"

I clench my jaw. I wasn't doing anythingtohim. I was doing somethingforme. I wasn't eventhinkingabout Mom.

"Why are you punishing me, Kyra? Why? I just want to help you. I just want you to let me in. I just want—"

"Oh, yeah, Roger? Well I don't effing care what you want! I hate you and I want you out of my life forever!"

He jerks like I punched him and he goesinstantlyto Pissed Off, rising from the chair.

"You think I don't know that? Do you think I don't know that, Kyra? Huh? I would bring her back in a second, inlessthan a second, if I could. But I can't. I can't! so I'm what you're stuck with, OK? I'm sorry you got such a shitty deal, but that's how it is. That's how it is!"

Before I can say anything, he storms out of my room, slamming the door so hard that the whole room vibrates and my mirror falls off the door and theSandmanposters on the wall slip.

Wow.

OK, wow.

The Last Time I Saw Her 

the room the room the room is rosevomit becauseroger left roses andmom threw up before i came inperfect timing

 

("Honey?" she saidIn that clouded, confused way.)

 

cancer had eaten a path to her brainyum-yum cancer loves brainslike zombieseat her memoryshe has trouble remembering meremembering the year

 

(When I was eight years old, IHad the stomach fluAnd threw up in the kitchenAnd then in the hallwayAnd then twice in the bathroom—Only hitting the sink once)

 

i should understandbut I can'tfluvomit does not equal rosevomit

 

dead already, to medead and goneseventeen months of slow deathof hospitals andhospices anddoctors andradiation and chemotherapy (latin for "poison")

 

("Honey, come close and let me see you.")

 

smell of death above the rosevomittwelve and i had never smelled death before——but i knew(I knew)I know

 

this is what death smells like

Thirty 

SO NOWI'M, LIKE, SERIOUSLYmessed up.

I mean, I can't think. I can't focus. I just sit in my room for a while, staring at myself in the mirror.

Like her.

Yeah. I look like her. I really do.

I don't know how to feel about that. I don't know how to feel about...

Dear Neil, 

OK, I have to admit it: I miss my mom.

My shrink says I hate my mom because she died, but that's stupid because I hated her before she died, too.

When I was a little girl, we got along great. I mean, we were like best friends.

And then ... I don't know. It all changed.Shechanged. Or maybe ... maybe it was me. That's all.

Or maybe it was both of us.

But, see, it's like everything went wrong when I stopped being a girl and started growing up—cramps, boobs, etc.


Page 11

I got my first period the same week—the sameday—that Mom got really sick.

It's like, she wasn't feeling well. AndIwasn't feeling well. My stomach was all cramped up, like when you have really bad diarrhea, but it wasn't diarrhea and it wasn't in my stomach—it was lower. I didn't understand.

Mom had prepared me. She sat me down one day when I was nine and she told me all about The Vagina and The Penis and The Uterus and Your Period. She warned me that it would hurt—"like a tummyache," she said.

But this wasn't a tummyache. This was ... something clenching its fist inside me, over and over again. Thiscouldn'tbe what she was talking about, right? It wastoo bad.It wastoo much.There was just no way—no way inhell—that I could tolerate thisevery monthuntil I was an old lady.

She wasn't feeling well andIwasn't feeling well and I was eleven, so of course I went to her and said "I don't feel well" and she just blew me off—my own mother!—so I was on my own, curled up on my bed in a fetal position for hours at a time.

I had tried to be tough because Mom was coughing all the time and losing weight and didn't know why.

And then on that day, everythinghappened.

I was watching TV, curled up on the sofa, and it was like I suddenly thought,Oh, God! I just peed in my pants!

But that wasn't it. I went to the bathroom and closed the door and bang, there you go.

And here's the thing—the pain was so bad that I couldn't imagine thatthisis what Mom had been talking about when she told me about getting my period. Atummyache,she had said! A tummyache! This was no tummyache. There was something massively wrong with me. I thought I was bleeding to death.

Simone had already had her first period a couple of months earlier. So had a couple of other girls we knew. And it was nothing like this, according to them. It wasn't anything like this at all.

I screamed, "Mom!" Sitting there on the toilet, panicking. Screamed it again. And again.

Nothing.

I padded my underwear with toilet paper and went out into the house looking for her. I didn't even bother putting my pants back on—I just went out there with my underwear on, now all bulky and lumpy with toilet paper.

I found her in her own bathroom, leaning over the sink. "Mom! Didn't you hear me? God, Mom, I'm—"

She looked over at me. Her face was gray. It was actually gray. Mom had this dirty blond hair and it was tied back in a ponytail and her eyebrows practically glowed against that gray skin.

"Kyra." Her voice was weak. "Not now."

"Mom, I'm bleeding. And my stomach feels like—"

She swallowed. I remember that part—it was like it took forever for her throat to make the motion. Like she had sharp rocks caught in there.

"Not now. OK? Put a Band-Aid on it."

A Band-Aid?"But,Mom!"

Then she seemed to realize what I was talking about. I guess she noticed the state of my underwear.

"Oh, for God's sake..." And then she started to cough. Really hard. The kind of cough I'd been getting used to hearing for a little while now. A bad chest cold, she'd been saying. The flu, she'd been saying.

"Mom! I'm—"

"Jesus!" She rasped it out, strings of saliva webbing between her lips. "It's just your period, Kyra. Every other woman on the planet has had to deal with it, OK? Use the pads like I showed you and get some Advil and lie down, OK?"

"But—"

And she coughed again.

Only this time it was different.

This time, blood came out.

I don't know why I'm telling you all this, Neil. Maybe because in your comics, you do such a good job writing about women. It's like you get it, sort of. So maybe you understand. Maybe you can understand how it all went to hell that day. Next thing you know, I've got these gigantic boobs and I'm suddenly having trouble in school and I'm tired all the time and pissed off and once a month I feel like someone has dropped a load of concrete in my Fallopian tubes.

And oh, yeah—my mom is dying, too.

Then that part ended and the pain got manageable all of a sudden.

But on that day, there we were, the Sellers women, in the bathroom together, both of us bleeding and not understanding why.

Thirty-one 

ILIE ON MY BED FOR Awhile, trying not to think aboutit,abouther,about anything.

I try to think about anything other than my effed-up family and my effed-up life, and that makes me think of Fanboy. God, I've been so freaking worked up about shaving my head and pissing off Roger that I totally forgot about Fanboy.

I go to turn off my computer after writing the letter to Neil and there's an IM from Jecca waiting for me:

 

xXxjeccatheGIRLxXx:kyra u there?????

 

I sit with my fingers over the keyboard and I think about kissing her and I think aboutBradand I thinkEffherand I turn off the computer.

Back to the mirror. You in there, Despair? You don't have your hook in me yet. See, I figured out how to avoid you a while ago. It's pretty easy, actually. I didn't tell Dr. Kennedy, but I learned how to get around you.

It's all about anger, see?

When you're angry, you can't despair.

Hell, you don't even feel like killing yourself when you're angry. Because there's so much todoto people when you're angry.

Like I'm angry at Jecca. And I hardly know why because it's not like we're inloveor anything and it's not like I'm alesbianor anything, but why does she have to talk about Brad tome? So she's in love with some guy. Or in lust. So what? Don't rub it inmyface. It's like she has this convenient amnesia or something. And I can't figure out what any of it means, mainly because she won't even talk to me about it. Like, this one time? This one time we had been making out and I said to her, "Why are you doing this with me?" and she was all like "Shut up" and tried to stick her tongue down my throat again and I didn't let her but then I did.

Anyway.

I don't want to think of that.

So I won't.

That's my ability: I can totally make myselfnotthink about things.

I think about Fanboy instead. I forgot about him for a little while today because I was so caught up in other stuff, but I'm ten times as pissed at him as I am at anyone else. EvenRoger.Why? Oh, somanyreasons!

The Many Sins of Fanboy He reads really shitty comic books about superjerks.He kissed Dina Jurgens.He saw me cry.I was in the hospital forsix effing monthsand how many e-mails or phone calls or letters or IMs or texts did I get from him? None, none, none, none, and none.He based his main character on Dina Jurgens. (I don't care that he went back and changed it—I know the truth.)He's got this great graphic novel, but he's publishing it inLiterary Paws.He kissed Dina Jurgens ... and thentold me about it.He thinks I don't know how to kill myself.He told me I'm a suicide wannabe.He told me totry harder next time.He wanted to kiss me.He didn't kiss me.He never told me his third thing.

 

There.For all of those sins, he deserves pain.

Thirty-two 

IGET DRESSED IN BLACK AGAINand sneak out of the house. It's late. Roger's dead to the world.

It's friggin'freezingoutside. It feels like someone just dumped a bucket of ice water over my newly naked head. I wrap my scarf around it and then put on a hat, but it's like I can still feel the cold. Maybe this wasn't such a bright idea. Oh, well. Too late now.

I need another car, but this one's easy. This late at night, I can always—and I mean always—rely on Mrs. Yingling, who lives up the street. She left her car out on the curb one time, with the keys still in the ignition. It was like that all night! It's like she was begging me to take it, like she'd left a note on it:Dear Kyra, Please steal my car for me. I have left the keys for you, with the door unlocked and a full tank of gas. Thanks! Mrs. Yingling.

So not only did I take it that one time—I also had a copy of the key made. So now when I need to get away, I swipe her car and it's easy. I don't do itallthe time because she would start to notice, and the more you do it the better the chances that she'll wake up at three in the morning with a craving for Ben & Jerry's or something and decide to go to 7-Eleven and oops, where's my car?

But for now, I risk it. I slide right into the driver's seat like I belong there—and I do, I really do—and I start up the engine.

This is the most dangerous time. I always figure someone will hear the car starting deep in the ass-end of the night/morning and bang! Busted. But no one has ever come running out of the house screaming, "What the hell are you doing?"

And no one does tonight, either.

My heartbeat goes back to normal. I pull away from the curb and out of the neighborhood.

Why I Steal Cars 

BECAUSEICAN.

Duh.

Thirty-three 

WHENIDRIVE, IDON'T THINK. It's nice.

It's good. Because I don't want to think about Roger or Mom or Jecca or any of it.

I find myself driving somewhere without thinking about where I'm going. Before I realize it, I'm in Fanboy's neighborhood.

I park a couple of houses away and kill the engine and the lights.

That bastard.

That littlebastard!

I helped him withSchemata!I helped him make it better, and does he eventhankme? Does he put a little blurb in the effing magazine that says, "Special thanks to Kyra Sellers" or something like that?

No.

Nothing.

I sit here and I stew and I get angrier and angrier, and I think of something my mother told me once, which is that you get angriest at the ones you love. And thinkingthatjust makes me even angrier! She told me that when she was dying. It was early on and the doctors were still all like, "We caught this late, but not too late," and "With the new treatments, you have decent odds, Mrs. Sellers," and shit like that.

(They were wrong. They were all, literally,deadwrong. Assholes.)

And I was angry at her all the time because ... Because ...

Because...

Because she deserved it.

Right?

She must have.

God, I can't believe I'm sitting here in a freezing car in the middle of the night, thinking about this shit! She must have deserved it, otherwise I wouldn't have been angry at her, right? And anyway, I don't love Fanboy. That's just ... That's stupid, OK? Love is stupid. It doesn't solve anything. It makes things worse.


Page 12

Like, inSandman,Morpheus falls in love with Thessaly, who's this total bad-ass witch. And she leaves him and he's all depressed, and because he's the Lord of Dreams, the whole world gets bad dreams.

Who needs that?

And then, later, there's this bit with Nuala, the little faerie girl who's in love with Morpheus. And Morpheus is in trouble because the Kindly Ones are coming to kill him and Nuala sort of blurts out to her brother, "Morpheus is in dire need and he doesn't love me!" And her brother is all like, "Well, would it be better if he was in dire need anddidlove you?" That's just great. That's one of my favorite panels in the whole comic because it's so true. It's like, have some perspective, you know? Whether or not Morpheus loved you, he's still going to die. Love doesn't stop the world. Love doesn't change the world.

Love just makes you think that the world cangetbetter orbebetter.

My phone beeps at me. I flip it open and there's a text from Jecca:want 2 come over?

I close my eyes for a second. Just a second. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like. With Jecca. To go farther. To be naked with her, maybe. What would it be like to feel her skin? Her skin against mine? What would that be like? To let her—maybe to ... to let her go down on me. What would that be like?

I shiver. It's effing freezing in this car!

I know what Jecca wants. I'm not going. Not after all of that crap aboutBradbefore.

I'm all cold and shivery, but I'm also burning up because I'm pissed. I'm twice as pissed as I was before. I'm mad at all of them—Jecca, Roger, Mom ... but Fanboy especially. Oh, yeah.

Mrs. Yingling has a little notebook and a pen in one of her cupholders. I tear out a sheet of paper and write something quickly. Then, before I can change my mind, I hop out of the car and walk to Fanboy's house.

The wind picks up and my head feels like a dome-shaped ice cube, even under the scarf and hat.

There are no lights on at Fanboy's house. Three cars in the driveway. That's new. One of them is new to me—an old junker from, like, the nineties. That must be Fanboy's. He turned sixteen while I was away. Someone got him a car.

How sweet.

Maybe I should forget about the note and just key the hell out of his car instead...

Nah. He wouldn't even be able to tell. And I want him to know. I want him to know someone was here.

I look at the note again: "I know what you did!—D.J."

D.J. Dina Jurgens.

That ought to mess with his head.

Unless...

What if Dina found out about him using her inSchemata...and didn't care? I mean, if someone had based a character onmeand then drew that character in lingerie and having sex with her husband and did all kinds of stuff exploring sexuality and fantasy ... I would bepissed.But what if Dina thought it wasflattering?

Oh my God. Is that evenpossible?

No. No way. What are you thinking, Kyra? Dina is hot and popular. When you're hot and popular, you're not flattered by geeks who lust after you. You'redisgustedby it. I see how the hot girls look at the non-hot boys—like they're rats or mice or cockroaches or other gross things.

I tuck the note under his windshield wiper and then run like hell back to my temporary car.

This isn't going to do it, though. Leaving him a note from Dina will mess with his head, yeah, but it won't punish him.

I don't have any choice. If I really want to hurt him, Ihaveto become his friend again.

Thirty-four 

ICLIMB INTO BED AND FALL ASLEEPand five seconds later my alarm goes off and I have to be up for school.

I dress in my new white clothes and leave my head exposed. Roger says nothing to me when we bump into each other in the kitchen. He's nicked himself a couple of times shaving and he looks like he barely slept at all last night. It's a whole new expression: beyond Sad, Tired and all the way to Exhausted and Crushed.

Since he's not saying anything to me, I don't say anything to him, either. I just eat some toast—with napkins all over me so that I don't get anything on the white clothes (wearing white is hard!)—and then get out of the house.

On the bus, I get all kinds of stares. It's like I've gone back in time or something, back to when I first started the whole dyed-hair/bleached-face/black clothes thing. I remember the looks I gotthen,too. Looks and little whispered comments, like right now.

I don't care.

When I was a little kid, I always thought that people who made themselves look different, who stood out, were freaks. The navel rings and the pink hair and the tattoos and the nose rings and the buzzcuts and the strange eyeshadow. Why would anyone want to stand out? I was shy—I just wanted to be left alone.

Then Mom died...

I realized something one day, pretty much by accident. I realized this:

Standing out ... sometimes it makes people stay away. They might laugh or gossip, but they stay away and that's what I wanted.

That's what I've always wanted.

Like right now. People are talking, but they're staying away. They're not asking questions. And that's good.

It lasts pretty much until I get to school and connect with Simone in our usual spot near the lunchroom.

"Whoa! Kyra! What the hell?"

Simone is decked out in her typical "no, really, I'm a goth" outfit—black pleated skirt, torn fishnets, chunky boots, and a halter top that would totally get her sent home to change clothes if she weren't also wearing a denim jacket over it. (Simone loves to play layer games at school, peeling stuff off for as long as she can, then covering up when a teacher bitches.)

"What the hell! Check you out," she says. She doesn't even ask for permission—she just reaches out and rubs my head. "Smooth."

"Yeah, I know." I duck away from her hand. "It's still kinda sensitive."

"Sorry. So, like,why?What the hell were youthinking?"

It's like she's my dad. Wish I had an answer to that one. I do a lot of stuff without really thinking about it ahead of time. "I just felt like making a change."

She takes a step back and tilts her head to one side. "Damn. You lookbih-zarre, Kyra, with a capital 'Bih.' Doesn't she, Jecca?"

Jecca comes around from behind me, her eyes wide. "Holy shit, Kyra!"

I can't help it—I'm kinda psyched to get a rise out of her, after all the Brad talk.

"What the hell?" Like Simone, she goes for the head rub, but I'm ready for it and I duck. I don't want her touching me.

"It's a little sensitive," Simone says, as wise as the world.

"What iswithyou? This is really different," Jecca says. She can't stop staring at me. "Hey, have you ever worn that shade before?"

Who calls white a "shade"? And then I realize she means my lipstick—I'm wearing the really deep red. It's called Vital Vermeil.

"Yeah, a few times."

"Your boobs look bigger," Simone says, eyeing my chest like she's at the meat counter.

"Great. Just what I needed." I sort of slump forward and hold my books over my chest.

"Kyra, when you've got 'em, you gotta use 'em." Simone throws her shoulders back and Jecca does the same and a boy walking by almost trips and collides with the guy he's walking with. Simone and Jecca laugh.

"I didn't realize the white wouldn't hide things as much," I tell them. "I need to get the next size up next time."

Simone's eyes light up. "Hey, I'll drive us to the mall after school. You can get something there."

Jecca checks her watch. "We have time for a smoke before the bell."

"Yeah, I gotta go, though—I have something I have to do." She looks sort of disappointed, which makes me happy because ofBrad.

And then I'm off, looking for Fanboy.

Thirty-five 

PEOPLEIDON'T KNOW AND PEOPLEI do know suddenly have something in common—they all stare at my bald head as I thread through the halls. A bunch of people reach out to touch it, like they're in a horror movie and my head's some alien egg they found somewhere.Hands off, assholes!I don't justthinkit.

I find Fanboy at his locker. It's total luck on my part—I'm headed for his homeroom and I happen to see him.

I feel all sorts of shit welling up inside me. I'm angry at him. Pissed that he never tried to get in touch with me while I was away.

But there's something else, too. I can't help it—my heart kind of does a little flippy-floppy thing, and I don't know what to do with that.

I should say something, but my mouth doesn't work. So I just stand still and watch him. He's gotten a little bit taller, which just stretches him out and makes him ganglier. But it's cool because there's somethingnew,too. I don't know what it is. His shoulders aren't slumped as much. It's like he's growing up.

He shuts his locker, spins the combo lock, and looks over at me. There's absolutelynothingin his eyes except for that quick assessment guys do, that fast little dart up and down. I still have my books over my chest, so he's getting nothing there.

"Uh, hi," he says, and flashes me a little grin before turning and starting to walk away. He has no idea who I am.

"Hi yourself," I tell his back.

He stops dead in his tracks. Turns to me.

"Holy..." His eyes get real wide, searching me all over, like he's looking for me in fog. "Kyra? Kyra?"

"Who the hell else did you think it was, Fanboy?"

"Oh, my God! You look ... you lookamazing!"

I grin at him and his face splits in a huge smile as he rushes to me. I figure he's going to try to manhandle my dome, like everyone else, but instead he throws out his arms to hug me. There's a second when I'm ready to let him do it, too, when I'm ready to let him put his arms around me and hug me and—who knows?—maybe make me feel as comfortable and as safe as I do with Jecca.

But I can't let that happen. I step back.

"Hey, watch it. Who said you get to touch?"

"Oh. Oh." He catches himself and stands there for a funny moment, his arms still out, before dropping them to his sides. "I'm sorry. I just ... I just ... Wow. You look ... Well, you lookawesome,Kyra. Different. But amazing."

"Don't sling the bullshit my way, Fanboy. I look like a freak."

"No. Uh-uh." He shakes his head like a spaz. "You lookawesome.Seriously."

"It's OK. Ilikelooking like a freak."

He gives up. "When did you come back to school?"

"A couple of days ago."

His smile goes away. He looks like a puppy that's just been kicked. "But ... why didn't you call me? Or text me? Or come see me?"

I force myself to keep grinning. I want to grab him by the shoulders and throw him against the lockers and shout, "Shut the eff up, you asshole! Why didn'tIcallyou?I was gone formonthsand you didn't send me so much as a single effing e-mail!"

But instead I remind myself of my mission: Get close to him. Destroy him. "Been busy. Getting back into shit. Catching up."

"Oh. Sure. Yeah. I get it. I've been busy, too."

Before I can say anything, he flashes me a smile. It's totally ... disarming. I didn't expect it. Not fromhim.He was always sort of cute in a shy, geeky way, but now it's like he doesn't hate himself or something. It's like he's not afraid to smile at someone, and that just totallysmashesmy brain.

"I'm really glad to see you!" He practically shouts it, and I can tell by the way he's twitching that he wants to hug me so bad. And I have to admit—I want him to. It really sort of surprises me, how bad I want it.

It's a great moment. It really is. He wants me and I want him to want me, and that's terrific and liberating, so of course—ofcourse—Igo and ruin it, because that's what I do.

"So, still got three things you want more than anything?" I ask him with a sneer. (I know I'm sneering because my lip ring always bumps my cheek when I sneer.)

It stops him cold. "Well, gosh, Kyra..."

"'Gosh, Kyra...' Shut the eff up."

He doesn't react the way he's supposed to. He doesn't go all quiet and timid and Fanboy-y. Instead, he just ... grins. Hegrinsat me.

"'Eff'?" he says. "What the hell. Are you afraid to say—"

"Shut up! I don't say that word!"

And we stare at each other. How the hell did this happen? How didheend up questioningme?How did I end up on the defensive?


Page 13

He shrugs. "OK. Cool. That's fine."

He's way too relaxed. What happened to him in the last six months? I have to chill out. I'm supposed to be his friend again.

"Sorry," I say, and it takes every last ounce of strength I have in me to say it.

"It's OK," he says. "I'm just glad you're back from ... you know."

Yeah. Yeah, I know.

The hospital.

Where I was DCHH.

DCHH 

ISTARTED OUT IN THERAPY TWICEa week when I was in the hospital. Three times, really, if you count Group. But in the beginning I saw Dr. Kennedy twice a week—Mondays and Thursdays. Group was on Wednesdays, so Thursdays were usually just a chance for me to bitch about Group. Because the people in Group were this crew of burnouts and idiots who let their boyfriends beat them up and shit like that. Why was I in with that crowd?

"Because you can learn from them," Kennedy told me every week. And for some reason—even though it was total bullshit—I believed him when he said it and I didn't hate him for saying it and I wanted it to be true even though it wasn't.

I didn't hate Kennedy. That was pretty weird in and of itself, because I basically hated everyone in the hospital: the effed-up patients, the retarded orderlies, the clueless asshats who ran Group, and the nurses.

Especially the nurses.

I hate how on TV shows and shit they always make the nurses like these effing angels of mercy. It's all bull. The nurses treated me like crap. Like I was something they saw on the hood of their car when they came out of the house in the morning and they just didn't have time to deal with it.

"What's D-C-double-H?" I asked Kennedy one day.

For the first time since I'd met him, he flinched. He looked like I'd jabbed him with a hot fork. I felt good about that for, like, half a second, and then I felt really bad about feeling good because it was Kennedy, not some useless douchebag.

"Where did you hear that?" he asked, but he asked it in that weird way people have when they already know the answer. Like he was stalling for time because he didn't want to answer.

"From the nurses." The more honest answer would have beenWheredidn'tI hear it?Because I'd heard the orderlies murmur it, too, but it was mostly the goddamn nurses. Mumbling it at night when they came in to check my vitals and to make sure I hadn't killed myself by leaping off my bed or something. Snickering it to each other in the hall outside my room, when they thought I couldn't hear it, or maybe they didn't know or care if I could hear it. I don't know.

Kennedy leaned back in his chair. He was a tall, rangy guy. That's the word:rangy.I looked it up to be sure.

"I'm sorry you heard that," he said, and then—before I could snark something at him—he leaned forward real quick and said, "No, no, strike that. I'm not sorry you heard it. I'm sorry they said it. I'm sorry theythoughtit."

I just sat there and gave him nothing. I liked Kennedy, but I wasn't going to help him with this.

He fidgeted some more and then took a deep breath. "I told you from the beginning that I would never lie to you, Kyra. I'm not going to lie now. DCHH is an acronym that some of the staff here uses. I don't like it. It's mean-spirited. They do it as a way of blowing off steam, but that doesn't excuse it.

"It means 'Daddy Couldn't Handle Her.'"

Thirty-six 

AND HERE'S THE THING:IT WAS TRUE.

I couldn't even get mad. Because it was true. Rogercouldn'thandle me. So he sent me away. And now I totally understood the contempt that the people working here had for me. They were seeing burnouts and drug addicts and abused women and then along comes this girl with a rich daddy and they probably figured I should just take my Wellbutrin and my Effexor like a good little girl and let myself be drugged so hard that I can't think anymore and maybe stop dyeing my hair and powdering my face white and take out the piercings and wear some colors and just benormalbecause that's all it is, right, I'm justacting out,I'm just being a little bitch, I'm just trying to get attention from Daddy and eff all of you anyway because none of you knows, none of you understands.

Whew.

I started to giggle.

Kennedy just watched me. Not what he was expecting, I guess. It felt good, though. I understood them now. I knew where I stood.

And that's the problem with Fanboy: I'm still getting a handle on where I stand with him. (Other than, you know, between two rows of lockers.)

A bell rings and saves me. "I have to go to homeroom," he says.

"Sure you do. Can't be late. Gotta follow the rules."

He laughs, which isnotcool! He's supposed to feel all wussy and ashamed because I basically just called him a goody-two-shoes.

"Yeah," he says. "I guess so. Hey, what period do you have lunch?"

"Fourth."

"Me, too! Cool. Can we eat together? You know, and, like, catch up?"

I hear myself saying "Sure" before my brain has finished processing all of this. Then he runs off to homeroom and I'm left standing there like an idiot, trying to figure out what just happened.

Thirty-seven 

SEE, IT USED TO BE SIMPLE:I was in charge. Fanboy was my friend, but it wasn't an equal relationship. He was clueless; I clued him in. Simple.

And now...

I don't know what the hell to think now.

I make it to homeroom just as the second bell rings. Look at me: respectable and everything today!

Mrs. Reed acts like the other day never happened—she just looks at me brightly during roll call and says, "A new look, Kyra?" which is, like, the stupidest thing in theworldto say. Because, duh.

So I look at her with my best, most innocent look, and I say, "What do you mean?"

She keeps smiling. "Well. You look." Just like that. Stops dead in the middle of a thought.

I tilt my head and look at her like I'm wondering what she's getting at, when what I'mreallywondering is how she hears anything at all with the wind and echoes in her head.

She shakes her head and moves on without another word. I roll my eyes and get some chuckles from people around me.

I go to my first class, which is algebra, which I hate. On the way, I get lots of looks, but people also stay away, totally in keeping with my Theory of the Freak Look.

My phone buzzes when I sit down in algebra. I'm not supposed to have it on in class. I look at it real quick:

r u pissd @ me?

It's from Jecca. Because I didn't text her back last night and then sort of blew her off this morning.

How do you text backIt's complicated. I don't know how I feel. I like guys and I think about guys and sex, but I also like you and when I kiss you, I feel like nothing can hurt me in this world. But then I learned that somethingcanhurt me—you can. You did. You do. When you talk about Brad. You fall for some guy over the summer while I'm gone and you don't have the guts to tell me until I come back. And then you throw some bull my way about how you told me all of this in e-mails over the summer, but I read your e-mails (the few you bothered to send) and you never mentioned Brad. Not once. So you lied about that and then you spring it on me in a chat of all places. And I don't know if maybe the Brad stuff is just so that Simone won't think you're gay. And I don't know if youaregay. And I don't know ifI'mgay, because like I said: I like boys. If you didn't kiss me, I don't know if I would ever kiss another girl again. So it's like I'm jealous of Brad, but I don't get it. I don't get any of it and I don't want to get it. I just want to kiss you and not worry about it, and maybe someday kiss ... a boy. And maybe then I can compare and see which one I like more. But in the meantime, please shut the ever-loving eff up about Brad, because every time you mention his name I want to rip your eyes out.

But I don't know how to text that, so I just turn off my phone.

The Third Thing 

I'M SUPPOSED TO BE PAYING ATTENTION, but when in my life will I ever need to know how to add x—y2 and x+2y? (Who addsletters,anyway?)

So, here are the possibilities for Fanboy's third thing:

 

Sex. (Duh.)For his parents to get back together. (He doesn't seem that clueless, though. Especially since his mom is having this other guy's baby.)To be Dina's boyfriend.To have his graphic novel published. (Which I guess he's sort of achieved now, butLiterary Pawsis a lame way to go.)To be popular.To be some big, muscled, buff-looking idiot because he thinks that's all girls care about.To live with his dad.To fall in love.Seriously, sex. Maybe something really kinky or gross.Me.

 

Ha. Just kidding about that last one. LOL and all that...

Thirty-eight 

NO ONE CALLS ON MEin any of my classes. Which is par for the course because a) I never raise my hand, and b) they're terrified of what I might say.

I have English with Jecca right before lunch. She comes into the room, scans it. She sees me sitting on the opposite side of the room and she waves her cell phone to get my attention and stares at me like she's trying to push a thought into my brain.

Translation:Why didn't you answer my text?

I give her the Innocent Look. Translation:I have no idea what you're talking about.

She waves the phone again.My text, you dummy!

I widen my eyes like I'm just getting it and shake my head.My phone isn't on.

"Put the phone away, Jessica," says Miss Powell.

Jecca slides into her seat and I pretend I'm really busy with my book, even though I haven't read it, so I have no idea what Miss Powell is talking about when she starts yammering aboutmetaphorandanalogyand shit like that.

Again: Am I ever going to need any of this?

I tune out. I really,reallyhate Miss Powell. She's a hypocrite, and I've known that since I had her for freshman English.

She always talks about Feminism and Female Empowerment and the Marginalization of Women in Our Society, but she's also hot (for an adult) and she always wears these tight shirts with the top button unbuttoned and skirts with slits so that when she sits sideways on her desk to read something to us, you can see halfway up to her ass.

At first, I didn't hate her for this. At first, I totally didn't make any kind of connection, OK? I just noticed that all of the guys in class kind of got this stoned look and some of them would make those quick crotch adjustments that guys—for some reason—think no one ever notices. (How can wenotnotice? You're adjusting yourdick.How can anyonemissthat?)

I thought it was sort of funny that she had all the guys yoked by their hormones and drooling on themselves, and that's always entertaining, even though it's sad. (If there are going to be sad things in the world, it helps if you can also laugh at them.)

Then one day I was in the bathroom with Simone. We were sneaking a smoke between classes because we were cool, even as freshmen.

"Do you think I should get breast implants?" Simone asked.

I was pretty sure I hadn't heard her right. "What?"

"Implants. come on."

"We're fourteen."

She shrugged. "Yeah, notnow.But, like, when I'm sixteen. I saw on TV where this girl got them for her sixteenth birthday."

Simone's boobs are smaller than mine. (Most are.) But she actually shows them off, with thin, skimpy tops and push-up bras and all that crap.

"You're fine the way you are."

She grabbed them and pushed them up and together, creating a chasm of cleavage. She stared down into it. "I can't pull off the look I want."

"What do you mean?" Simone's "look" was endless variations on slutty goth, and she pulled it off just fine.

"Miss Powell was wearing this outfit yesterday with a blue shirt, but I could make it work in black, but my boobs aren't big enough."

"What?"

Simone dropped her handfuls of boob and leaned forward, all excited. "I went to the mall yesterday and found the same shirt, in black. Same material. Same everything. I tried it on, but it just didn't look the same, you know?"

That's when the bell rang and we had to flush our smokes and haul ass to class.

Even though that happened two years ago, I never forgot it. I watched Miss Powell the rest of freshman year, watched as sheposedherself on the desk, tossing back her hair, pushing her tits out for everyone to see ... like we could avoid the damn things.


Page 14

Gross.

Just...

Gross!

I had already starting hiding my own boobs by then, but I had been thinking just aboutmeandmybody. But then I started paying attention to the bodiesaroundme, and how the girls all dressed up and the boys just didn't give a shit how they dressed, in baggy pants and gigantic-ass shirts ten sizes too big. And the girls spent a million years and a million dollars onjustthe right outfit.

And then it got even worse. Because I realized that girls were being told one thing with words but something else entirely with pictures and actions.

It's like, Miss Powell loved to say shit like, "Be strong, girls!" Any time we were reading something and the female character would do or say something stupid or old, she would shake her head and say, "That's the old way. Be strong, girls!"

And any time the female character would do or say something awesome, she would clap her hands and say, "That's what we like to see, right? Be strong, girls!"

But then she would drift over to the desk and clear her throat to make sure everyone was looking and then effing drape herself over the desk like she was a supermodel or something.

And when a male teacher or the principal or someone would come in, she would totally do all the slutty, flirty shit they talk about in magazines—touching her hair, toying with her necklace, touching them on the arm. Shit like that.

Simone thought it was awesome. She saw the same things I saw, but she didn't see the problem.

"It's power," she told me. "Guys are stronger, but we have sex appeal. It's our biceps and our lats and stuff. We use sex as our strength."

By that time—midway through freshman year—Simone had already slept with three guys and blown like half a dozen, and I don't evenknowhow many handjobs she'd given.

"How is it power to let a guy come in your mouth?" I asked her.

She pulled a face. (I guess it could have been from my ques tion, but I like to think it was from the memory of the last time she'd swallowed some guy.)

"You just don'tgetit, Kyra."

"Yeah, I don't get how doing something gross makes you powerful."

"Jeez, Kyra! It's all about ... It's all aboutcontrol,OK? When you're, y'know, goingdownon a guy, you're in control, OK? Like, if he's close, you can pull back and make him wait, you know? Or you can speed up and get him there. And it's totally up to you. You're in control of him."

"If you're so in control, then how come Billy Odenkirk doesn't talk to you?" Billy was a junior that Simone hooked up with at a party two weeks earlier. She went out back of the house and under the deck with him and gave him a blowjob. He didn't return the favor, but he was "really nice" according to Simone, "and even said thanks" when she was done.

Yeah. "Really nice." He hadn't evenlookedat her since then.

I knew I was hitting her where it hurt—she really liked Billy—but she deserved it.

"You're a bitch, you know that, Kyra?"

"You're a slut."

"Virgin" That was the worst curse in Simone's vocabulary.

But even though we argued about shit like thatall the time,I was still glad she was my friend. For one thing, we had a lot of fun together. We'd known each other forever,and that means something.

For another thing, though, she was this great example of whatnotto be and whatnotto do. Because I've been watching Simone fall for the same shit over and over.

Holding her handfour separate timeswhile she cried in a bathroom somewhere, waiting to see if the pregnancy test would turn blue or not. (It never did, proof positive that there are people in this world who are just immune to consequences.)

Cheering her up when yetanotherguy didn't call her back after promising he would.

Riding a bus into the city with her so that she could go to a clinic to get an STD test without her parents finding out because the guy lied and didn't put on a condom.

All of these things made me realize that while I liked Simone there was no way in hell I was going to be anything like her. I wasn't going to turn my life into an endless pursuit of A Guy.

And it went further than actuallydoingshit with a guy. Because I realized that every time we bat our eyelashes or let a guy bump our boob accidently-on-purpose or bend or twist just right so that a guy gets a glimpse of something special ... Every time we do these things, we are—metaphorically (how do you like that, Miss Powell?)—sucking a dick. Because we're doing whattheywant. We might think we're "empowered" or "using our sexuality," but the fact of the matter is this: Just like Billy Odenkirk coming in Simone's mouth (in hermouth!)and then saying "Thanks" and nothing more—ever, ever—once a guy gets (orsees) what he wants, he's done. It's over. He walks away, and if you think he's thinking about you at all after that, you're nuts.

It's a weakness. It's a weakness we have as girls. We've convinced ourselves that it's a strength...

No, wait. No. That's not right. We'vebeen convincedthat it's a strength. By women who've been there before us, who've used their bodies and now call it "strong" so that they don't feel weak or slutty. By men who, let's face it, have everything to gain from it.

I won't let myself be used or manipulated like Simone. I won't let myself be a hypocrite like Miss Powell.

I am forme.

I am not weak.

For anyone.

Thirty-nine 

AFTER ALL THAT THINKING, I have no idea what Miss Powell talked about during English. But I did learn that she's wearing bright orange underwear today, so that's nice.

Jecca grabs me on the way out the door. "I sent you a text."

"My phone's off."

"Are you pissed at me?"

Jecca's a little bit taller than I am. You don't notice it when you're lying down together, but it's just enough that I would have to stretch a tiny bit to kiss her right now. What would she do if I did that? If I just leaned over and up and kissed her right on the lips? Not even with tongue or anything, but just a kiss? What would she do?

It hits me—the momentary weakness. It's no good. I won't be weak.

"Kyra?"

"I have to get to lunch," I tell her. She has a later lunch period, so I've dodged this yet again.

Simone's at the goth table when I get to the lunchroom. I don't see Fanboy anywhere, so I go stand by her for a minute. Everyone reaches out to grab my head, like it's covered in diamonds, and I smack them all away.

So they appraise me from a safe distance, with lots of "What thehell?" I think it's the all-white as opposed to the lack of hair, but regardless: When the goths are saying "What the hell?" you can be pretty sure you've struck a nerve somewhere, which is cool.

"Why aren't you sitting down?" Simone asks.

That's when I see Fanboy heading to an empty table with his tray. "I promised him I'd eat with him." I point.

Lauri, this girl I barely know, whistles. "Score. He's cute."

Simone, bless her, jumps in with authority: "He's gay."

Lauri snorts. "Figures."

I go to Fanboy's table and sit down. He goes all grinny. "This is cool, Kyra."

"You use that word way too much."

"What? Kyra?"

"No, asswipe:cool."

He laughs. "I know. I was just messing with you."

"Hey, look, Fanboy. There's a serious division of labor here:Iam the messer.Youare the messee."

"Still with the 'Fanboy stuff?" But he says it like it doesn't really bother him.

"Yeah. Not only that, but I've decided something. I've decided you're now Fanboy with acapital F."

"Um, OK. I thought that's what I was before."

"No. Before, it was a lowercasef.Because it was just describing you. But now I've decided it's yourname."

I figure that should bug him, but he just shrugs while he munches on a french fry. "Whatever. I hate my real name anyway, so that's cool I guess."

He is justwaytoo relaxed these days. It sort of pisses me off, but it'll make it that much sweeter when I nail him.

"Aren't you going to eat?" he asks.

"School food's gross."

"You could bring something."

"Not hungry."

"OK."

And then there's silence for a little while, "a little while" being equal to the amount of time it takes for him to eat half a hamburger and drink most of his milk.

And all I can think is this:

It's strange to sit and talk to a boy who's seen your boobs.

Boobs 

BREASTS. MAMMARIES. GAZONGAS. MELONS. SWEATER KITTIES. Knockers. Hooters. Jugs.

Tits.

I'm sort of tired of them. I saw a movie on TV once—I think it was on Lifetime; it was probably Lifetime—about this woman who had breast cancer and they just chopped'em off. "Modified radical double mastectomy," they called it. And the whole movie was about this chick boo-hooing how she didn't have boobs anymore and learning how to still be a woman without them and all that shit.

And I remember thinking,Who the eff cares? Take mine! Just take 'em!

Because things would be a lot easier, you know? Those things—thesethings—are just like effing eyeball magnets and I hate that. It's bad enough when the boys at school look (and then probably go home and jerk off—ewww). But it really creeps me out whenmenlook. Don't they have better shit to do than fantasize about being an effing pedophile? I'm sixteen! And I've been carrying these goddamn things around foreverand I hate them.

I know I'm supposed to say, "Oh, they're the center of my womanhood!" and all that shit, but that's just stupid. I've got a uterus and I pee sitting down—I don't need much more womanhood than that. If I woke up tomorrow and they were gone, I wouldn't miss them at all. At least then every time I talked to a boy, I wouldn't have to watch his eyes drift down. And at least if someone liked me, I would know they likeme,not the couple pounds of boob fat stuffed into my bra.

But here's the thing. I have to admit this:

Boobs = power.

Don't blame me. I didn't come up with this. And it's very twisted and convoluted, because it's not a simple kind of power. It's like in those stories where people make a deal with the devil and get screwed in the end. That's what boob power is like. Because you can use that power, but it turns around and attacks you. Because using that power will get you what you want, but at the same time it's giving guys whattheywant ... which is your boobs. And that's giving up a piece of your soul.

If boobs are power, then big, young ones are alotof power. But that power is kind of like money. Once you use it, it's gone. Like, have you ever noticed that once an actress takes off her top inPlayboyor something, she usually becomeslesspopular? It's just like how guys slaver over these girls and then once they get them into bed, they lose interest. This happens to Simone all the time, and she doesn't get it and it drives mecrazythat she doesn't get it. She lusts after some guy and she gets him into bed, and maybe she gets him into bed a couple more times after that ("Because I'm gooooood," she says all the time, prac tically purring), but then it happens: The guy loses interest and Simone mopes around until she finds another guy that'll screw her.

So she got what she wanted—she used her power—but she lost it right away. It's complicated.

When you're a woman, your body is this mystery. It's this secret. And the tighter you hold on to that, the more badly people want a piece of it. And you can use that to your advantage or you can throw it away, but you can't do both. Not really. You can be Miss Powell and try to have it both ways, but guys will only go for that for so long. Eventually they'll get tired of waiting to see the goodies and decide you're a tease, and then they just totally dismiss you and file you away.

Now, when I flashed Bendis (oh, the Great and Powerful Brian Michael Bendis, Lord of Superhero Geeks!) at that comic book convention ... I was showing him my power. I was completely in control of that moment. Everyone within eyesight of my chest was completely under my spell. Iownedthem. I gave them something they wanted, and it was totally within my power to take it away, too.

And I felt sort of ashamed later. Like a hypocrite. But I have to admit ... for the first time ever, I sort of understood Simone because—wow—it was an effing rush!


Page 15

It's like everyone spazzes out and says boobs are, like, taboo or something, but they're not. Because you can see almost everything at the beach or in an underwear ad. What's taboo arenipples.And really, only girls nipples.

And that's just effingstupid.I mean, that's just moronic times ten billion! You get all these people getting into trouble and all these dumb boys and men going all gaga over, like, a lit tle circle of skin. That's it. How stupid is that? Who comes up with this shit?

And it's like, you can walk down the street and see chicks without bras and their nipples are practically poking through their shirts, so it's not like the nipples are even taboo. It's just seeing them naked. It's just so stupid! There ought to be a National Nipple Day, when everyone walks around with their nipples hanging out but everything else covered. Like with little slots cut out of our shirts so that just the nipples show. And all sorts of people would lose their shit over it, but they would also have to see how stupid it is, how it's just a little bitty bit of skin, right?

Now, forme...

For me, it's like this: When my dad noticed my boobs, that's when I knew they had to go away for good.

It's not like he's ever touched me or anything. Because he hasn't. And it's not like he checks me out or anything because, like,gross,OK—he's mydadand I know there are sick effers out there who like to check out their own daughters and sometimes even do worse shit than that, but that's not my dad, OK?

It's just that henoticedthem.

I was thirteen. And I had this really awful growth spurt or something I guess and Mom had been dead awhile already and I just sort of never talked to Roger about girl stuff because he's a guy and Mom already told me everything about my period ("Stop complaining...") and birth control and sex and all that shit back when I was younger, so it was no big deal.

But one day I put on this shirt and it was too small and that was stupid, but I had to do laundry and I was just hanging around the house, so who cares, right? And I went out into the living room and Roger was watching TV and he kind of looked up at me...

And there was thislook.

I don't know how to...

No, wait—Idoknow how to describe it. I do.

It was this look ofHoly shit. My little girl has grown up.

It was like a combination ofWhat the hell arethose? along with a shock of recognition and this wave of embarrassment. Like he couldn't figure out what the hell the things on my chest were and then hedidfigure it out and then he wished he hadn't.

And I just wanted to die. I felt like I'd flashed him or something. Like I was some skank who was so effing desperate that she was trying to, like, score with her owndad.

I went back to my room and I stared at myself in the mirror and that was when I realized it: As long as these stupid things were hanging off my chest, no boy would ever look me in the eye. No boy would ever talk to me like I was a person. I would just be a pair of tits. If even my ownfathernoticed them, then every effing boy on the planet would be staring at them, right?

I had to make them go away.

So I did.

Forty 

"SO, UH..." FANBOY SAYS.

I blink and come back to the present. Fanboy's been toying with his food, sort of half eating and half mumbling nonsense while I was spaced out. But now he's cleared his throat like he's ready to take the plunge into an actual, you know, conversation.

It's like that one time we spent together, that really awesome day. (I hate to admit it was awesome ... but it was.) I took him to my favorite spot, a little dried-out pond hidden back in the woods in my neighborhood. It's my favorite spot because it's quiet and peaceful and it's also a perfect reminder of how stupid people are: They drained this beautiful pond because they were afraid of mosquitoes and, like, West Nile virus or something. And they justified it by saying that they would build a park there, but of course they didn't, so they just ruined this perfect little pond for no good reason.

I took him there one day and we just hung out and I told him how Mom had died and how I tried to kill myself that one time and I think maybe he wanted to kiss me or something and on that day—onthatday—I think I probably would have let him.

He was all nervous, though, and it was sweet and cute and not annoying at all. And now he seems all nervous again, and it's like I know what he's going to say before he says it:

"What was it like?"

I make him work for it: "What do you mean?"

He waits so long to respond that I figure he's chickened out. "In the, uh, the hospital."

I remind myself not to be angry at him, or not toshowmy anger, at least. He could have written to me orsomething.And even if he was afraid of running into Roger or getting his name picked off an envelope, he could have at least sent me a lousy e-mail!

"It was fine. No big deal. I can be in the hospital all day and all night. It's nothing." I grin at him because he likes the grin, but inside I'm seething. I wouldn't havebeenin the hospital if not for him. It's allhisfault. He's the one who called Roger and told him I had the bullet. And that set Roger off on a paranoia trip andthatmade Roger realize that Daddy Couldn't Handle Her, so he just shipped me off.

"But I bet ... I bet..." he stammers, "...it was probably a little bit scary. Right?"

I don't say anything. He's right. It was scary. But I'm not about to tell him that.

Simone and Jecca were cool about me being away, being in the hospital. But they didn't really get it. They didn't get how freaked out I was. They just thought it sucked and it was a bummer, and itdidsuck and itwasa bummer, but it was more than just that. It was also terrifying. Being so powerless. Knowing that all it takes is Roger picking up the phone and calling a judge and there I am—locked up. Powerless. DCHH and there's nothing I can do.

"I was worried about you," he goes on. "I mean, no one knew anything. And I thought about you all summer, and..." He shakes his head. "Anyway, then the new school year started and youstillweren't here and—"

"Whatever, Fanboy." I wave it off, but my stomach's gone tight. I don't want to think about it. About being away. "Somehow you managed to survive without me. Good for you."

"Well, I had to. You weren't talking to me. You were pretty pissed at me. You sent me that picture on your cell..."

Flipping him off. Yeah, I remember.

"And then," he goes on, "I just didn't hear from you..."

"It's done with. Over. Move on. New topic. I'm bored."

"Oh. OK. Well, uh ... uh, I'm still working onSchemata..."

"I noticed."

He brightens and smiles. "Yeah, it's pretty cool, isn't it?"

I'm trying to be nice to him, but if I'mtoonice, he'll get suspicious. "Sure, if you've totally given up."

His eyes narrow. "What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean. You had all these dreams. You were going to show it to Bendis. You were going to get Marvel to publish it or something. And instead you decided to publish it inLiterary Paws.You were supposed to be worshiped by the world, but you settled for being worshiped by effingBrookdale.Hell, not even Brookdale—just South Brook."

He thinks about that for all of half a second. "Ididshow it to Bendis, but ... Look, Kyra, it's more complicated than that."

"Sure it is."

"I still want to get it published as one big graphic novel. But—"

"You're going about it all wrong, then."

"Wait, just ... hang on. Look. It was Cal's idea..."

Of course it was. EffingCal.The super-black superstud. More powerful than a stereotype. Leaps tall clichés in a single bound.

"He looked at what I had and he thought it was really cool and he had this idea to put it inLiterary Pawsso that I could, you know, get feedback, right? And then I could make it evenbetterso that I could send it to Image or maybe Top Shelf—"

And I start laughing. "Top Shelf? What the hell do you know about Top Shelf, Fanboy?"

He stops for a second. And then he does something that really pisses me off—he keeps talking.

"I know plenty. I did my research. I'm not anidiot,Kyra."

He's not supposed to talk back! I shoot him down; he shuts up. That's how it works.

"I did all kinds of research. Cal and Mr. Tollin and Mrs. Grant helped me. Image and Top Shelf and maybe even..."

I kinda tune him out. I can't believe this. He just went on without me. He just kept working on it. WithCal.After everything I told him about women and stuff. He just moved on.

"...and since it's been in the magazine, I've been getting great feedback—"

"Feedback? From these jackasses? Why do you care what they think? They're not your audience."

"But they'reanaudience. It's like having a bunch of editors working on it for free. They've already found all kinds of things. Stuff I never thought of before. Like, you remember the scene where Courteney goes to her student's house? The thing with the mom?"

I remember Courteney looking like a certain senior hottie,I want to tell him. But I just nod. "Yeah, I remember it."

"Well, someone pointed out to me that it would make more sense if the mom was afraid of the same thing as the daughter—the father dying in Iraq. Because then you would have these overlapping visions, right? And it would be this cool contrast between these two women, both afraid of the same thing, but in different ways. It worksmuchbetter now than it did before."

"OK."

"I'm serious, Kyra. It really does."

"I said OK! Sheesh!"

He grins. "This is great. This is really cool. I'm so glad you're back."

The bell rings for next period. Damn! I didn't accomplish anything I wanted to accomplish. I need to get my hands on those original pages so that I can show them to Michelle Jurgens.

He gets up with his tray, but just as he turns to go, he stops and answers my prayers: "Hey, Kyra? Want to come over to my house after school? I can show you some of the new stuff."

Sweet.

Forty-one 

ICATCH UP TOSIMONE BETWEEN CLASSES. "Hey, I can't go to the mall with you after school. I have to do something else."

Fortunately, she doesn't ask me what, because I don't feel like explaining.

Jecca has history with me at the end of the day. She kicks it old school and passes me a note: "Why won't you talk to me?"

I pass it back: "I talked to you this morning!" All innocent-like.

She passes it back: "So you're not pissed at me?"

I want to pass it back to her, but Mr. Bachman has stopped writing on the board and is looking at the class now, so I can't. I just shove it in my purse and then stuff my purse back into my messenger bag. Jecca keeps stealing looks at me, though, and I feel bad, so I shake my head at her.

When school's over, I meet Fanboy by the lunchroom doors that lead outside. He saunters up to me like he's a stud or something, his backpack over one shoulder, jingling a key ring. "You ready? You want to follow me?"

I stare for a second. Oh, shit—he thinks I have a car. I try to remember what I told him about my cars, but it was months ago and it all kind of bleeds together with shit from the hospital.

"I'll ride with you," I tell him.

"OK." He doesn't seem surprised. Did he figure out I was stealing cars?

When we get to his car, satisfaction and guilt hit me at the same time: I was right about which car was his. I put the fake Dina note on the right car. So why do I feel bad about leaving the note in the first place?

We get in. "This is weird," he says. He hands me something from the center console. It's the note. I pretend to study it like it's the first time as he starts the car and pulls out. "That was under my wiper this morning. isn't that strange?"

I pretend to be an idiot. "D.J.? Who's D.J.? And what did you do to him?" I say "him" on purpose.

"I don't think it's a guy. The handwriting looks like a girl's. don't you think?"

I printed it pretty carefully, but, yeah, I guess it does look sort of girly.

"I guess." I'm getting a little nervous here. What if he knows? What if he's messing with me? I get out my cigarettes and lighter.

"Hey, no smoking. Sorry. My mom would spaz."

I make a big deal out of putting away my stuff and then I totally change the topic from the note: "Are you sure it's OK for me to come home with you?" I remember his mom was like a total psycho about that stuff.


Page 16

"Yeah, it's OK. It's weird—once the baby came, Mom got kinda mellow." He grins at me and I can't stand it—he's so cute when he does that, I almost forget that I hate him. "I gotta take advantage of it while I can."

I turn away to look out the window. Anything to avoid looking at him. "So, she had the baby, huh?" Ugh. Stupid, Kyra. Ofcourseshe had the baby! She was, like, a million months pregnant when I met her, and that was six months ago.

"Yeah. And she decided not to go back to work and it's like all of a sudden she's much calmer, even though Betta keeps her up a lot."

"Betta?" What kind of a name isthat?

"Well, her name's Elizabeth, but somehow we just ended up calling her Betta. I think Tony started it. Here."

He fishes around for his wallet. I can't believe he's actually taking a hand off the wheel—he's been driving so carefully that I could fall asleep. It's like the driving equivalent of that stuff in turkey that makes you sleepy.

He flips open his wallet and holds it out to me. I take it. There's a little wallet-size picture of a baby there.

"See, that's her. My sister. Well, half sister, technically."

It's a pudgy little baby-thing. Why do people think babies are cute? They're sort of ugly, actually. They're all out of proportion, with these gigantic heads that flop around and these little bodies with sunken chests and beer guts. I don't get the attraction.

I never want to have kids. For one thing, I can't imagine having to deal with that big of a pain in the ass. For another thing, it hurts likehell.And foranotherthing, like, thelastthing I need in this world is for my boobs to get evenbigger.I'm not spending my life as a cow for some bawling ball of snot and stuff.

"She's cute," I lie, and hand it back to him.

"Yeah, she is."

He pulls up into his driveway. The truck is gone, but his mom's car is there.

It's weird, being here again. About to go inside. Last time I was in his house with him ... The last time, things didn't work out so well.

God, am Iscared?Is that what's going on?

"You coming?" he asks. He's already out of the car.

"Chill out, Fanboy. You're acting like you're gonna get some."

It's like I slapped him. Good.

"Just ... whatever. Come on, Kyra."

At the door, he says, "We need to be quiet when go in, in case they're asleep."

"OK."

But they're not. As soon as we go in, I hear his mom, saying, "Ooga-googa-goo? Umma-wummy-boo!"

Well, not really. But it's that singsong crap people say to babies.

"Hi, Mom!" Fanboy calls up the stairs. "I brought Kyra home to show her someSchematastuff, OK?"

She appears at the top of the stairs, carrying the baby. "Oh. Hi." She looks surprised to see me. I don't blame her. I ran out of here in a fury last time.Iwould be pretty damn surprised to see me, too. "Hi. Good to, uh, see you again."

Ha. Like we had a big, in-depth conversation last time.

"You, uh, look a bit different," she says. And I remember: White clothes. Shaved head. It's only been a day, but I'm already so comfortable with it that I forget.

I run a hand over my dome. "Like it?"

"Well, as long asyoulike it."

Fanboy goes up a few stairs and tickles the baby's cheek. "Hey, Betta. Hey, Betta." He looks down at me. "Want to hold her?"

Gross.

Before I can say anything, though, Momma saves the day: "I need to change her. Maybe later."

"OK, Mom."

I just stand there and try not to throw up. I'm allergic to domestic bliss. I'm also dying for a cigarette, but I bet Momma would dive down the stairs and claw my eyes out if I even thought hard about one.

Before he can come down the stairs, she leans over and whispers something to him. He rolls his eyes, but only I can see it. "Iknow,Mom."

Mom goes away. And then it's me and it's Fanboy and he leads me down to the basement once more.

Forty-two 

HIS ROOM IS EXACTLY THE WAYI remember it. His room is completely different.

Last time I was here, it was like some weird kind of archeological dig—the unearthing of the Tomb of the New Millennium Geek Boy. It's still a geek's paradise, but now you get the impression that there'sworkgoing on here. Serious work.

It used to be thatSchematawas relegated to his desk. Now it'severywhere.There are pages and sketches and stuff scattered all over. I guess maybe there's a method to it all, but I can't see it. It just looks random to me. He even has pages pinned up on the walls, like he ran out of surfaces and just started tacking things up. The piles of comic books and graphic novels that were on the floor have been stacked neatly on top of a bookcase, out of the way.

He still has the same old crappy computer, though. Nice to seesomethings don't change.

"Uh, let me see," he says, and clears off his chair, spinning it from the desk and wheeling it into the middle of the room. He gestures for me to sit.

Last time I was here, I sat on the bed.

"What did your mom tell you?"

"What?"

"She whispered to you. Just now."

"Oh." He shakes his head. "Oh. Yeah. She said, 'Door open, remember? Like I'm an idiot or something."

Door open. That didn't stop me last time...

"Kyra? Hey, Kyra?"

I blink. "What?"

"You OK? You were kinda spaced out—"

"I was just overwhelmed by the toxic levels of geekitude in this place. You're lucky the EPA doesn't shut you down."

He laughs. Goddamn! Six months ago, he would have started apologizing or tried to change the subject.

"Yeah, Cal calls it Geek Central. Sit down."

He's been holding the chair for me the whole time. I sit down.

"So, let me show you some of the new stuff..." He starts rummaging around, thrusts a pile of pages into my hands. How do I get theoldstuff? I need the pages where Courteney looks like Dina.

Before I can do or say anything, though, he says, "Shit!" which surprises me because he's usually pretty clean-mouthed.

"I left the latest pages upstairs. I'll be right back."

He darts out the door and I hear him on the stairs.

I look around. Where would the old pages be? On his computer? Probably. Could I find them and e-mail them to myself before he gets back?

Probably not. Especially with his shitty dial-up Internet.

Damn.

God, it's weird to be here. I get up and sit on the bed. That feels a little bit better.

There's still that old hard drive case sitting on his desk. His secret bullet hiding place. Is it still in there? Should I steal it again, just to mess with him?

I can't help it—the idea makes me giggle.

I move to the spot on the floor where I once planted my feet and unbuttoned my shirt and took off my bra. It's like it was yesterday, not six months ago. It's like it was five minutes ago.

It's like it's happeningright now.

How would he react? What would he do if he came back down here and I was standing in that same spot, my brand-spanking-new white shirt off, my same-old, same-old minimizer bra unfastened?

Or what if I took off everything? What if I stood there naked for him? Or naked on the bed?

Could I evendothat? Could I even show myself to him like that? To anyone? I've never done that. Not even with Jecca—we've always kept our clothes on.

Could I take my clothes off for him? Why is my heart pounding? Why does my head feel weird? Why ... Ugh. Why do my boobs ... Why are my...

Stop it! Stop it!

I have to get out of here. I have to leave. This is insane. I'm losing my effing mind.

Not gonna do it. I'm not gettingnakedfor him. What the hell was I thinking? Showing myself like that ... It was one thing to flash my boobs. To hold my power over him. But naked? That's weak. That's vulnerable. And flashing him again ... No. The only reason it was OK the first time is because I knew I would never do it again. Because I showed him something he couldn't have and then never again.

If youkeepdoing it, you're no better than Simone. Or Miss Powell.

So, no.

I sit on the bed. Better.

His footsteps on the stairs again. And then he's standing in the doorway. He freezes for a second at the sight of me sitting on the bed. I feel like I should say something, some kind of comforting lie:It's more comfortable here. I don't like that chair.Something.

But I've got nothing. So I just start flipping through the pages like it's no big deal.

"Uh," he says after a little while. I've been flipping through pages, but I haven'tseena single one. I'm all mixed up inside.

"Uh," he says again, and walks over to me. "These are the newest pages."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." I try to say it like I'm brushing him off, but I'm having trouble getting the words out. I'm still not seeing anything on the pages in front of me.

"So you're looking at next week's installment," he says. "It's the scene in the cancer ward. You saw it before, but it was later in the book then. I decided to move it up because it's really dramatic and I wanted something dramatic earlier on."

"Right." God, will he just shut up and let me think? Let me focus. For just a second.

He sits down next to me on the bed, and that's it. My brain's fried.

I want him to kiss me. I realize it and it's so hard and fast that it hurts.

That's all I want in the world. I want him to lean over and kiss me. It wouldn't be like it is with Jecca, I know. He's a boy. He's probably never put moisturizer on his lips in his life. He's got a little bit of stubble on his upper lip. It wouldn't be soft. It would be a little dry and a little scratchy, but I don't care. I want it. I want to do it. And then pull back and see my red, red lipstick smeared onhislips.

"And the pages here," he goes on, so totally a boy, so totally oblivious to my need, "are from the issue that'll come out just before Christmas break."

And that finally distracts me because, in looking down at the pages, I see something I can't believe I'm seeing.

She's naked.

Courteney. Courteney isnaked.

Forty-three 

"WHOA. WAIT A SEC."

"Yeah." He grins, like he's so proud that he's shocked me.

It's not that I've never seen nudity before, in a comic or otherwise. (Duh. I have the Internet.) It's just that I can't believehedid this. He drew this with his own little hands.

ForLiterary Paws.

"This is, like, the season finale forSchemata," he says. "That's something Cal and I came up with. Seasons, like on TV, with a break for Christmas."

Cal. Again. Goddammit.

"I moved some stuff around," he goes on, "to end on a cliffhanger right before break. And it's gonna be pretty controversial, keep people talking about it over break."

I want to yell. And scream. I want to yell and scream that he shouldn't be listening to Cal, that he should be listening tome,that he's just doing porn now, just for shock value, just to get people talking. I want to tell him that he'sbetterthan this, better than just droppingtitsinto his book to get people to sit up and take notice. I know—from experience. I showed my boobs to Fanboy and I showed them to Bendis, and it wasn't worth it either time.

But I'm too shocked to say anything. I can't stop staring at Courteney, who no longer looksexactlylike Dina Jurgens, but man—if shedid!If she did ... and if I could find the original pages, with the original art, and show them to Michelle...

Now my heart starts pumping fast for all-new reasons. Show Michelle the original pages. Then she sees the nudes. And she realizes that Fanboy is going to draw hersisternaked. Draw her naked and then publish it for the whole world to see.

And maybe Michelle gets pissed and brings the Wrath of the Popular, Beautiful People down on him. Or maybe she just thinks it's pathetic and that's fine, too. He'll be embarrassed. He'll never want to show his face at school again. He'll sure ashellstop being the popular kid. He'll just be the sad geek who gets his rocks off drawing girls he knows naked in his comic book.

Oh, yes.

"...and it's not like it's for show or controversy," he's babbling. "You have toreadit. It'sartistic,you know? I knowyouknow. But I showed it to Mr. Tollin and he's OK with it. He says it's artistic and he'll defend me to Dr. Goethe and the Spermling if he has to."


Page 17

There's a blank moment of total silence. I'm still staring at Courteney. I have to admit—he did a good job. It's not like he traced a porn star or a Playmate or something. She looks like arealwoman, just naked. I mean, a gorgeous and incredibly in shape woman, but still. She's not posed like a model or anything. Real. Not fake.

"So, uh," he stammers into the quiet, "I still have a week before I have to turn it in. Do you want to look at it?"

I grit my teeth. God, I just want to tear his head off. And throw him down on the bed. Both things. I don't get it.

I hear myself say, "Sure." Just like that.

And then: "So, hey, Fanboy..." Trying to sound casual. "Where's the stuff I saw before?"

He snaps his fingers. "Right! God, I'm an idiot..." He jumps up and rummages in a pile of papers in the corner between the desk and the bookcase. I find myself watching his every move. What the hell is wrong with me?

"Here," he says, coming back to me with a stack ofLiterary Paws."These are all the chapters you, uh, missed. While you were, you know."

I snatch the mags from him. They're not what I want or need. "In thehospital,Fanboy. The loony bin. The Maryland Mental Health Unit."

He flinches, which is nice, but not as nice as getting those original pages.

Or kissing him.

OK, I'm officially insane.

I sit there and I flip through one of the magazines and try to come up with a way to ask him for theoriginalart pages. It gets too quiet. He's hovering over me and I can tell he wants me to say something aboutSchemata,because he's needy like that. But it's all blurring together for me—I can barely focus on the pages or the panels.

So I say the first thing that comes to my mind: "It's stupid to put it out like this, Fanboy." (When in doubt, when uncomfortable, I've learned it's always best to fall back on the easy stuff—insults.) "A chapter at a time. It's stupid. Was that another one ofCal'sideas? It's supposed to be a graphic novel."

"But—"

"Novel,Fanboy.Novel.Like, a complete book. Something you sit down and read all at once, you know?"

"Dickens serializedhisnovels, and he was—"

"You think I effing care about Charles effing Dickens? He wasn't doing comics, Fanboy."

He snorts at me, another indicator that he's forgotten who's in charge here. "Oh, please. Gaiman didSandmanin issues, you know." When I don't say anything, he repeats it and says, "Youdidknow that, right? ThatSandmanoriginally came out monthly, in single issues? It took themyearsto collect the whole thing into graphic novels."

Yeah. I knew. I forgot, but I knew.

Dear Neil, 

I read your greatest work pretty much by accident.

I didn't even know the wholeSandmanseries existed at first. I wasn't into comic books at all. I was a kid and Mom had just died and Roger had taken me to the library. I can't remember why. He did a lot of shit back then that was just, like, flying by the seat of his pants, trying to fill up the days with stuff until it was time for both of us to go to bed. He was trying to numb his entire life, and mine, too.

The thing is, though, that I wanted to feel. Roger thought that the way to deal with his grief was to feel nothing. I knew the truth, though. I knew that the only way to deal with it was to feeltoo much.

So there I was at the library, wandering around, waiting for Roger, because even back then I wasn't hugely into reading. I was in the teen section and I walked past this display.

And there it was.

This graphic novel I'd never seen before (not that I'd been looking), with a dark cover and the word DEATH on it. DEATH. It was huge.

I thought it would freak Roger out, so I picked it up. It wasDeath: The High Cost of Living.And I remember spending a lot of time just thinking about the title. It was so profound. It's like, it wasn't just a title—it was astatement.It was aphilosophy.

I didn't know who you were. I didn't know that you were this bigshot, award-winning writer. I didn't know that this was just a side story to the largerSandmanstory. I just knew that it was dark and it said DEATH and the title alone made me think.

So I checked it out and brought it home and read it in, like, five seconds.

And oh my God.

It was like nothing else I'd ever seen. It was dark and moody, but also funny and clever. It could have been just relentless and sad, and, yeah, it had some of that, but there was more to it.

It's like, Igotit. Didi was ... Didi was nothing like me, but that didn't matter. She had ittogether.She was mysterious. She understood things that no one else understood. She said cool shit that made sense after you thought about it.

And she wore all black and was all gothy, which I instantly loved.

I loved itall.I loved that Sexton called his mom Sylvia, just like I called my dad Roger. I loved the crazy British lady, Mad Hettie, who was looking for her heart. I loved the whole idea that death was a person, a comforting presence. Somehow, it made what happened to my mom make a little more sense. Somehow. I liked the idea that there was a person there to tell her, "OK, that's it" at the end.

So I totally devoured it and then I read it again and then I went and looked you up on the Internet and learned all kinds of stuff about you. I found a picture of you and you lookedtotallyhot in your sunglasses and someone online said that you never, ever took them off, but then I found pictures of you without them on and that was cool, too. And even though I was only twelve, that night Itotallyhad a sex dream about you and I can't believe I'm admitting that.

I made Roger take me back to the library the next day. I checked out the secondDeathbook,The Time of Your Life,and read it like I was thirsty for it. It was even better than the first one. And I hadn't read any ofSandmanyet, so I didn't get some of the references to the stuff fromPreludes and NocturnesorA Game of You,and I gotta be honest—it was my first time reading about lesbians, and that sort of surprised me. Oh, and I also thought, at the end, that maybe you should have reversed the titles of the two stories. Because if you think about it, the first one isreallyabout "the time of your life"—Didi's life, Sexton's life—and thesecondone is really about "the high cost of living," when Bruno sacrifices himself so that Foxglove and Hazel and Alvin could live.

But anyway. I finished that and then I went back and I checked out as many of theSandmanbooks as they had. And I spent all of my time just absorbing this amazing, amazing world you'd created. I read your novels, too, but it was theSandmanstuff that I couldn't get out of my head. I loved the way Death talked to Dream, the way she didn't let him get away with shit, the way she always told him the truth. I wanted that. I wanted to go around to people and smack them in the head and make them see the truth.

I wanted to dress in all black and be cool and mysterious. Like Death.

Forty-four 

"IREREAD IT," FANBOY SAYS."SANDMAN.Over the summer. I was, well, I was thinking about you and I decided to read the whole thing."

What does he want me to say to that? He's looking at me with this weird combination of Eager and Shy. I don't know what the hell to say to that.

"It was ... I read it, like, a few years ago. In middle school."

Around the same timeIread it. Weird.

"So I reread it over the summer, and it was ... I mean, I liked it the first time, but it was even better the second time. Probably because Igotmore of it, you know? That's what I'm hoping for withSchemata.That people will reread it and get more out of it each time."

There was nudity inSandman.So why is the nudity inSchematabothering me? Because it's Courteney, who used to be Dina? Because it's Fanboy? Both?

"They didn't have the whole series at the library, so I borrowed Cal's. He has the originals, when it first came out in monthly comics, you know? And that's when the two of us started talking about how some really great stuff has been serialized first, and he came up with the idea of doing that withSchemata.So that's how I rereadSandman.It was cool. Because, like, there were the letter columns, you know? They used to have letter columns in comics—"

"God, I know that, Fanboy! I'm not an idiot!"

"OK, OK! Jeez!" He holds up his hands like I was about to hit him or something.

"Look, I'm not like you, OK? I'm into comics, but I don'tlivefor them."

"OK, whatever. But I read the comics and the letters in them. It was cool, to see how people were reacting when it came out. And I learned stuff, too. Like, for example, did you know that the series was supposed to be like half as long?"

"What?" God, would he just shut up for half a second and let me think?

"Oh, yeah," he goes on. "There's a letter early on where someone asks if the series is going to end or just go on forever and Gaiman actually answers the letter himself, instead of having his editor do it. And he says that the story will end around issue fifty. But it actually ended up going on to issue seventy-five."

What? My head's spinning. I've got too much going on all at once: the artwork, Dina, Fanboy, and he's babbling about issue numbers, when I never even thought aboutSandmanin issue numbers.

"So I wonder," he says, "if he added more stories or if he just ended up taking moretimewith the ones he'd already planned out. Like 'Ramadan,' for example. I mean, if he planned out the whole series in the eighties, he couldn't have planned 'Ramadan,' because the Gulf War hadn't happened yet. You know?"

He looks at me with these shining eyes. I want to punch him. Or kiss him. Either will do.

"You know?" he says again. "The ending depends on the Gulf War happening, but that issue came out five years after the start of the series. So how was itsupposedto end? Was there a different ending? Or did he insert that story into his plan at some point? How much was planned out and how much of it was flying by the seat of his pants?"

He stops, and this time it's pretty obvious that he's going to wait until I say something.

"I have no idea," I manage.

He laughs like I said something witty. "God, Ilovethinking about stuff like this."

Yeah. Yeah, he does.

He loves it.

And me?

What do I love?

Who do I love?

Love 

LOVE MAKES YOU WEAK. THISI know for sure.

Mom loved Roger. Roger loved Mom. And look what happened there. She died. She thought her love made her strong. She kept telling me—after she was diagnosed—she kept telling me, "I'm going to beat this, Kyra. I'm going to come out of it. I love you and I love your father and that love is my strength. You're my strength."

And sometimes she would go on and on about it: "I want to see you graduate from high school. And college. I want to see you get married. I want to hold my grandchildren." She would get teary. I would get teary. There's a word for it—I learned it in Miss Powell's class, the only thing worth learning: lachrymose. That's the word. Mom was lachrymose. I was lachrymose.

"I'm strong thanks to you, Kyra. You're my strength."

And who the hell was she to put that burden on me? I was her strength? Then what did that mean as the cancer ate her from the inside out? What did that mean as she got weaker and weaker and weaker? When the cancer migrated to her brain and made her forget things and space out randomly?

You can't rely on other people to be your strength.

You have to be your own strength.


Page 18

You can't rely on love. Love will let you down every time. Every. Single. Time.

I don't love Jecca. I don't love Fanboy.

But...

God, thebutsin life will kill you absolutely every time, won't they?

I don'tlove.But Ineed.I can admit that to myself, I guess. When Jecca pretends like nothing happens between us, I get angry. I don't know why; I just do. And then I ignore her. Punish her.

And the whole time I was gone, the whole time I was DCHH, I missed Fanboy. I missed him, OK? I don't like admitting it; I don't like thinking it. But there it is.

My first week in the hospital was sheer hell. The doc who did my intake didn't listen to anything I said. He looked at my history and he just went ahead and put me on all kinds of meds. I did a pretty good job of pretending to take them, but the nurses were sly and they caught me a few times, so I had to take the meds sometimes. And those things just totally messed with my head. The first time I saw Dr. Kennedy, he took me off the meds and my brain straightened itself out.

But that first week, I was a mess. I would lie in bed and dream, only I was still awake while I was dreaming. It's so stupid. It's so dumb. I would ... I would think ofhim.I would dream of him. Little things. Meaningless things. I would imagine cold.

Cold.

Freezing outside.

And I'm sitting with Fanboy and he's wearing a hoodie and he takes it off and gives it to me and puts his arm around me to keep me warm.

And then bigger, even stupider things.

At night, after my psycho roommate whined and rocked herself into something like sleep, I would lie there, my head pushed and pulled and generally turned into taffy by the meds, and I would think,Please, God, get me out of this place. Don't make me stay here forever. Don't leave me here. Don't leave me here, drugged up and left here and gone forever. Get me out of here. Please, God.

And then I would start to cry—quietly, though, because I didn't want to wake up the psycho and have to put up with her shit—and I would go to my worst place, my most shameful place. Lying there in bed, curled up like a baby in the womb, I would cry, and my tears feltnumb.They were numb because of the drugs. I don't know how else to explain it. I cried my numb tears and at my absolute worst, I dreamed ofhim,dreamed of him saving me, rescuing me from that place, coming to me in a cape and tights and a giantFon his chest, my knight, my love, my hero, my superhero.

In the light of morning, the tear tracks dried on my cheeks, I would fake taking the morning meds (the morning nurse was an idiot—the night nurse was savvy) and my head would clear a little and I would hate myself for my weakness, for wanting to be rescued.

And I would hate him for not rescuing me.

Forty-five 

HIS MOM CALLS HIS NAMEfrom upstairs. "Dinner soon! Is Kyra staying?"

He looks the question at me. I can't believe it. I must look totally normal. It feels like everything going on in my head should be soobvious.It should be plastered all over me. But it's not.

I blame/thank the bald dome and the clothes. He doesn't know how to read me anymore.

"I don't think I can," I hear myself say.

I've totally botched this. All I have for my troubles is a stack ofLiterary Paws,naked artwork, and a lecture onSandman.Nothing useful.

"OK, well, I guess I better take you back to school, then."

I've accomplished nothing. I just stare at the naked Courteney.

"It's all because of you, you know," he says.

"Huh?" I look up at him.

"This whole scene." He gestures to the pages in my hands. "The whole 'season finale'thing. It's all thanks to you. Remember how you told me she shouldn't just get all pissed off when she sees her husband's fantasies toward the end of the book? She should, like, realize she has her own, too? That's what I'm setting up here. It's foreshadowing. So, you know, thanks."

I just stare at him. He listened to me.

He actually listened to me.

And changed his book because of me.

"In fact..." He gets all shy and bumbling all of a sudden. It's like six months ago all over again, when he had no idea how to react or talk to me. Only I'm not doing any talking, so he's on his own. "I was gonna ... I wanted it to be a surprise ... But since you're ... Oh, what the hell, right?"

He grabs another sheet of paper. This one is larger. He holds it up to me. It's the opening splash page for his "season finale," the exact same image that I'm holding—shrunken to regular paper size—in my hands already. Onlythisversion is lettered, with a title and everything:

 

SCHEMATA: SEASON ONE FINALE

DREAMING WHILE I'M AWAKE

 

And then, at the bottom of the page, the credit box, with "Writer/Artist" and his name, followed by:

 

Editor/Letterer: Cal Willingham

Advisor: Craig Tollin

ForLiterary Paws:Gina Horowitz

 

But then, underthat,in bold letters that even a blind person could see...

Extra-special thanks to Kyra Sellers, who made it possible.

Forty-six 

ISTARE AT IT.

Why did he have to go and do something nice? Why couldn't he just keep being a dick so I could keep hating him?

He's grinning at me like he's just given me the world's greatest Christmas present. My brain splits in two.

The first part snorts and says, "Thanks a lot, Fanboy," hitting just the right tone of voice. He's used to it. He'll think I'm secretly happy.

The second part...

I smile at him. "No, seriously, thanks. It's too much."

He believes me. God, am I good or what?

"Well, you deserve it. You made this all possible."

I point to the page. "So I've read."

"Ha! OK, let's go."

We go out to the car. I pile up all of theSchematastuff on my lap and soon we're out of the driveway and heading back to school. It's weird, having him drive. He does the speed limit and he's really, really careful.

I have to make a decision. He's taking me back to school because he thinks I have a car there. And he thinks this because I always lied to him and told him I had a car, even though I was stealing them.

So, do I let him take me back to school and then walk home? Or do I tell him the truth?

It's cold out. My head is vulnerable. I sigh.

"Hey, Fanboy." I go All Tough with him. My tone will brook no shit. That's a great expression my dad uses sometimes, though he says "crap" instead of"shit."

"Yeah?"

"I took the bus today, so I need you to take me home."

"Oh, yeah?"

He sounds way too smug.

"Nothing wrong with taking the bus, Fanboy. Except for the assholes."

"What happened? Couldn't find a car?"

I've been watching him the whole time, but as he says this, he turns quickly to look at me and I have to look away. Ihaveto. It's like magnets, when you put two of them together with the wrong ends facing and they force each other apart. I turn away. It's like my neck muscles have locked into place and if my life depended on it, I couldn't turn to the left to look at him. My cheeks flame and burn. Hell, I think myscalpis blushing.

"I figured it out," he tells me. "Eventually. You really had me going for a while there, with all that crap about your mom's car and your sister's car and your sister's boyfriend's car..."

My sister. God, that's right. Katherine. I used Katherine and I told him I had a sister. Man, I really laid the lies on thick, didn't I?

Busted.

"But then I realized," he goes on, "that none of it made sense. And once your dad told me you didn'thavea sister, I figured out that, uh, you know, you must have been, like, stealing those cars."

"Big effing deal, Sherlock. You think you're Batman or something'cause you figured that out?" Inside, I'm curled up in shame. Outside, I have to be tough. That's how it works.

"No. No. I guess not. I just..."

"Justwhat?" Stop it, Kyra! Stop goading him! Just get home and get the hell out of the car.

He sighs. "I'm just really glad you're back, is all. I hope ... I hope it helped. Being—you know ... beingaway.Like that."

If I weren't all tense and freaked out, it would be funny, listening to him stumble over the words and the phrases and even the goddamn syllables. But I am, so it's not.

"Whatever, Fanboy."

"I just ... I was really worried about you, so I hope you got the help you needed and that you're doing better."

God. What an effingbaby.

Here's the thing. Here's the thing I hate: His concern is like a really warm drink when your body is cold, and you feel it go all the way down your throat and then into your stomach, where it pools and spreads out.

But the problem is that cold isgood.Cold isnumb.And when you're numb, you can't feel pain. You can't feel pain until some stupid warm drink makes you not numb anymore and then you can feel again.

I'm not weak. I'mnot.And he can't change that.

"I'm fine," I tell him, and I've lost the edge in my voice, the "get off my back" edge that keeps people away. Where the hell did it go? What did he do to it? Why is he making me all weak and needy? Andhow?

"Well, that's good. I'm glad. Heh. I'm saying 'I'm glad'a lot, aren't I?"

He pulls into my driveway, so I don't have to answer. I just get out of the car, my messenger bag over one shoulder, my copies of theSchematastuff under my arm.

"So, uh, take a look at everything and let me know what you think," he says, all eager. "Some stuff has changed from what you saw before."

And then it hits me. It hits me so hard and so fast that I don't even think it—I just say it.

"Sure. Hey, Fanboy, look, since things have changed ... it would be cool if I could see the old pages. You know, the originals. So I can compare the changes and everything."

I figure there's no way in hell he'll buy it. Why would he? But he's so happy to have me back, so happy to have me involved again, that he just nods like an idiot. "Oh, yeah, sure. I get it. OK. I'll print that stuff out and bring it to school tomorrow."

And then he backs out, honking the horn as he pulls away. I raise my hand and wave to him before I even realize what I'm doing. It's the same hand I'll use to stab him in the back.

Forty-seven 

THAT WAS ALL THE FIRST PARTof my brain. The part that feels out of sorts. Like, I've won and it was easy because he likes me and he trusts me. I don't know how to feel about that...

But the second part is off and scheming. I have to do this now. I'll get the original Dina art and with the new art I can do a sort of exposé, showing them side by side. I'll domorethan just take it all to Michelle. Hell, I'll makepostersand put them up all over school. I'll make a website about it. I'll show theworld.

That will mortally embarrass Fanboy beyond belief. I'll destroy him.

I should feel triumphant. I'm going to win.

Instead, I just feel like crap.

Maybe I shouldn't do this. Maybe I should just...

Maybe I should justaskhim.Hey, Fanboy! What the hell? Why didn't you e-mail me—at least—while I was away?

Yeah, right. Puh-lease. This isFanboy.He'll just lie. He'll say hedide-mail and the e-mails must have gotten lost or caught in a spam filter or something. That's what he does—he makes things up for fun. Why the hell should I trust him?

I stand out in the cold until Fanboy's car turns at the main road and disappears, then I go inside. Roger isn't home yet.

I throw all of my stuff on my bed. My phone goes off—it's a text from Simone:get ready!

What?

And then I get like six pictures in a row, all snapped from Simone's cell—it's her and Jecca at the mall, in the Victoria's Secret changing room, dressed up all slutty and shit, pretending to be like the models on TV. They won't actually buy anything—they're just messing around.

Final text:wish u wr hr.

Yeah, whatever. I'm done playing those stupid games.


Page 19

I look at myself in the mirror. It's still a shock—the blood red lips, the shiny head. I thought my ears might look huge and Obama-y without my hair, but they're actually sort of cute and small. Score one for me.

All that white ... I see what Roger was talking about. Idosort of look like Mom, toward the end. If I'm gonna pull off this white thing, though, I need more clothes andlooserclothes, because my boobs look like they could take over a small third world country right now.

The garage door rumbles. Roger's home.

I meet him in the kitchen. He looks tired, but that's nothing new.

"Hey, Dad?"

He tosses his keys on the counter. "What do you want, Kyra?"

"What makes you think I want something?"

"You only call me Dad when you're about to ask for something."

Oh. He noticed.

"Uh, well, I was wondering if you could drive me to the mall?"

He stares at me like I'm some alien child who's beamed down from the mother ship.

"I need to buy some more clothes."

"You want me to take you to the mall."

I resist the urge to sayDuh.I just nod.

"After all the crap you've put me through the past few days? After all the crap you've said to me? After you didthis"—he gestures up and down my body—"to yourself?"

I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from snapping at him. I learned that in drama class last year. School's good forsomething.If I snap at him, he'llnevertake me to the mall.

"I was good in school today," I tell him.

"What, so you want a reward for doing what you're supposed to do? Jesus, Kyra."

I bite the other cheek.

"Well?" He doesn't give up. "Is that it? You go to school for one day and you think you deserve a reward?"

"No. I just need clothes, that's all." I tilt my head to make my bangs fall over my eyes so that he can't see them, but nothing happens because I shaved off my hair. Shit! Alas, poor Bangs of Doom...

"God, Kyra. I thought it would be nice to come home and have one day, maybe, without the drama and the bull, you know? Just one night where I could actually relaxfor once—"

"Then take me! Take me to the mall and leave me there for a couple hours and just chill out, Dad. Seriously."

He thinks about it like he's trying to figure out the angle, but I can tell that he doesn't really care what the angle is. He just wants to give in. So he does.

He drops me off at the mall, tells me, "I'll be right back at this very spot in three hours and if you'renothere, I'm not waiting. I'm calling the police, got it?"

Which issoRoger: He can't be bothered to figure me out. He'd just rather call in the reinforcements. DCHH.

I don't know if Simone and Jecca are still here or not. I don't really want to see them. I just want to get done what I need to get done. I don't feel like being around other people right now, which is why the mall is perfect—no one at the mall is arealperson. They're just like these background zombies fromDawn of the Dead.People just wander, all hypnotized by the lights and the stores and shit.

I have three hours, which is like two and half hours more than I actually need, so I kill some time in the food court first, just sipping a smoothie and watching the people. People walking by keep staring at me because it's like they've never seen a girl with no hair before, so I randomly flip them off, which is fun.

Brookdale Mall isn't really much of a mall. It's one story, for one thing. There's maybe twenty stores and a crappy food court and a movie theater and that's it. The movie theater isn't even digital.

This is where Fanboy and I had our first ... meal. It wasn't a date. Not really. I've never been on a date before. I'm sixteen and I've never been on a date, not that I care. Dates are useless—if you like someone, why do you need to go on a date with them? And if youdon'tlike them, they why would you go on a date with them in the first place? Simone goes on dates sometimes and they always end the same because Simone has never met a dick she wouldn't debase herself for.

Anyway, we just came here and ate and he told me aboutSchemata.

God. When he told me aboutSchemata...it was like someone set off fireworks in my brain. It soundedso cool.I couldn't believe thathecame up with it. I mean, he's fromBrookdale.No one from Brookdale does anything cool. No one. It's like this whole town has a coolness-reducing force field over it.

Plus, he's aguy.I think that's what killed me, too. He's aboytrying to write about awoman.Not even a girl. I would have still been impressed ifSchematawas about a teenage girl, but he decided to make it about an adult. He's at an age and sex disadvantage. Aseriousdisadvantage, because Fanboy really doesn't understand girls at all.

But I read it, and it wasn't bad. It needed some work, but I was basically blown away by it, OK? Blown away by the way this skinny little shy, geeky guy from effing Brookdale somehow had some sort of understanding of women and the world. Who knew?

And now...

Now I'm going to wreck it.

Right?

That's what I'm going to do.

Right.

And why?

Because...

Because I remember this song. My parents loved this one album that came out a while back, and they used to listen to it all the time, and one of the lyrics went like this:A little revenge and this, too, shall pass.

It was this sort of mellow rock song and that line just seemed out of place in a way, but I didn't really listen to the whole song, so maybe it fit. I don't know. I just know that I've always remembered that line. And I think it means that when you're all mixed up inside because someone has effed with you, you have to go and get your revenge before you'll feel better about it.A little revenge and this, too, shall pass.See?

I finish my smoothie and wander around the mall. I'm here for clothes, but I scope out some of the makeup counters, too, just to see if maybe I want to try something different to go with my new look. Most of the women working the makeup counters sort of avoid me because I guess I don't look like they'll earn any commissions from me, but at this one place this really fat chick with totally awesome makeup (I'm serious—she looks amazing) comes right up to me and starts chattering away, and it's weird, but for once I don't find a stranger totally annoying.

"So was this a choice or a necessity?" she asks, pointing to my head. She's kinda cute and nice and I want to tell her to go lose some weight.

"Choice."

"Oh, nice. Cool. How long have you had it like that?"

"Just a day or so."

She nods. "Are you going to keep it?"

"I think so."

"OK, then..." She goes and rummages around in one of the cases, then comes up with two little bottles. "Look, if you get scalp irritation, you're going to want to take some of this—this is lavender oil, OK?—and mix it with some ofthisoil. And it'll help with ingrown hairs, too."

Wow. I never thought of any of that. "OK. Thanks. How, uh..." I can't help looking atherhair, which is so perfect that I figure maybe it's a wig. Damn. Perfect hair, perfect makeup. If she would lose, like, a thousand pounds, she'd be awesome. "How do you know this stuff?"

"Oh." Her smile shakes a little. "Well, my sister shaved her head. Chemo, you know?"

Shit.

"She had breast cancer and she was going to lose her hair anyway, so..."

"Yeah."

"Anyway ... is that going to be it?"

"Sure." I want to ask her if her sister made it or not, but I don't know how to ask. I want to tell her about Mom, but I don't know how to do that, either. So I just say nothing as she turns to the register to ring me up.

"Hey, do you want to see something?" she asks, and without waiting grabs something from a little stand on the counter. "Check this out. Pretty girl like you, I think you could pull it off."

She hands me a lipstick. It's called ElecTrick Sex.

"Oh, ignore the name," she says.

I twist off the cap. The lipstick is this deep electric blue. It's like someone caught the night sky when a lightning bolt hit and shoved it into this tube of lipstick.

I immediately imagine it: My white clothes. My powdered white face. With my lips surging, blue and sparkling.

And then ... Blue blurs on Jecca's lips. Blue smudges on Fanboy...

Whoa! OK! Back to earth, Kyra!

The makeup lady is still grinning at me. "What do you think?"

"Sure," I tell her.

She rings me up and gives me my bag and says, "You have a great day, OK?"

I stumble out of the store, sort of in shock. I feel like I've been reverse mugged. This person came out of nowhere and was really nice to me and did all sorts of nice things.

I feel bad all of a sudden. Why did I eventhinkabout her weight? Like, does it really matter? She was really nice and really pretty and happy and good at her job. And she treated me like a person when no one else even looked at me. So does it really matter that she's fat? Who the eff cares? Why the eff does everyone have to be like a magazine cover?

That keeps whipping and whirling through my head the whole time I'm at Minus, which is the only place in Brookdale to buy clothes that are even remotely cool. I find three more white outfits, which ought to hold me for now. I can mix and match these with some other stuff from home and I should be good for a little while. But even as I'm changing and checking myself out in the mirrors, I can't stop thinking about the makeup lady.

So it's strange, because I finish shopping and I still have some time before Roger picks me up, so I think I'm gonna go back into the store and go apologize to the makeup lady for thinking she's fat and then I'm gonna tell her that she's really cool and beautiful and shit like that.

Yeah. That's what I'm—

"Hey, bitch!"

I look over—it's Simone, standing by the wishing fountain. She changed her outfit from school, of course, because she can be much, much sluttier at the mall than in school. She's wearing a thin little black halter that stops just below her boobs so that the world can see her belly ring. She's got on the tiny black skirt she loves, the one that's so tight and short that if she moves one inch in the wrong direction, you can practically see her uterus. Her dragon tattoo winds up from her ankle, disappearing under the skirt. She's all made up with bright red lipstick and so much eye shadow that her eyes look like endless pools. Every guy within a hundred feet can't help looking at her, even the old ones. Especially the old ones.

"You made it!" she says as I come over to her.

"Yeah. I don't have long, though." I steal a look at my watch. "Roger's gonna give birth if I'm not outside in, like, fifteen minutes."

"What did you buy?" Nod to my bag.

"Just some shit. What about you?" She's got a bag from Minus sitting at her feet.

"I'll wear it tomorrow. You'll see."

"OK."

Jecca pops up then, bagless, from the hallway that goes to the bathrooms. "You found Kyra," she tells Simone.

"Duh."

"You didn't buy anything?" I ask her.

"Nah. Everything I tried on made my ass lookgigantic."She pouts. "I've got major ghetto booty. I need like, ass lipo or something." She twists around to look at her own butt. "Do they do just ass lipo? Can they do that? I want Brad to notice my ass, but not because it's huge."

Simone rolls her eyes. "Enough. We get it. Fifty thousand e-mails over the summer weren't enough. You love Brad. OK."

Fifty thousand e-mails about Brad ... and none of them to me.

Jecca is always complaining about her ass and her hips. Usually I just let it go, but tonight when she says it I can't help thinking about the makeup lady, and combined with the never-ending Brad worship, it pisses me off.

"Shut up about your ass, Jecca. Your ass is fine. You're sixteen, for God's sake. Why the eff are you thinking about lipo? Be happy with your body."

Simone whistles. "Check out Grrl Power Kyra!"

"Shut up, Simone."

"'Be happy with your body,'" Simone goes on. "Yeah, right. How much boobage did you strap down tonight?"

"Leave her alone," Jecca says. "She's not, like, judging our bodies. That's cool."

Yeah, maybeI'mnot judging, but everyone else is. All the guys streaming around us are checking us out. Well, they're checking out Jecca and Simone—me, they skip over. The bald chick who's standing sort of slumped over with her bag clutched to her chest so that no one can look at her boobs. Simone keeps moving and positioning herself so that guys can get a better look, and Jecca is standing with her hips cocked in a way that she knows is sexy. It's like it's automatic for them. I don't think they even think about it.

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