Lulu M and Jennrosee beta this. I owe them for reading this over and over and over again.


1.

My eyes flick from the mahogany framed Ivy League degree to the orange file cabinet to her steel blue eyes. The expression on her face after my tale about Renee not coming home one night is as calm as the sea on a still summer day. Hard to tell whether she spotted the lies.

"And how do you feel about that?" she asks.

The clock above her desk reads quarter to. Time's up. Through the blinds in the glass door, I see ADD kid, wearing an Iron Maiden shirt today, waiting for his allotted time with Dr. Denali. Knees shaking, eyes twitching, he's sitting on the green plastic chairs of the waiting room clutching a phone in his hands.

"I don't know. I'm still working through it, I guess," I tell her.

A sigh follows. She flips the pen with her pink polished fingers—once, twice—scribbles down something on her notepad, then straightens her back and gives me her disapproving school teacher stare.

"You know, you're not going to get better unless you make an effort."

"I'm trying, I promise."

"Maybe you can think about what I suggested before, about keeping a journal?" She raises her eyebrows, one corner of her glossed mouth twitches up until her mild-mannered princess smile is fully in place. I bet she thinks that smile makes her seem friendly, understanding, when in reality it comes across as condescending.

"Sure." I nod.

Rose would love this bitch with her perfectly ironed hair and Chanel slippers. "Diaries are for boring people," she once said. "Memoirs, that's the shit you write if you're halfway interesting."

"See you next Tuesday, Bella," Dr. Irina Denali says, getting up from her spot behind the desk.

"Okay." I swing my old school satchel over the shoulder and head to the door.

The journal thing will never happen. I won't get better from jotting down stuff about my boring existence, just like the guy outside her office won't be voted Prom King next year. All he gets from his weekly therapy with Irina is a good visual for his evening ritual, something to get the juices flowing before he dozes off.

ADD kid jumps up from his chair quickly without looking up and stalks past me into her office, leaving the smell of benzoyl peroxide and misery behind.

At night, my phone stays silent. No text messages, no missed calls, no Facebook notifications blinking. All remains quiet in the wasteland. By six thirty AM, I get up, shower, lather, rinse, repeat. I put on the school uniform, apply some makeup, pinch my cheeks. The house is empty. Charlie's at work. The new car, a VW Golf, parked outside the kitchen window, has calmed his guilty conscience, so he's been leaving early again. It's not his fault.

The closer I get to St. Mary's, the more my gut churns, the stickier the palms of my hands become. I despise the red bricked building attached to the church, the nuns who run the place, the stale air reeking of disinfectant, the shine of the daily polished linoleum floors, the crucifix hanging on the wall, the grey blank walls of the halls, but most of all, I hate the people. School used to be okay when I was naïve sticking to my best friend. Back when we were toenail painting, blackberry cordial downing best friends.

Now Rose's gone; it's my fault. School is hell since she left.

AP history passes without much happening. Lauren's a no show and Stanley, her lieutenant, is busy when I leave the room. The pleated skirt of her school uniform's bunched up high so you can see her underpants—a strategic decision. They're the red lacy type meant to be seen. Unfortunately, Newton doesn't bite. Only the old dragon does and gives her detention.

Newton with his bulldog jowls and watery blue eyes leans against my locker. "So how about the Cliffs tomorrow night? You and me, Swan, some beers to get us in the mood," he starts, towering over me.

Some girl from the reservation killed herself there last spring. Jumped down into the dark, falling, flying until she hit the black rocks far below. Rose claimed she saw her right before she walked over the edge without hesitation. She said it was kind of beautiful, said that she looked like a girl from one of the old Indian lores, swan-diving down to her death into the cold, harsh waters because her one true love had abandoned her for a white girl. Edward was with her that night and said he didn't see a thing. People were freaked out for five minutes, and then went right back to unbuttoning their pants and hitching their skirts up at that very same spot.

My heart starts beating faster. His hair's freshly trimmed into his standard buzz cut. The tie of his uniform hangs over the lapel of his blazer; the shirt's unbuttoned, the heavy gold chain with the cross pendant on display on his bare chest. I try to ignore him and focus on a poster in the back. Come Join St. Mary's School Orchestra. He used to give up easily, but not anymore.

He's fixated on the idea we'll hook up, convinced I'm easy game. The only thing Newton's accomplishing so far is giving Stanley more ammunition to hate my guts. Not that it matters. Jessica Stanley hated me from the first day we met in 6th grade, and nothing is going to change that.

"Come on." Undeterred, he leans closer, covering me in a cloud of drugstore cologne. He thinks he's hot stuff. His parents own the only mom and pop store that makes money. A place in a strip mall that supplies hunting gear—guns, rifles and pistols mostly. Aside from Stanley, no one gives him the time of day. "It's not like you have anything better to do." He's correct about that. "And I doubt Cullen would come down to visit you. Heck, I bet you even if he was still living next door to you, he wouldn't be hanging out with you anymore."

The practiced, calm expression of indifference slips for a split second, and Newton knows he's got me.

"What?" he continues. "No, really?" I attempt to walk past him, but he holds onto the sleeve of my shirt. Tyler, standing a couple of feet behind him, approvingly does the blowjob motion with the tongue in his cheek. I ignore him. Newton smirks. "You're still holding out hope? That's so cute."

"You suck, Newton, you know that?" I reply, pulling my arm out of his grip. He turns red.

"No. Everyone here knows you suck. Mighty well, I heard," he yells after me, then high-fives his posse of posers loitering nearby.

I walk to my next class, careful not to run, not to panic, snickers and whispers following me.

I wanted to leave right after, move in with Renee. Even considered switching schools when shit started hitting the fan. But then the lecture from Sister Cope followed. "Transfers at this point in time are not recommended, unless, of course, it is necessitated by one of the guardian's relocation. That doesn't seem to be the case here," she told me. When I didn't flinch, she bore her old fish eyes down on me, imploring, "The paperwork can take a while. Graduation could get delayed."

It'll be only eight more months now until graduation. I'll survive. Besides, I could tell Charlie didn't think it was a good idea. And he's been a good sport, making excuses for me on days when I wasn't up to going to school.

So I stayed despite the fact that things won't get better.