Some boys go too far…

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No Monday in history has ever sucked more than this one.

I’m kind of an expert on sucky days. It’s been thirty-two of them since the party in the woods that started the battle I fight every day. I step onto the bus to school, wearing my armor and pretending nothing’s wrong, nothing happened, nothing changed when it’s pretty obvious nothing will ever be the same again. Alyssa Martin, a girl I’ve known since first grade, smirks and stretches her leg across the empty seat next to hers.

I approach slowly, hoping nobody can see my knees knocking. A couple of weeks ago, during a school newspaper staff meeting, Alyssa vowed her support and today, I’m pond scum.

“Find a seat!” Mrs. Gannon, the bus driver, shouts.

I meet Alyssa’s eyes, silently beg her for sympathy — even a little pity. She raises a middle finger. It’s a show of loyalty to someone who doesn’t deserve any, a challenge to see how far I’ll go. My dad keeps telling me to stand up to all of Zac’s defenders, but it’s the entire bus — the entire school — versus me.

I gulp hard and the bus lurches forward. I try to grab a seat back but lose my balance and topple into the seat Alyssa’s blocking with her leg. She lets out a screech of pain.

“Bitch,” she sneers. “You nearly broke my leg.”

I’m about to apologize when I notice the people sitting around us stare with wide eyes and hands over their open mouths. When my eyes meet theirs, they turn away, but nobody does anything.

This is weird.

Alyssa folds herself against the window and shoves ear buds into her ears and ignores me for the duration of the ride.

The rest of the ride goes without incident except for two girls staring at a cell phone. “Six-hundred eighteen,” one murmurs while shooting dirty looks at me.

I know exactly what she means and don’t want to think about it. I look away. As soon as the bus stops, I’m off. On my way to my locker, most people just ignore me but a few still think I haven’t heard their particular crude comment yet. An elbow or the occasional extended foot still need dodging, but it’s really not that bad. I can deal. I can do this. I can make it through school unless I see—

“Woof! Woof!”

My feet root themselves to the floor and the breath clogs in my lungs and I know without turning who barked at me. I force myself to remain where I am instead of running for home, running for the next town. I want to turn to look at him, look him dead in the eye, and twist my face into something that shows contempt instead of the terror that too often wins whenever I hear his name so he sees — so he knows — he didn’t beat me. But that doesn’t happen. The moment our eyes meet, I pee myself when images of his face — that face — flicker through my mind. A foot appears from nowhere and I can’t dodge it in time. I fall to my hands and knees and two more familiar faces step out of the crowd to laugh down at me.

“Hear you like it on your knees.” Kyle Moran shouts and everybody laughs. At least Matt Roberts helps me up but when Kyle smacks his head, he takes off before I can thank him. They’re two of his best buds. Nausea boils inside me and I scramble back to my feet. I grab my backpack, pray that the school’s expensive digital camera tucked inside it isn’t damaged, and duck into the girls’ bathroom, lock myself into a stall, and clean myself up as best as I can.

My pants are just a little wet. I peel everything off, stuff my underwear in the tampon bin that’s bolted to the wall, and pull my pants back on, praying nobody finds out Grace Collier isn’t wearing underwear. When my hands are steady, eyes are dry, stomach’s no longer threatening to send back breakfast, and bladder’s holding — that last one is critical — I open the stall.

Miranda and Lindsay, my two best friends, stand in front of the mirrors.

Make that former best friends.

We stare at each other through the mirrors. Lindsay leans against a sink, but doesn’t say anything. Miranda runs a hand down her smooth blond hair, pretends I’m not there, and talks to Lindsay. “So I’ve decided to have a party and invite Zac and the rest of the lacrosse team. It’s going to be epic.”

No. Not him. The blood freezes in my veins. “Miranda. Don’t. Please.”

Miranda’s hand freezes on her hair. “Don’t, please?” She shakes her head in disgust. “You know, he could get kicked off the lacrosse team because of you.”

“Good!” I scream, suddenly furious.

Miranda whips back around to face me, hair blurring like a fan blade. At the sink, Lindsay’s jaw drops. “God! I can’t believe you! Did you do this, did you say all this just to get back at me?”

My jaw drops. “What? Of course not. I—”

“You know I like him. If you didn’t want me to go out with him, all you had to do was say so—”

“Miranda, this isn’t about you. Trust me, Zac is —”

“Oh my God, listen to yourself. He breaks up with you and you fall apart and then—”

“That is not what happened. I broke up with him! I was upset that night because of Kristie and you know it.”

She spins around, arms flung high. “Kristie! Seriously? You played him. You wanted everybody to feel sorry for you so you turned on the tears and got Zac to—”

“Me? Are you high? He —”

“Oh, don’t even.” Miranda holds up a hand. “I know exactly what happened. I was there. I know what you said. I figured you were lying and now, there’s no doubt.”

Lindsay nods and tosses her bag over her shoulder and they stalk to the door. At the door, Miranda fires off one more shot. “You’re a lying slut and I’ll make sure the whole school knows it.”

The door slams behind them, echoing off the lavatory stalls. I’m standing in the center of the room, wondering what’s holding me up because I can’t feel my feet. Or my hands. I raise them to make sure I still have hands and before my eyes, they shake, but I don’t feel that either. All I feel is pressure in my chest, like someone just plunged my head underwater and I tried to breathe. My mouth goes dry but I can’t swallow. The pressure builds and grows and knocks down walls and won’t let up. I press my hands to my chest and rub, but it doesn’t help. Oh, God, it doesn’t help. My heart lurches into overdrive, like it’s trying to stage a prison break. I fall to the cold bathroom floor, gasping, choking for breath, but I can’t get any, I can’t find any, there’s no air left to breathe. I’m the lit match in front of a pair of lips puckered up, ready to blow.


Thank God it’s Monday.

The entire weekend sucked, starting Friday night when I got grounded for denting my dad’s car, and then it just circled the toilet from there. All the crap with Grace Collier is really messing Zac up so I took him to a party in Holtsville to get away from all the rumors for a while. I had only two beers and on the way home, swerved to avoid somebody in the street, but plowed into a mailbox.

I told my dad somebody hit the Camry while it was parked and had no idea how it happened.

It didn’t matter. I got tossed into solitary confinement except for the hours of lectures on responsibility and how my sisters never did anything like this when they were my age. Pretty sure Dad’s got about three hundred and sixty-five separate lectures by now. He could publish the damn things in one of those flip calendars they sell at kiosks in the mall. 365 Days of Motivating Your Teen To Get Up Off His Ass!

A roar of laughter from down the hall interrupts my thinking time. I follow the noise, spot Grace Collier on her hands and knees while Kyle and pretty much everyone else laugh like hyenas. I freeze where I stand. Grace is just about the hottest girl I’ve ever seen. Amazing body she likes to show off in tight black leather and metal studs, wild dark hair that goes all the way to her ass, and these intense silvery gray eyes she loves to paint like Cleopatra that practically see right through a guy when they turn in his direction. It took me two months, two solid months to work up the guts to ask her out, and just when I had it all planned out, Zac beat me to it and now — after everything that went down — I’m almost glad I never got my shot.


Matt helps her up but when Kyle swats the back of his head, they take off. Before she disappears into the girls’ bathroom, I get a glimpse of her face and see more than just those bright eyes.

I see pain.

I wait for a minute and then head to my first class. World History. Yay. I slide into my seat at the back of the room. Zac’s already there, surrounded by his fans.

“Thanks, bro. Appreciate it.” He clasps hands with Tommy Rao, a kid on the basketball team. Tommy jerks his chin in acknowledgment, takes his seat, over near the window.

“Hey, Ian,” Zac nods at me. “Your dad still pissed?”

I roll my eyes. “You have no idea. I’m grounded. Again.”

“Sucks.” Zac tenses when Miranda Hollis and Lindsay Warren, Grace’s best friends, rush over to him.

“Oh my God, we just want you to know we don’t believe her. You’re such a great guy, Zac.” Miranda Hollis puts a hand on Zac’s arm.

Zac shrugs and smiles. “Thanks. It helps to hear that.” Miranda smiles, lowers her eyes and twirls her hair in that universal signal that says I am totally into you.

I swallow a grin. Damn, he’s good. The girls take their seats and I ask, “Zac, what’s going on?”

His smile widens. “You didn’t see Facebook?”

“No, grounded, remember?” No phone, no computer, no TV. It was just me and homework.

“Right.” He pulls out his iPhone and hands me his ear buds. “Here. Take a look.” Then he laughs. “Six-hundred seventy-two. Sweet.”

I click the video he’s got on screen and almost drop the phone. It’s Grace. Holy hell, it’s Grace Collier and she’s — Jesus. I rip the buds from my ears and hand him back the phone. “Wow.”

He laughs. “I know, right? She doesn’t know who she’s messing with.”

The bell rings and the class quiets down but I can’t concentrate on imperialism after seeing that video. I’ve talked to Grace maybe three times total but she never struck me as a girl who’d twist the truth to get back at somebody. By the time the bell rings at the end of class, I’m seriously happy I never got around to asking her out.

“Ian, you’re free now, right? I need to stop at my locker first and then I’ll meet you in the library and we can review the math stuff.”

“Oh, God, thanks, man.”

Zac has the highest grades in the class and Coach Brill won’t keep me on the lacrosse team if I don’t ace the next math test. If I get booted off the team, my dad will deliver yet another lecture on how I’m failing my own future by not living up to my potential. I can already hear it. “Your sisters managed to earn scholarships while working part-time jobs and playing basketball,” he’ll say and fling up his hands. Claudia got a degree in architecture and Valerie’s studying to be a pharmacist, but I’ll probably be living in a double-wide, collecting Welfare.

I blend in with the stream of foot traffic changing classes and head for the stair well. Dad thinks — actually believes — I like this, that I like not knowing what I want to be but I’ve got a couple of ideas I’ve been thinking over. It might be cool to build stuff. Maybe engineering. It started with Lego blocks and then I moved on to building models and rebuilding stuff around the house. I just took apart the blender, rebuilt the motor, not that he cares about that.

Probably never even noticed.

Could also be fun to teach. I wouldn’t mind coming back to school as a teacher instead of a student. I’d be cool. All the kids would love me. I’d listen, really listen to them, instead of talk at them. I shake my head and snag a table in the library. There’s no point in even telling my dad any of this. He’d just shake his head and warn me I’d need better math grades.

I may not be perfect like my sisters, but I’m not the loser my dad thinks I am, either. I don’t get high. I don’t steal money from their wallets. Okay, so I dinged the car — big deal. It’s not like I killed anybody.

My chest tightens when I remember the guy walking his dog that I almost hit Friday night.

Zac slides into a chair and throws his backpack on the table. “Jesus.” He scrubs both hands over his blond hair. “The collie’s in the nurse’s office. Heard she missed the entire first period. That girl’s got issues, man. Glad she’s not my problem anymore.”

Grace Collier’s the furthest thing from a dog there is. But I get why he calls her that. As he finishes the sentence, I look up and there she is, standing at the library door, mouth hanging open. Her knees are twitching, like she’s ready to sprint.

Zac doesn’t see her. He’s busy opening his pack and pulling out books. But I do and I don’t know what to say, what to do. They hooked up last month after the game against Holtsville High School and now Zac’s done with her. It happens.

But Grace doesn’t look pissed. She looks scared.

I open my notebook and grab a pen, and just pretend I don’t see her. “Thanks for the assist, man. If I get kicked off the team—”

“Won’t let it happen, bro. We need you.” He punches my shoulder. “Hey, after we win the game today, what do you say to a little cruising?”

I snort out a laugh. Cruising is Zac slang for get laid. “Sure, if I get a free pass tonight.”

“When we win today’s game, your dad will have to let you celebrate with the team, right?”

I lean back and smile. “Hope so. Thanks again. Really.”

“No problem.” He grins and flips my math text book to the problem that keeps tripping me up.

I glance back toward the door but it’s empty now. Zac and I get to work and I can’t help thinking he’s wrong — the problems are just beginning.