If You're Out There(9)

“How could they . . .” After a pause, she says, “You know what, who cares what people think? Screw people!”

The woman reaches for his arm again, but he shrugs her off. “I’m going, all right?”

I can’t seem to stop listening to them, but they’re getting close, and before I can even explain it to myself, I’m wedged into the space between the wall and the garbage—which, unfortunately for me, is smelling pretty rank in the hot sun.

The walking has stopped.

“It’s just . . . All this high school stuff . . . None of it matters,” says the boy.

“Well, good thing you can graduate this year and be done with it forever, then.”

They’re only a few feet away, and it sounds like I’m right there with them. I hold my T-shirt above my nose to block the smell and try not to make a sound against the scratchy gravel. “You’ll be fine,” says the woman. “It’s a brand-new year. I’m going to leave now.”

“Super,” says the boy.

“Will you at least try? Please?”

He sighs. “All right.”

“That’s my good boy. I’ll see you at home.”

“Yep.” After a moment he calls after her, “Now go back to work, you stalker!”

“I will!” she calls out, her laughter trailing off. “But know that I have eyes everywhere.”

I hear footsteps pass by, then the door to the school opens.

I wait for it to close, but it doesn’t.

Instead I hear his voice overhead. “Hola, trash girl. You can come out now. You wouldn’t want to be late.”

Standing before Se?ora O’Connell’s class, I find myself momentarily frozen—the second latecomer of the afternoon.

“Ustedes llegan tarde,” says our teacher: You’re late. I cross my arms, uncross them. They’re limp, and long. Where do I normally put these things?

Because life is excessively cruel, Lanky Blond Kid did not, in fact, switch out of my Spanish class, which means—FUNNY STORY—we were headed for the same place. After I sheepishly stepped out from my spy perch–slash–garbage can, he held the door for me. As I grazed by, I think I managed a quiet “Thank you” to the ground before bending down to tie my already-tied shoe. Once he was a safe distance ahead I walked slowly behind, waiting for him to peel off. But he never peeled. So I just sort of weirdly followed. Very weirdly.

Oh God so weirdly.

Se?ora O’Connell holds out stapled packets for us both. “You missed the lecture. Pluperfect. It’s a hoot.” In my utter humiliation I refuse to look at the boy. “There’s an explanation at the top if you’re lost,” says la Se?ora. “And you can work in groups.” I don’t say a word. I just take my packet and scurry to the back of the room.

“We missed you in class yesterday,” I hear as I slide into a desk. At the front of the room, Se?ora O’Connell has clamped down on the boy’s packet to hold him there another moment. “But I was assured over the phone earlier this afternoon that it won’t happen again.”

“So you’re the rat,” he mutters.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing. I’m sorry. I’ll be here from now on. With bells on. Yo te prometo.”

“Le,” she corrects. “And you were supposed to be one of the good ones.” At this, the boy smiles a little. He’s pretty cute. Not that I’m looking. “Well, get to work,” says la Se?ora, releasing him. “Seriously. ?ándale!”

I focus on my worksheet as his footsteps approach. And then, to my horror, the chair beside mine screeches, and an outstretched hand comes into view. “I don’t think we’ve properly met. I’m Logan.”

After a pause, I peek up and say, “Zan,” whilst dying a thousand miserable deaths on the inside. I can’t stop picturing myself climbing out from behind that damned trash can. But his eyes are kind, if a little tired. And forgiving, I think. His palm is soft and cool when I take it, and perhaps a bit electric.

We break apart and he settles in at his desk. I tap a pencil against my page, inexplicably compelled to speak again. “Guess that was kind of weird of me back there, huh?”

“What do you mean?” He rubs his jaw as he scans his worksheet, and I realize he’s having fun with this. “Ohhhh. Oh, right. The spying thing.”

I feel my cheeks go red but push through it. “Was that your mom?”

“Aunt,” he says with a flicker of fondness.

“You’re new,” I say, stating the obvious.

“I am.”

“So.” I clear my throat. (Why am I still talking???) “Did you guys just move here?”

I fill in a couple more blanks. Yo había hablado—I had talked. Tú habías hablado—You had talked.

“Me and my sister,” he says. “We came here to live with my aunt. We were in Indiana before.”

“Oh.” I stop short, afraid to say more. I think of Priya and all the questions people used to ask her about Ben. No one could quite grasp how a single white guy wound up raising her. There was a standard line of questioning. Was she adopted? Half white? A foster kid, maybe? It was as if people felt she owed it to them to make herself easier to place. When the story came out, sympathy and praise inevitably followed. Priya was so brave. And Ben was a such a stand-up guy. She never asked for these opinions or for these reminders that her mother was dead. But people had no freaking sense.

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