Seven Little Secrets: The Eighth Secret

By K.L. Gore

 

A companion story to the novel Seven Little Secrets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natalie Greene

 

 

Saturday, October 12th

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

 

By the time you get this letter, I’ll be dead…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olivia Polvino

 

Sunday, October 6th

 

I WOKE up on a bench in the playground, mouth dry as if I’d been sucking on terrycloth all night, head feeling as if I’d been spinning on the merry-go-round.

What time was it? Judging by the sun peeking over the horizon I’d guess maybe seven. My stomach clenched. I tipped my head to the side and opened my mouth. Vomit splashed the bench seat and dribbled through slats to dirt below. I didn’t feel any better. In fact, I could tell more was coming.

I rolled off the bench to the grass and decorated the lawn with last night’s dinner and drinks. Wiping my mouth with my sleeve, I waited for another wave of nausea to pass. Once it did, I stood and checked out the surroundings.

 Several feet away a lump of a person lay on the playground equipment. From my vantage point he didn’t seem to be breathing. Despite my pounding headache and my unsteady stomach, I bolted to him. Shook his shoulder. Hard. “Patrick?” I asked. “Talk to me. Are you okay? Please be okay.”

His eyelids fluttered. “Hey, Olivia,” he mumbled. “What time is it?”

I let out a relieved breath, but my stomach revolted and I puked all over the front of my jacket. Damn it! I swiped at the smelly waste with the back of my sleeve. “Do you remember last night at all? When did we decide to come out here?”

“It was your idea.”

I pressed my fingers into my temples, trying to make the pain go away. “My idea? Why?”

“You said you always wanted to screw on a swing. We tried, but you were too drunk. You kept falling off.” He pushed his bangs out of his eyes and yawned. “Come on. I’ll drive you home.”

I looked around, but didn’t see his truck. “How?”

“We left it at my brother’s apartment.” He took my hand. “You remember the party there, right?”

“Not really.” I vaguely recalled walking inside and saying hi to a bunch of college guys. Someone handed me a joint. Patrick pressed a cup of beer into my hand. Then another, and another, and still another. Those were my last recollections.

In other words, the usual weekend.

Except I wasn’t used to waking up with dew on my face.

We walked in silence the three or four blocks it took to get to his brother’s apartment. I felt like shit, and I worried Mom would smell pot on my clothes and alcohol on my breath. I’d made up a story about sleeping over Natalie’s house. The last thing I needed was for my parents to decide the Janes were a bad influence on me and make me quit the squad.

We stopped in front of Patrick’s beat-up Ford truck. He squeezed my hand to signify I should let go. I didn’t want to, but I did. It sucked we had to sneak around like this. It would’ve been nice to walk around the school, my head on his shoulder, his arm around my waist.

Someday.

I dropped into the passenger seat and he started the truck. I couldn’t wait to get out of my disgusting, stinky clothes and into the shower. We pulled away from the curb, headed for the highway. The back of the seat rattled against my shoulder blades. In turn, my spine slammed into my aching head like a jackhammer.

“How did the cheering go Friday night?” he asked. “Sorry I missed it, but…you know.”

“Yeah, I know.” I rubbed my temples. “You had better things to do. But I’m not interested in boring you to tears. I’m sure you already heard all about our routine from Haley.”

“Um…not really.”

I gave myself a mental slap for bringing up Haley’s name. “Yeah. I guess she didn’t want to bore you either, huh?” Stop it. Stop discussing her.

“She didn’t talk about me Friday?”

“About you? No, why?”

He licked his lips and stared straight out at the road. He didn’t seem the least bit hung over. I didn’t get how he could drink so much and be fine. He grabbed my hand and gave me a quick smile. “Nothing. You know Haley, though. She exaggerates. Did you guys do a good job, you know, shaking your asses?”

“Not too bad.”

He nodded and let go of my hand. He turned down my street and pulled into my driveway. The truck shuddered to a stop. “Guess I’ll catch you later, right?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

He nodded, stared out the windshield. My cue to leave. No kisses, though. I couldn’t blame him. Puke wasn’t exactly mouthwash.

Still, a hug would’ve been nice.

 

I COULD always count on Mom and Cheryl Ann to sleep in until at least nine on Sundays. My step-dad was away on business, an extra plus for me since sometimes he was up early working on his motorcycle.

It was a good thing I had the bathroom to myself. I spent a half hour in the shower gagging and spitting into the drain.

I washed two Tylenol down with eleven Dixie cups of tap water. Then I lay down in bed and tried to get the world to stop twirling.

My cell chimed. I picked it up and read a text from Natalie: Did u have fun?

Last night was Natalie’s sleepover party. Although I’d told Mom I was at Natalie’s, I’d told the Janes I had to babysit.

I texted back: If u think chasing tots all nite is fun.

Patrick is a tot? she wrote back.

I stared at the words, wondering if I’d read them right.

Haley knows Patrick is cheating on her, she continued.

I stared at my phone, unable to breathe. Crap, crap, crap. I had to call Patrick.

He picked up after the third ring. “Mmm?”

“They know,” I said, clutching my pillow to my still unsettled stomach.

“What are you talking about?” His voice was muffled, like talking through a blanket.

“Natalie knows I was with you, and I think Haley might, too.” What would happen tomorrow at school? Would Haley ever talk to me again? Would the Janes kick me off the squad?

“Nah. Haley doesn’t know shit. Natalie knows ‘cause of Frankie’s big mouth, but she won’t tell no one, don’t worry.”

“Why didn’t you tell me Natalie knew? Damn it, Patrick, you’ve got to tell me these things.”

“Stop getting all dramatic on me. You know I hate that shit. I’m trying to sleep. I’ll talk to you later.”

“No! Wait…”

He hung up.

I stayed in bed for the rest of the morning, head swimming, stomach churning, brain numb. What had I gotten myself into? When this whole crazy affair started, it hadn’t been my intention to stab my best friend in the back. In fact, I hadn’t intended the relationship to go this far. But now I’d fallen for Patrick. The right guy at the wrong time.

I didn’t know who had it worse, me or Haley.

 

THAT AFTERNOON, I logged onto Facebook and noticed a friendship request from someone named Hater. Curious, I accepted.

I read through the posts:

 

Hater

Wanna hear the latest about Natalie Greene?

7 likes

Paul Jenkins

What?

Melissa Bridges

Preggers? She looks it.

Joe Marshall

Alien from outer space.

Hater

She’s got a secret you’ll all want to know.

Melissa Bridges

I’m right?

Frankie Howard

U r all losers.

Devon Grayson

Natalie is the loser, man. Whats the secret Hater?

Tessa Grossman

She’s a bitch. No secret there. No one likes her. I heard she had 2 guys at once. Slut.

Chelsea Mann

Yeah. She flipped out in math class one day. I think she’s on meds.

Melissa Bridges

LOL.

Lilly Thompson

ur just jealous, so stop hatin’ on Natalie.

Samuel Denver

Oh yeah. Im jealous of her 2. Wish I could be a ho.

Melissa Bridges

@Samuel—u r. What’s a male ho? A mo? Lol. @Lilly—Maybe if Natalie was gone everyone would be happy.

16 likes

Hater

Guess who Natalie screwed? Hint: It wasn’t her boyfriend.

Kelly Badgers

OMG, who?

Georgina Abelard

Don’t take all your sorry-ass problems out on Natalie. All of you are haters.

 

I was surprised Gigi had replied. Especially to defend Natalie. But wow. Did Natalie see this yet? I scanned down Hater’s friendship list. All the Janes except Meghan, Danni, and Natalie had accepted friendship.

What could be Natalie’s secret? It had to be huge for someone to log on anonymously and call her out on it. Even though Natalie could be a royal pain in the ass, most people respected her. I never had a problem with her, even though she didn’t have an honesty filter.

I’d gotten to know her last year as a sophomore. Mom pushed me to sign up for an extracurricular activity because it would look good on a college transcript. Maybe it would hide that “D” I received in Earth Science freshman year. Initially, I tried out for softball but didn’t make the team so I figured I’d try out for the cheerleading squad. I’d taken gymnastics from first until fourth grade. I could do an amazing jump split. Why the hell not?

During trials, Natalie did warm-ups beside me. She wore a T-shirt with “JANES” emblazoned in hot pink across her chest so everyone would know she’d been on the squad last year. Not that it intimidated me. I didn’t care about being one of the cool kids or competing in tournaments. If you had asked me then, the whole cheering thing seemed dull. Still, the “D” grade loomed before me like a threat, so I sat around on the blue mats waiting for the coach to give us choreography. I tried not to be obvious as I checked out Natalie. I had at least four inches on her. She looked pissed, like the world owed her. Figuring it would be in my best interest to be friendly, I said, “Hi. I’m Olivia.”

She took in my long legs, broad shoulders, and short, brown curly hair that she later demanded I grow out and straighten. “I’m Natalie Greene. But you probably already know that.”

It seemed like she wanted me to affirm that, yes, I’d heard of her and wanted to emulate her every move. But I kept quiet. She shifted on the mat. “In a minute we’ll be learning a dance routine. You’ll have to copy it exact if you want in. We only want serious athletes. You aren’t serious, might as well leave now.”

It was as if she’d read my mind and knew cheering wasn’t my ultimate fantasy. But who did she think she was, trying to scare me off? I didn’t scare easy.

I put every ounce of effort I had into the routine. Smiled until my cheeks cracked. If I hadn’t cared about being a Jane before, I sure as hell did after Natalie’s little lecture.

Two days later, the coach called off the ten names of girls who made the squad, and I was on the list. Just like that I was a bono fide cheerleader with zilch for experience. Meanwhile a bunch of girls with formal dance training who’d done pretty awesome got turned away.

Natalie walked up to me. Eyed me up and down. “Congratulations, Polvino. I thought this was a joke to you. You proved me wrong.”

“Thanks,” I said, surprised by her candor.

She joined Tina Brugman on the mats and I thought to look away before they considered me a stalker. But I remember thinking, that girl has guts. She’s not scared to tell the truth.

Now I stared at the Facebook page, growing angry. So I typed: Get a life, hater. But that sounded stupid. So, I deleted it and defriended Hater instead.

 

MONDAY MORNING, the snow came down so fast it made me dizzy. I drove my step-dad’s Pathfinder to school, a huge hunk of a vehicle made for this kind of weather. But somewhere along the way the road slipped away behind a field of white flakes. I slowed down, palms damp inside my leather gloves. I made out taillights ahead of me, but they disappeared. It was like being in a small, white room, just the Pathfinder and me. My breath came in panicky rasps, my heart picked up speed.

Something tan and furry filled my vision. I braked. Jerked the wheel to avoid hitting the thing. Hit a bump. Fishtailed. There was a sound like crushed tin foil slamming against a bass drum, and I lurched against my seat belt. Slammed into my car door.

The SUV had come to a stop. My head hurt like hell and my ears rang. I touched my temple. Tender, but no blood. I heard loud thumps and realized my windshield wipers were still on.

I grabbed my phone out of my purse and dialed Patrick’s number. He picked up on the first ring. “Yeah?”

“It’s Olivia.”

He waited.

“A deer ran in front of me…” My voice sounded shrill, my words tumbled out too fast. “My SUV went off the road…I need help.”

“Hold on, hold on…” He sounded as if he was moving something around on a table. “Okay. Tell me what’s going on? You went off the road?”

“I think. I’m not sure…I can’t see a thing. There’s so much snow…”

“Damn, Olivia. You’ve got to call 911. Are you okay?”

I took a big gulp of air, aware of tears falling down my cheeks. I cupped the phone against my ears, the ringing sound in my head finally going away, and felt much calmer. Patrick wouldn’t let anything horrible happen to me.

“I’m okay. I think I smacked my head, but there’s no blood.”

 

“Call 911,” he repeated.

“Can you come and get me?”

“Me?” He half-laughed. “I’m not risking my life out there if it’s that horrible. It’s not snowing much here, though. Where are you? The tundra?”

I glanced out the window. The snow had died down. The wipers screeched across dry surface now. And I could see trees.

Since I hadn’t turned off the vehicle, the engine was revving. I killed the motor, and the wipers froze mid-way through their cycle. “I’m near the woods, so I’m not too far from school. I think I hit something, though.”

“Call 911.”

I heard a knock and turned to see Natalie peering in through my driver’s side window.

“Never mind. Natalie’s here.” I hung up on him, kind of pissed that he refused to come get me.

“You okay?” she called through the glass.

I gave her the thumbs up. My hand trembled. “I think I should call 911.”

She opened my door. “The side of this thing is all smashed up, but you should see the telephone pole you hit. Splinter city. Are you hurt?”

I shook my head.

“I’ll call my dad’s towing service. Do you want me to take you home, or to school?”

Neither, I wanted to say. But I didn’t want to drive my step-dad’s messed up Pathfinder either, so I said, “School.”

 

NATALIE’S HONDA Civic slid across snow until it gripped the road and found its bearings. My hands braced the edge of the seat. I hoped my terrifying experience didn’t prevent me from getting behind a wheel ever again.

Thankfully, my step-dad was in Texas until tomorrow evening. I had time to get over my own shock first before giving him the bad news about his SUV.

“How long have you known Haley?” Natalie asked the moment I clicked my seatbelt into place.

I knew where this was headed. “This thing between me and Haley is none of your business.”

“I’m not going there, Olivia. Jeez, you’re so suspicious all the time.”

“Bullshit. You’re going to try and make me think about what I’m doing to her. I already know, so leave me the hell alone.”

“That’s not what I’m getting at, but clearly you’re nursing some guilt there.” She pulled into the driveway leading to the school parking lot.

My head ached again, but I couldn’t tell if it was because of the accident or the conversation. I rubbed my forehead.

“I was just thinking back when I was in fifth grade,” Natalie said. “Tina and I invented a spy club. She named it Special Progress You-Know-What. I told her it really should be the SpyKW club if that was what it stood for.

Stupidest club anyway. All we did was peek in people’s windows. We never even learned anything except that Mrs. O’Neill vacuumed in the nude.” She pulled into a parking spot and killed the engine.

“And why am I going down memory lane with you after my near-death experience?” I looked around but didn’t see my book bag. Damn. I must’ve left it in the Pathfinder. I touched my purse. At least I’d remembered that.

Natalie stared out the windshield, picked at the polish on her nails. “I was just thinking about how you and Haley used to be best friends, and me and Tina used to be best friends. And now…”

She didn’t have to say it. I readjusted my purse on my lap. “So why aren’t you and Tina close anymore?”

 “Ask her. She’s the one who keeps telling me to meet her somewhere and then she doesn’t show.” She turned to me. “What about you and Haley? What made you think it would be fine to sleep with her boyfriend?”

I grimaced. Only Natalie would be so blunt. “It’s not fine. I never thought it was fine.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

 

IT HAPPENED six months ago.

Devon Grayson, our star quarterback, invited the Janes to a party at his parents’ cabin on Conesus Lake. Natalie’s boyfriend, Jon Marsh, was home for the weekend, and said he didn’t mind driving some of us. So, Haley, Tina and I piled into the backset of his Pontiac Vibe.

Tina brought a flask of tequila, and it wasn’t long before the three of us backseat bums were giggling and acting stupid. By the time we poured ourselves out of the car, we were pathetically trashed. It was my third time drinking, and my first time drunk. I felt both capable and clumsy all at the same time. Haley tripped on an invisible obstacle, and we found that hysterical.

“You’re embarrassing the squad,” Natalie said. She held Jon’s hand. I wished I had someone to hold my hand.

“You’re just mad ‘cause we’re having a good time,” Tina said. She fell into Haley, knocking her to the ground.

“Uh…a little help, please?” Haley asked, holding up her arms.

Tina and I giggled.

“Were you drinking in my back seat?” Jon asked, finally catching on to the situation. “That’s not cool.”

We laughed harder.

Ignoring us, Natalie knocked on the door. Patrick opened it, and he looked hot. He had on a white polo shirt and gray jeans and these really great black boots that weren’t tied up all the way. He smiled when he saw Haley, and for the first time in my life I felt jealous. They hadn’t been dating long, but I could tell he was in love. And even though he wasn’t my type…in fact, I’d never considered dating him because he was stuck on himself…for a moment I wondered why he never looked at me the way he looked at her. I was prettier. I had a better body. I was smarter.

I pushed my envy away. Attributed it to the alcohol. Watched him kiss Haley so passionately, it turned my stomach.

“Gorilla coming through!” I yelled, trampling past their entwined bodies. Haley laughed, and it broke the lovey-dovey spell. She grabbed my arm and I pulled her into a crowded room where someone was changing a CD. I pulled it from his hand and checked it out. The Plastic Gang. Perfect. “Play number three,” I said.

He obliged, because no one turns down a Jane. Music blared almost immediately. I grabbed a cup of beer someone left on the table and held it up to Haley and Tina. “To us!”

They cheered, and we passed the cup around. The room tilted and whirled. Someone cranked the music louder, and I danced on the table with Haley. And then I sat on the couch beside her and watched her make out with Patrick. And then I sat on the deck in the backyard kissing some Woody Allen lookalike. And then I was in the bathroom throwing up.

Moonlight streamed through the window blinds. I sat on the edge of the bathtub in the dark praying for the world to end because I felt like hell.

The lights clicked on, blinding me for a second. Patrick’s voice said, “Sorry, Olivia. I didn’t realize you were in here.”

I waved my hand to signify it was fine, and he slipped a cup into it. “Hold my drink. I gotta pee.”

He didn’t bother to shut the door. He stood in front of the toilet, his back to me, and I heard him unzip his fly. Oh my God, he was peeing! Should I leave? Would that be rude? Then again, what was ruder than hanging around someone while they used the toilet?

He zipped his pants and turned around, not the least bit embarrassed. “Much better. I’ve been holding it for an hour.”

Not knowing what to say to that, I asked, “What are you drinking?”

“Coke and vodka. Haley mixed it for me, but I’m thinking of dumping it in the sink. It’s horrible.”

I sniffed it, but only smelled soda. I took a sip. “I think she forgot the vodka.”

He laughed. “Maybe that’s why it tastes like shit.”

“Maybe.”

“You wanna get high?” he asked.

Had I heard him right?  “What?”

He pulled a joint out of his pocket. “Got some ganja here.”

I’d never tried marijuana before. Did I want to attempt it while my brain was marinating in tequila and beer? What if it made me paranoid and I jumped out the window and broke my neck? “I don’t know…”

He lit up and puffed on the joint. His face relaxed into a satisfied grin. “Best ever.”

“Where’s Haley?” I didn’t think she’d appreciate him toking it up in the bathroom with her best friend.

“She hates when I smoke. This is between you and me.”

“You, me, and whoever needs to use the bathroom.” I pointed to the open door.

“Oh yeah. Right.” He shoved the door shut with the heel of his boot. “Privacy.”

The scent of pot was overwhelming. He took a huge drag and, holding his breath, handed the joint to me. He let out the smoke in one disgusting puff. I coughed and he laughed.

“Is this stuff gonna make me sick?” I asked, holding the joint between my thumb and forefinger.

“Nah. It’s going to make you feel awesome. Like floating on a cloud, man.”

I followed his lead and breathed the smoke in and held it. I could feel it circulating around in my lungs. Then I blew it out. My throat felt hot and dry. I handed the joint back to him.

“Good, huh?”

I nodded. He took another puff and held it out to me. We smoked it into a nub. My head felt like a gigantic foam ball. Someone banged on the door. “Use the downstairs bathroom, man,” Patrick yelled.

Music pounded behind the door. Reached inside of me. “The world is moving without us,” I said.

He laughed.

“Is everything super loud to you?” I asked.

“Only my thoughts.”

“My thoughts are all mixed up. I can’t figure out what is what.”

He stroked my hair. “You’re the prettiest one,” he said.

“What?”

“Of the Janes. You’re the prettiest.”

I didn’t know what to say.

He brought his hand to my face. Caressed my cheek. I couldn’t lift my arm to push it away. Where was Haley? Would she rescue me? Help me get home? Exhaustion settled into my body easy as rain falling on wood. I was the big thirsty elm.

He pulled my chin toward him, lips parting. Oh my God, he was going to kiss me! “No!” I said. “Haley’s my best friend.”

“I know.” He kissed me anyway, and it took me too long to pull away. I didn’t kiss him back. I imagined my lips as two limp, dead fish. He withdrew. “You need more practice.”

“I won’t mess around with Haley’s boyfriend.” My words came out linked together like a train.

“You mean me?” he asked, chuckling.

I nodded, and my brain sloshed around in my head.

“I know all about you,” he said. “She talks about you all the time. Sometimes I feel I’m dating you. That’s how often she brings you up.”

Yeah? “Yeah?” What does she say? “What does she say?” There’s an echo in my brain somewhere.

“She told me about when you got to third base with her neighbor at her Halloween party. You were twelve and cried for two days afterward.”

My brain locked up on me. I wanted to be upset…but I was stuck on confused. “What else?”

“That you cheated on your math exam last year and ended up with the highest score.”

I wasn’t hearing this right. Haley would never tell anyone these things. She knew they were my deepest, darkest secrets. “What else?” I asked, barely audible.

“Everything. I know everything.” He leaned against me. “Your last boyfriend dumped you because you wouldn’t screw him because you and Haley made a deal that neither of you would lose your virginity until you fell in love.”

His lips were on me again, and still I was unable to respond. The music pounded in my head, threatening to swallow me completely, and Patrick was pulling my shirt up over my head. I felt dead inside. Completely dead. All I could do was let him do what he wanted. I’d completely disappeared.

I WOKE up in my bed the next day, not sure how I’d gotten there or who’d taken off my shoes and placed a blanket over me. My tongue felt scratchy and dry, and I was starving and in desperate need of water. As I lifted my head off the pillow, pain ripped the two sides of my brain in half. My heart started pounding really fast. Was I dying? But then I realized…I was hung over. I’d never felt so awful in my life. So, I lay back down and prayed I could fall back asleep and not hurt anymore.

A short while later, Cheryl Ann padded into the room and whispered, “Olivia?”

I grunted.

“I brought you orange juice,” she said.

I sat up, grateful. I drank it down in three gulps.

Cheryl Ann glanced at the door and whispered, “Haley brought you home last night, but you were pretty gone.”

“Are Mom and Dad mad?” I managed to ask.

“Haley told them someone slipped you something at the party. But that’s not true, is it?”

Everything came back to me. Patrick in the bathroom. All the things she’d told him about me. The way he’d taken off my clothes.

The orange juice felt sour in my stomach. I flung off the covers and ran into the bathroom. I made it just in time. When I was finished coloring the toilet water yellow, I flushed it and pressed my hot forehead to the toilet’s porcelain.

Cheryl Ann kneeled beside me. She pulled my hair back and murmured, “You’ll be all right. Everything’s fine,” like Mom always did when I had the stomach bug.

“Don’t ever drink alcohol or smoke weed,” I told her. “It sucks. Don’t ever try that stuff.”

“No way,” she said, her big blue eyes wide. “Never.”

“Me neither,” I said. “Never again.” And at the time, I’d meant it.

 

NATALIE PULLED into a parking space. “You sure you want to go to school? You’re shaking.”

My teeth chattered. “I’m fine.”

She turned off the engine and turned to me. “Who were you on the phone with when I found you?”

“You’re only asking me because you know the answer,” I muttered.

“This isn’t fair to Haley, you know.”

I shrugged. My entire body was frozen. “Let’s get inside already.”

We left the car and started toward the building. We were a good twenty minutes late. I considered sitting in the girls’ bathroom for the next hour, just to settle my nerves.

Natalie opened the door for me. Our footsteps echoed in the quiet hall. “You want me to walk you to class?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“Okay.” She turned to leave, but I grabbed her arm.

“How do we make it better?” I asked.

Her eyebrows pinched together. “What do you mean?”

“You know. Between you and Tina. Me and Haley. How do we get things back to the way they were?”

She stared into my eyes for what seemed like an eternity. Then she said, “We can’t. That’s the worst part of it. We can’t change the past.”

 

AFTER THE party in the cabin, I tried to avoid Patrick, but Haley brought him with us when we went to the mall or held hands with him while we walked to our classes. Guilt weighed so heavy on me I thought I’d splinter into pieces. I couldn’t look her in the face when they were together. Patrick, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have a problem. “You’re so moody,” he joked one day, lightly punching me in the arm.

I wanted to sock him back. In the face. As hard as I could. Instead I shrugged.

“Party at my brother’s house,” he said. “Haley, you want to come? You too, Olivia. It’ll be a blast.”

“Yeah!” Haley said. “I love middle-aged men who watch football in their boxer shorts while balancing beer on their bellies.”

“He’s not middle-aged.” Patrick grinned. “He’s a college senior. But beer balancing…can’t argue that.”

Haley flung an arm around my shoulders. “We’ll be there, right Olivia?”

But on the day of the party, Haley ended up grounded. “I received a 72 on my math test. I ask you, is 72 a passing grade?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“That’s what I told my mom. But no…she thinks I’m hanging out with Patrick too much.”

Her whole face had tensed, even though her words were light as marshmallow fluff. This was Haley pissed. I knew her long enough to know.

“You do spend an awful lot of time with Patrick.” Not exactly supportive words, but it was better than mentioning that Patrick was a lying, cheating scumbag.

She gaped at me. “I see him maybe twice a week outside of school, depending on if the gatekeepers allow me out of the house.”

“It seems like you’re with him more often than that.”

“I’m not,” she snapped.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “I was just kidding, all right?”

But we both knew I wasn’t.

 

THAT NIGHT, someone rang my doorbell. I was shocked to find Patrick on my porch. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go.”

 “Go where?”

“The party.”

“I thought Haley was grounded.”

“She is, but you’re not, right? Come on.”

A car revved in the driveway, Frankie at the wheel. Okay. I didn’t have to hang out with Patrick. Or drink. Or smoke pot. I could hang out with Frankie. Sip soda all night. It was better than sitting on the couch with my family watching HGTV.

I grabbed my jacket. “Mom, I’m going out,” I called.

 

THE NEXT morning, I woke up in my bed, feeling sick and achy all over again. I tried to think back to the night before, but it was one big blur. I remembered being handed a beer and figuring one wouldn’t hurt. But then someone handed out shots, and Frankie mocked me for turning it down, so I decided one would be okay. I wasn’t even buzzed. Before I knew it, I was downing drinks left and right. The night drifted by on a raft made of poor choices. The worst one being that I made out with Patrick. And although I didn’t go all the way with him this time, I knew I’d still betrayed Haley. Again. But in a way, there were no regrets. For one thing, Haley had betrayed me first by telling Patrick all my secrets. For another, I was falling for Patrick big time.

 

“EVERYTHING OKAY?” Patrick asked me on my way to history class. I usually never bumped into him before fifth period, so he had to have been looking for me. Which made me feel better. He cared.

“About?” I asked.

“You know. When you slid off the road.”

“I’m alive, aren’t I?”

He shifted his books from one arm to the other. “There’s a party at Jamie’s Saturday. You up for it?”

 “Don’t you have a date with Haley?”

“Um…she’s…she’s breaking up with me.” He looked away. “I think. I mean, she hasn’t officially said anything…”

Wow. This was huge. “I didn’t hear about that.”

“I figured. I mean…you would have told me, right?” He laughed, but it sounded false. “So, we on for Saturday?”

“Yeah. We’re on,” I said.

He patted me on the back. “Good. I have something special planned.”

Something special? Oh my God. He and Haley were breaking up, and he was planning something special for us. Better news did not exist on the planet.

 

“I HEARD you’re breaking up with Patrick. Why didn’t you say anything to me?” I asked Haley as we sat in the back of McDonalds sharing a container of fries.

She played with the straw in her milkshake. “Um…I don’t know. Why, what did you hear about it?”

“Who cares what I heard about it? The point is you never told me!”

For once, she didn’t have a snappy comeback. She wiped her fingers on a napkin, her lips a thin pink slash across her face.

“So, you aren’t in love with him anymore?” I asked, praying I was right.

“Let’s talk about something more interesting. Like quadratic equations or permafrost.”

There was nothing more interesting to me at that moment than understanding what had happened between her and Patrick. “Does this mean you aren’t even friends anymore?”

“I don’t know, so let’s drop it.”

“Did you initiate the breakup or did he?” I pressed.

She looked ready to murder me.

“Okay, okay!” I held up my hands. “Permafrost it is.”

Inside, I smiled so wide I could burst.

 

WEDNESDAY, AFTER cheerleading, Natalie offered me a ride home. My step-dad was cool about what happened with his Pathfinder. After all, it wasn’t my fault a deer jumped out in front of me. But he wasn’t quick to let me borrow it anymore, either.

“That’s okay. Tina’s going to give me a lift.” The locker room was nearly empty. Just me, Natalie, and a few girls from the tennis team were left. I’d injured my bad knee again and had spent the last several minutes icing it with paper towels soaked in cold tap water.

Natalie narrowed her eyes. “Uh-uh. We need to talk.”

I wanted to tell her nicely to stick it up her ass because I knew she was going to give me some sort of lecture all over again about how I needed to ‘fess up to Haley, and that it was wrong to go around sneaking behind her back. Instead, I said in the coldest voice I could muster, “We have nothing to talk about.”

“We do. Because maybe we can change things.”

I resisted telling her things were already changing because I was going to finally have Patrick to myself. “Change what?”

“You know…how Tina and I are at odds, and you and Haley…”

“What’s done is done. Remember? Isn’t that what you said?”

“Yeah. I did. But I’ve been thinking. Maybe we should get the Janes together…and…and have a tell-all. You know…get things off our chests. Admit everything…”

“Hell no!” I said so loudly a couple tennis geeks turned to stare. In a quieter voice I added, “You think I’m going to tell all the Janes in front of Haley that I’ve been screwing her boyfriend since summer?”

Natalie crossed her arms in front of her chest. “These secrets are tearing everyone apart. It’s like…it’s…it’s sucking the blood from our relationships, a freaking vampire. If we come clean…”

“If we come clean, everyone is going to hate us,” I said through clenched teeth. “Why do you think we keep secrets? For the fun of it? No. Secrets are secrets because we don’t want anyone to know.”

“But why? Why the hell can’t everyone know?”

Oh my freaking Lord. She couldn’t be serious. Did she really think exposing my secret would make everyone closer? No one would let me near their boyfriends. Any ounce of trust anyone had in me would be gone. “Think about it, Natalie. We let the world know the worst part of ourselves. Who is going to like us, then?”

“Not the world. Just the Janes.”

“Oh yeah. Even better. The people who hold you up during a cheering stunt. What happens when you’re the flyer in the Basket Toss and no one is there to catch you? Because that’s what’s going to happen, Natalie. No one’s going to catch anyone when they fall. No one likes the bad part of us, Natalie. And the bad part is what people remember.”

“Not forever, though. People forgive and forget, right?”

I laughed. “Right. You’re one to talk. Have you checked out Facebook? Hater’s threatened to spill all your secrets. Notice how everyone in our school is hungry to hear them. I’m guessing you’ve pissed Hater off at some point. Tell me again about how people forgive and forget.”

She stared hard at me. “Maybe you’d better get that ride with Tina,” she said. “I don’t think I can stand one more minute with you.”

Even though I was glad she finally left me alone, I felt a hell of a lot worse. In a way, she’d been right. But I’d been more right. No one likes a cheater.

Not even me.

 

SATURDAY NIGHT, it took two hours to choose the right clothes for Jamie’s party. Even though no one cared what I wore…after all, it wasn’t like going to watch an orchestra or the ballet…tonight was going to be special. Patrick had said so.

I was pretty sure he was going to tell me he loved me.

Patrick honked the horn in the driveway. “Bye Mom and Dad!” I yelled, running out to meet him. Once Patrick and I became an official couple I’d introduce them. Maybe invite him to dinner. Maybe I’d even cook it myself.

As soon as Patrick saw me he grinned. “Hey, you look hot.”

I glanced down at the sweater I wore beneath my open jacket. “This? I’ve had it forever.”

“Not your outfit. Your hair.”

I’d spent forty minutes straightening it. “Oh. Thanks.”

We drove in silence. Was he waiting for me to mention Haley? Should I ask about his plans for this so-called special night? Maybe talk to him about where our relationship stood? Then again, what if I misread everything? What if he didn’t love me? What if tonight was just another night of drinking, drugs, sex, and then nothing?

He took my hand before I could hyperventilate.

Okay, calm down. He’s holding my hand. Everything’s okay. “Have you talked to Haley?” I asked.

His hand slipped from mine. “I don’t want to talk about Haley.”

Damn it. I should’ve kept my mouth shut. “Okay. Sorry.”

Ten minutes later, we walked up the two flights of stairs to Jamie’s apartment where he shared the entire third floor with two co-workers from the mill. Music pounded behind the wall. Patrick grinned at me and pushed open the door.

The entryway teemed with college guys and busty women carrying plastic cups of varying types of liquor. It smelled like a keg leak, cigarette smoke lingering in the air like an afterthought. I followed Patrick to the bar, which was the most elegant part of the décor. Mahogany wood. Scroll trim. Stainless steel sink. The rest of the apartment looked like a barn threw up.

Patrick handed me a cup of beer. He took my jacket from me. “I’ll be right back,” he said.

I drained the cup and stood, tapping my foot to the beat of the music as if I loved being here. A man in a red beard eyed me, and I suddenly felt like a blue plate special. I turned away and filled my cup up with more beer, but it came out too quick. Foam dribbled down my hand.

I shook the liquid from my fingers and used my lips to siphon the foam so I wouldn’t look like a high school kid who didn’t know what the hell she was doing. Which I was.

A heavy woman wearing bright orange lipstick approached. She looked old, even for this crowd. Maybe thirty. “You old enough to drink?”

I didn’t know what to say. What if she was an undercover cop? I’d heard of that happening at parties like these. “I-I…”

“Then you’re old enough to share a joint with me.” She slapped me on the back and I almost spilled my beer again.

“Um…no thanks. I have to find my boyfriend.” I’d called Patrick my boyfriend. A chill went up my spine.

“Your boyfriend can wait.” She lit a joint, took a hit from it, and passed it to me.

“Um…”

The joint had a big orange lipstick ring around the end of it. Still, weed was weed, and I felt like a tiny ant in a big old beehive at this party. I took a drag.

“Good girl,” the woman said, taking back the joint. “I hate to smoke alone. Who you here with?”

I thought I’d already told her. “My boyfriend.” I glanced around the room, but it was packed with so many bodies it was like trying to find someone at a concert. I might as well have been playing Where’s Waldo?

She passed the joint back and I took another drag.

“He’s a lucky guy,” she said, looking me up and down. “You’re a cute little thing.”

Yuck. We were in the uncomfortable zone here. “There he is,” I lied. I took off between two guys who could’ve been Sumo Wrestlers and hightailed it to the couch, hidden by a moving wall of bodies. I dropped down on the sofa and sucked down the rest of my drink. The edges of the world were fuzzy, like a fog rolling across the sea. I watched women tilt back their heads and laugh and imagined I could hear every syllable of every giggle. Hee-hee-hee-hee…

Patrick appeared. “You ready?”

Thank God! I jumped out of my seat, but left my balance on the couch. I tipped, and he caught me by the elbow.

“Ready for what?” I asked.

“The surprise?”

Without waiting for a response, he grabbed my hand and led me toward Jamie’s bedroom. For a strange moment, I wondered if he was going to propose. I pictured a shiny engagement ring. Rose petals on the bed. I’d say no. We were too young. But he would tuck the ring away. Another secret.

“Close your eyes,” he whispered.

I shut my eyes and allowed him to lead me into the room. My shin smacked the bed rail. The absence of pain released a chuckle. Nothing could hurt me right now.

He tugged me gently down on the bed. My hands touched cool sheets. His lips kissed mine, tasting of stale vodka. I heard the door close.

The kiss ended, and I opened my eyes. The woman with whom I’d shared a joint stared back inches from my face. Her bright orange lipstick was smudged. A clown’s mouth.

I scrambled off the bed. Clenched my fists. “What the hell?”

“The surprise,” Patrick said. “A threesome. You, me, and Jackie.”

My body trembled like a shock victim’s. And maybe I was in shock. My feet rooted to the stained carpet while my head screamed, “Get out of there!”

Patrick tugged the woman’s blouse up over her head. I watched it drop to the floor and almost gagged on my spit.

Even though I was half blitzed and so high I could practically touch the moon, I knew I didn’t want this.

He moved quickly, like a panther. He unsnapped my pants. Pulled down the zipper. “This will be the most awesome experience you’ll ever have.”

“I can’t do this,” I gasped. I pushed Patrick away. Zipped up my jeans, cheeks wet with tears. “I don’t want this.”

“Yes, you do,” Patrick said. “You just don’t know it yet. Come on, baby. Do this for me.”

For him.

I cried harder.

“Don’t cry, don’t cry,” Patrick’s voice soothed. “Look, I’ll get you another drink.” He left the room, leaving me alone with this hideous creature in a black see-through bra and ripples of extra flesh.

She smiled. “Do you want to get high? I’ve got something stronger.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small plastic baggie. She held it up for me to see. It was filled with white powder. “How about we share this, then we share Patrick?”

“Share Patrick? I’ve been sharing him for months. I don’t want to share him anymore. And…and I don’t want to share me.” Though I felt as dizzy as if I’d spent the last eight months twirling in circles, somehow I made my way out of the room. That joint had to have had something stronger than marijuana in it because I was disoriented. Lost. I barely found the door out of the apartment. I expected Jackie or Patrick to come running after me. Chase me down and pull me back into the room by my hair. But they didn’t.

I slipped on the stairs, and found myself tumbling like falling out of the sky. I caught my elbow on the railing, knew a bruise would form even though the pain did not come. I stood and worked my way to the building’s front door. Outside, snow fluttered like little angels. I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed the first person I thought of.

I dialed Haley.

 

“YOU’RE IN bad shape,” she said, opening the passenger side door for me and helping me inside.

“Tell me about it,” I grumbled. The world tilted and swayed, but Haley was here. Everything would be okay.

“This is Patrick’s brother’s place,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

“Party. It was a stupid idea.”

“Did Patrick bring you?” She sounded like she knew the answer. “Is Natalie here, too?”

I shook my head, shut my eyes, and leaned back in the seat. Haley drove away, every bump in the road bouncing my brain as if it was flotsam in a pond. “Patrick was cheating on you.” The words came out funny. Elongated. Man, I was high.

“I know. With Natalie.”

I popped my eyes open and looked at her. She was a big blur. “Natalie?”

She pressed her lips together. “That’s why I started that Facebook post about her.”

I tried to remember a Facebook post about Natalie. It seemed like so long ago. Then it came to me like an old dream. “You’re Hater?”

“Haley, Hater…it’s all the same.” She waved her hand, dismissing it.

“She’s not sleeping with Patrick,” I said, my mouth so dry it ached. “Do you have anything to drink? Water, I mean. Not the heavy stuff.”

“Check the back seat. What do you mean she’s not sleeping with him?”

I turned around and started searching through the crap in the back seat. Old magazines. Plastic bags. Empty soda cans. The way her father kept his car, you’d never know his house was immaculate.

Finally, I found a half empty bottle of water. I unscrewed the top and took a deep swallow that tasted like ancient plastic. “What did you ask me? I forgot.”

 “About Natalie…you said she’s not sleeping with Patrick.”

“Yeah. That’s right. Where the hell did you come up with that stupid idea?”

“I…I…”

“Wait…but you knew he was cheating on you?” I took another swig of water. “How?”

She bit her lip. “I have a confession to make. I slept with him. Once. And…and he gave me gonorrhea.”

She might as well have dumped a bucket of ice over my head. My head still swam in a sea of murkiness, but this bit of awful news was sobering. “You’re sure? I mean…that he has gonorrhea?”

She stared out the windshield. Nodded. “Yep. The lab confirmed it.”

If she had gonorrhea, then I did too. Damn it! I hated Patrick right then. Hated him so much my heart had gone stone cold, a heavy brick in my chest.

Haley turned down my street. “How do you know Natalie’s not sleeping with Patrick? I mean…are you sure?”

“Definitely.” I considered telling her everything. About the night at the cabin. The trysts afterward. How at first I’d felt betrayed by her, and then I fell in love with Patrick. But the images swirled in my head, a hot bubbly cauldron of witch’s brew. If I told Haley the truth, everyone would find out. The Janes would hate me. I’d hate me. Even more than I already did. So instead I said, “I met the fat slut tonight. Girl named Jackie. She was at the party.”

Haley took in a deep breath. Like when a doctor is about to put a long, thin needle in your arm. Her hands tightened around the steering wheel. “Imagine that, Olivia. Me, at a loss for words.”

I took another long gulp of rancid water.

“I feel horrible now,” Haley’s voice cracked. “About Natalie and the Facebook thing.”

I reached to touch Haley’s shoulder, but bumped her face with my arm. I started laughing.

Haley glanced at me and smiled. “Sure, beat a girl while she’s down.”

“I meant to hug you.”

“I don’t deserve a hug. I was horrible to Natalie.”

“She doesn’t know that,” I said. “And some secrets are meant to be locked up forever. Okay?”

I gave her a clumsy hug.

Somehow Haley managed to get me home to where Cheryl Ann helped me into my bedroom. She pulled off my shoes and tucked me into bed. My sister, my angel. I fell asleep promising that this time…this time I was done partying like this. This time for good.

 

SOMEONE SHAKES me awake. My hangover is the usual…horrible, but much deserved. I smack the hand away, thinking I’m dreaming.

“Wake up,” Haley says. “I have bad news. Real bad news.”

I open my eyes to see Haley dressed in an old sweatshirt and jeans, hair uncombed.

I panic. It has to be about Patrick. He was probably too drunk and drove his car into a tree. I sit straight up, my head so tight it feels pinched by pliers.

She places a gentle hand on my arm and stares me straight in the eyes. “Natalie’s dead.”

I don’t expect this. I suck in a breath. “Natalie?” Pound, pound, pound; my heartbeat is in my ears.

“She overdosed. They think on purpose. My dad was called to Forensics this morning, since, you know, he knows about pills.”

Natalie? I struggle to understand. “But…but why?”

Haley stares into space. For once, a joke doesn’t come streaming out her mouth. Instead she says, “I was too late. I closed out the hater account on Facebook …but it was too late.”

“You can’t think a few angry rumors would make her…do that.”

“Then why, Olivia? She had everything going for her. Everything.”

We sit stunned and uncertain. I’m not sure what Haley is thinking, but I’m telling myself to do the right thing from here on out.

I won’t tell Haley about my relationship with Patrick. That would only ruin everything that might be fixed between us. No. I’m going to tell her how hurt I was when I discovered she blabbed my whole life story to her boyfriend. I should’ve done this a long time ago. I should’ve done everything different.

“Haley,” I say. “I have something to tell you.”

I touch her hand. And we begin.