The opening notes of “Für Elise” rang out in the quiet classroom, a tinny, electronic ringtone that would send Beethoven into despair. I don’t know why I never reprogrammed the damn thing. It just always seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I made a quick check of my pump—low cartridge—and turned off the alarm.
I looked around, so disoriented I wasn’t sure where I was. That dream or hallucination or whatever it was had been so real, it was still alive inside me as I tried to catch my bearings. Math class. Did I remember being in math class? My textbook was open in front of me, a half-finished problem written out on graph paper: x and y axes waiting to be plotted. A quiz—great. Who knew how long I’d been wigging out while the clock ticked?
Only then did it hit me. Shit. I had to be low—so low I was in la-la land. I shoved my hand into my jeans pocket and hauled out my glucose meter.
“Hand it over.”
I looked up, and the teacher—Ms. Pritchard, older and no-nonsense in dress and manner—was standing beside me with her hand out.
“Cell phones are to be turned off during class. I was very clear about that, and the consequence. You can pick it up at the end of the period.”
I was so not in the mood. “It’s not a cell phone. It’s the alarm on my insulin pump.” I flipped up the edge of my T-shirt so she could see the tubing that ran from the pump to the infusion set stuck in my skin.
She looked as flustered as if I’d flashed her. I almost felt sorry for her, but not very. I don’t care if people know I’m diabetic, and I don’t do anything to hide it, but that doesn’t mean I wanted to announce it to the class on my second day at a new school. Plus, I needed to test my blood sugar. Now.
“Oh. I see,” she said. She took a step back as I lanced my finger and squeezed out more blood than was strictly necessary. “Well, um, anything you need to do about that, you go ahead.”
“That’s okay, it will wait until after class,” I said as she beat a retreat back to her desk. Amazingly, it was true. My reading was 6.5, damn near perfect for three hours past breakfast—but if I wasn’t low, what the hell had just happened to me?
I tried to focus on the quiz, but I knew my results wouldn’t be great. I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl, and the silence…and the mist. I wasn’t worried about the math—it was just a little beginning-of-year diagnostic—but I was pretty freaked out about the other thing. What if I had a brain tumor or some kind of sudden-onset psychosis? I thought about the coffee I’d bought at the caf that morning—wretched coffee, even worse than at my old school. Could someone have dropped a hit of acid in there? Hey, big joke, let’s dope up the new guy? It seemed beyond unlikely.
The class finally ended, and as we filed out the door a girl who’d been sitting a couple of seats over caught my eye. She grimaced sympathetically. “Talk about invasion of privacy. Like the old bat would have any right to take your stuff anyway, even if it was a phone.”
I gave a snort of laughter. It wasn’t really funny, but it made me feel better, like I was back in the normal world for real—just two students, dissing their teacher.
“Yeah, well, my mom would say I should have told all my teachers about my diabetes the first day, and then crap like this wouldn’t happen,” I replied. “Which is true, but…”
She nodded. “Why should you have to?”
I took a more careful look at her. My old school in Montreal had attracted lots of quirky, oddball kids. She would have fit right in. Here in small-town Ontario, she stood out: choppy dyed-black hair, purple tights and black Doc Martens. She didn’t look as tough as she should though—her blue eyes were too big, her frame too delicate. She was actually really little.
“Lucy.” She extended her hand with an awkward little laugh, and we did this clumsy, jokey handshake. “Welcome to Purgatory,” she said. And then she headed off down the hall, leaving me to find a reasonably direct route to room 312.
I thought about the new boy on my walk home. It’s a longish walk, but a lot of it borders the river, so in spring and fall it’s nice. In the winter it can be windy as hell, and I don’t even see the river because I’m bent over, trying to keep my face from freezing.
It was nearly dinnertime—I had hung out with my friend Ali for a while after school—so the sun was low, shafting out of the clouds in spears, and the light on the little hummocks and islands in the river was incredibly beautiful. I thought about painting it, wishing I was good enough to capture light like that without it looking like some sentimental jigsaw-puzzle picture. Mist was rising off the water, which you hardly ever see at this time of day.
The new guy was cute. Not really my type—or more precisely, I didn’t suppose I was his type—but cute. Nice open smile. Clean-cut though. Probably destined for some blond athletic girl with her boobs spilling out the top of her push-up bra.
I gave myself a mental smack for that last bit. Where do thoughts like that come from? I’d been on the receiving end of plenty of catty remarks, and I did not want to play that game, not even in my own mind.
I was cutting through the park when it started to rain a bit, just a fine drizzle that turned the air silvery. I hunched my head down the way you do at first with rain, even though it’s pointless. So I didn’t notice the girl floating over the river until I was almost directly across from her—and then I stopped in my tracks.
She was faint, like she was half made of mist herself, but she was definitely not a girl-shaped cloud. I was staring at a skinny waif with old-fashioned clothes and hollow cheeks and wide blue eyes; she was just standing there, her feet swathed in mist and the river running beneath her.
Suddenly spiders were crawling up the back of my neck. My first impulse was to turn around, run back to the road and pretend it never happened. But I couldn’t make my feet move, and even if I could have—well, she was too amazing. My mind was already fighting back the spiders, too curious to run. What was she?
I thought back to tenth grade, two years ago—aka the Year I Messed Up—and wondered uneasily if some drug or other was coming back to haunt me. But that didn’t make sense, not really. I never had hallucinations or whatever, not even in the thick of it.
She turned—or more like drifted—around so she was directly facing me, but she didn’t seem to see me. Her mouth was moving. I stared at her, trying to lip-read, and oh God, then I could hear her. Her thin little voice was right inside my head, and the spiders were all over me, scuttling around like mad things.
She just repeated one name, over and over.
“Jack?” She stared out with her empty, lost eyes. “Jack?”
And that’s when I started running.