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She slipped through the empty halls, invisible and silent except for her heart, which clattered like a tin can against the school’s metal lockers. This is wrong. This is sinful. You will burn in the holy fires of hell for this. But it also hammered for him. His feathery voice in her ear. His fingertips on her wrist. The thread of his pulse on her skin. The only boy who ever paid attention to her. He was her salvation.


They would burn together.


Down the stairwell, through the east corridor, her shadow broke over shafts of morning sunlight on the floor. It was a beautiful October day. The worst things always happened on the most beautiful days.

Whistles screeched out of the gymnasium. Freshmen’s sneakers thumped and squeaked. Poor freshmen. She paused, her palm flat on the cinderblock wall, and thought of her sister, Violet. Next year she’d walk these halls of pre-tension, mockery, delusion, torment . . . No, Lily thought. He would stop it. He would shut them up. And he promised no one would get hurt—just scared. He’d scare the arrogance out of them.


He promised.


She pushed up her glasses and moved forward, past the cafeteria’s warm, yeasty smell of baking rolls and the long-faced janitor mopping the sticky breakfast floor. She had to pee but couldn’t stop, couldn’t be late. When she flitted past the outer wall of the auditorium, sweat beaded along her hairline. Her breath came in spurts. The auditorium was where her complete humiliation had happened. Her cries and their laughter still echoed. Her parents would be so dishonored if they knew what she had done. She smashed her hands over her ears and scurried like a mouse away from the excruciating memory.

Finally, she reached the double steel doors. Each one had a crash bar—emergency exit only. They couldn’t be opened from the outside. No one used this exit except drama kids after late rehearsals. No cameras monitored these doors. Lily checked her watch. She was two minutes early. Two minutes. Not enough time to go to the bathroom, but time enough for second thoughts.


Her back fell against the cinderblock wall. Her knees bent, and she slipped down to a chair position. She closed her eyes and forced deep breaths to her belly. This is wrong. This is wrong. Her leg muscles tightened like they wanted to run. Run, run, run away from this madness, away from this pain. But where could she possibly go? Not to her strict parents. Not her sister or a teacher or minister. She had no real friends. There was only him.

She opened her eyes, checked her watch again: 9:21. Almost. Across the hall, a folded piece of paper caught her attention. She scooted over, snatched it up, and unfolded it. A flyer for the fall play: Rockwell High School Theatre Department proudly presents Almost, Maine. It’s love. But not quite. Notes were scribbled on the back—a phone number, a to-do list, a list of props: ice skates, mittens, suitcase. Important stuff. Someone from drama must have dropped it. It belonged to her now. She refolded it and tucked it in the pocket of her khakis.

It was time. She peered through one of the rectangular windows, past her dark-haired reflection to the parking lot. Where was he? He changed his mind. No, no, there he was, her knight in ripped jeans and black hoodie plodding to-ward the building. His ski-type sunglasses reflected prismatic colors. A duffel bag hung over his shoulder. Her eyes lingered on the bag. Something seemed off. Why was it so big?

Hair raised on her arms. Her legs squeezed together with the urge to pee.

This is wrong.

This is wrong.


She remembered his voice and shivered. “I promise.” She placed both hands on the cold metal bar and pushed.

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