Justin listens to loud and obnoxious music on a loud and obnoxious station where loud and obnoxious DJs make loud and obnoxious jokes as a way of getting through the morning. This is all I need to know about Justin, really. I access his memory to show me the way to school, which parking space to take, which locker to go to. The combination. The names of the people he knows in the halls.
Sometimes I can't go through these motions. I can't bring myself to go to school, maneuver through the day. I'll say I'm sick, stay in bed and read a few books. But even that gets tiresome after a while, and I find myself up for the challenge of a new school, new friends. For a day.
As I take Justin's books out of his locker, I can feel someone hovering on the periphery. I turn, and the girl standing there is transparent in her emotions--tentative and expectant, nervous and adoring. I don't have to access Justin to know that this is his girlfriend. No one else would have this reaction to him, so unsteady in his presence. She's pretty, but she doesn't see it. She's hiding behind her hair, happy to see me and unhappy to see me at the same time.
Her name is Rhiannon. And for a moment--just the slightest beat--I think that, yes, this is the right name for her. I don't know why. I don't know her. But it feels right.
This is not Justin's thought. It's mine. I try to ignore it. I'm not the person she wants to talk to.
"Hey," I say, keeping it casual.
"Hey," she murmurs back.
She's looking at the floor, at her inked-in Converse. She's drawn cities there, skylines around the soles. Something's happened between her and Justin, and I don't know what it is. It's probably not something that Justin even recognized at the time.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
I see the surprise on her face, even as she tries to cover it. This is not something that Justin normally asks.
And the strange thing is: I want to know the answer. The fact that he wouldn't care makes me want it more.
"Sure," she says, not sounding sure at all.
I find it hard to look at her. I know from experience that beneath every peripheral girl is a central truth. She's hiding hers away, but at the same time she wants me to see it. That is, she wants Justin to see it. And it's there, just out of my reach. A sound waiting to be a word.
She is so lost in her sadness that she has no idea how visible it is. I think I understand her--for a moment, I presume to understand her--but then, from within this sadness, she surprises me with a brief flash of determination. Bravery, even.
Shifting her gaze away from the floor, her eyes matching mine, she asks, "Are you mad at me?"
I can't think of any reason to be mad at her. If anything, I am mad at Justin, for making her feel so diminished. It's there in her body language. When she is around him, she makes herself small.
"No," I say. "I'm not mad at you at all."
I tell her what she wants to hear, but she doesn't trust it. I feed her the right words, but she suspects they're threaded with hooks.
This is not my problem; I know that. I am here for one day. I cannot solve anyone's boyfriend problems. I should not change anyone's life.
I turn away from her, get my books out, close the locker. She stays in the same spot, anchored by the profound, desperate loneliness of a bad relationship.
"Do you still want to get lunch today?" she asks.
The easy thing would be to say no. I often do this: sense the other person's life drawing me in, and run in the other direction.
But there's something about her--the cities on her shoes, the flash of bravery, the unnecessary sadness--that makes me want to know what the word will be when it stops being a sound. I have spent years meeting people without ever knowing them, and on this morning, in this place, with this girl, I feel the faintest pull of wanting to know. And in a moment of either weakness or bravery on my own part, I decide to follow it. I decide to find out more.
Excerpted from Every Day by David Levithan. Copyright © 2012 by David Levithan. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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