Underneath
know what it feels like to have your world come apart at the seams?
    From Shiri Langford’s journal, March 28th
    I love Brendan so much. I never thought I could feel this way. I can’t explain it without sounding maudlin, without channeling the Romantic poets or sounding like a sentimental movie. It’s the most amazing feeling.
    I’ve told him all about my family, how screwed up my dad and my half-brother are, and how frustrated it makes me that my mom just can’t seem to see it. He doesn’t think I’m crazy or messed up, he just smiles and kisses me and then eventually we seem to end up in bed, and later we lie there and talk and he tells me about how he worries about his little brother, who’s mixed up with a bad crowd of kids at home.
    Sometimes, after he talks about Neal I end up worrying about Sunny, but I know I shouldn’t. She always seems so secure, so sure of herself. Unlike me.

eight
    The next day at lunch, Mikaela and I are sitting next to each other at the orange picnic table, on the bench nearest the building wall. It’s raining, drumming lightly on the awning. An occasional droplet blows in on a gust of wind and catches me on the face, or on my hands clenched tightly in my lap.
    Cody, Becca, and the rest of the goth crew just took off for the lunchtime pep rally in the gym—to “ridicule the conformist masses,” or so they claimed. I asked Mikaela if she’d stick around so I could ask her about something. She agreed, saying she doesn’t like watching anorexic cheerleaders waving their stick-limbs around anyway.
    Once everyone else is out of sight, we both scoot down so that our shoulders and heads are resting on the wall behind us and our legs are up on the table. Trying to work up the nerve to talk to her, I stare at my plain white canvas sneakers lying there next to her vintage knee-high purple Doc Martens. Typical Mikaela: outrageous. Typical me: blah. I might as well still be part of the Zombie Squad.
    I let out an explosive sigh.
    â€œWhat?” Mikaela nudges me.
    How can I explain it to her? I’m incredibly lucky, I know that much. I could have been spending the rest of the year eating lunch on my own, wondering if I’d done the right thing. But Mikaela and her friends—they let me stay. Why did they even care? I hate to feel suspicious of everybody, but I need to know what I’m doing here.
    And yet, I worry that if I question it, it’ll all fall apart, like a dream about flying where you suddenly realize hey, people can’t fly.
    â€œNothing,” I say. She stares at me. “I just hate these shoes. They’re boring.”
    â€œThat’s it ? You’re bumming out about having boring shoes?” She snorts a laugh. “Okay. On the scale of life’s major problems, that’s one we can easily address.”
    â€œYeah, but … ” I make a frustrated noise. This isn’t happening how I imagined it. I blurt out, “Why me?”
    â€œAre we having a philosophical discussion now?” She grins.
    â€œNo! What I meant was … ” I take a deep breath. “Why are you guys okay with hanging out with me? You didn’t have to humor me when I just showed up here uninvited.” I stare at my knees, afraid to look at her face. “But you didn’t kick me out.”
    There’s silence for a moment. I bite my thumbnail anxiously and listen to the rain dripping off the awning.
    â€œListen,” Mikaela finally says. “I will freely admit that at first, I was driven by morbid fascination.” Her voice is a little sheepish, and I glance up. She’s staring into the distance with a tiny, embarrassed smile. “I know, I suck. But trust me, I got over it. I can now truly say that I find you a worthwhile person. Regardless of your footwear.”
    Still not looking at me, she flicks one of my tennis shoes with a black-painted fingernail. Just like that, the

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