A slight flickering of the lights brought me back to reality just in time to see the two of them arrive to class together. They slipped into their seats four rows ahead of me a mere three minutes before the bell rang—so not only did I get less time than usual with Lucas, I had to spend that time watching him with her.
I couldn’t even eat the second half of my breakfast. I felt like I was going to throw up.
My stomach did not improve, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, as much as I tried to concentrate on Ms. Fetterly-Dinsmore’s droning explanation of last night’s homework. I was almost relieved when three annoyingly perky cheerleaders bounced into the room, pom-poms swishing, and gigglingly asked if they could have “just a moment of the class’s time.”
Ms. Fetterly-Dinsmore agreed. She had to; this was first period, the only period that student groups were allowed to interrupt with announcements.
The cheerleaders had two posters with them. The first depicted a cougar (our school mascot) ripping apart a puny-looking shark. The second had the words KILL THE SHARKS written out in gobs of blue glitter.
“As you all know,” the shortest and chunkiest of the three cheerleaders began, “tomorrow night our very own Marin County Cougars will take on the Sonoma County Sharks. It is by far the greatest rivalry of the year, and everybody has to be there to cheer our Cougars on!”
“Yeah!” Terrance Seaver, a spiky-haired junior, yelled from the back of the room. His voice was dripping with sarcasm, perfectly in keeping with the staggeringly low level of school spirit at Marin County High.
But the cheerleader seemed to be spurred on by his outburst. “Be sure to come early for the rally! Principal Chatsworth has given us special permission to have a bonfire—yes! a real, honest to goodness bonfire!—on the empty lot next to the football field!”
“In the middle of the day?” Terrance inquired loudly.
“At five,” the chunky cheerleader corrected him.
“It won’t be dark then,” Terrance pointed out. “It’s kind of weird to have a bonfire when it’s still light out, don’t you think?”
The cheerleaders looked at each other.
“It will be dark enough,” the chunky one answered, glaring at Terrance. “And it is going to be awesome.”
Terrance shrugged, and the cheerleaders appeared at a loss.
“Ladies?” Ms. Fetterly-Dinsmore finally prompted them, after a moment of awkward silence. “Do you have anything else?”
Reluctantly, the three reached behind them in unison and picked up identical hula-hoops that had been painted blue and white, our school colors. Terrance’s jabs had clearly taken the wind out of their sails, and even though it was obvious that leading the class in a spirited cheer was the last thing on earth any of them wanted to do right then, they took a valiant stab at it anyway:
We’re the mighty Cougars
And we’re here to say
We’re the ones to kick your butts,
We’ll kick ‘em on the field,
We’ll kick ‘em in the pool,
We’ll kick the butts of anyone,
Who dares take on our school!
‘Cause we’re the Cougars
Give it up for,
Let me hear you say,
And it wasn’t because of the annoying song, or because I find cheerleaders (particularly ones who hold hula hoops inexplicably aloft, over their heads) hard to put up with.
It was because of the enormous silver cougar that suddenly jumped through the center hula-hoop.
I watched, glued to the back of my seat in shock as it landed, light as a feather, beside Ms. Fetterly-Dinsmore before it bounded down the center aisle, and headed straight toward the glass window that made up the back wall of the classroom. It jumped straight through the window, shattering it with an earsplitting crash and showering the back few rows of students with shards of broken glass.
I screamed again as I ducked and threw my arms protectively over my head. My Sully’s cup, still clenched in my right hand, lost its lid, and lukewarm coffee spilled down my back in a damp trickle.
I stayed like that, with my head buried beneath my arms and coffee dripping down the back of my sweater, for a good long moment before two things dawned on me:
1. I hadn’t felt a single shard of glass fall on me; and
2. I was pretty sure I hadn’t heard anybody else scream.
My two thoughts were immediately confirmed when I raised my head and found Ms. Fetterly-Dinsmore, three stunned cheerleaders and all thirty of my fellow classmates staring at me in horror.
I twisted around in my chair. The window was all in one piece, exactly as it had been. There was no cat-shaped hole in it, nor was there any sign of broken glass. Anywhere.
“Miss Russell?” Ms. Fetterly-Dinsmore asked hesitantly, from the front of the room. Then, when I didn’t respond right away, “Addy?”
I turned back around; everyone was still staring at me. If the window behind me really had been shattered by the cougar, I probably would’ve taken this opportunity to jump through it and escape. But it hadn’t been, and I doubted I could get through it as easily as the giant cat had. I was trapped.
I racked my brain for something to say, something to satisfy all of those staring eyes and make the room forget about me. But my brain was too preoccupied just then to help me.
The seconds ticked by. The fluorescent light above my head flickered and hummed, and the room continued to stare, unblinkingly, in my direction, while I stared dumbly back.
God, I hate Precalc.
“Sorry,” I said finally. Then I had a sudden flash of inspiration. “I, uh . . . spilled my coffee.” I held up my lidless, dripping coffee cup.
“Sorry,” I said again.
“That’s why we don’t allow food and drinks in class, Ms. Russell,” Ms. Fetterly-Dinsmore scolded, more gently than normal, since she was clearly worried about me. “Are you sure you’re okay? Do you need to go to the ladies’ room? Or maybe the nurse?”
“No,” I said, as two more people giggled. I could feel the back of my sweater sticking to me where the coffee had soaked it; not even a trip to the dry cleaner was going to save the sweater now. “I’m fine. Really. Thank you.”
Ms. Fetterly-Dinsmore shrugged and turned back to the board. I sighed with relief as the cheerleaders shuffled out the door and, one by one, my classmates turned back around to the front of the room.
Except for one person. Of all people, it was Lucas Stratton who remained halfway turned around in his chair, eyes fixed on me long after everyone else had lost interest. I looked away, determined not to stare back at him, but not before I noticed that his expression was not horror-struck like everyone else’s had been. Instead, the look on Lucas’s face was strangely . . . curious. As though he was pondering something absurd, something he could hardly bring himself to believe.
“Lucas?” Ms. Fetterly-Dinsmore said warningly.
He turned back around, after giving me one last, unbelieving look.