Excerpt: The Possibility of Somewhere

Excerpt: The Possibility of Somewhere

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Chapter 1
An Exercise in Probabilities

My normal dress code was designed to keep me invisible, but today I made an exception. I wore a teal shirt (stolen from my dad) over jeans that had only been owned by me. I finished off with my best sneakers, freshly bleached. After yanking my hair into a ponytail, I grabbed my backpack, charged out of my bedroom, and screeched to a halt in the den. The trailer smelled like toast and bacon. Why?

I crossed to the table and stared down at the plate of food waiting there.

My stepmom came out of the kitchen, holding two mugs of coffee. She offered one to me.

I took it as my backpack slid to the floor with a thud. “You made me breakfast?”

She laughed. “I’ve done this before.”

“When I was nine, maybe.” The bacon looked like it had been fried to crispy perfection. I parked my butt on the chair and snagged a slice. “What’s the occasion?”

Her smile wobbled. “It’s the first day of your last year of high school.”

Oh, damn. She was going to get emotional on me. This day must remind her that I’d be gone in a few months. It wouldn’t be a good idea to act all happy about escaping town soon. Better change the mood fast. “Breakfast is amazing. You can repeat it whenever you want.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” She set her mug on the table and pointed at my ponytail. “Can I do something special with your hair?”

Clearly she wanted to, so sure. “That’d be great.”

While I finished my toast, she twisted my hair into a thick French braid. It took only a couple of minutes before she pressed a kiss to the top of my head. “There you are, sweetie. Now go on, or you’ll miss the bus.”

“Okay.” I stood, gave her a quick hug, and slung my backpack over one shoulder. “Thanks, Marnie. For every thing.”

***

The bus dropped us off fifteen minutes early, something that would never happen again. I went straight to my first-period class. AP English Lit with my favorite teacher.

“Morning, Ms. Barrie,” I said.

She didn’t look up from her computer. “Hello, Eden.”

I slipped into a desk in the back row and watched as my classmates trickled in.

My next class would be statistics, although it had been a recent change. I’d realized in middle school that college was my best route out of Heron, and I wouldn’t get to college without serious scholarships. So I’d mapped out my high school curriculum in seventh grade, picking each course to maximize my GPA. Everything had gone according to plan until three weeks ago, when I’d switched to a different math class and elective. The decision had seemed bold at the time. Now, it felt crazy.

After English, I dropped by my locker and arrived late for second period. With nervous anticipation, I smiled at my statistics teacher and turned toward the back.

“Wait, Eden. Sit there.” Mrs. Menzies gestured at an empty seat on the front row.

I paused, looking from the desk to her. She eyed me steadily, a challenge in her expression. Did she expect me to argue with her? I certainly wanted to.
Swallowing hard, I took my seat.

“All right, every one. I’m glad that you’ve chosen to take Advanced Placement Statistics . . .”

I tuned out what she said, too annoyed to listen to whatever welcoming remarks she had for us. They would be on her syllabus anyway. I was consumed with shrugging off how much it
bothered me to sit in the front with a dozen pairs of eyes behind me. Were they watching me? Probably not, but I didn’t like that it was a possibility.

Even deep breaths betrayed me, because they filled my head with the soapy-clean, spicy-cologne scent of Ash Gupta. Why did Mrs. Menzies have me sitting next to him?

“. . . you’ll have one group project and one individual assignment due each week . . .”

I glanced at her. Group projects already? Was that why we had assigned seats?

“. . . that’s it for now. Form into your teams. I’ll hand out your first project.”

The sounds of dragging chairs and laughing voices filled the room. I checked around. Was I the only one who didn’t know what to do?

Ash was looking at me, pained resignation on his face. “ You’re with us, Eden.”

I dragged my desk into the circle beside him. There were five of us in the group. Upala and Dev were Ash’s friends. A built-in alliance. They would vote as a bloc even if I could get the last guy on my side.

The next few minutes blurred into the rhythms of a project team pretending to become cohesive. I didn’t join in, listening instead to Ash control the discussion and watching as Mrs. Menzies went from group to group, dropping off a large bag of M&Ms, several paper bowls, and the project sheet. When she finally arrived at our circle, she described what she wanted and then gave me a hard stare.

“I want collaboration from every one.”

Message received— although it was unnecessary. I participated when it mattered. Reaching for the M&M bag, I filled a bowl and began separating the candies by color. An exercise in  probabilities.

“Before we go any further,” Ash was saying, “we should pick a leader for the team. How do we want to choose?”

“Might as well cut the bullshit, Ash,” I said without looking up. “You want the job. No one’s going to fight you. Just take it by acclamation.”

Silence greeted my speech. I glanced at him. His gaze held mine for a second before he frowned at his notebook, picked up a pen, and began drawing tiny perfect squares, one after the other. I looked at the rest of the team. Upala and Dev glared at me but didn’t disagree with my suggestion. Probably hated that it had come from me, though.

The final guy shrugged.

I resumed separating the candies. “See. Done.”

All seniors had lunch immediately following second period. I stopped briefly at my locker before heading toward the cafeteria. Ash fell into step beside me, his entourage of Indian friends trailing behind.

“Eden? Can I ask you something?”

I halted, shocked that he wanted to speak with me outside of a classroom. “Sure.”

His dark eyes bored into mine. “It’s the first day of school. Did you have to take me on already?”

“Take you on?” Was he talking about our exchange in statistics? It had been pretty tame. I was mildly insulted. “If I’d wanted to come after you, I would’ve done a better job than that.”

“Then what was the point?”

“You were wasting my time on fake modesty. And while I don’t care what you think, I would like to make a good grade in statistics.”

His jaw flexed, but he remained silent. I could almost read his thoughts, like captions scrolling across his face. I was the girl he couldn’t explain, the girl who looked like she was one bad day away from living in a homeless shelter. Yet I had a perfect GPA. His gaze swept slowly down me, taking in the golden braid, the lack of makeup, the mouth that cussed, the thrift-store clothes.

“Ash? Are you done?”

Faint color rose up his neck as his gaze returned to mine. “If you don’t mind, I’d like us to call a truce.”

“Why? We’re not at war.”

“It feels like it. You fight me every chance you get.”

His accusation baffled me. In three years of high school, we’d only talked to each other when an assignment required it. And although it was true that I could get stubborn about ideas, it was only because I believed I was right. It had never been anything personal against him. “I don’t fight you.”

His eyebrow arched skeptically.

Okay, I was curious now. “Like when?”

“You rewrote every one of our lab reports in freshman biology.”

“You had just moved here and didn’t know how to impress Mr. Tuttle. I did.”

“On our project team in US history, you vetoed every suggestion I made.”

An exaggeration. Mostly. “We were capable of more. You never took chances.”

He flinched and cut a glance at his friends. They hovered nearby, staring with open animosity. He shifted a step closer to me, his body blocking them from view, and lowered his voice. “You propose insane ideas just to stir things up.”

“Not the point at all.” He must be determined to misread me. The obvious motives were actually the correct ones. “An idea has to be insane to make an A-plus.”

“Insane is more likely to crash and burn.”

“Students like us do not crash and burn, Ash. You play it too safe.”

“Easy for you to say. You’ve got valedictorian in the bag.”

What?

It stunned me that he would allude to such a thing. Did being valedictorian matter to him? It never really had to me. As long as colleges threw buckets of money at me, they could call me anything they wanted. “I don’t care about being valedictorian. Do you?”

“My parents–” His lips clamped shut.

Whoa. His parents must be harassing him about being ranked number two, especially behind someone like Eden Moore. Pity stirred within me, laced with a decent amount of envy. My parents didn’t have a clue about what I did at school. And if my dad could have his way, my grades would suck so that I would never leave home.

I looked around us. The hallway had grown quiet. My precious break was ticking away while I wondered how to respond to Ash.  I would not call a truce. That would be confessing to something I hadn’t done, but I also didn’t want him to think I fought him for no reason. “Why is this so important to you?”

“I’m not sure. Why did you punt control of the project to me?”

“You were the best person for the job.” I held his gaze, oddly anxious for him to believe me.

“Wow. That was not what I expected you to say.” His expression softened from pissed to puzzled. “Thanks. I think.”

I smiled, which was more like a happy twitching of the mouth. He must’ve recognized it, though, because his lips twitched, too. With a relieved nod, I brushed past him and continued to the cafeteria. Although I hadn’t enjoyed that little confrontation, the way it ended gave me hope that this year might be bearable.

>> Read this scene from Ash’s point-of-view

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