It’s true she won’t be able to touch you. But at this rate, she won’t have to.

At what rate? What did that even mean?


Isobel jumped. She turned to find Nikki standing behind her.

“Whoa, easy there,” Nikki said as she pressed one shoulder against the door to Gwen’s locker.

“Sorry,” Isobel said. “I just . . .” She shook her head without finishing, pulled the lock free, and kicked the dented bottom corner of her locker. The door popped open.

“Too many espresso shots in the latte?” Nikki asked. Rolling to lean her back against Gwen’s locker, she swept aside the dark swoopy bangs of her new haircut, a layered look that framed her face in sleek wisps, accentuating the crystalline blue of her eyes.

“Just . . . still waking up.” Isobel made an attempt to smile. “I like your hair,” she said.


Nikki pursed her lips. When she spoke again, she kept her focus on the bronze polish coating her fingernails. “Hey, how come you didn’t return any of my calls last week? Or, you know, text me back?” she asked. “And why didn’t you come to Stevie’s New Year’s Eve party? You were kind of the only one from the squad not there.”

Isobel thought she heard a genuine note of disappointment in Nikki’s voice. Sharp as a nail file, a stab of guilt whittled its way between her ribs. She shrugged in response, deciding to try and play it down. “Sorry,” she said. “I asked, but Dad wouldn’t go for it. Apparently, the solitary confinement sentence went through to the end of the year.”


There was a pause before Nikki spoke again, her brow scrunching with affected confusion.

“Yeah . . . but you didn’t really ask, did you?” she said, still absorbed in the lacquered paint covering her fingernails. “’Cause you and I both know your dad always lets you do squad stuff. I mean, he let you go to Nationals, didn’t he?”

Again Isobel shrugged, then stripped off her parka. She didn’t know what answer she could give now. She’d already been caught in a lie.

“Yeah. No biggie,” Nikki said. “It’s okay. I totally get it. I mean, you’ve been going through some stuff.”

Once more Isobel threw up her mental blinders, keenly aware of the hint of sarcasm that had begun to slow-drip into Nikki’s tone. She started to shove things into her locker, stuffing her coat in without bothering to hang it on the inside hook. It tumbled out again, landing in a heap on the floor in front of her feet.

“Halloween and everything,” Nikki went on, sighing in mock sympathy.

Isobel stooped to gather her parka, hands working fast. But not fast enough.

“Going to covert parties. Lying to your dad. Lying to your friends. Then your loner boyfriend pulls a shocker and goes AWOL. You were officially together, weren’t you? Vernon. Was that his name?”

Isobel shot to her feet, anger flaring inside her.

She shoved her locker door shut with a bang loud enough to grab the attention of half the hall.

Immediately Nikki stopped the scrupulous inspection of her nails. Her eyes, like two gleaming marbles, slid in Isobel’s direction.

“You know his name,” Isobel seethed in a heated whisper, all too aware of the multitude of gazes now aimed in their direction. “At least you should,” she snapped. “It was right there on his shirt tag that night you, Brad, and Alyssa decided it would be fun to trash the place where he worked. Or did you happen to forget that, too?”

Nikki scowled and looked away. Instead of stomping off like Isobel expected her to, she only stared at the floor, her hair falling to shield her face.

Disgusted, Isobel twisted in her locker combination again. She kicked open the door, wadded up the parka, and thrust it inside.

“I’m sorry,” she heard Nikki murmur. “I didn’t mean to . . . it’s just that . . . lately it’s been hard getting your attention.”

“Like you said, I’ve had a lot on my mind.”

“I know that,” Nikki went on. “I know you well enough to tell when something’s . . . not right. The only difference now is that you won’t talk about it. Actually, you don’t say much of anything. It’s almost like you’re suddenly . . . somebody else.”

Isobel sighed, her shoulders dropping as she held open the door to her locker, staring in at the contents, a mixture of mundane items that could have belonged to any given high school girl. “Maybe I am,” she muttered.

“Yeah,” Nikki said, “well, that wouldn’t make you the only one.” Pushing off from the row of lockers, she paused to add, “Speaking of, I should probably let you know that Brad’s back today.”

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