Isobel turned to regard Nikki with stern surprise.

She had not seen her ex-boyfriend since that night at the rival football game when the Nocs had attacked him on the field in the middle of a play, causing him to sustain a compound fracture to the leg. Isobel could still picture the glinting white bone poking through the flap of skin. The injury, combined with blood loss, had been severe enough to put Brad out of school for two full months.

“Is he . . . okay?” Isobel asked.

It was Nikki’s turn to shrug. “Except that he won’t play anymore.”

“He quit the team?”

“No,” Nikki said, and uttered her trademark tch of impatience. “I mean he won’t because he can’t. Like, ever again. The doctors told him last week that he’s done. And you would have known that before now if you’d pick up your damn phone once in a while.”

With that, Nikki spun on her heel and stormed away, leaving Isobel to gape after her.

Brad? Not being able to play football? Ever again?

That would be like someone telling her she was done cheering, that she’d never throw another stunt, that she was fastened to the ground for good.

He had to be devastated.

“Hope you don’t mind that I opted not to interrupt.”


For the second time that morning, Isobel started. Swinging around, she found Gwen standing at the locker next to hers, twisting in her own combination.

“I figure at this point, the less full of cheer I am the better. But she’s got a point about your phone. And here I’d made up my mind this morning not to say anything about it because of my special place in the cockles of the warden’s heart. But you haven’t been talking to anyone, have you?”

“I’ve just . . . been doing a lot of thinking.”

Gwen’s face went grim. “What happened?”

“Nothing. That’s just it,” Isobel said, having already made up her mind not to go into either of her most recent encounters with Pinfeathers. Aside from the fact that Gwen didn’t know much about the Nocs, Isobel didn’t really think she wanted to try to put either experience into words. If anything, she wished she could forget they’d ever happened.

“No more dreams?” Gwen asked.

Isobel shook her head. “No. You?”

“Nothing of relevance.”

Their eyes met and a pregnant pause elapsed, a beat in which both of them seemed to understand that there was something the other wasn’t saying.

Gwen broke the connection first, returning her attention to her locker.

“So,” she said, crouching down and grunting as she worked to unearth a pastel-green binder from beneath a stack of loose papers and ragged spiral-bound notebooks. “I’m guessing Scarlett O’Hara already mentioned your ex’s less-than-graceful reemergence into high school society this morning.”

“How did you know Brad was back?”

Gwen ceased struggling long enough to shoot Isobel a skeptical “C’mon, it’s me” kind of look. Then, finally wrenching the binder free, she stood and tucked it under her arm. She reached into the top compartment of her locker to scrounge for something, then used one booted foot to smash stray handouts back inside her locker. Along with the sound of crunching paper, Isobel heard a light plastic rustling. When Gwen’s hand reappeared, it held a powdered doughnut hole, which she popped into her mouth.

Isobel watched in appalled fascination while Gwen chewed, wondering if the open package had been in her locker over the entire two-week break.

“Please,” Gwen said, the word sending out a puff of powdered sugar. “I know it all.” She licked stray bits of the white dust from her lips and fingers. “And this time, it’s not pretty, I’ll tell you that.”

“You mean you saw him?”

“Hard not to notice someone on crutches.”

Isobel frowned. The more she heard about Brad’s return, the more she dreaded the prospect of running into him.

“I think you’d better talk to him,” Gwen added. “Find out what happened. Today if you can swing it.”

Isobel drew in a sharp breath. She hadn’t prepared herself for this. And why would Gwen suggest that she talk to him? What would she say? She wasn’t even sure how much Brad remembered about the whole ordeal, if anything. Then again, there was always the prospect that he remembered everything.

Isobel wasn’t certain which scenario would be worse.

“Oh,” Gwen added. “And before I forget, do you mind if we skip our usual lunchroom date today? Mikey and I are sneaking out to the new pizza place across the street.” She grabbed one last doughnut hole before slamming the door to her locker closed, then she began to drift away, walking backward. “I’ll make it up to you by picking you up from practice.”

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