Shard One: West Lee

*

The gossip was getting stale.

The last hot thing had been when Danny Lutz got Lizzy Fan pregnant, but that was three months ago--sure, she was finally starting to show, but prenatal care did not make for an interesting conversation. I drummed my fingers along the desk and watched the clock.

Two rows ahead, Victoria Mann passed a heart-shaped piece of pink paper to Robert Brett, who was busy checking his iPhone and didn't look up. A few feet over, Katy Hamilton picked gum out of the same set of braces she'd had since the eighth grade as her boyfriend, Shark Thomas, talked too loud and too fast to no one in particular. I sighed.

"Hey, Rachel?"

I looked over. Manny Eifelt was studying our history worksheet with way too much intensity.

"Don't tell me you're actually gonna do that thing," I said.

"Duh I am. I need the participation grade."

"Mr. Winthrop's sleeping." I pointed to the snoring slump of a man at the teacher's desk. The toupee slid off his sweaty head.

Manny sighed. "It's impossible to get work done with you."

"Gross, why would you want to do work?"

She shook her head. Manny had this really cute brown bob, in case you were wondering, and her librarian's glasses made her look incredibly smart at all times. If you ever needed emergency neurosurgery, Manny would be the girl to call. She got 2270 on the SAT her first round and retook it for a higher score.

She stretched across her desk. "I could really use a cigarette right now."

"Manny!"

"I know, I know." Her mouth puckered. "I'm trying to stop."

I flung her a piece of gum; it was strawberry shortcake, one of my favorite flavors. "This should give your mouth something to do."

She grunted her thanks.

At that moment, the door opened. I wouldn't have noticed except that I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, and whenever someone so much as thought about opening the door, a breeze blew in and gave me goosebumps. However, this shirt was too cute to cover with a jacket. You see my dilemma.

I gritted my teeth. "Who the heck opened the door? If it was Sherry Cott--I swear, that girl is always going to to the bathroom!"

"It's not Sherry." Manny frowned. "It's some other chick. I've never seen her before."

"I bet she's selling something for Key Club."

"Key Club is always selling something."

I rolled my eyes in agreement as I turned to look at the girl, but as soon as I saw her, something felt off. She didn't look like one of the Barbie blonde Key Club prepsters. She stood awkwardly, favoring one foot, and fingered the single stud in her ear as she glanced around the room. Her washed-out purple dress fit all wrong. It was obvious she'd chewed the polish off her fingernails.

She spoke to Mr. Winthrop for a minute, and then he pointed to the empty seat that was--oh, great--right beside me. I made a gagging noise to Manny, but she didn't laugh, probably because I wasn't being "nice."

The new girl dropped down her messenger back and clambered into at her desk. I peered at her from the corner of my eye.

"I'm Wesley," she said, catching me looking, and the corners of her mouth turned up. "I just transferred here."

I examined my cuticles. "Rachel. Rachel Day. My Dad's going to be Senior Pastor at Seaside Community Church soon, if you're into that sort of thing."

"Not really, but thanks."

"I'm Manny," said Manny, smiling so hard her face was about to break. "Where did you move from?"

"Maryland. My family moves a lot." Wesley shrugged, then turned back to me. "Rachel, are you big on the whole church thing?"

"I go when I have to. I keep up appearances, and I'm a good person, so God understands."

Wesley studied my face. I bristled immediately—her expression was unreadable. I hated being read like a book because I never knew what my pages said.

Then, just when I couldn't stand it anymore, she picked up the useless worksheet and changed gears. "Is anyone actually doing this thing?" she asked.

I laughed. "Yeah, right."

She laced her fingers behind her head and stretched back. "This is my kind of class."

*


Two summers ago, a girl at James Day Academy committed suicide with her stepfather's gun at 4:03 a.m.

She was three grades above me; I was a freshman. She was also varsity soccer captain, school treasurer, and a long-time Red Cross volunteer with an unweighted GPA of 3.9. On paper, her life was perfect and, until that August, she'd been a household name. "Be like Tania Johnson," they'd say. "She's going places."

She went somewhere all right.

*

If you're born a pastor's kid at Seaside Community Church, you're born into decades of traditions and unspoken rules. The rules are simple things, like don't get caught smoking, cheating or having sex if you're the pastor's daughter, and don't buy anything except G-rated magazines if you're his son. Attend all church council meetings. Iron your clothes. Put something green in the offering plate on a semi-regular basis. Don't sneeze or cough too much during the sermon.

Lizzy Fan's dad used to be Senior Pastor. But then, as you recall, Lizzy went too far with Danny Lutz in the back of a van at a theatre after-party. Now her parents were getting a divorce, and she was keeping the baby.
Because of this, my dad thought he had a pretty good chance at becoming Sr. Pastor.

"Is everything okay?" Manny elbowed me gently. We were both stuck at the council meeting, shoved in the back pew with fifteen other kids--children of the deacons and committee chairmen, who were bickering up front. I nodded, propping my head on my hand to stay awake.

Sherry Cott leaned toward me. "Did you hear that Shark Thomas got suspended during fourth period?"

"Not surprised."

She nodded. "Drug possession. Found it in his car."

"You can't prove that," said Manny the killjoy.

Sherry ignored her. "Four day suspension, maybe more depending on how his hearing goes."

My life was so dull that gossip was what I lived for. "How's Katy taking it?"

"The pot was hers in the first place."

"No way!" I said.

Sherry smirked. "I heard it from Danny Lutz. And you know Danny; if anyone knows about pot, it's him."

"What are we saying about pot?" said a voice from behind me, just a little too loudly.

I froze, expecting it to by one of the deacons. Deacons are pretty much the highest leaders in church, and they're all born seven feet tall with full beards and beady eyes that can tell the last time you've read your Bible. Deacons spend years in seminary honing that very skill.

But it wasn't a deacon, it was someone much shorter with a better smile.

I grinned. "Rupert!"

"Sorry I'm late." He lowered his voice and sat down, wedging himself between me and Sherry. He put his arm around my shoulders. "Did I miss anything?"

"Shark's drug charge?"

"What?"

I opened my mouth to fill him in, but he steamrolled right over me. "Anyway, I have something better for you. You'll never believe it."

I leaned in close. "What?"

His eyes glinted.

"What?" I asked again.

"I'll pick you up at your house after midnight. Wear something comfortable. It's a surprise."