You know, I never liked January. Why? Well, the joyous Christmas music just stops. I mean, after December 25th, all the songs go into storage until November. That music usually cheers me up. Also, the joy disappears. Once New Year's is over, all the joy heads south.

Now, there are perks to January. My best friend, Scott Lauterbach, has his birthday. It's January 16th, and he usually has a 'friend only' party and my other friends, Kyle Avery and Ryan Jeffery, show up

One of my favorite things of January is the snow. Usually in Harrison, my hometown, January is when all the snow arrives. Sometimes, when school is canceled, I stand out in the falling snow and catch it on my tongue. I don't have any snow gear on, I just love the snow.

This year was different. I stood out in the snow, but no flakes touched my tongue. I couldn't make Scott's birthday party. A darker spirit took over Harrison, but only I could see it. I knew it was bad since August, when I first met him.

He's the reason I'm not home. The reason I am not catching snow flakes. The reason I missed Scott's party. The reason for everything. Not that anyone cares; they love him. He's Mister Popularity. If anyone started a rumor about him, no one would buy it. He's too well liked for that, anyways.

Thank you, Mister Popularity. You screwed up my October, November, December, and my January. My Christmas and my New Year's. My Halloween and Thanksgiving. You ruined my life.

I may be acting cynical, but you would too if you were in my shoes. Everyone has treated me like dirt since I was a baby. I only trust certain people, like Scott, Kyle, and Ryan. They don't treat me like I was I nobody. They treated me like I was important.

Sometimes, I wish I could rewind the clock and completely ignore Mister Popularity, only answered his questions in class. Maybe if I did that, or even less, I wouldn't be here. I would be home.


Snow frosted the windows. I could see fat snowflakes fall from where I was sitting. I wasn't in Harrison, but seeing the snow made me miss it. It was the only home I really knew.

I sat on the chilly leather couch waiting for my assigned counselor, Miss Garney. We are assigned a certain counselor, someone who fit our needs. In my case, Miss Garney was the only one left. And she isn't making a good impression on me by coming late.

There was a calendar on the wall behind Miss Garney's desk. I looked at it, showing a black horse and its foal frolicking in the snow. Each day gone was marked off with a red 'X'. Today was January 19th, three days after Scott's 15th birthday. I hope he had fun.

When the clock struck three, the door opened. Behind the heavy mahogany door was a thin woman. She had a binder in her hand, nails painted blood red. Her blond hair was in a high ponytail, showing me her sea green eyes.

She walked in, her heels clicking on the wooden floor, to the desk in front of me. Her make up was natural, unlike my heavy make-up. Her nose was small, like a little button.

Her slim mouth opened as she said, "Iris Rachelle Kinsman, right?" I just nodded as she flipped papers. "This is your first week and counseling session, correct?" I nodded again as I saw a paper with the 'Blue Hills Mental Institute for Girls' seal on it.

She grabbed a notebook and a blue pen. "Can you spell 'Iris' please?"

"I-R-I-S." I responded, my mouth like sawdust. Her hand scribbled down what I told her.

"Perfect." Her chirpy voice reminded me of a bird. A bird that I could shoot with a gun. "Do you know why you're here, sweetie? According to my files, you suffer depression…"

"I don't think so." I snap back.

My father thinks everything is wrong with me. I'm depressed. I have anorexia. I'm paranoid. I have nightmare disorder. I'm a compulsive liar. He thinks depression is when someone is quiet all the time. So what? I'm quiet around him and other people I don't like.

"Okay then." She said, marking something down. "Why don't you think you're depressed?"

"Because I'm as happy as any other teenage girl would be in a mental hospital." I replied, my voice dripping in sarcasm.

A moment passed in silence. She stared me down as she said, "Iris, I don't deal well with sarcasm. You should at least try to feel better. You are away from Harrison, the town where people don't care about you."

"How does that make me feel better?"

"I'm trying to tell you that there are people who want you to get better here. In Harrison, did anyone care?"

"My friends, but…"

"Just my point. You didn't mention your father. And your mother?"

I stayed silent. This chick is supposed to help me, not make assumptions about Harrison. Or my parents. I don't know where she got her degree, but I think she needs to go back. I don't think you make assumptions about your clients.

My eyes gazed back to the frosted window. I wish I could catch those snowflakes, but no one is allowed on the lawn. I heard some girls call it, 'Land of the Forbidden', since no one is allowed on it. I miss those snowflakes.

The clock ticked away, counting down the minutes until I leave. Miss Garney tapped her blue pen on the desk. "We have to talk." Her attempts to get into my head were shot down.

Papers shuffled around before Miss Garney spoke again. "How about I give you a Mountain Dew and Cheez-It's?" My eyes met hers in a nanosecond. "Maybe I'll even let you watch an hour of T.V. I obviously mean the good one." The 'Good One' means the T.V in the private living room. It is 50 or something inches, has all the good channels, and even Demand channels. No one, except the counselors and Level 10s, is allowed to use it. I'm only Level 1 and I'm not a counselor.

"Can't you get in trouble? I mean, you are bribing me." I looked at her, hoping she could still give me what she promised.

"No. I am just trying to see why you are here. I will give you your soda and Cheez-It's tomorrow. You can watch the T.V tomorrow too. I'll make sure to keep Level 10s and the other counselors out. Is it a deal?" She extended her hand, and I took it.

She grabbed her pen and paper, ready for me to start. "How about you start before you met him?" I shutter. Even hearing the word 'him' made me feel like he was here.

"That would be Monday, August thirtieth." I finally say, kind of surprised at my voice. Other than a little bit today, I haven't talked much. I guess I forgot what my voice sounded like. "In honor of our last day of summer, Kyle, Ryan, and I would head over to Scott's house and have a 'Goodbye Summer' party."


"I hope I don't have Mrs. Colbert." Ryan stated, looking at the sky, holding his eighth grade schedule in his hand.

"Only one way to find out." Kyle looked at him.

Simultaneously, we all counted to three, opening our schedules. Sound of opening paper filled the air.

This was our tradition. The night before school started, we all go over to Scott's house, which is huge, and have a 'Goodbye Summer' party. It's only me, Scott, Kyle, and Ryan. We have done this since fifth grade. And we always compare schedules, just to be safe.

Once the paper settled, we fell silent reading our schedules. Eight periods a day, infinite combinations. Hopefully, we will have one class together. The setting sun gave us enough light to read without any trouble.

"Damn!" Ryan yelled. "Colbert, second period." As we laughed, I tried reading over my schedule.

Homeroom: Miss Leppert (Room: 805)

1st period: Study Hall (Room: Cafeteria)

2nd period: Social Studies (Room 807)

3rd period: Physical Education (Room: Gym) M, W, F

Choir (Room: Choir) T, Th, F

4th period: Lunch (Room: Cafeteria)

5th period: Math (Room: 803)

6th period: Science (Room: 801)

7th period: Language Arts (Room: 805)

8th period: Tech. Class (Room: 230)

As I read over the teacher's names, I realized I got all the 'nice' teachers like Miss Leppert. She is from France, and she will sometimes use French phrases while teaching. My other teachers are Mr. Plake, Mrs. Jackson, Mr. Stiles, Mrs. Colbert, Mr. Angelo, and Mr. Baldassare.

Baldassare? I have never seen his name before. He must be new. He won't get very far with that name. I can just imagine the names people will call him. Some people in Harrison are down right cruel.

"Anyone have Baldassare?" I asked.

"In fifth. You?" Scott replied, brushing his brown hair out of his face.

"Sixth." I answered.

"Anyone have Colbert?" Ryan asked, his voice filled with resentment.

After much comparing, I learned I had every class with Scott, except fifth and sixth period. Second, third, fourth, fifth, and eighth with Ryan. I only had fourth period with Kyle. Kyle was the exception. He played percussion in the band and he was much more intelligent than the rest of us. Of course we would have different schedules.

We stood up from the warm grass and headed towards Scott's house, preferably his room in the basement. Scott's parents, Joni and Tyler (his parents liked when we called them by their first names. Makes them feel 'more connected', whatever that means) give him a lot of freedoms. For one, most of the basement is his room. He has a section of the basement with a sign that says Man Cave, which I laugh at since I'm always in there. The Man Cave has a flat screen T.V, Xbox 360, leather couches, complete with a mini fridge containing everything. I hate to say I envy him, but I do. His parents are loaded, care for him, and treat him like a prince.

But, he's not a spoiled brat. He's the third child of five, having two older sisters and two younger brothers. He knows how to share with his siblings. And, yes, his parents will lay down the law if they need to. They even have a job chart for the week, which they had to redo when his oldest sister, Maya, graduated last year. The chart explains what jobs they have to do on what day. Call me crazy, but I would love to have a job chart and siblings.

As we entered his house, I heard a bark from the kitchen. Suddenly, claws scratched the wooden floor. I saw Scott's dog, Jynx, run up to me. Jynx was a purebred Boarder Collie who is all black except for his right hind paw and the tip of his tail, which is white. Sometimes, I feel like Jynx loves me more than his owner.

We all headed downstairs, with Jynx on my heels. Ryan and Kyle headed straight for the Man Cave. When Scott and I reached them, Ryan was putting in Call of Duty: Black Ops in the Xbox. Kyle was turning on the controllers, getting ready to kill some zombies.

Here we go.

Kyle and Ryan are obsessed with the zombie levels. Their record is fourteen rounds, and they have tried to beat for over a month. We better put school off for another week.

I sat on the leather couch to the left of the T.V, while Jynx jumped up beside me. Scott sat on the other side of his dog, making a furry barrier between us. Not that we cared, Jynx was too adorable.

("Iris, can you do something for me?")

("What?")

("Can you tell me what your friends look like? I would love a visual.")

Okay. Ryan has red, curly hair. He reminds me of Adam Savage from Mythbusters. He is random, pretty much like Adam. His eyes are icy blue, and his high cheek bones support his eyes.

Kyle has the look of a typical Harrison boy. Short blond hair, brown eyes, always wears some sort of plaid and cowboy boots. He takes great pride on being raised on a farm and being 'country'. Being raised on a farm, he is very strong. You would get strong too if you push one thousand pound cattle and move forty pound bags of cow feed from on shed to the other.

Now Scott. Scott Landen Lauterbach. He's my best friend. He has a shaggy hair style and it's originally black, but he dies it all the time. His eyes are the perfect shade of green, a nice emerald. His eyes are also large, soaking up everything he sees. He has a pointed nose, and a strong bone structure. Having two brothers and being on the wrestling team, he has broad shoulders, but he's not as strong as Kyle. No matter what he eats, he will always stay thin.

("Thank you, Iris. Continue please.")

"Pass me a Sprite!" Kyle said, not looking away from the screen. Scott reached over to the mini fridge and tossed him a green can. The can hit Kyle's bicep, and he didn't flinch.

"The point is to catch it!" Ryan joked as he grabbed the can. Scott tossed another can to Kyle and tossed me a Coke. He then gave himself a Coke. Ryan and Kyle withdrew from the conversation, only yelling shouts of defeats.

"You ready for this year?" Scott asked, opening his Coke.

"Yeah, I'm curious about Mr. Baldassare." I admitted.

"Same here." He replied, sipping his drink. After he took his drink, I realized I haven't even opened mine. I cracked it open and took a big drink, allowing it to burn my throat.

I placed my Coke on the coffee table and started to pet Jynx's head. "I'm not nervous at all. Even though middle school is almost over, I'm not sad about that."

Scott laughed. I always loved his laugh, it is always comforting. "I understand. But Maya and Kara say that I enjoy middle school. It goes by so fast."

I rolled my eyes. "Not fast enough. Seventh grade was torture." It was. The teachers hated my style and my attitude. Everyone else hated my clothes. They called me some pretty nasty names. They couldn't shut up for two minutes.

"I loved seventh grade!" Scott replied.

"Only because of Alyssa." Ryan commented.

"Shut up." Redness spread on Scott's face.

While I was dealing with style issues, Scott was dealing with girl issues. In October, Alyssa Bailey just broke up with her boyfriend. At the Halloween Dance, she danced with Scott, making him fall in love with her. They dated for six months before she said she was moving to some town, I can't remember where. I've never seen Scott happier.

But, Ryan learned something about Alyssa. She was a total whore. She went around, dating as many guys as she could before she moved. While with Scott, she was also dating three or four other guys. Ryan told me and Kyle, and we promised we would never tell Scott, just to spare his feelings.

"I never liked Alyssa." I stated. "She was only here a year and she played the 'Perfect Harrison Darling' role better than Hannah Ross."

"Oh, my God. Hannah is so hot!" Ryan hooted. Hannah Ross is a junior this year and she is the most popular girl at Harrison. She's in all the musicals and choirs. Ryan has had a crush on her since we were in sixth grade.

"What about Hayley?" Kyle asked, referring to Hannah's little sister, who is in our grade.

"Less attainable than Hannah." Ryan answered, pausing the game. "Danny won't let her out of his sight. But the minute they break up, I'm all over that!"

"Please!" I yelled. "Anyone who has a chance with Hayley is Kyle. Hayley would never want to be with a pig, let alone you."

Shouts bounced off the stone walls. Ryan shrugged it off, just sipping his Sprite. He grabbed his controller and continued to play the Xbox.

This is what I love about my friends. Whenever you say something mean or hurtful, they take it. They aren't like girls, who will stab you in the back if you say something 'mean' or 'hurtful'. My friends are just amazing in every way.

"Sure. I'm a pig. But you…"


"Iris, I hate to stop you. We are out of time. But good job today." Miss Garney clicked her pen and stood up. I'll see you back tomorrow at three, okay?"

"Sure." I say, heading for the door When I open it, I'm staring right down the Therapy Hall. I walk straight, past all the other Therapy Rooms. When I turn left, I enter the Belly of the Beast.

The cafeteria.