by Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman

Part 1

I leaned against Mr. Rodman’s desk, my books in my arms as I tapped my foot to the beat of the song in my head. That damn Britney Spears. I can’t even stand her, but I’d heard one of her songs on someone’s car stereo in the parking lot, and now I was stuck with it.

"Trying to tap through the floor?" I turned to see the older man walk into the classroom.

"Yeah, that’s exactly what I was doing. You’re late."

"Sorry. A student caught me out in the hall." The physics teacher sat behind his desk, shuffling through the stacks of graded and un-graded tests. "Okay, today you only have one, I think." Grabbing a folded paper, he pushed his ever sliding glasses further onto his nose, and read over the names. "Yeah, today you have Haley Corregan. She’ll meet you in the library at four." He looked up at me to see me staring at the page in his hand.

"Haley?" He nodded, tossing the sheet aside.

"Yep. That’s it. She’s a bright girl, so I don’t imagine it should take long. We have a test coming up next week, and she’s worrying herself silly about it."

"Okay. Thanks, Hank."

I glanced at the large clock over the chalkboard as I walked out of the room. I had just under an hour to kill before I met her for tutoring. I had been surprised when Hank had said her name. Why would Haley Corregan need anything? Wasn’t she supposed to be perfect or something?

I headed to my locker to dump my books from my last class and get mine for my homework tonight, making sure I had them balanced well for the fifteen minute walk home. There was nothing worse than book edges pushing into your back.

I walked the long halls of Winston High School in Winston, Minnesota, two thousand students strong. To me it felt more like a prison, two thousand inmates strong. I still had another year to go after this one. It was only September, the beginning of my junior year, but I didn’t count it. I had already started it, right?

Glancing around, I saw my peers standing around, talking, laughing together, looking through me as if I didn’t exist at all. That was me, the perfect wallflower, and I liked it that way. No one bothered you, and I was able to get through my classes without incident. I had talked to more students in the last year through my tutoring than I had in the last five years of classes.

Running a hand through my blonde hair, cut short to stay out of my face during Tae Kwon Do, I turned down the hall that would lead to the library.

"Good afternoon, Andi," Mrs. Runyon said as I walked by the circulation desk. I smiled at her.

"Hello, ma’am. I have a student coming in, and I’ll be over there." I pointed toward a table near the back. The librarian smiled and gave me the thumbs up. I sat down, laying my backpack down on the table, and reaching in to take out my pre-calc book to begin my homework while I waited.

"Hey," I looked up to see Haley Corregan standing next to the table, backpack slung over one shoulder, dark brown hair tied up in a ponytail. Jeans and a blue t-shirt. She smiled.


"You’re Andi, right?" I nodded.

"Have a seat."

I put my book aside as she sat. I took my mechanical pencil out of my bag, more for something for my hands to play with than for me to use.

"How are you?" I looked at her, surprised by the question for some reason.

"Um, fine. Um, you?"

"Great, thanks for asking." She gave me another winning smile. "Are you new here?" Ah, the standard question. I smiled to myself for a moment, then shook my head.

"Nope. I’ve been here since I was a mere zygote." Haley looked surprised.

"Oh. I’m sorry. Guess I just missed you."

I chuckled ruefully. "Yeah. So what’s the problem?"

"Oh," she took her physics book out of her bag. "Test. Soon. Scared." I grinned.

"Okay. Well, from what I know of you, I really think you’re more worried than needs be. Is this the first of the semester?" She nodded. "Okay. Open up to where you guys are at."

"Are you a senior?" Haley asked as she flipped through the book to find the right page. I shook my head.

"Well, I will be next year."

"Oh, god. I’m being tutored by someone who’s younger than me?" She looked at me with horror on that beautiful face. "You must really think I’m stupid."

"Not at all. I just ended up a science geek for some reason. It happens. Sometimes you just need a little push, you know?" I shrugged, trying to make her feel as comfortable as possible. She smiled, nearly blinding me with the brilliance of it.

"Thanks. Okay, so the test will be over chapters two through four."

"Alright. Let’s take a look," I went over the entire thing with her, explaining what everything was and meant. We went over the vocabulary and results of the experiments in the book.

As Haley worked on a few test questions I looked at her. I had been pleasantly surprised by her. For one, most in her school status count on their looks and popularity to get them through, and knowing physics certainly wasn’t a huge priority in their rather busy social schedule. I respected that about her, as well as how nice she was to me.

"Okay. How bad did I mess it up?" She looked at me, her blue eyes hopeful. I read over her answers, figuring them out in my head, then grinned at her.

"You did good. They’re all right."

"Really?" Her excitement was almost catching. I nodded. "Wow. Who would have thunk. It’s not that hard." Haley looked over her paper with amazement on her face.

"Nah. Once you get the main properties it’s not as bad as it looks." Haley looked at me as she slammed her book shut.

"Thanks, Andi. I really appreciate this." I shrugged.

"It’s my job."

"Yeah, but you do it well." Standing, she shoved her book and notebook into her bag, checking her watch. "Oh, I have to go." Slinging the bag onto her shoulder, she smiled once again, then with a little wave, she was hurrying through the library.

I stood, shoving all of my own stuff into my bag, re-balancing it all before slinging it onto my shoulders, headed for home.

I pulled my coat a bit closer to me as the wind whipped through the trees, and through the all too thin material of my flannel jacket. I was glad it was my night to chill; Thursday, one of my only free days after tutoring, which was slow so far with classes just beginning. I knew I should take advantage of it now before things really started to kick in.

The leaves made beautiful sounds as the wind turned up a notch, and really began to get things started, blowing the leaves clear off their branches, making them swirl around the sidewalks in a dance of the harsh fall and winter to come. My house wasn’t far now, and I was grateful, chilled to the bone. I turned up the circular drive, pushed through the front door with one of my mom’s craft projects hanging on it; a fall wreath with a little scarecrow sitting on it, and a wooden sign with the word WELCOME painted in orange paint across it.

"Hey, sweetie. I’m heading out now, so I need you to make dinner for you and Chris tonight, okay?" My mother was running around the house like a little whirlwind as she got her hospital badge clipped to her scrub top. She hurried over to me, the perfume that she’d worn since I was a kid, wafting behind her.


"Did you have a good day?"

"Yeah, not bad. I aced my history test today."

"You rock, girl." My mom grabbed me in a hug until I could feel my ribs nearly crack, and my eyes bulged. "You’re so smart." She kissed my forehead before buzzing upstairs to grab her shoes.

Shaking my head with a grin, I dropped my bag on the couch, and headed to the kitchen for an apple. I was starving.

"I’ll be in the ER tonight, honey," she yelled from her bedroom.

"Okay," I yelled back, searching through the fridge to see if my mom had bought that caramel I loved to dip the apple slices in. Bingo!

"So if you guys need anything, just call the 188 extension." Suddenly my mom was behind me, grabbing her purse from the coat hanger next to the door leading to the garage. I looked at her.

"God, no wonder you’re so skinny. You don’t stop for a minute." She grinned.

"No time. I love you."

"I love you, too." She opened the garage door, hitting the button for the large garage door opener, and closed the door to the house. I could hear the Outback’s engine roar to life as I cut my snack into slices, perfect for dipping.

Taking the entire cutting board to the table, I sat down and began to eat, looking around the small table that sat two in the kitchen. Our full-sized dining table was in the dining room just off the kitchen. Me and Chris used to color in our coloring books at this table. I looked at the clock on the microwave; he should be home soon from football practice. The little slug was a Freshman at Winston High this year, and was so proud of himself for making the team his first time out. I have to admit, though I never would to him, I was proud.

My mom had left the mail on the table, and so I grabbed it, searching through for something to do as I ate. Never knowing why, especially after all the years of martial arts, I had to have something to keep my interest. My mom used to say I was just like a little jumping bean, never able to keep still.

Bill, bill, bill, ads for County Market. My eyes narrowed when I saw the return address. Rick Littman. Why the hell was there a letter from my father in here? I looked to see where he was now, NM. Where is that, New Mexico? What the hell is he doing there?