I locate the room on the first floor where Mrs. Goins asked me to meet her. She was desperate, she said. So many seniors on the verge of not graduating, she said. Would I please tutor this one? A special one who needs special help with the senior project, she said.
I guess I'm meant to feel special, but I have my own stuff to finish--like that damn Film Studies class Novak talked me into.
I peek in. The classroom's empty. Did I get the room wrong? I've been losing whole blocks of time lately, spacing constantly. Where does life go when it's lost to you?
My backpack slips off my shoulder and a note falls out of the front pocket.
"I'm dropping Film Studies," Novak wrote.
An old note from the beginning of term. At the time I thought: Thanks. Abandon me, like everyone else has.
I hear Mrs. Goins coming before I see her. She's . . . rustling? Maybe her thighs are rubbing together or something. Since the first of the year, she's put on, like, twenty pounds. A lot of people call her Meaty Loins.
I would never do that.
The person behind Meaty Loins materializes.
"Johanna, this is Robbie Inouye. Robbie, Johanna Lynch."
Oh my God. Kill me now.
Robbie Inouye scares the hell out of me. He might be retarded, or challenged, or whatever terminology you use to dance around the truth. He's definitely messed. His eyes aren't symmetrical, or could it be his head's on crooked? The corners of his mouth are always caked with dried-up spittle and he lumbers, drags his feet like Frankenstein. He's not big. I'm five eight and he's shorter than me, but he seems huge.
Once upon a time, slow-moving Robbie would get jostled in the hall. I'd see people cut in front of him, making him stumble. Then came last November, right before Thanksgiving. I remember because Novak had been dumped by her boyfriend, Dante--again--and it was taking longer than usual to stanch the internal bleeding.
We were in the restroom by the cafeteria. I got her past the point of slitting her wrists by reassuring her that she was an idiot for staying with him. "If I wasn't so fucking irresistible," she hiccuped, swiping at her nose, "I wouldn't attract vermin."
"Exactly," I replied. I was late; I couldn't stay to hold her hand. "I'm better off without the asshole." "Too true." I had a midterm in trig and I'd blown the last quiz.
"Thank you, sweetie." Novak hugged me. "What would I do without you?" She held me so hard I couldn't breathe.
So I'm charging out of the restroom, dodging bodies and wedging through the mob of people exiting the cafeteria. Late bell rings and my class is two flights up. Then I hear this cry, more of a keen or wail. I look over and see a blur of skin, bone, and loose spittle, bared teeth. It's Robbie.
Someone had taken the instrument case he carries around. A guy was swinging it over his head and Robbie was lying on the floor like he'd been jumped. His books and papers had spilled down the stairs and one of his shoes was off.
Without warning, he rose up like Atlantis emerging from the sea, like Goliath in a rage, fists flailing, screeching and bellowing so loud my ears squinched. The guy with the case passed it to another guy, then a girl, a guy, the girl again. Robbie went crazy. He started swinging in all directions, clawing to get that case. He let out this high-pitched hawk screech, along with foam and spit, then busted the girl right in the chops with his fist. I felt the impact as she screamed and dropped the case.
The first guy made the mistake of retaliating for his girlfriend, hooking Robbie's neck from behind. Robbie whirled and smacked the guy's head into a brick wall.
I heard--felt--the crunch of bone.
I don't know why I did it, but the case was only about two feet away and I bent to retrieve it. Robbie grabbed the case and swung it up. The corner smacked me in the chin and slammed me into the stair rail.
His face came inches from my face, then his eyes rolled back into his head and he hauled off and whacked me on the shoulder. I crashed, tumbling down the stairs, feeling vertebrae crush.
My shoulder was dislocated. This was before my sister, Tessa, moved back home, so Novak took me to the Urgent Care Center.
The guy Robbie clobbered had a concussion, and his girl a fat lip, but none of us pressed charges. Unhappily ever after, Robbie plodded the halls and people steered clear. Especially me.
"Robbie, why don't you find a seat?" Mrs. Goins says.
Franken Psycho's case brushes my leg and I jump back.
Before I can get a squeak out, Mrs. Goins lowers her voice and goes, "Thank you for doing this, Johanna. He needs to graduate."
So do I. "Mrs. Goins, my work schedule changed. I just found out today, and now I have to go in at two. Um, every day, I think." My eyes shift to Robbie and I see he's helped himself to the teacher's desk and is rolling in the office chair. He pulls open the top drawer and removes a stapler.
Mrs. Goins looks at me over her granny glasses. "I thought I could count on you."
My face flares. She sponsored the Youth Service Club when I was in it, before Mom got sick._._._._
"You're the first person I thought of." The pleading in her eyes. Or is it desperation?
"I-I guess I can change my schedule back."
She rests her hand on my forearm. "Thank you, Johanna."
Copyright © 2009 by Julie Anne Peters. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.