Jamie McGuire - Red Hill #1.5 - Among Monsters
Among Monsters (Red Hill #1.5)
REGRET WASN’T SOMETHING A THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD THOUGHT ABOUT MUCH. Lashing out or making a bad choice would typically be forgiven the moment the mistake was recognized, and then it would be forgotten. With volleyball, cheer squad, student council, piano lessons, and the occasional spare moment for a social life, there wasn’t much time for anything else, definitely not something as stupid as regret. But when all of that fell away, that was all I would be thinking about.
When I got out of Mom’s Suburban that morning, my thoughts swirled around what snotty comment Ally or Lizzie would say to me that day or if I would get all the way through lunch without a single crap remark. Math homework was due. Dad would be picking me up this afternoon.
Mom had mentioned being nice to his new girlfriend, but I wasn’t even sure who that might be. Ever since the divorce, Dad’s house had been a revolving door of single moms or women who were barely older than me.
At first, Dad had tried to control how much and how seriously Mom dated by example. His first girlfriend had her own kids, and she hadn’t come over much on the weekends when my little sister, Halle, and I were there. But after Dad had realized Mom wasn’t interested in dating—and he couldn’t hold his rules over her head—he’d quit caring. Girlfriend number two had broken us in, and he had felt okay with the idea of her being around us. By number three, he’d been just fine with her spending the night. He’d introduced us to Four thirty-six hours after their first date. Five had a toddler son, and Dad had moved my things out of my bedroom to make space for blue-and-red curtains, fire truck wall hangings, and a toy box full of dump trucks and miniature cars. Six had barely been old enough to drink and didn’t have kids, and even though my bedroom had become empty again, I was still stuck sharing a room with my seven-year-old sister.
Now, we were on Seven, so it was possible that my room was back to being occupied.
I slipped inside the glass double doors of Bishop Middle School without glancing back to see if Mom had pulled away. She always waited until I was at the doors. She probably didn’t even realize that she did it anymore.
The sky opened up, and large drops began to spatter against the windows. The tapping seemed to echo throughout the building as I walked up the stairs to the main floor. I turned left, heading toward my locker, and passed Mrs. Gizzo on the way.
She smiled brightly at me. “Just made it! Looking wet out there already,” she said.
“See you later.” She winked before passing me by.
Mrs. Gizzo taught my third-hour seventh grade English class. She didn’t mind when I’d write stories in class as long as my work was finished. Writing was pretty much the only outlet I had. Talking to Mom about being angry or frustrated with her wasn’t exactly happening. Talking to her about Dad would only cause a fight. Mrs. Gizzo had somehow gotten that about me, and she wouldn’t give me a hard time about getting the anger out of my system on paper like some of the other teachers had.
I stopped in front of my locker and turned the combination lock to four, forty-four, twelve. I pulled the handle with a jerk and opened the thin metal door before pulling out my pre-algebra book and then stuffing my backpack inside. I had spent too much time on my laptop the night before, so my math homework would have to be finished during homeroom.
My cell phone buzzed in my back pocket, and I turned my body to hide the bulky teal-and-purple case as I checked the message. It was from Dad, reminding me that he would be picking me up.
I’m not an idiot.
I typed back that I was aware, and then I shoved my phone back into my pocket.
“Hey, Jenna!” Chloe said with a big grin.
I jumped. “Hey.”
Her smile faded. “Is it your dad’s weekend?”
“Yeah,” I said, pulling my thick binder from my locker.
“That sucks. Well, maybe he’ll feel bad about last time and take you someplace fun.”
“Doubtful. Seven will likely be around.”
Chloe’s face screwed into disgust. “They have numbers now?”
“Might as well.” I exhaled, walking with her to homeroom.
When Chloe and I sat in our seats, I immediately pulled out the crinkled notebook paper bookmarking the page of problems I had to finish. Just ten minutes and four problems later, I folded my work in half and stuck it in my textbook.
Mr. Hilterbran was tapping on his cell phone while resting his chin on the heel of his other hand. I frowned, and motioned to Chloe. It was unlike him—or any teacher—to have a phone in view of the students. Seeing Mr. Hilterbran breaking the rules by ignoring us for whatever was on his phone was strangely unsettling.
Chloe leaned over. “He’s been like that since he sat down.”
Five minutes before the bell rang, Mr. Hilterbran seemed to snap out of his trance, and he blinked. “Have you heard about this epidemic in Europe?” he asked. “It’s all over the news.”
The twenty or so of us looked at each other and then stared blankly at our teacher. He simply looked back down at his phone and then shook his head in disbelief.
“What kind of epidemic?” I asked.
Mr. Hilterbran began to speak, but the bell rang. I gathered my things and waited while Chloe made a quick stop at her locker before going on to pre-algebra.
Chloe and I had all but one class together. Last hour, she had choir, and I had volleyball.
As we climbed the stairs to the second floor, Chloe grimaced. “Have you ever noticed all the smells in the stairway?”
Chloe’s bright red highlights peeked out from her chestnut hair. We used to look more alike, but her mom was a hairstylist, and since we’d started middle school, Chloe’s hair had become much more interesting than mine.
I waited for her always-thoughtful opinion. Her mind worked in the most puzzling and wonderful way, which was one of the many things I found so endearing about her. She was quiet unless she had something philosophical to say.
“Like perfume, BO, cologne, and mildew. The higher we climb, the worse it gets.”
“It’s the humidity,” I said.
She shook her head. “Maybe it’s the stairway telling us what to expect—like, every year, we’ll all be more defined as individuals. The stereotypes will just get stronger each year until we graduate.”