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dirty little secrets

c. j. omololu

For Bayo, who always knew

Table of Contents

chapter 1

chapter 2

chapter 3

chapter 4

chapter 5

chapter 6

chapter 7

chapter 8

chapter 9

chapter 10

chapter 11

chapter 12

chapter 13

chapter 14

chapter 15

chapter 16

chapter 17

chapter 18

chapter 19

chapter 20

acknowledgments

chapter 1

before

Everyone has secrets. Some are just bigger and dirtier than others.

At least that’s what I told myself whenever I stood in a crowd of normal-looking people and felt like I was the only one. The only person on the planet who had to hide practically everything that was real. It was soothing to look at all the unfamiliar faces and try to figure out the thing each person hid inside—true or not, it made me feel like less of a freak.

I’ll bet that guy in the red hoodie picks his nose when he thinks nobody is looking. And the kid with the baseball cap pulled too low over his eyes? Totally stoned on the pain pills he steals from his mother. See how that girl in the corner stands just a little apart from everyone else? Her dad probably smacks her around when he’s had too much to drink. Mom never laid a hand on me. There was that, anyway.

Despite the press of bodies, it was nice to know I could stand in the middle of a swirling mass of people and nobody would really see me. Nobody would know what my life was like, and nobody would ask me questions that were impossible to answer. I loved the glazed, faraway look people got as they glanced at you with a smile that faded as they quickly realized they didn’t know you—their eyes scanned your face and, without a flicker of recognition, moved on to the next person. You were a factor in their life for a nanosecond and then you were gone.

Which is why being friends with Kaylie this year had been so stressful. With her, the nanosecond in art class had extended into months of hanging out, and there was always that nagging worry in the back of my head that it would turn out just like it had before. I always tried to be careful—watching what I said and what she knew, but sometimes it got exhausting. It was nice having a friend, though, nicer than I’d ever imagined, and that made it worth the effort.

As my eyes traveled over the people in the lobby, I couldn’t help glancing in Josh’s direction. Whether we were in the school hallway teeming with bodies or in a crowded movie theater lobby, my eyes went straight to him. Not that he had a clue or probably even remembered my name, but the last thing I wanted was for him to catch me staring. Which I wasn’t. Much.

“Lucy, what do you want to see?” Kaylie was standing beside me, squinting up at the movie listings. She said that sticking her finger in her eye to put in contacts was gross and glasses made her look like a mathlete, so for now, she just wandered through life squinting at things. “The new one with Johnny Depp isn’t out until next week, so it’s either a chick flick with an unrealistically happy ending or an action/adventure with cute guys constantly in danger.”

“You choose,” I said, not wanting to make the wrong decision and pick a movie she really wouldn’t like. It was great that I’d finally found someone who shared my deep Johnny Depp love. Kaylie even had the complete set of 21 Jump Street DVDs, and we’d spent hours at her house devouring every episode—well, at least through season four when he left the show. Jump Street without Johnny was pointless. I fished around in my bag for my wallet. “I’ve got this one.”

“Are you sure? I have money . . .”

“I’m sure,” I said. “Dad sent me a fat check for Christmas. Technically, he’s taking us to the movies.” It wasn’t like I was trying to buy Kaylie’s friendship. At least I didn’t mean it that way. It was just that sometimes I felt a little guilty. With everything I had to hide, the least I could do was pay for a movie now and then.

“Thanks,” she said, putting her money back in her purse. “It’s so cool he sends you cash. It would almost be worth having divorced parents if I could get paid regularly.”

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