I thought about how to answer that loaded question. Should I tel her about Missy and company’s suspicious continued attempts at friendliness and blame my distractedness on that? I knew that Ruth didn’t real y care that much about their clique, but no one liked to be snubbed and they weren’t exactly seeking her out, even though Ruth and I were kind of a package deal. Or should I stick with the overwhelming schoolwork as the excuse for my preoccupation? I sure didn’t want to pin it on some mystery guy in the hal way. “I’m sorry, I guess the teachers’ constant harping about col ege has got me distracted. What were you saying?”

“I was actual y talking about col eges. Geez, you real y are somewhere else, aren’t you? There wasn’t some guy in Kenya this summer that you’ve been keeping to yourself, was there?”

Ruth’s suggestion was ridiculous given the stark reality of my summer in Kenya, and I almost laughed. Until I saw her face. She looked real y hurt at the thought that I might keep something from her. I would have thought that my best friend of seven years—almost like the sister I didn’t have—

would know better.

But Ruth was complicated. Anyone close to her could see that she was witty, smart, dependable, and intensely loyal, albeit the kind of loyal that occasional y bordered on possessiveness. But you had to get close to see al her wonderful qualities, which wasn’t easy. Ruth lost her mother to cancer when she was in first grade—only months before we met—and she was afraid to let people in, in case they left her, like her mom. To protect herself, she’d erected enormous barriers to friendship, and I was one of the only ones who’d managed to surmount those wal s.

“No, I swear. I was up to my elbows in composting and African animal manure. It was hardly a glamorous atmosphere to meet a guy.”

Ruth laughed. “Gross. But knowing your parents, I’m not surprised.” Satisfied, she started talking about her wish list of col eges and the criteria for acceptance, who got in at what rates and al that stuff. I wished that Ruth didn’t worry so much; I knew she’d have her pick when the time came, even though she’d have to rely on scholarships and financial aid to pay her way. Her dad’s salary as a groundskeeper at the university didn’t go too far.

We bussed our trays and made plans to meet up at the coffee shop after school. I walked back to my locker to switch out my English textbooks for Spanish, hoping to avoid Missy and her friends if at al possible. Letting out a sigh of relief as I neared number twenty-four without Piper’s trademark auburn ponytail in sight, I saw him— standing by my locker.

He couldn’t be waiting there for me. It had to be a coincidence. Whatever his reason, I sure wished that I’d stopped in the bathroom after lunch and at least brushed my hair.

Up close, he was better-looking than I remembered, even though he was more striking than cute. But his eyes, so pale and green, unsettled me.

Much as mine must unnerve people, I suddenly realized. It was the first time I’d seen anything like them on another person.

I almost couldn’t talk as I reached my locker. But I didn’t have to. Within seconds, he said, “You look different.”

I reminded myself that I’d never met this guy before. What did he mean, and who did he think he was, talking to me with such familiarity?

“Different from what? I don’t know how I could possibly look ‘different,’ when we’ve never met before,” I said and buried myself in my locker.

“We have. Three summers ago. In Guatemala.”

That stopped me short. I had been in Guatemala then. As I took my time sorting through my books, I racked my brain. Three summers ago, I had tagged along with my parents’ university training program to a remote, rural area in Guatemala. My parents were col ege professors specializing in organic farming and, during the summers, they organized trips to destinations around the world, teaching local farmers’ methods to increase production in an earth-friendly manner. Not exactly the jet-setting world travel that Missy probably envisioned. I was expected to rol up my sleeves just like al the other professors, students, and local farmers, so I got to know everyone in the summer programs real y wel . But I had no recol ection of this guy. And he was the kind of guy you’d remember.

This had to be some kind of prank. Maybe this was Missy’s backup humiliation plan because her attempts at faux friendship were failing. Why else would a cute, new senior be approaching me, claiming some nonexistent past acquaintance? Not that I thought I was without charm, mind you, but I was hardly the typical pick for a good- looking senior.

I would not be made a fool, especial y by the jerks who thought of themselves as popular. As if that label meant anything in the scheme of life.

Slamming my locker door shut, I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

As I started to walk away, I heard him say, “You don’t remember the University of Maine agricultural outreach program in Guatemala? Three summers ago? We were both there with our parents.”

The confusion in his voice sounded real. And so did his command of the details. No way Missy would have known al that. No way Piper would have remembered it from our few neighborly conversations. I turned around. He actual y looked hurt.

I was about to risk further discussion, when Riley—one of the most popular senior guys and a star athlete— walked by and grabbed his arm. If this guy was friends with Riley, I definitely wasn’t his type. Assuming this wasn’t a joke, of course.

Before I could say anything, Riley started to drag him down the hal way. “Come on, Chase. We’l be late for practice.”

Chapter Three

“Do you remember a guy named Chase? From one of our summer trips?” I asked as casual y as possible over dinner that night. I kept my eyes down and played with the pasta on my plate to avoid contact with my parents’ perceptive eyes. I wasn’t used to being coy with them; I’d never had anything of interest to hide. But saying the question aloud made me feel oddly exposed.

“Chase?” my mom asked.

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