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Before I Fall, Page 2

Lauren Oliver

Page 2


  “I had to sit next to Rob while he filled out the request form,” I say, rolling my eyes. “It was like forced labor. ”

  Rob Cokran and I have been going out since October, but I’ve been in love with him since sixth grade, when he was too cool to talk to me. Rob was my first crush, or at least my first real crush. I did once kiss Kent McFuller in third grade, but that obviously doesn’t count since we’d just exchanged dandelion rings and were pretending to be husband and wife.

  “Last year I got twenty-two roses. ” Lindsay flicks her cigarette butt out of the window and leans over for a slurp of coffee. “I’m going for twenty-five this year. ”

  Each year before Cupid Day the student council sets up a booth outside the gym. For two dollars each, you can buy your friends Valograms—roses with little notes attached to them—and then they get delivered by Cupids (usually freshman or sophomore girls trying to get in good with the upperclassmen) throughout the day.

  “I’d be happy with fifteen,” I say. It’s a big deal how many roses you get. You can tell who’s popular and who isn’t by the number of roses they’re holding. It’s bad if you get under ten and humiliating if you don’t get more than five—it basically means that you’re either ugly or unknown. Probably both. Sometimes people scavenge for dropped roses to add to their bouquets, but you can always tell.

  “So. ” Lindsay shoots me a sideways glance. “Are you excited? The big day. Opening night. ” She laughs. “No pun intended. ”

  I shrug and turn toward the window, watching my breath frost the pane. “It’s no big deal. ” Rob’s parents are away this weekend, and a couple of weeks ago he asked me if I could spend the whole night at his house. I knew he was really asking if I wanted to have sex. We’ve gotten semi-close a few times, but it’s always been in the back of his dad’s BMW or in somebody’s basement or in my den with my parents asleep upstairs, and it’s always felt wrong.

  So when he asked me to stay the night, I said yes without thinking about it.

  Lindsay squeals and hits her palm against the steering wheel. “No big deal? Are you kidding? My baby’s growing up. ”

  “Oh, please. ” I feel heat creeping up my neck and know my skin’s probably going red and splotchy. It does this whenever I’m embarrassed. All the dermatologists, creams, and powders in Connecticut don’t help. When I was younger kids used to sing, “What’s red and white and weird all over? Sam Kingston!”

  I shake my head a little and rub the vapor off the window. Outside the world sparkles, like it’s been coated in varnish. “When did you and Patrick do it, anyway? Like three months ago?”

  “Yeah, but we’ve been making up for lost time since then. ” Lindsay rocks against her seat.

  “Gross. ”

  “Don’t worry, kid. You’ll be fine. ”

  “Don’t call me kid. ” This is one reason I’m happy I decided to have sex with Rob tonight: so Lindsay and Elody won’t make fun of me anymore. Thankfully, since Ally’s still a virgin it means I won’t be the very last one, either. Sometimes I feel like out of the four of us I’m always the one tagging along, just there for the ride. “I told you it was no big deal. ”

  “If you say so. ”

  Lindsay has made me nervous, so I count all the mailboxes as we go by. I wonder if by tomorrow everything will look different to me; I wonder if I’ll look different to other people. I hope so.

  We pull up to Elody’s house and before Lindsay can even honk, the front door swings open and Elody starts picking her way down the icy walkway, balancing on three-inch heels, like she can’t get out of her house fast enough.

  “Nipply outside much?” Lindsay says when Elody slides into the car. As usual she’s wearing only a thin leather jacket, even though the weather report said the high would be in the mid-twenties.

  “What’s the point of looking cute if you can’t show it off?” Elody shimmies her boobs and we crack up. It’s impossible to stay stressed when she’s around, and the knot in my stomach loosens.

  Elody makes a clawing gesture with her hand and I pass her a coffee. We all take it the same way: large hazelnut, no sugar, extra cream.

  “Watch where you’re sitting. You’ll squish the bagels. ” Lindsay frowns into the rearview mirror.

  “You know you want a piece of this. ” Elody gives her butt a smack and we all laugh again.

  “Save it for Muffin, you horn dog. ”

  Steve Dough is Elody’s latest victim. She calls him Muffin because of his last name, and because he’s yummy (she says; he looks too greasy for me, and he always smells like pot). They have been hooking up for a month and a half now.

  Elody’s the most experienced of any of us. She lost her virginity sophomore year and has already had sex with two different guys. She was the one who told me she was sore after the first couple of times she had sex, which made me ten times more nervous. It may sound crazy, but I never really thought of it as something physical, something that would make you sore, like soccer or horseback riding. I’m scared that I won’t know what to do, like when we used to play basketball in gym and I’d always forget who I was supposed to be guarding or when I should pass the ball and when I should dribble it.

  “Mmm, Muffin. ” Elody puts a hand on her stomach. “I’m starving. ”

  “There’s a bagel for you,” I say.

  “Sesame?” Elody asks.

  “Obviously,” Lindsay and I say at the same time. Lindsay winks at me.

  Just before we get to school we roll down the windows and blast Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama. ” I close my eyes and think back to homecoming and my first kiss with Rob, when he pulled me toward him on the dance floor and suddenly my lips were on his and his tongue was sliding under my tongue and I could feel the heat from all the colored lights pressing down on me like a hand, and the music seemed to echo somewhere behind my ribs, making my heart flutter and skip in time. The cold air coming through the window makes my throat hurt and the bass comes through the soles of my feet just like it did that night, when I thought I would never be happier; it goes all the way up to my head, making me dizzy, like the whole car is going to split apart from the sound.


  Popularity’s a weird thing. You can’t really define it, and it’s not cool to talk about it, but you know it when you see it. Like a lazy eye, or porn.

  Lindsay’s gorgeous, but the rest of us aren’t that much prettier than anybody else. Here are my good traits: big green eyes, straight white teeth, high cheekbones, long legs. Here are my bad traits: a too-long nose, skin that gets blotchy when I’m nervous, a flat butt.

  Becky DiFiore’s just as pretty as Lindsay, and I don’t think Becky even had a date to junior homecoming. Ally’s boobs are pretty big, but mine are borderline nonexistent (when Lindsay’s in a bad mood she calls me Samuel, not Sam or Samantha). And it’s not like we’re shiny perfect or our breath always smells like lilacs or something. Lindsay once had a burping contest with Jonah Sasnoff in the cafeteria and everyone applauded her. Sometimes Elody wears fuzzy yellow slippers to school. I once laughed so hard in social studies I spit up vanilla latte all over Jake Somers’s desk. A month later we made out in Lily Angler’s toolshed. (He was bad. )

  The point is, we can do things like that. You know why? Because we’re popular. And we’re popular because we can get away with everything. So it’s circular.

  I guess what I’m saying is there’s no point in analyzing it. If you draw a circle, there will always be an inside and an outside, and unless you’re a total nut job, it’s pretty easy to see which is which. It’s just what happens.

  I’m not going to lie, though. It’s nice that everything’s easy for us. It’s a good feeling knowing you can basically do whatever you want and there won’t be any consequences. When we get out of high school we’ll look back and know we did everything right, that we kissed the cutest boys and went to the best parties, got in just enough trouble, lis
tened to our music too loud, smoked too many cigarettes, and drank too much and laughed too much and listened too little, or not at all. If high school were a game of poker, Lindsay, Ally, Elody, and I would be holding 80 percent of the cards.

  And believe me: I know what it’s like to be on the other side. I was there for the first half of my life. The bottom of the bottom, lowest of the low. I know what it’s like to have to squabble and pick and fight over the leftovers.

  So now I have first pick of everything. So what. That’s the way it is.

  Nobody ever said life was fair.

  We pull into the parking lot exactly ten minutes before first bell. Lindsay guns it toward the lower lot, where the faculty spaces are, scattering a group of sophomore girls. I can see red and white lace dresses peeking out under their coats, and one of them is wearing a tiara. Cupids, definitely.

  “Come on, come on, come on,” Lindsay mutters as we pull behind the gym. This is the only row in the lower lot not reserved for staff. We call it Senior Alley, even though Lindsay’s been parking here since junior year. It’s the VIP of parking at Jefferson, and if you miss out on a spot—there are only twenty of them—you have to park all the way in the upper lot, which is a full . 22 miles from the main entrance. We checked one time, and now whenever we talk about it we have to use the exact distance. Like, “Do you really want to walk . 22 miles in this rain?”

  Lindsay squeals when she sees an open space, jerking her wheel to the left. At the same time, Sarah Grundel is pulling up her brown Chevrolet from the other direction, angling it into the spot.

  “Oh, hell no. No way. ” Lindsay leans on the horn, even though it’s obvious Sarah was here before us, then presses her foot on the accelerator. Elody shrieks as hot coffee sloshes all over her shirt. There is the high-pitched squeal of rubber, and Sarah Grundel slams on her brakes just before Lindsay’s Range Rover takes off her bumper.

  “Nice. ” Lindsay pulls into the spot and throws her car in park. Then she opens her door and leans out.

  “Sorry, sweetie!” she calls to Sarah. “I didn’t see you there. ” This is obviously a lie.

  “Great. ” Elody is mopping up coffee with a balled-up Dunkin’ Donuts napkin. “Now I get to go around all day with my boobs smelling like hazelnut. ”

  “Guys like food smells,” I say. “I read it in Glamour. ”

  “Put a cookie down your pants and Muffin will probably jump you before homeroom. ” Lindsay flips down the rearview mirror and checks her face.

  “Maybe you should try it with Rob, Sammy. ” Elody throws the coffee-stained napkin at me and I catch it and peg it back.

  “What?” She’s laughing. “You didn’t think I’d forget about your big night, did you?” She fishes in her bag and the next thing that flies over the seat is a crumpled-up condom with bits of tobacco stuck to its wrapper. Lindsay cracks up.