froze, and then I could see each muscle stiffen and all his hairs stand on end. Then he turned around, slowly, and his eyes were colder than ice and filled with hurt, and something else that seemed like a sense of betrayal. I just want to know. Those words made him unfreeze and fill with anger, and he started screaming about how crazy I was. I pushed more, asked more questions, prompting him to slap me. Hard. I clenched my jaw, held back the tears, and walked to school. School that day was awkward. I walked into class, keeping my head down. Mr. Howard flashed a quick smile and kept going, then stopped. He took a doubletake, then stiffly walked back towards me and squinted hard. Our conversation went as follows: “Andrew, could I see you in the hall for a sec.” It was more a command than a request. “Why?” I said, much too tersely. A quick scan of the room. “Just for a second.” I followed behind slowly, trying to flip my hair over what must have been an angry red handprint. “Is everything fine at home?” “Yes. Perfect.” Big mistake. Perfect, in this case, seemed to mean ‘Please call CPS and get me into the foster system,’ and Mr. Howard’s eyebrows shot up in concern. “Andrew, who hit you?” His voice seemed so small and fragile in comparison to his large figure, like sugar glass. I looked down the hall. “Nobody,” I mumbled. “Maybe I just leaned on my hand too hard on the bus,” I offered, shrugging a shoulder. Which was an obvious lie, because, even though we were only three years apart, Conner’s hand was about twice as big as my own. Another tug of the eyebrows, then an “Okay.” I’m pretty sure he still thinks my parents beat me up. All that was forgotten now, though. I race blindly through the dark, to the house that was always my rock. My second family lived there. It was the place I went when I fought with my parents and was too pissed to stay at my own place. I’d had my first sleepover there, and hid my report cards in his closet when I was too afraid to show my parents, and did countless other things there that had seemed stupid until now. All I can think about now is saving him. If it’s not too late. I swallow hard, trying to force the morbid thought out of my head. But that only left more room for his last words. Last words. Why would I think that? Shut up, I tell myself. I finally get to his house and start fumbling for the key. In the window paneling, eighth strip from the bottom. They refuse to keep it under the cliched 32

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