The Girl Who Fell - S.M. Parker

Chapter 1

The Beginning:

Three Months Earlier

I’ve got one foot in this world and one in the next.

Stuck in the limbo of being a high school senior. Here, but dreaming of next year, of college and freedom. Freedom from hall passes, curfews, field hockey pressure, and conjugating French verbs in a gray classroom on the most beautiful day of autumn. I twist a ringlet of my too curly hair and stare at the lone sugar maple in the courtyard outside room 104. It’s early October and most of the leaves have already fired into reds and golds. One mad burst of flame at the end of a growing season. Just like senior year.

A pale yellow finch settles onto a high branch and twitches its head nervously. I watch it scan for what? Predators? Its mate? An early acceptance letter from Boston College? Around me, the room fills with the muffled sounds of students shuffling in. Conversations hush and quicken. The metal legs of a dozen chairs scrape the floor as the teacher writes “Learning Target for Français” in flawless cursive on the whiteboard just as Gregg fills the seat next to me like he’s sliding into home plate. His chair glides a few inches closer and he’s in my face, all shoulders and cologne.

“Bonjeer, Zephyr.” He winks. “Looking good,” he tells me, like he tells every girl on the planet. Even so, a blush pushes onto my cheeks, like always. It’s embarrassing how easily I embarrass.

Gregg Slicer is my oldest friend and a legend at Sudbury High for being the best ice hockey player in the history of our school. And I mean The. History. Colleges from all over the Northeast have been scouting him since our sophomore year. Today he’s wearing his red mesh number 17 hockey jersey and even though I can’t see the back, I know it reads SLICE in oversize white block letters. Everyone in Sudbury, New Hampshire, calls him Slice because the boosters have invested a fortune marketing “The Slice on Ice.” We take our hockey seriously in these parts. So seriously that Gregg’s parents even call him Slice. Me? I’m the sole holdout for refusing to feed his ego.

“Did you—” I start, but he’s talking to someone on his opposite side, someone I don’t recognize.

Mrs. Sarter begins in hitch-pitched French, “Bonjour mes étudiants. Es-vous bien?”

Bien on a Monday? I don’t think so.

Her teacher-speak fades into background noise as I consider the identity of the new student sitting next to Gregg. I lean back and catch a glimpse of the boy’s neatly cropped, golden brown hairline. Huh. I study the collar of his blue oxford shirt, rumpled slightly. But Gregg’s wide frame blocks a clear view. When did Gregg’s head get so big? I lean forward, glimpsing New Boy’s footwear. Faded black Converse. Long legs. His jeans are an Abercrombie shade of worn denim. His fingers drum a tune onto the broad part of his thigh. I fixate on the song he’s tapping. Old-school rock? Black Eyed Peas? Something from the Grease soundtrack?

Next to me, Gregg opens his textbook. The room fills with pages being fanned, the collective hunt for chapitre huit. I flip open my book to a random page, but keep my eyes cut to New Boy. There’s something about the boy’s elongated fingers, the steady, sure rhythm that’s coursing through to his fingertips.

When Gregg drops his pencil and bends to retrieve it, New Boy turns my way, stares at me across the void. His eyes flicker cinnamon brown, like newly minted copper pennies. He shoots me a casual head toss and my breath catches in