Chapter One

“Don’t you think he’s the coolest!” Margaret squealed. Ellie smiled as she walked with her friend down the school hallway after class. She could talk about the latest heartthrob on her favourite TV show all day. Margaret was about to say more when a step away from the right turn leading to the lockers Patrick came around the corner, almost bumping into them.

At five foot ten, Patrick towered over them, with his dark blue eyes and dark brown hair giving him an intense look that always surprised Ellie. He had a wry smile on his face. Ellie looked at him wide-eyed, mortified by the derision she saw on his face. He looked back at her and said, “So, do you think I’m the coolest?”

“No!” said Ellie. “I mean, yes. I mean—”

By this time Patrick’s friends had caught up to him and were laughing. Ellie’s face and chest grew warmer by the second. Though she knew her tan skin wouldn’t show her blushing, she still looked down, embarrassed. But the boys were already moving on, white shirts half pulled out of their navy blue uniform pants. Their laughter continued to resonate down the hall.

Margaret looked at Ellie with her nose pinched up on one side. “Since when do you let some stupid guy make you look stupid? Why didn’t you talk back? He was obviously just kidding. It’s not like he’s into you or anything. Plus, he’s been going out with Jennifer Cook for like two months now.” Margaret laughed and said, “Unless you’re into him too!”

“Nooo! I was just surprised, that’s all.”

Margaret accepted this answer without protest. Though a bit wounded by Margaret’s mocking tone, Ellie was relieved her secret was still safe. After all, Patrick was two years older than they were. Not to mention the fact that he was popular and going out with an equally popular blond girl. All Ellie expected from Patrick was for him to star in her romantic fantasies. The last thing she wanted was for others to know about that.

And besides, Ellie thought, I have more important things to do than fawn over him. She had to finish her essay on her new favourite subject. The essay itself was for English class, but Mr Grubber, in an effort to fan some enthusiasm into his students’ essay writing, had left the choice of topic open. A few weeks earlier, Ellie had discovered the world of sixteenth-century England and was fascinated by it. Mr Grubber had told her she’d have to narrow down her focus on a specific person or event of that period if she wished to fit it into a three-to five-page essay. He’d even smiled when he said he’d be happy to read her paper. She wanted to write the best essay she possibly could. The only real obstacle in the way of achieving her goal was finding enough time to work on it while also working on her other homework.

“Are you listening to me?” Margaret asked as they stopped in front of her locker. She’d already unbuttoned her collar and hung the red clip-on tie on the second button of her shirt.

“Yeah, you were talking about that new guy on that TV show. What’s his name again?”

“Chad. But no, I was talking about the algebra test we have next Monday.”

“Oh, right.” Ellie wasn’t much more interested in math than she was in the TV show. Math was her weakest subject, even when she studied like crazy for a better grade.

Once Margaret had picked up all her things from the locker, they walked to the main entrance where Jessica was waiting for them.

 

*      *      *

 

Jessica and Margaret chattered about Jessica’s love interest while Ellie unlocked the front door to her house. The girls often got off the bus at her stop to hangout before going home to study. Ellie felt the cool October wind on her legs. The knee socks and the knee-length pleated navy skirt were mandatory for school, but outside, they weren’t much protection from the autumn wind. The leggings and wool tights would have to come out soon. She hated having to wear a skirt every day, especially during winter.

Simon usually arrived home thirty minutes before she did. As she walked into the house, she thought it strange that her little brother wasn’t in the living room playing a video game with his friends. Maybe he’s at a friend’s place playing some game or other, she thought. She bypassed the living room as usual and went straight up the stairs to her room. Her friends followed close behind, still chatting and laughing. But just as Ellie was about to join in the conversation, she heard scuffling coming from inside her room.

She stomped the last few steps and shoved the door open. There, she found Simon grinning up at her, still hunched over her diary. The broken lock dangled from the cover. She then looked up at his friend, who was standing next to him with a look of cowering denial on his face.

“Simon! What are you doing in my room?”

Looking her square in the face, he said, “I was reading your diary. Your love diary.” Snickering, Simon looked up at his friend, who couldn’t help but respond with a muffled laugh of his own.

That was the last straw. Ellie, unsure of how much she wanted to say in response in front of her friends, opted for a loud growl as she bounded forward. Anticipating her reaction, Simon leaped up onto her bed and landed on the other side. Ellie skirted around it to catch him but missed as he jumped his way back to where his friend was still standing. “You can’t catch me!” he said with glee as he ran toward the door.

Ellie rushed past her friends in pursuit of Simon, who was flying down the stairs in a mad dash to get away. He had his running shoes on, and escaped out the front door. Ellie cursed herself for forgetting to lock the door on her way in. She now had to waste precious seconds slipping some shoes on before continuing after him. Seeing he had a slight lead, Simon stopped for a moment to taunt her even more.

“I can’t wait to tell everyone who you’re in love with! They’re gonna be so happy when I tell them!” He laughed as he started running again.

Judging by the direction he was running in, Ellie thought it was a pretty sure bet he was going to tell her crush himself. Simon was friends with Patrick’s youngest brother. Ellie sprinted after him. She knew Simon had been itching to get back at her for telling on him when his latest stupid prank had gone wrong and made a mess. But this was going too far.

At fourteen, she was bigger than Simon, who had just turned ten. She knew if she focused, she could definitely catch up to him before he ran the four blocks to Patrick’s house. This time she would give him a beating he wouldn’t soon forget.

Ellie could see quick movement from across the street—Simon’s red baseball cap. Grateful for the hint of colour she could see flitting between the parked cars, she followed her little brother from the opposite sidewalk. Intent on catching the object of her fury, she ran blindly, only narrowly avoiding trampling a small dog. As she gained on him, she saw an empty parking space between two parked cars. Ellie rushed headlong into the space and sped up as she crossed the street.

She heard a long, loud honk.

The car appeared out of nowhere.

Her mind registered the sound of tires screaming. Her head jerked to the right. And, mid-stride, she stopped running. Ellie was so surprised, she never even cried out.