(Sample Chapters)





Str-S-d #1


Today at school Lucy Cunningham looked at me like I was something the cat coughed up. I don’t have to explain who Lucy is. You already know because there’s only one kind of girl who would look at anyone that way. I’m going to be completely honest here because, after all, what’s the point of pretending? So here goes. It really hurts when Lucy looks at me that way. But here’s what hurts even more. Sometimes when people look at me that way, I feel like maybe they’re right.



Str-S-d  #2


 I hate myself. I know I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to say that I know that deep down I’m a really good person and only shallow people care what about appearances. Well, I guess deep down I’m really shallow because I would give anything not to look like me. Why couldn’t I have been born pretty? Or really smart and clever? Or talented? Anything.




1) Hello? WOW, I just read what you wrote. Hey, I’m not sure I know you, but I really wish you felt better about yourself. I mean, don’t YOU believe everyone has something good about themselves? And you ARE talented. That line about deep down you’re really shallow is FUNNY. -- ApRilzDay


2) It is? I didn’t mean it that way. But thanks anyway, I guess. -- Str-S-d



Str-S-d #3


This girl once asked me why I didn’t at least wear nicer clothes. That’s what she said, “at least.” As if it bothered her that I didn’t even try. Not that my mom has the money. But that’s not the real answer. The real answer is that do you know what would happen if I tried to wear nicer clothes to school? They’d say, “Oh, look at her. She’s trying to fix herself up. How hopeless is that?” Why do they have to be so mean and catty?




1) Cause theyre totally inseeecure and neeed 2 find someone 2 dump on so people wont dump on them. – Realgurl4013.


2) It really isn’t about what THEY think. It’s about what YOU think. Wearing nice new things makes ME feel good. I mean, I guess I do care what other people think. But it’s really for ME. I mean, maybe you could TRY it once and see what happens? You might be surprised. – ApRilzDay


3) I don’t know. I guess I could try. -- Str-S-d



Str-S-d #4


I want to die. I would kill myself right now. If only I had the guts. So today I did something nice with my hair and wore this cute top my aunt got me for my birthday and … God, I can’t believe I did this … a padded bra? And they laughed. You know how they bunch up in the hall and stare at you, then turn to each other and laugh and keep glancing at you to make sure you know it’s you they’re laughing at? I just wanted to die, vanish, evaporate, cease to exist. And the worst thing was I was stuck there. At least until lunch. Then I went home and changed. I didn’t know how I could go back to school, but then I remembered my mom had this medicine for when she gets really upset. It’s not like it gets you high or anything. So I figured, just this once. It helped a little.




1) Hey, hey, I say, whatever gets you through the day day, is Oh-Oh-Okay. – Realgurl4013.


2) Doesn’t get you high? Then what’s the point? – 4204ever


3) Seriously? God, I’m so sorry that happened! I mean, like I feel it’s partly MY fault for suggesting it. But at least YOU were BRAVE enough to try, right? Maybe if you keep doing it they’ll get used to it and not even notice anymore. – ApRilzDay


4) You can’t be serious. Try again? You obviously don’t have a clue how horrible it feels. -- Str-S-d



Str-S-d #5


It’s taken me a long time to get to this point. I said I was being honest, but I wasn’t completely because I didn’t say what I was really thinking. I mean, wishing people would die. . That’s how I really feel most of the time. I just wish they would die. I didn’t write it before because I tell myself I shouldn’t feel that way. But the more I try to rid myself of these thoughts, the stronger they grow. So forget trying to be nice. Forget trying to pretend. Those people have made my life miserable. I want them to die. I’ll begin with Lucy. She is definitely first on the list. You can’t believe how it feels to be in the cafeteria and turn around and there she is staring at me like I’m some disgusting bug or vermin. Does she really think I want to be this way? I hate you, Lucy. I really hate you. You are my #1 pick. I wish you were dead.




1) God, I know just how you feeel. Popular kids suuuck. – Realgurl4013.


2) Did it ever occur to you to try and improve your looks instead of just being a crybaby complainer? – Ru22cool?


3) Go read #4, Ru22. -- Str-S-d


3) Perhaps your wish will come true. – IaMnEmEsIs


4) I’m sorry, but I think this is REALLY wrong. I know they were really nasty mean to you the other day, but you have to realize that it’s just because THEY’RE the stupid and immature ones. But wishing someone would die is really wrong. Really. – ApRilzDay






Sunday 3:09 A.M.



THE RED TAILLIGHTS of Tyler Starling's ugly purple car dis­appeared into the dark. It was just after three a.m., chilly and quiet. Lucy Cunningham stepped off her front walk and strolled down the dark tree-lined street. The last thing she needed was for her father to look through the bedroom window and see her smoking.


Lucy hugged herself, her thin jacket not warm enough in the crisp November air. Except for a few lights above front doors, the houses on her block were dark. In the sky above, stars sparkled through the bare tree branches. It was almost eerily silent, but Lucy was too busy thinking about the fight she'd just had with Adam to notice.


On the surface, the argument had been about the future. She wanted to apply to Stanford. But Adam was dead set on Harvard. Being both an excellent lacrosse goalie and a straight-A student with 2300 boards, he had a very good chance of being accepted. But why couldn't he also apply to Stanford? Their lacrosse team was better than Harvard's.


She took a drag. The cigarette glowed red-hot as tobacco turned to ash and smoke filled her lungs in that strangely soothing way she seemed to crave more and more lately. Just as she had begun to look forward to drinking every Friday and Saturday night. Yes, she'd been warned not to drink while on her meds. Yes, she'd been told a thousand times that smoking kills. But after a fight like the one she'd just had with Adam, how could she not?


Lucy shivered. Don't pretend, she told herself. The real issue between Adam and her wasn't college. It was about Adam ending their relationship. She'd been losing him for months and, dis­tracted by school and SATs and college garbage, hadn't even no­ticed. But there was no doubt in her mind that tonight he'd begun to lay the groundwork for a breakup. How? By making sure she saw what she'd failed to see before—that there was someone else.


Lucy cursed herself for being so blind. Why hadn't she figured it out sooner? Adam had lost interest. Even being extra sweet and attentive tonight, and touching him in all the right places hadn't worked. So it was time to switch to damage-control mode. No boy had ever dumped her before, and it wasn't going to happen now. She would simply have to dump him first... right now. As soon as she went inside she would post it on Facebook so that the evidence of it... the timing of it... would be there for everyone to see. And then she would apply to Stanford. She wouldn't give in to Adam. She had always been a winner, would always be a winner. And winners did whatever it took not to lose. So good-bye, Adam Pinter.


Lucy crushed the butt of the cigarette with her shoe. No matter what her problems, she could overcome them. It was a matter of will. If you worked hard enough, you could do anything. Whatever Lucy was, she'd willed herself to become.She'd worked for it, suffered for it, agonized, and fought for it. If it meant cheating on a test to get the highest grade, she did it. If it meant stealing someone's boyfriend because he was the hottest guy in the class, she did that, too. And this is just the start. After all, high school was nothing more than potty training for life.


Lost in thought, Lucy turned back through the dark silence toward her house. The tall trees cast skeletal night shadows. The quiet hung in the air around her like mist. Despite the solitude of the late hour, it never occurred to Lucy to feel nervous. This was Soundview, the best of neighborhoods, the place where she'd grown up and had always felt safe.


As she passed a wide tree that cast a thick, spidery shadow across the street, a figure quietly stepped out. Lucy never saw or heard a thing. The presence moved up behind her, barely dis­turbing the still air. From out of nowhere, a damp rag smelling strongly chemical was jammed hard against her nose and mouth. Alarm instantly raced from Lucy's core to her extremities. Her hands flew to her face and tried to tear the rag away, but that first breath of chemicals brought a fog to her brain, making her reactions sluggish. She flailed feebly at the strong gloved hands holding the rag, but her fingers seemed unable to grip. By the time she tried to scream, she'd taken a second breath, and the cry that left her throat, muffled by the rag, was so weak and faint that it sounded like the bleating of some distant forlorn animal.


The heavy fog was like a trapdoor pressing down on her con­sciousness.


Her knees gave out.


She went limp.


Her body would have collapsed in a heap were it not for the arms that went around her chest. Her attacker began to drag her around the corner to a parked car.


Lucy Cunningham's heels scraped along the dark, quiet street . . . and all her worries about the future became a thing of the past.






Sunday 3:02 A.M. (7 minutes earlier)




"RICH BITCH," TYLER Starling muttered as he steered with one hand and turned up the music with the other. It was something he called hard-style techno, which, he claimed, was very popular in Germany and the Netherlands.


Next to him in the dark car, I winced. The loud thumping music was raw electronic and difficult to follow. An assault on the ears, especially given the late hour, it only added to the discom­fort I was already feeling. All week I'd looked forward to spending tonight with this new, interesting guy who'd suddenly shown up at Soundview High almost a month after school began. He was tall, wiry, handsome, and, I thought, seriously sexy, with a slightly crooked nose that must have been the result of being broken.


But now, as the final moments of our night together approached, my plans were slipping away into disappointment. Tyler's "rich bitch" comment just made it worse. If he didn't like rich people, I was in serious trouble.


There were other reasons to feel discomfort. By dropping Lucy Cunningham off in front of her house and driving away, we'd broken an important Safe Rides rule—making sure "the client" was safely inside before we left. But it was nearly three a.m., and Lucy was being a complete pain, standing in the street and refus­ing to go into her house. What were we supposed to do? Take her by the hand and lead her to the front door?


"She's not like that most of the time," I said.


"Why are you making excuses for her?" Tyler asked as he drove.


"Because I've known her for a long time. In fact, in middle school, we were best friends."


"That doesn't give her the right to dump on us." Tyler craned his neck for the street signs that would lead us out of Lucy's neighborhood.


Twenty minutes earlier, we'd picked her up at Cassan­dra Quinn's house. It was just after two thirty, and through the brightly lit windows we could see that the party was still going strong. The front door had opened and Lucy stumbled across the lawn with the unsteady gait of someone who'd been intimate with Jell-O shots. I was surprised by that, considering the medications she was taking. And why had she called Safe Rides instead of roll­ing with Adam?


She opened the back door and got in. "Take me home," she grumbled. "And make it snappy."


Tyler started to drive, the hard-style techno blaring.


"Would you turn that crap off?" Lucy demanded.


Tyler turned the music down, but not off. I heard a telltale rustle from the backseat. Lucy had placed a cigarette in her lips.


"No smoking, Lucy," I said.


"Drop dead," she grumbled, and searched her bag for a light.


Tyler looked at her in the rearview mirror. "Keep smoking and you'll beat us to it."


Lucy harrumphed as she pulled out a green plastic lighter and thumbed it. A flame shot up. She lit the cigarette, rolled the window halfway down, and exhaled. Cold November air rushed into the car. I tightened my red cashmere scarf around my neck.


"Could anything be more pathetic than this?" Lucy muttered. "Why are you chauffeuring people around on a Saturday night?"


"It's my community-service requirement," I said. "How was the party anyway?"


"Beside the huge fight I had with Adam?" Lucy said. "It sucked. Same old, same old, except for some FCC creeps. I so cannot wait for high school to end."


We rode in silence until Lucy looked into the rearview mirror and caught Tyler's eye. "I know you. You're the one who wears that black trench coat and always sits by yourself at lunch. A regu­lar social butterfly."


Tyler stared back at her for what seemed longer than neces­sary. I felt an unexpected stab of jealousy. Like a starlet in one of those old black-and-white movies, Lucy was the beautiful blonde sitting in the shadows, smoking. The one who always got the hero. And knew what to do with him, too. Meanwhile, all I'd wanted all night was for Tyler to look at me the way he'd just looked at Lucy.


"Tyler, please watch where you're going," I said.


“You heard her, Tyler," Lucy added from the back. "Be a good little boy; eyes on the road."


A few moments later we stopped in front of Lucy's house, a large white colonial rising up behind a broad swath of carefully manicured lawn, speckled with orange, yellow, and brown leaves.


Lucy got out without a "thank you" and banged the car door closed. She took a few steps up the path, then stopped and turned with an annoyed frown on her face.


I opened my window. "We're supposed to make sure every­one goes inside."


For no apparent reason other than pure orneriness, Lucy held up the lighter and lit a second cigarette, crossed her arms, and gazed up at the stars while she exhaled.


I closed the window and turned to Tyler. "Maybe we should go."


"You sure?" he asked.


It was almost three in the morning and hard to imagine that Lucy was going anywhere except inside. I was tired and disappointed that nothing had developed with Tyler. Now I just wanted to get into bed. "She's just being obstinate. I bet she'll go inside the second we leave."


We drove away, leaving Lucy standing in front of her house. Tyler turned the bad music back up. In no time it was giving me a headache.


"Tyler, I'm sorry to say this. Maybe it's the time of night, and I'm just really drained, but that music is so hard to take," I said. "Is it totally obnoxious of me to ask if you'd turn it down?"


"Not at all." He turned it off. Not just down the way he had for Lucy. So maybe that was a hopeful sign and the evening wasn't a total loss after all. I glanced at his profile and thought about his personality—independent, confident, and more worldly than most guys his age. He'd told me earlier that it had taken him two years of working after school to save up for his car. It was hard to think of anyone else I knew who'd bought his or her own car. In Soundview most of the kids got one from their parents the moment they passed their driver's test.


"Make a right here," I said with a yawn when we got to Bay- side Way. Tyler turned onto the narrow road, passing driveways that disappeared into dark woods. I thought again about his "rich bitch" comment and wasn't surprised that his forehead furrowed when we stopped at a small white guardhouse with a gate. With a cautious squint, the guard inside slid open the window and leaned forward, peering at the unfamiliar car. When he saw me in the passenger seat, a smile of relief appeared on his lips. "Oh, good evening, Miss Archer."


"Hi, Joe," I said.


The guard slid the window closed and raised the gate. Tyler drove through. "Miss Archer?" he repeated.


"It's just a formality."


"That's his moonlighting job when he's not being a cop?"


Surprised, I said, "How did you know he was a policeman?"


"I can smell 'em."


"Sounds like you don't like the police."


Tyler didn't respond. We were on Premium Point now, a gated community on a thin strip of land that jutted out into the Sound, lined with what could only be described as estates. Tyler drove slowly, peering at the dark silhouettes of vast lawns and large houses.


"I'm down at the end," I said.


A moment later he stopped in the circular driveway and stared through the windshield at the vast stone facade of the place I called home. I had a feeling that he, too, was thinking back to his "rich bitch" comment. I felt bad. I'd had high hopes for us connecting this evening, even going so far as to fantasize ending it with a kiss. But maybe I'd hoped for too much. All we'd done was share a car for Safe Rides, which didn't exactly qualify as a hot date.


"Thanks for driving me home." I reached for my back­pack.


"Wait." Tyler turned to me. I looked back at him in the dark and felt a shiver of anticipation. Was he going to say that he liked me? That he had also been looking forward all week to this evening?


But all he said was, "I'm sorry. I didn't know."


He didn't have to explain what he was sorry about. We both knew.


"You don't have to be sorry," I said. "It's just. . . Things aren't always what they seem, okay? Maybe not everyone who's rich is a bitch."


"I didn't say they were," Tyler said. "I only said Lucy was. I ... I don't think you're a bitch at all. In fact, I think you're pretty nice."


"Thank you, Tyler," I said, and thought, Maybe the night wasn't a total loss after all.


I got out of the car and let myself through the heavy wooden door into the house, temporarily disabling the alarm system to give me time to get up to my room. Upstairs, even though I could barely keep my eyes open, it was impossible to go to bed without first checking my messages, and that was where I found the latest from PBleeker, my cyberstalker:


 It’s sad that you’d never go out with someone like me. It’s sad that you, of all people, who pretends to be open-minded and sensitive, is just like everyone else in judging people by their looks. In fact, it sucks. Sometimes I wish people like you would be horribly disfigured in an accident. Then you’d know what it feels like. PS. In class you once said you hated how cliquely school was. Then how come you only hang out with the people in the most popular clique?


I shivered and turned away from my laptop, wishing that just this once I hadn’t checked my messages before going to bed. “You, of all people…” “In class you once said…” Was PBleeker someone who knew me that well, or was that just part of the mind game he (or was PBleeker a she?) played? I couldn’t think of anyone I knew who’d been horribly disfigured in an accident. Who could PBleeker possibly be? All I knew was that for the past year, his presence in my life had become one more aggravatingly steady curse, like my period, and college applications, and zits.


I went to bed with the disturbed and uncomfortable feeling that always followed a PBleeker message. Sometimes they kept me awake for hours. But not tonight. At least the evening with Tyler, which I’d so looked forward to, had ended on a positive note. And that, plus my overwhelming fatigue, helped me drift off.





Oh, poor, poor, Lucy, look at you cowering in the corner with your face and hands streaked with dirt and your pretty blond hair bedraggled and your makeup all smeared. Are you frightened, poor girl? A wee bit uncomfortable, perhaps? It doesn’t smell very nice in there does it? We’ve gotten used to it. But then, we’ve never been accustomed to the finer things in life the way you have.


Tell us, Lucy, did you feel any pain when we took you? Or had the halothane already worked its magic? If it had, too bad. We do want you to feel pain. No, Lucy, your new necklace won’t come off. It’s locked on. You don’t know what it’s for? You’ve never seen one before? Then please allow us to demonstrate. See what we’ve got in our hand? Here’s what happens when we push this button.


Don’t cry, Lucy. After all, think of how much pain you’ve caused. It’s only fair, isn’t it? You know what they say, don’t you? What goes around comes around? It is too bad we had to use the halothane, but we couldn’t have you making any noise, now could we? By the way, did you feel our hands on you, Lucy? Did it repulse you? Oh, but how fortunate you’ve been to have such a beautiful formOh, Lucy, please don’t grovel and beg. We know your father is a doctor and has lots of money, but don’t you understand? It’s not about money. That’s not the point. Your medications? No, I’m so sorry, but that’s not something we have here.


Really, Lucy, it’s so unbecoming for a young woman of your stature to cry and plead. Look at it this way. You’ve had it so good for so many years. Surely at some point or another everyone pays the price, don’t you think? Isn’t it only fair? You caused so many so much pain. Now you’ll get to see how the other half lives.


Oh, did we say lives?





Str-S-d #6


There was supposed to be a big party last night. I know because they were talking about it at school on Friday. They know you’re not invited and then they talk about it loud in the hall when you pass and look to see how you react. Since I haven’t been invited to a party since 6th grade, you’d think they’d realize that I’m used to it. I don’t even know why they bother. At this point, I wouldn’t go to a party even if I was invited. Life sucks. People suck. Don’t tell me I have a bad attitude or that things will get better someday. You’re not me. You don’t know what it’s like.




1) I’m sorry you feel that way. – ApRilzDay


2) You’re not alone. We know what it’s like. – IaMnEmEsIs


3) Pathetic self-pitying whiner. – One4therOd.





Tyler is driving. It’s so dark out that all I can see is the short stretch of road racing toward us beneath the headlights. Tyler is leaning over to kiss me. I like the feeling of his lips on mine. Even the roughness of the stubble above his lips. I’m so happy he’s finally kissing me, but shouldn’t he pull over? It’s too dark to drive and kiss. But I’m afraid he’ll get mad if I ask him to stop kissing me and watch the road. Tyler, it’s not that I don’t want you to kiss me. Really. I just don’t want to crash. Tyler, my parents will be really upset if we crash. Tyler, please open your eyes and watch where you’re going.


Open your eyes…





My cell phone was ringing. I opened my eyes and looked at the radio alarm clock on the night table. 10:34. My bedroom was bright with diffused daylight. All at once I was both relieved and disappointed. Thank God it was a dream, darn it! Tyler wasn’t kissing me, but he wasn’t driving and not watching where he was going, either.


Did he have a girlfriend back wherever he came from? I wondered, and found myself hoping the answer was no.The phone rang again. I picked it up and stared blearily at the number. It was Courtney. “What happened to our ‘No Calls Before Noon’ rule?” I answered with a yawn.


“This can’t wait,” she said. “Like Lucy Cunningham’s parents have been calling her friends all morning, looking for her? Turns out she didn’t come home last night? Did you hear anything?”


Practically every sentence that burst from Courtney’s lips was phrased in the form of a question. At the mention of Lucy’s name, my mind took a long stride through the sleepy mists toward wakefulness. “Hear what? When?” I asked.


“I don’t know. Like last night? Didn’t you and Tyler drive her home?”


“Yes, but--”


“So what happened?”


“Nothing. I don’t understand. Lucy went home. We took her there.”


“But she didn’t get there, okay? Jen Waits just called me. She said Lucy’s parents have been calling everyone who was at the party last night?”


Somewhere in the house a phone rang. My thoughts drifted back to the previous night and my last glimpse of Lucy, standing stubbornly on her front walk with her arms crossed and a cigarette between her fingers. My heart staggered and skipped. We didn’t wait to watch her go inside. I’d felt jealous and annoyed at the attention Tyler had given her. I’d just wanted to go


.“Did Lucy say anything?” Courtney asked.


“About what?”


“I don’t know. Just anything.”


Outside my room, footsteps came up the stairs, rapidly. Rap! Rap! Knocks on my bedroom door. “Madison?” Mom came in, holding the portable phone. The tips of her blond hair were stringy with pool water, which slightly darkened the shoulders of her white terry cloth robe. I knew that under the robe she was wearing a one-piece, like the suit she’d worn the day her relay team had won the Olympic Bronze medal in the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Her hand was over the phone’s speaker.


“Later,” I said into my phone.


“Did you drive Lucy home last night?” Mom asked...