At the beginning of lunch, we waited in line by Nurse Carmichael’s office.
There were twenty-three of us. Most of homeroom 10B. 10A had gotten their shots the day before.
Adam McCall was missing—probably an ear infection. He always had ear infections.
Pi Iamaura went in and came out first. Her real name was Polly, after her grandfather Paul, but her nickname was Pi because she could tell you the first thirty-nine numbers of pi. They’re 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419, if you’re curious.
BJ Kole went in next.
Yes, he called himself BJ.
His name was actually Brian Joseph but he started going by BJ in middle school. He thought it was hilarious. He was a bit of a perv.
He hurried into the nurse’s room and closed the door behind him. He thought Nurse Carmichael was hot, and was always trying to come up with accidental ways to feel her up. He tried to feel everyone up.
Next in line was Jordana Brohman-Maizner. Jordana filed her nails while she waited. She kept a full manicure set in her locker. Base coat, top coat, clippers, and eleven different colors ranging from Bliss (shimmery yellow) to We Were Liars (fire engine red).
Behind her were Olivia and Renée. Renée was still not getting the vaccination. She was only waiting in line so she wouldn’t miss anything. She liked to know what everyone was up to at all times. She was the type of person who got email notifications every time her friends changed their Facebook statuses.
“Do you know that more people die from flu shots than the flu?” Renée asked.
“I’m not sure that’s true,” Olivia said. Actually, she was totally sure it wasn’t true, because she had the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website bookmarked on her laptop, and visited it frequently. In addition to having a lot of anxiety, Olivia was a hypochondriac.
“It’s going to hurt,” Renée said.
Her words didn’t scare Olivia, but they terrified Mackenzie, who was right behind them. She’d decided to do it. She couldn’t believe she was really going to do it.
Mackenzie was waiting with Cooper and Tess, although Tess was busy texting Teddy on her iPhone. Teddy was Tess’s best guy friend. Tess also had a massive crush on him.
“Maybe I won’t get it,” Mackenzie said, suddenly unsteady on her feet.
“Oh, come on,” Cooper said. “It’s just a pinch. You don’t want to get the flu.”
“Everyone else is getting the shot. I won’t get the flu.”
“You might. It’s going around. And your Sweet is soon. You don’t want to be sick and have to cancel.”
kill her if she got the flu.
It was all booked. Her brother and sister were flying in from Stanford. Her parents had spent a small fortune in deposits. They’d gone all out. They’d booked a hotel ballroom. Hired a DJ. Hired an event planner. Mailed out gorgeous invitations. Square, black, with cursive silver print.
The few of us who’d been invited had all RSVPed yes.
Mackenzie was excited for the party. Kind of.
Nothing was expected of her. All she had to do was dance and look pretty in her new black Herve Leger cocktail dress.
Mackenzie knew she was pretty. Since she was a kid, people had always told her as much. She had curly blond hair, big green eyes, a button nose, and a gymnast’s body. She’d trained at the NYC Elite gymnastics studio for years. She’d tried competing back in middle school, but it wasn’t for her. The night before one of her big matches, she’d stayed out late with her friends, broken curfew, been exhausted the next day, and tripped off the balance beam. Her parents had been furious. She had been relieved.
Outside the nurse’s office, Cooper slung his arm around her and sang, “The needle will only hurt for a
“But it’s really going to hurt for that one second,” Mackenzie snapped.
Cooper kissed her cheek. “I’ll come in with you. And sing you a song.”
He was always nice to her. Even when she wasn’t nice back.
She knew she should be nicer to him. He definitely deserved it.
Mackenzie nodded to herself and to Cooper. She would do it. She would get the needle. She would do it because he wanted her to. She owed him, even if he didn’t know it. The needle would be her punishment.
Back then, we didn’t know she was punishing herself, or for what.
Now we know everything. Even the stuff we try to forget. Especially the stuff we try to forget.
Cooper squeezed Mackenzie’s shoulder. “Then I’ll get you a root beer float as a reward.”
We were allowed to leave school for lunch. But we only had forty minutes, so we couldn’t go far.
“Can we go to Takahachi instead?” Mackenzie asked. “I’m craving salmon rolls.”
Sushi wasn’t Cooper’s first choice, since his mom ordered it every night. He was gluten intolerant, so there weren’t too many options for him to eat—but he was a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. “Why don’t we pick up Takahachi and then eat it at your place?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows. She lived a block away. No one was ever home.
“We’re not going to have enough time for both after the vaccines,” Mackenzie said. “Maybe tomorrow?”
Cooper was fine waiting until the next day. But he wondered if it was really going to happen then. They’d barely hooked up since he’d been back from camp. He wondered if Mackenzie was avoiding him. Although that didn’t make sense—they hung out all day together at school. Why would she avoid him after hours? Did she not want to be alone with him?
The nurse’s door opened. BJ came out. He had failed in his groping mission.
We all hoped Nurse Carmichael had stuck his arm with the needle really hard.
Jordana went in, barely bothering to look up from her nails.
A few minutes later she came out looking dazed. “That was miserable,” she announced. She was holding a red lollipop.
Olivia was up. She stepped eagerly toward the door. She was a big believer in vaccinations. To prevent the flu. To prevent typhoid. If only they had one to prevent social anxiety, she’d be all set.
“You really shouldn’t do it,” Renée said to Olivia.
“I’ll be fine,” Olivia said. She usually followed Renée’s lead, but she couldn’t in this case.
Renée sighed, looking slightly confused that Olivia wasn’t listening to her. “All right. If you insist. I’m going to the cafeteria. Meet me there and we’ll talk to Lazar.”
Olivia’s stomach clenched. She wasn’t sure she was ready for that. But she said okay and then went inside the nurse’s office.
Mackenzie took a deep breath. She was next.
“Hey, Mackenzie,” piped up Tess. “Do you need me to help you with any Sweet stuff after school?”
Unlike her bestie, Tess was no gymnast. Or dancer. Tess was a writer. Not a professional one—not yet—but she thought that maybe one day she could be. For now she volunteered for
the school’s twice-yearly arts journal. Tess had wavy brown hair and brown eyes and was well aware that she was ten pounds—eight pounds on a good day—overweight. She was well aware because her mother told her daily and not so subtly. “Why don’t you go to SoulCycle, Tess?” “Are you sure you should be having that ice cream sandwich, Tess?” “You should try your bagel scooped, Tess.” “I’d give you my old cute Kate Spade dress but I think it would be too tight on you, Tess.” Tess tried to think of her mom’s incessant nagging as white noise. White noise that would one day give her more to write about.
For now Tess was looking forward to Mackenzie’s Sweet. The party was going to be epic. She was proud that the first Sweet of their class was her best friend’s. Mackenzie’s birthday was earlier than everyone else’s because her parents had held her back a year, since she was a preemie.
It was going to be at the Soho Tower, which was one of those celebrity hotel hot spots constantly mentioned on
Tess was psyched. She had already bought a dress at BCBG.
“The event planner has it covered,” Mackenzie said to Tess with a flip of her hair. “But you can come over if you want.”
“Sure,” Tess replied.
Olivia came out a few seconds later.
“We’re up,” Cooper said turning to Mackenzie. “Ready to show the needle who’s boss?”
“Come on,” Tess said. “It’ll hurt for a second and then you’ll be done.”
Mackenzie turned to Olivia. “Did it hurt?”
Mackenzie waited for a response but eventually realized she wasn’t getting one.
She turned to Cooper. “Let’s just do this,” she said, and the two of them disappeared into the nurse’s office.
Olivia looked at her reflection in the first-floor girls’ bathroom mirror. When Mackenzie had asked her whether the vaccination hurt, she opened her mouth to say it was fine; great, even! But then she realized how insane she’d sound. Sure, she liked vaccinations, they made her feel safe and protected, but was she really going to announce that? That was not a normal thing to say. So she stood there, not responding. Which did not help in the looking-normal department.
On the plus side, it had been nice to see Nurse Carmichael. Olivia and Nurse Carmichael were old friends.
Okay, not friends-friends. But in truth Olivia felt more comfortable in the nurse’s office than she did in the cafeteria.
She was in the infirmary a lot.
Like, a lot, a lot.
At least twice a week.
Anytime Olivia had a cough, or a stomachache, or a hangnail, she went straight to Nurse Carmichael. Just to make sure it wasn’t cancer. Or a heart attack. Or lymphangioleiomyomatosis disease. Which, sure, only affected one out of a million people, but it started with a cough, and if you
the one out of a million, then you were done-like-dinner within the year.
Olivia’s father had had a heart attack when he was forty-two. Olivia had been ten. One minute they were a happy family shopping at Roosevelt Field mall; the next minute he was clutching his chest and lying on the grimy food-court floor. He was dead by the time they got to the hospital.
After that, Olivia avoided food courts. And malls. And Long Island. Her mom felt the same way—they sold their house in the suburbs and moved a few blocks from her mom’s job at American Express in downtown NYC.
Olivia found Nurse Carmichael’s office, with the clean white walls and posters reminding us about the dangers of meningitis, comforting.
When she’d walked in to get her shot, Olivia had said hi, Nurse Carmichael had asked how she was, Olivia’d said she had a small headache but was otherwise fine, Olivia’d stuck out her arm, she’d gotten the shot, and Nurse Carmichael had slapped on a Band-Aid and told her she’d see her soon.
Olivia had no doubt that was true.
Then Olivia had chosen a green lollipop.
She waited until she walked away from Mackenzie and the rest of us before unwrapping it and popping it into her mouth. She hadn’t wanted to look stupid sucking on it.
But now Olivia stared at her green lips and mouth in the bathroom mirror and realized she looked ridiculous. Why had she chosen green? Why why why? She looked like a sea monster. Or the Hulk.
She leaned over and rinsed her mouth with water. The green color stuck.
There was no way she was going to the cafeteria to talk to you know who. She wasn’t going to talk to anyone that day. She wasn’t even going to open her mouth that day if she could help it. Or the next day.
Oh no. No, no, no.
She had to open her mouth the next day. She had her speech! At eleven! What if the green didn’t come out in time? What if it never came out? She held on to the edge of the sink, feeling dizzy, wishing she were anywhere but there.
* * *
Mackenzie watched as Nurse Carmichael and her giant needle crossed the room, heading straight for her.
“Cooper, you have to go first,” Mackenzie said.
He pulled up his sleeve and made himself comfortable on the nurse’s chair.
Nurse Carmichael aimed the needle at him. It was about to attack him. Any second. It was coming closer.
Mackenzie tried to look away. Must look away. Couldn’t look away.
She definitely should have looked away.
That was Mackenzie, not Cooper. Cooper barely felt it. It was like a mosquito bite when you knew to expect a mosquito bite. And mosquito bites didn’t get to Cooper. Nothing got to Cooper.
“Easy peasy,” he said as the nurse pressed a Band-Aid against his arm.
Mackenzie saw the room swim in front of her. “I don’t feel well. If I’m sick, I can’t get the shot, right?”
“Not if you have a temperature,” the nurse said.
Mackenzie nodded. “I am pretty sure I have a fever.”
Nurse Carmichael laughed and shook her shoulder-length brown hair. “I’ll check it just in case.”
The nurse pulled out the no-mouth thermometer she always used, the kind that scanned our foreheads, and took Mackenzie’s temperature.
“No fever,” Nurse Carmichael said.
“You don’t have to get the shot if you don’t want to,” the nurse said. “It’s voluntary.”
Mackenzie could have walked out.
We all could have walked out. Every single one of us could have turned around and walked right out the door and never looked back.
Would have, could have. Should have?
“No.” Mackenzie took a shaky breath. “Just give me the stupid shot.” She flailed her right arm out.
The nurse rolled up the arm of Mackenzie’s black cashmere sweater.
The nurse laughed. “That was just the alcohol.”
Cooper squeezed her knee. “Close your eyes. Imagine something good. Like lunch tomorrow.”
Mackenzie could do that. She closed her eyes. Imagined Cooper’s lips. He did have great lips. Pink. Like he was wearing lipstick even though he wasn’t. Plump. The top slightly plumper than the bottom.
But then another pair of lips crowded into her brain.
There was a stab in her arm. Ouch.
She deserved it. She deserved the pain.
“You’re done,” the nurse said.
Mackenzie didn’t want to open her eyes. Didn’t want to face Cooper.
“Babe?” Cooper said. “We’re done.”
We would be,
if you knew what I did. But you never will.
She opened her eyes.
“Don’t forget your lollipop,” Nurse Carmichael said.