Today was the day. Not that Olivia knew it was THE day. At the time, she just thought it was speech day.
Three hours and forty-five minutes to go.
In the fifth grade, back on Long Island, Olivia had been cast as an extra in the school play. She only had one line. One single line. She practiced that line in the shower. In her room. In her backyard. But on the night of the one-liner, she stood onstage while expectant faces stared up at her, and her mind went blank. Empty. Wiped clean. She couldn’t breathe. Black spots swam in front of her eyes. The rest of the cast tried to usher her off the stage, but she couldn’t move. She’d just stood there. Frozen. Like a sad, melting Popsicle.
Clearly, there were no Tony Awards in her future.
As if she would ever voluntarily step on a stage again. Thanks, but no thanks.
She rehearsed her speech in the shower. “In Ridgefield, Connecticut, Jamie Fields was innocently walking barefoot across her lawn. Little did she know that she was also about to get Lyme disease.”
Jamie Fields was a real person. A real dead-from-Lyme-disease person.
Olivia had chosen Lyme disease as her topic because after years of living with and being a hypochondriac, she was a champ at researching diseases, and this was one disease she was unlikely to contract, since she lived in downtown Manhattan.
She practiced while she got dressed.
She practiced on her way to the kitchen, clutching her notes.
“Morning!” her mom called out. “Are you okay, honey? You look pale.”
Her mother always thought she looked pale.
pale. She had straight dark brown hair and pale skin. You’d think while she was growing up, her favorite fairy-tale character would have been the similarly toned Snow White, but Olivia had never been able to relate to anyone who took food from strangers.
“I’m fine,” Olivia snapped, but then she felt bad. “I’m fine,” she said again in a softer tone.
“Are you sure you’re feeling all right?” her mom asked. “The flu vaccine sometimes gives you symptoms.”
Olivia’s mom was a hypochondriac too. Her mom also had a not-so-mild case of OCD and severe anxiety. She washed her hands so often her knuckles bled. Olivia had inherited the hypochondria and anxiety but was thankfully still obsessive-compulsive free. She hoped it wouldn’t come with age.
Olivia contemplated telling her mom that she was sick and staying home, but then she’d get dragged to the ER. And she knew she’d have to do the speech the next day anyway. She’d have to spend another entire day with the panic spreading down her body like an unstoppable rash. “I’m fine,” Olivia said, her voice shakier than she intended.
“I poured you some juice,” her mom said. “And put some banana in your granola. And put a vitamin on your napkin.”
“Thanks,” Olivia said, even though she was afraid that anything she ate would make her vomit.
Instead, she ran through her speech.
In Ridgefield, New York …
Oh no. Not New York. Ridgefield was in Connecticut! She had forgotten where poor Jamie lived! If she couldn’t remember where Jamie had contracted the disease, how was she going to remember the rest?
The clock said 8:02.
Two hours and fifty-eight minutes to go.
It was going to be a long morning.
She brushed her teeth, made sure the green tint really was gone, grabbed her bag—and notes! She had to remember her notes! Ridgefield, Connecticut!—ran to the elevator, and slid inside. There was a senior from her school already in there. Emma Dassin. Emma didn’t say hi, so Olivia didn’t say it either.
The rickety doors were about to close when Olivia heard, “Livvie! Livvie, hold on!”
Olivia pressed the
button, but it was too late.
Olivia’s mom stuck her hands between the doors. “You forgot your hat.” She held it out.
“It’s October,” Olivia grumbled.
“There’s a breeze! And you’re not feeling well. Take it.”
She took it. Less embarrassing to just get it over with.
“Have a great day! Be careful crossing Broadway!”
At last the doors closed.
Olivia stared at her gray woolen hat. She didn’t want a cold. But on top of everything else, she could not worry about having staticky hair.
She stuck it in her backpack just as the doors opened onto the lobby.
* * *
Homeroom. Two and a half hours before Olivia’s speech.
“What’s the worst that happens?” Renée asked her.
The worst? She saw it play out in her head. She would be standing in front of the class, everyone’s eyes on her. Her heart rate would skyrocket. She’d be gasping for air. She’d see spots. She’d pass out and probably die.
Olivia just shook her head.
“Why don’t you imagine everyone in the class naked,” Renée said. “Especially Lazar.”
Olivia did not want to think about Lazar naked. She did not want to think about Lazar at all. Knowing there was a guy in her class who was potentially interested in her made everything worse. She picked her thumb.
BJ twisted back in his seat. “Did you say ‘naked’?”
“Olivia has to present in public speaking,” Renée said. “I think she should imagine everyone in the class naked.”
imagine everyone naked. I’m doing it right now.” He looked from Olivia to Renée. “You both look pretty good.”
“Oh, shut up,” Renée said, but Olivia couldn’t help noticing that she stuck out her chest.
Cooper sang his way in. “What’s happening, 10B?”
“We’re imagining each other naked,” Renée said.
“Excellent,” Cooper said, striking a He-Man pose.
Olivia smiled. Then she wished he were in her public speaking class. Not so she could picture him naked—just so he could make her laugh.
“All you have to do is focus on me,” Renée said, since she was in Olivia’s public speaking class. “Ignore everyone else.”
Olivia was pretty sure that wouldn’t help. Renée was an amazing speaker. She didn’t even need notes. She just talked. And talked and talked and talked.
Ms. Velasquez strolled in. “Who’s here today? Adam? You’re back. Good.”
“I missed my vaccination yesterday—should I get it today?” he asked.
“Yes. At lunch.”
Olivia looked at her watch. It read eight-forty-five. Two hours and fifteen minutes until her speech.
* * *
It was time.
Ridgefield, Connecticut. Tick bites. Bull’s-eye rash.
“Olivia Byrne, you’re up,” Mr. Roth said. It didn’t help that he was the scariest teacher in school both in attitude and physical appearance. He weighed about four hundred pounds, was over six feet tall, and had a permanent scowl on his face. He looked like a troll, if trolls were also giants.
Focus. Speech. Lyme disease
She stood up. Her legs felt gummy. Her heart beat a gazillion miles an hour. She was 99 percent sure everyone could hear it.
Olivia remembered that irregular heartbeat was a symptom of Lyme disease. She definitely had an irregular heartbeat. Maybe she had Lyme disease after all. Maybe she’d willed it on herself. Was that possible? Was she contagious? Maybe she needed to be quarantined immediately.
The class was extra chatty. There were voices everywhere. She felt nauseated—like she was on a boat. The floor was swaying. Also, she was hot. And sweating. Her underarms were wet. Had she put on deodorant that morning? She thought she had. Yes.
She reached the front of the room. She turned around. She tried very hard not to look at Lazar, who was sitting two rows back and staring at her. He was definitely red-cheeked and cute.
Everyone in class continued to talk.
“It’s so hot in here.”
“Forgot my Spanish homework.”
“Should have had a third cup of coffee.”
“Why didn’t I pee before class?”
Olivia didn’t think she could do this. But she had to. Unless she refused. And failed the assignment and possibly the class.
She took a deep breath and waited for everyone to stop talking. She looked at Mr. Roth, who nodded at her to go ahead.
She looked back at the class.
“This is going to be excruciatingly boring,” someone said.
Olivia cleared her throat.
“Why is she just standing there?” Olivia heard.
They were still talking. Olivia closed her mouth, deciding to wait for everyone to shut up.
Renée looked right at her. “Come on, Olivia, you can do it,” she said.
Except Renée’s mouth wasn’t moving. Her mouth was closed. Huh? Olivia was confused.
Oh no, she’s looking at me strangely. Is she going to pass out?
Renée was talking, but her mouth wasn’t moving. How was she doing that? She looked like a ventriloquist.
Lazar was looking at her too.
She doesn’t look good,
Why did he ask if she was single if he didn’t think she looked good? And why wasn’t his mouth moving either?
Was she hallucinating? Did anyone else notice what was happening?
Olivia looked around the room. Everyone was talking, but no one was moving his or her lips.
What’s wrong with her?
She looks like she’s going to barf.
Oh. My. God.
They were not saying these things, Olivia realized. They were thinking them. She was hearing what people were thinking. And they were all thinking about her. The shock was so strong, she could barely breathe.
Voices were coming at her fast and furiously:
She’s turning blue.
I really have to pee.
Why doesn’t she start already?
The room began to spin. Olivia needed air.
She’s going to faint!
What is happening?
Olivia wondered. She saw Pi looking right at her.
I have no idea,
Had Pi just responded to her thought? That made no sense. The room spun, like she was on the Tilt-A-Whirl. Olivia trained her eyes on Pi, a trick her dad had taught her when he took her to Disney World when she was a kid. Pick a point in the distance and stare and you won’t get sick. But suddenly there were two Pis.
“Olivia!” Renée yelled.
That was the last thing Olivia heard before everything went black.
We don’t know why it happened to so many of us during third period. Not all of us. But a lot of us.
Eleven a.m. must have been the witching hour.
Mackenzie was sitting in calculus when it happened to her. She was thinking about Bennett. She didn’t want to be thinking about Bennett. She tried to stop herself from thinking about Bennett. Did she even like Bennett? She wasn’t sure.
He was a year older than she was. A junior. He went to Westside Academy. Private school. And he lived in her building.
They had spoken for the first time over a year ago, the summer before her freshman year, when she was single.
They’d met on the terrace on the eighth floor. It was August. She’d been tanning.
She tanned a lot. There were three lounge chairs on the deck, and Mackenzie always took the one on the right.
He’d taken the chair next to her. Mackenzie hadn’t noticed at first. She’d been listening to music on her iPhone, but then she opened her eyes to take a sip of Diet Coke—she drank a lot of Diet Coke—and there he was, the hot guy from the elevator.
He was tall, dark-haired, and shirtless. He was wearing aviator sunglasses and using a navy T-shirt as a pillow.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” she said back. She wished she were wearing her black Michael Kors bikini instead of her green Milly one. And just like that, she was in love. Or at least in lust.
In October, he texted her at eleven to meet him on the deck, even though you weren’t allowed on the deck past ten. He had a joint with him, and she smoked for the first time. Everything went fuzzy and they hooked up on the lounge chair. The lights were off by then, so no one could see.
They hooked up on and off: on the terrace, in her room when her parents and her sister were out, in his room when his parents were. They didn’t have sex, but they did everything else. They met up at least twice a week until February, Valentine’s Day, when Mackenzie had to know: What was going on between them? Were they just hooking up? Were they a couple? They hung out together in the neighborhood, but he never introduced her to his friends, who mostly lived on the Upper West Side. On the weekends, he went to his parties and she went to hers. Mackenzie’s friends knew about him and his friends knew about her, but they weren’t official.
Mackenzie liked things that were official.
When she was a kid she’d only been part of “official” fan clubs.
She never bought purses on Canal Street. If she couldn’t afford the real thing, then she’d wait for it. She didn’t like fakes. She liked labels. And she wanted the label of girlfriend.
“I’m not looking for a girlfriend,” Bennett told her. They were in his room, on his bed. She was putting her shirt back on and trying to look like she didn’t care. He didn’t want to be her boyfriend? Whatever.
Outside she could see the eighth-floor terrace. She realized he had probably watched her suntan the entire summer before he made his way out to meet her.
She had been lying there. Easy prey. Or just easy.
She moped for a week. She wouldn’t tell her parents what was wrong. Cailin never even asked; she was too busy with her senior year. Mackenzie wasn’t sure if she didn’t notice or didn’t care.
Mackenzie stopped texting him. She waited for him to text her, but he didn’t. Since his school was uptown, he left an hour before she did, so she hardly ever ran into him in the elevator.
She avoided the deck.
A few weeks later, Cooper and Mackenzie kissed for the first time at Jordana’s birthday party. She hadn’t seen it coming—they’d known each other since they were in diapers. They grew up in the ’hood together. Cooper’s parents, Mackenzie’s parents, and Jordana’s parents used to triple-date, until Jordana’s parents divorced and her dad moved to L.A.
Anyway, Jordana’s party was the very first night Cooper and Mackenzie flirted. A lot.
The lights were low and they kissed in Jordana’s mom’s home office.
By the next morning they were a couple. Held hands. Talked every night. Hung out with each other’s families. They were inseparable.
Until Cooper went to camp, four months later.
Mackenzie didn’t mean for it to happen. Or so she convinced herself.
We aren’t sure we believe her. Here are the facts: She went to the terrace. She sat in her chair. She wore her black Michael Kors bikini.
One hot August day Bennett came out and sat beside her. “Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” she said back.
That night he texted her to come upstairs and hang. She knew she shouldn’t. She told herself,
Do not go, you know what’s going to happen, you cannot cheat on Cooper.
But still she put on her cutest jeans, a lacy bra, a thong, and a tight black top Bennett had once said looked good on her. Then she went. Her heart thumped all the way up to his floor in the elevator.
They were in his bed thirty seconds after she knocked on the door.
Again, they didn’t sleep together. Just everything else. In her mind, that made it less bad.
“What now?” she asked Bennett.
“What do you mean?” he asked, and she knew that nothing was different. Nothing had changed at all.
She wasn’t sure what to tell Cooper. She wasn’t sure why she’d done it. She loved Cooper, didn’t she? True, she had felt some relief when she realized that hooking up with Bennett probably meant they were done. What she and Cooper had was too good, too easy. It was bound to end eventually.
But when Cooper showed up at her door a week later and smelled like home and hugged her so tight she thought she would burst—in a good way—she decided that she would only tell him one thing.
“I missed you,” was all she said.
She felt guilty. Every day the guilt ate up a little more inside her like a tapeworm.
That was why she’d gotten the flu shot. As punishment. She deserved it.
This was what Mackenzie was thinking about at eleven a.m. on Wednesday morning in Mr. Gilbert’s calculus class. Thinking very loudly, as it turned out.
She was not paying attention to Gilbert in the slightest. She was twirling a curl around her index finger and remembering. She turned to the window and realized that Tess was staring at her, eyes wide open in shock.
“What?” Mackenzie whispered.
“Did that really happen?” Tess whispered back.
Mackenzie had no idea what Tess was talking about. “Did what really happen?”
Tess leaned in closer. “You cheated on Cooper?”
Mackenzie’s heart raced. “I did not.” Had Bennett said something? He wouldn’t. He wasn’t the kind of guy to kiss and tell. Anyway, they didn’t have any friends in common. And she hadn’t breathed a word to
“You were just talking about it,” Tess whispered. “Two seconds ago.”
“I was not!” Mackenzie couldn’t believe it. What was Tess trying to pull?
Tess shook her head. “I’m not trying to pull anything!”
“Girls,” Gilbert said, turning from the blackboard. “You’re both excused.”
Crap. Mackenzie was already in trouble with Gilbert for always handing in her homework late. She was in trouble with all her teachers, actually. “But—”
“Goodbye,” he said. “Next time don’t disrupt the class.”
Mackenzie sighed. She and Tess collected their books and headed to the door.
At least, Mackenzie figured, she’d be able to find out how Tess knew about her and Bennett. Maybe Tess was just guessing. Although Mackenzie had been thinking about it. Had she been talking out loud? Mumbling to herself? No one else had heard her. Maybe she’d been mouthing the words and Tess had read her lips. Did Tess know how to do that? Mackenzie doubted it. Tess didn’t have any secret skills.
The two girls stepped outside.
Tess’s eyes were bugging out of her head. She definitely knew something.
This was not good. Not good at all. Mackenzie hadn’t told a single person what had happened with Bennett over the summer.
No one was supposed to know.
Even Tess. She loved Tess, but she couldn’t tell her something like that. Tess looked up to her. Mackenzie liked that Tess looked up to her. And Tess would think she should tell Cooper the truth.
Mackenzie couldn’t tell Cooper. He’d break up with her. And then what? She’d lose him. He’d hate her.
We can’t help wondering if she wanted to lose him all along.
Still, tears burned the backs of her eyelids. Her heart raced. Her head hurt. Her mouth was really dry. She needed a Diet Coke. Or one of Bennett’s joints. No, no, nothing about Bennett. That was what had gotten her into this mess in the first place.
How had Tess found out?
I can’t believe she hooked up with Bennett again. He’s such a user.
“Excuse me?” Mackenzie asked, hands on her hips.
Tess took a step back. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Yes you did. You said Bennett was a user,” Mackenzie said.
Not out loud!
What the hell is going on?
they both thought.
At that second, just down the hallway, the door to Mr. Roth’s public speaking class was thrown open.
“Get Nurse Carmichael!” Lazar yelled as the entire class cleared out of the room.
Voices came from everywhere.
“Give her space!”
That must have hurt.
“She needs to breathe!”
She looks kind of dead.
Mackenzie grabbed on to Tess’s hand. “I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“Me neither,” Tess said. “And it’s so loud.” They pressed their backs against the row of lockers to try to stay out of the way—of the people, of the voices. So many voices.
I’m hungry. Is it lunch yet?
I think I’m wearing different-colored socks.
Pi came out of the class last. Her eyes were shining as she walked by Mackenzie and Tess. She was muttering silently to herself.
I could hear her. I could hear what she was thinking. She could hear what I was thinking! How did that happen? Is she the only one?
Mackenzie crossed her arms in front of her chest.
She’s not the only one.
Pi stopped in her tracks and stared at Mackenzie.
Tess piped up.
Pi started to laugh.
How is it that we can hear people’s thoughts?
We have no idea,
Mackenzie and Tess thought at the same time.
Now someone better buy me a Diet Coke.