Fitting in has never been something fifteen-year-old Hadley Asher ever aspired to. Three schools in one year brings unwanted and unwelcome attention to a girl like Hadley who only wants to blend in.
After her family moves from Buffalo, NY to the small, upper-class town of Blue Valley in Central New York, Hadley’s next door neighbor Lana quickly befriends her, the two becoming nearly inseparable. However, Paxton Jamison, Lana’s stepbrother and the boy with the brilliant blue eyes, has to step in to help Hadley deal with Lana, who is hard to handle on a good day.
When an unprecedented scandal and tragedy strike the small community, Hadley becomes its focus, its target. As a result, the girl who hides in books and wants to blend in with the background finds breathing is nearly impossible.
I lie on my back, looking up at the white ceiling, and in my head, I am singing the song about the old lady swallowing the fly.
One event in a person’s life can change everything. My father’s unemployment led to his drinking and driving, which led to an accident, which led to his injury, which led to his pain and depression, which led to his inability to find a job, which led to me moving to two different schools already this year. Tomorrow, I will start the third.
My mother’s Aunt Ann passed away, and Mom is now the only living relative. We bought her house right before the tax auction. It is in a very small town that apparently is very expensive. This is the first home my family has owned. My mother is optimistic, hopeful, and tries her best to make my father and I feel the same way.
I wish I could do that for her. I wish I could be as happy as she is, but honestly, it drives me crazy that she can act as if our family isn’t broken, because it is. It is so very broken.
It is six-thirty on a Monday morning in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. The temperature is negative two degrees, and there is not a cloud in the February sky.
My alarm clock blares “Fifteen,” and I think, Taylor Swift, as much as I love you, today you are my enemy.Then I groan as I roll over and push snooze on my hand-me-down alarm clock radio, given to me by my mother when she got the iPhone 4.
Wanting to go back to sleep, I have no desire to roll out of bed. I know, as soon as I do, my feet will touch the hardwood floor, and they will turn cold. I hate cold feet almost as much as I hate Monday mornings.
“Hadley, it’s time to get up,” my mom sings as she walks past my door toward the bathroom.
“I’m up,” I grumble.
I hear her footsteps halt before she leans back, looking at me as she stands in my doorway. “Good morning, beautiful girl.” My mother is obnoxiously chipper in the morning. It drives me insane. “Happy fifteenth birthday,” she almost sings.
“It’s Monday, Mom.” I roll my eyes and cover my head. “That’s a crappy day to have a birthday.”
“Language, Hadley.” She shakes her head and steps back. “May I enter the sanctuary?”
Yes, she asks if she can come in my room. Six months ago, when I found her crying on my bed as she was reading my diary, I kind of went off on her.
I nod in answer. Then, against all that should be for a girl celebrating her fifteenth birthday, I force myself to get out of bed. There’s that cold. Ugh. That feeling drives me even crazier. Now I’m pushing the limit.
I walk to my closet and pull out a pair of tattered skinny jeans and a blue field hockey T-shirt then pair the outfit with my white Converse high-tops. I quickly dress in the small solitude of my closet and exit the sanctuary with Mom at my heels.
“It’s your first day at a new school, Hadley, so are you sure you wouldn’t rather dress up a little? Mix it up a bit?”
“It’s my third school in a year. Things are mixed up enough.” Realizing I have hurt her feelings, I give her a hundred watt smile and a thumbs up. “I’m being true to myself.”
She smiles and nods, “That’s perfect.”
I walk into the 80s-style bathroom and turn on the mustard yellow sink with a very rusty water stain down the middle of the bowl. I brush my teeth, run a brush through my hair, and swiftly pull it into a waterfall braid that Mom and I saw on YouTube by a lucky girl who had an iPhone of her own.
I look in the mirror, and staring back at me is an average looking girl with slightly wavy, deep brown hair and green eyes that my mom promises me are the most beautiful eyes she has ever seen. I don’t argue with that compliment, seeing as they are the same as hers. Beautiful, I’m not sure of. Above average … possibly.
Regardless of how I feel about myself, I am reminded of the great words of Effie Trinket, “Chins up, smiles on!”
As I head for the stairs, I peek into my parents’ room to see my dad is still asleep. No shocker there. He had sock throat last night. That’s what happens when he has had a few too many “sleeping pills.” He sounds like someone stuffed a gym sock in his mouth, and he swallowed down the next shot too fast. That’s something they don’t talk about in health class—sock throat.
Apparently, we don’t talk about it here, either. Mom only tells me, “He’s just going through a rough spell right now.” Said spell has lasted, oh, about three years, since the layoff that “ruined” his life. The wizard that must have cast such a spell has to have been Voldemort.
“Morning, Dad,” I whisper, though I know he won’t hear me.
Sleep it off, man, sleep it off.
I head downstairs and nearly trip over our old, fat, yellow cat. “Shove a cheek, Yolo,” I growl at him.
Yolo, yes, Yolo.
I got a cat for my birthday two years ago, during the peak of my Hunger Games obsession, so I named him Buttercup. He got hit by car exactly one month after my birthday. Apparently, cats DO NOT have nine lives.
Then this fatty showed up, so we fed him. Now he won’t leave, and he is not friendly.
Quite honestly, I don’t like him.
“He was meant to be yours, Hadley. Look at the signs. He showed up exactly one week after Buttercup disappeared.”
“Disappeared, Mom? I saw him get hit. I watched as Dad scraped him off the street with a shovel. His blood stain stayed there as a reminder of my rotten luck.”
“Honey, he was meant to be yours for a short time—”
“A reminder that cats actually don’t have nine lives?”
“Well, maybe that’s the lesson you were supposed to learn from the experience.”
“Whatever, Mom,” I say as I walk down the stairs to head to school.
The odds were certainly not in Buttercup’s favor
My mother takes me to school, and by the grace of God, she doesn’t ask me a hundred times if I am all right. She only does it once in the half a mile it takes to get there. I let her know that it’s nothing new, but it is because this school is much smaller than I am used to. It will make it harder to blend in.
We walk up the front walk together and pass several of my new peers through the loud, busy halls toward the main office. They all notice me, and only a couple smile. I suspect it’s because my mother smiles brightly at all of them.
“Hadley Asher, first day of school,” Mom announces in a very chipper tone to the round receptionist with the tight bun.
“Of course,” she says as she types something on her keyboard then pushes back in her chair and walks over to grab to the paper from the printer. “Locker number one four two. Take a right when you walk out the door. Your first class is global on the second floor, next to the library, room two one two.”
When my mom smiles and acts as if she is going to hug me, she sees I am mortified and stops. Instead, I walk out of the office and look back as Mom heads left toward the main entry.
“Mom,” I call out, and she stops, looking back and giving me a sad smile. “I’m gonna walk home.”
I nod, wave, and smile, wanting her to know I’m fine. Why? She deserves it.
I make my way to my locker, noticing the stares, the whispers, and a couple people smile. I give them a quick smile and then open my locker to put my Jansport backpack in it. I keep a binder, a pencil, and a pen, hoping it’s all I will need. Glancing at my schedule, I see that after global I have chemistry, algebra 2/trig, English, home economics, lunch, physical education, study hall, Spanish, and then homeroom.
The school is like a hotel compared to my last one. It is clean, and the locker-room doesn’t even smell like dirty feet. In each class, I am introduced by the teacher. I force a smile, then look back down and pretend to take notes. I collect my books, the syllabus, and make sure to jot down any questions I may have.
When the class is excused, I take the time to ask the teacher a question. This almost always makes me late for the next class, which is perfect. I am given a hall pass and skate in as class begins, avoiding awkward moments where I may have to actually interact.
Every class, I end up sitting in the front. This is preferred. I catch no dirty looks if I have to sit by someone who doesn’t want me there; the teacher doesn’t label me as a bad kid because I am not in the back, trying to mess around; and my peers don’t think I am a butt kisser sitting in front, because they know it isn’t a choice.
The students are all dressed to impress. They are all Abercrombie, and I am definitely not Fitch. The girls, every single one of them, have their hair done in a way that lets you know they spend more than half an hour styling it and doing their make-up. The boys … well, they may have spent more time doing theirs than I did, too.
Blue Valley is picture perfect, and I am certainly drawing unwanted attention, even with a bowed head and making sure there is no eye contact.
At lunch, I hide out in the bathroom. It isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. I prefer it over walking around the lunchroom, trying to find a place to sit and eat when I know I won’t be eating anyways. Why? I am a nervous wreck.
Historically, it will pass in about two weeks. I will no longer be the un-shiny new girl and will have perfected the blending in. This school is different, so blending will be harder, but I will figure it out. I will also have figured out who to avoid and who is going to cause the least amount of drama.
When the last bell rings, I stand nearly inside my locker and wait until the hall is almost bare before I leave. I am avoiding the crowed, blending. I am doing all the things I need to do to get through day one at a new school. When I round the corner on my way home from school, Mom is outside, bent over and looking in the bushes, singing, “Yolo, come here, kitty-kitty. Hadley is almost home. You’ll be best friends.”
Dear God, woman, I think.
I turn, ready to make a run for it, when I see the blonde–haired, short and slender neighbor girl laughing at me, and my cheeks flush red with embarrassment. She gestures for me to come over to her yard.
“Yolo, Hadley already loves you! You just have to return the love!”
The girl again waves for me to come over, and I make a run for it.
As soon as I reach her yard, she speaks, “I’m sosorry.” She laughs.
“I’m sorry you had to see that. I’m Hadley.” I smile.
“Oh, I’m Lana,” she says, oblivious to the fact that I was most obviously trying to change the subject, but then she seems to catch on. “I saw you! You’re in, like, three of my classes! The new girl!” She is obviously happy with her observation.
“Yeah, I think so. Anyway, I’ve got to go home. See you around!” I smile.
Throughout dinner, the cards and boxes taunt me. It seems to be an eternity before Mom laughs and brings out a small blue cake with the words “Happy Birthday, Hadley” written in neat, white lettering.
She places fifteen candles on the cake and lights them. Then, for “Happy Birthday,” Mom sings cheerfully while Dad grumbles along. I blow out the candles mindlessly, and then we each eat a piece of cake, Dad finishing last. After taking his sweet time and a few swigs of whatever’s in his glass, he stacks his plate on top of ours as Mom carries a card and four boxes over to me.
I open the card first out of respect, and it’s this sappy drugstore thing that says nothing but how ‘amazing’ I am. I thank them both then pick up the smallest box. When I take off the wrapping paper, my jaw drops because it’s an iPhone 4. I run over and hug both parents then open the phone box, looking at the shiny black screen and the silver body just like Mom’s.
The next biggest box has two phone cases. Both are ones Mom has seen me look at when we went shopping a week ago at a mall kiosk. There is also a pair of ear buds in it. The next box has a blue Lifeproof phone case in it. The biggest box is full of smaller and smaller boxes, and in the smallest box is a fifty-dollar iTunes gift card.
I hug them both again after I open them all. Then I carefully put everything in the largest box and carry it to my room.
Once I reach my room, I put the Lifeproof case on my new phone and plug it into the outlet next to my nightstand. I set the phone on the stand so it can charge before I mess with it.
Finally, the screen turns a lighter shade of black, and the Apple symbol materializes, making me grin. After two hours, I have two books and twenty-five of my favorite songs loaded onto the phone as well as a few free games to play. Soon enough, I set it down and fall asleep.
The next morning, Lana is waiting for me on the sidewalk. “Do you want to walk together?”
“I have my bike,” I say as I see a boy backing out of her driveway.
“Need a ride, Lana?” he yells out the window.
“No thanks, Pax. I’m gonna ride my bike.”
“You’re doing what?” He laughs at her.
“Go, shoo, I’m capable.”
He shakes his head as she runs to the garage and grabs her bike.
“See you later, new girl,” he says with a wave as he drives away.
I watch as the black Honda Accord backs out of the driveway. The driver is wearing a gray hoodie, black winter vest, and has aviator sunglasses covering his eyes. I assume he is Lana’s brother, and Lana must have told him about me.
New girl? I wonder if she remembers my name.
“It’s been a while.” Lana gestures at her bike in explanation. “Hopefully, I remember. I have ridden with him ever since he got his license.”
“From what I understand, it comes back to you fast. You know, ‘just like riding a bike.’ ”
She laughs and looks at the ground. “What the heck are we doing? It’s winter. Do you really ride your bike to school in this crap?”
“There’s no snow on the ground.”
“Okay, but seriously, we’re going to look like a couple idiots. I can’t do that, and if we’re going to be friends, I seriously can’t allow you to, either.”
With that settled, we end up walking to school together, talking the entire way, or rather, she talks, and I listen. She makes me feel at ease, which is quite a feat in itself.
We walk down a sidewalk crowded with other students. Today I am dressed in a way to make blending an option. I am wearing a pair of less tattered jeans and a sweater Mom got off the sale rack last season at The Gap.
I blend in during global, but as soon as I walk into chemistry, Lana yells out my name and pats the seat next to her.
“Sit here, Hadley.”
So I do. I sit there and watch as some of the judgy faces from yesterday seem to become less harsh.
When class is over, we walk out, and she shows me where the next class is. I already know—I was here yesterday—but I don’t remind her of that. I just thank her because, well, she’s been very nice.
Before lunch, she finds me right as I am about to make my escape toward the bathroom.
“Come on, Hadley. You’ll sit with us from now on.”
I feel good about this. She seems completely genuine, and I am nervously excited about the idea of having such fast friends here.
We sit with her friends, Bee and Skylar.
“Wait, before you sit, tell me, are you Everlark or Everthorne?” The girl who has dark hair and eyes—I think she is Latina—and is short and stocky … Bee. Her name is Bee.
“You better give the correct answer, or Bee here will flip,” Skylar, the tall, mixed race, very thin and gorgeous girl says.
“If I have to sit on the floor and eat, it’ll be okay. It is and always will be Everlark,” I answer.
To our benefit, we all say we are team Everlark and that Gale and Katniss don’t even make sense together. Beatrice even has an interesting theory on the fictional character-napping of our beloved Peeta. This is the way the conversation continues to go the entire time. It’s all about The Hunger Games. I am more at ease now than ever.
I think I’m going to like it here.
I find out Bee and Skylar have gone to Blue Valley together since kindergarten, while Lana moved here only a couple years ago.
After school, they convince me to go with them to winter intramurals. Apparently, the PE teacher is a field hockey enthusiast and wants to have the best team in Central New York this coming fall. A couple other schools in the area are doing the same thing, so we will have actual games. This makes me happy. Now add to it that my new, very fast friends want to play, as well, and okay, I know I’m gonna like it here.
When I send a text to my mother and tell her I’m staying after, she replies with way too many colons and capital Ds, which makes me laugh to myself.
“Nerd girl alert,” I hear a tall, very long-legged, very pretty blonde laugh to her group of friends as we walk into the locker room to change.
I immediately think of Glimmer and how her outward beauty only masks her inward ugly.
“Kiss it, Claire,” Lana says, giving her three fingers.
I look at her like she’s crazy.
“Hunger Games,” Bee explains. “Lana uses it to flip people off without getting in trouble.”
“Nice.” I laugh.
“Right? Then the parental units don’t catch on,” Lana explains further.
“Gotcha,” I say as I watch the girl Claire whispering to her friends.
“P.I.R.,” Skylar says.
“What?” I ask.
“Parents in room,” Bee chimes in. “Text terms. How do you not know that one? You have an iPhone.”
“I just got it yesterday for my birthday.”
“Birthday? No way! How did we miss that?” Skylar asks.
Wow, just wow, I think to myself.
“Um, hello, Sky, she just moved here.” Lana laughs.
“Duh, of course.” Skylar laughs it off.
“What’s her problem?” I nod to the group of girls.
“Oh, her? Pax broke up with her last year. She is one nasty, little thing. She hates me and tried starting a rumor that I had a crush on him. Can you imagine?” Lana laughs as she ties her cleats.
“Your brother?” I gape.
“Stepbrother,” Bee corrects.
“Same difference. God, can you imagine crushing on a boy you’ve been raised with? Gross!” Lana gives a disgusted look.
“No way in heck,” I agree, as I pull my warm up pants on.
“Do you have I-G?” Bee asks, playing with my phone. “Guess not yet.”
“Are you into role-playing?” Bee asks, downloading the app.
“You’re about to enter into the coolest game in the world. It’s fierce.” She looks up, then talks me through the set up before handing me my phone. “Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.”
“I’m not into games.”
“Okay, let me explain. Role-play, or RP as, like, everyone on the face of the fandom world calls it, is like writing a story with your friends. I’ve met a lot of cool people there. There are academies, schools, camps, arenas, districts, factions—practically every fandom has an RP. It’s pretty cool,” Bee explains.
“You’re into books, though, right?” Lana asks.
“You’ll love it. Trust us,” Bee smiles at me.
“Enter your username, but choose wisely.”
“What are yours?” I ask.
“Mine is beesbookbuzz.” Bee smiles.
“I’m sky-dot-da-dot-limitless.” Sky smirks.
“I’m fanchicks123,” Lana says.
“Okay how about thefiercefangirl? Or is that really lame?”
“Perfect.” Bee nods. “Love it.”
Apparently, I am pretty good at field hockey because, even though I’m only a sophomore, I am placed as a starting forward, opposite Claire. I don’t like that I am not playing on the same team as my friends, but we travel and practice together, so I see them just as much. Evidently, field hockey is a dying sport around here because every other indoor team is over an hour away.
Claire and I may not talk, like ever, but by the end of the short eight week season, which I only play four weeks of, we have found a groove. Coach Douglas likes the way we work together and mentions that we could be state champions in the fall if we work a little harder together. He wants us to become friends.
“Fat chance,” she mumbles under her breath as she brushes past me, walking out of his office.
Peace, sister, I think to myself as I walk out behind her.
I am thankful that I only have the end of the season party that I will have to see her again at. Then, I will be able to hang out more with Lana, Bee, and Skylar, and I will have a chance to read again.
Within a week, I am borderline obsessed with fan fiction and role-playing, thanks to my friends. Now it’s a month later, and Lana, Bee, and I easily spend an hour, maybe more, invested in this crazy, new world every day. Sky is a little less obsessed, but she plays along for the same reason I spend some Saturday mornings at the park with a sketch pad in one hand and a piece of chalk in the other. They love to sketch in the park and have asked me to go, and that’s what friends do.
Through DM, or direct messages, each person creates a character. Then, message after message, a story unfolds.
thefiercefangirl: Okay guys, The Hunger Games Role play, or THG RP. My character is Quinn Greenwood. You know, my usual.
Beesbookbuz:- Mine is Willow Oak, my usual. You know, the blondie.
fanchicks123: Mine’s Kaden Red. The one with the black hair.
sky.da.limitless: Obviously, Becca. You guys ready?
sky.da.limitless: Becca walks around, searching for food and water, on guard, making sure no one is following her.
Thefiercefangirl: Quinn quietly walks around, looking for the girl she decided to become allies with during training. Knowing the other girl was District Two, she tried her hardest not to get caught.
fanchicks123: Kaden leaves her camp with her allies as soon as she wakes up, knowing if they caught her, she would be killed.
Beesbookbuzz: Willow jumps from the tree she’s been sleeping in at the sound of rushing water. A flash flood strikes the arena. The water starts coming from the ground and the top of the ‘roof’ of the arena.
sky.da.limitless: Becca jolts as her shoes start to fill with the water.
Thefiercefangirl: Sorry, guys, GTG. I’m tired.
I smile as I sign out.
“Whatcha doing, sweetheart?” my mom asks from the doorway.
“Role-playing on IG,” I answer. When she doesn’t reply, I look toward my door. “Book stuff, Mom. It’s all good.”
“Yes, Mom, I am.”
“All up and up, right? Remember, everything you post stays up there in that cloud forever. No taking it back. No—”
“I know. I saw JJ’s big reveal on your Facebook from his first drunken college party, remember?” My half-brother’s an idiot, I think to myself.
“A decision he has to live with for the rest of his life,” she says like she feels bad about my Dad’s first child’s choice to get drunk and bare it all.
Gross. That is just something you can never un-see.
I don’t understand why Lana is hiding her role-playing from her parents, so I ask her on our way to school.
“They are completely over-protective,” she explains.
“Your parents seem cool with everything,” she turns the topic on me.
“So your mom reads palms? Is that, like, her job?”
Ever since field hockey, Lana has been a little less chipper and a lot more in my face. I don’t understand. If she decided she doesn’t like me, she should just stop hanging out with me, right? God, this is so confusing. She knows so much about me now, all my embarrassing, closeted things, like the fact that my mom reads palms for extra money.
I asked her not to say anything, and she promised she wouldn’t. I cannot believe she is starting that crap up again. She promised.
“She is a hairstylist. She rents a booth downtown. That’s her real job.”
“She offered to read my mom’s palm,” she says.
“Great. I bet she was impressed.”
“She laughed, actually. No big deal.”
It is a big deal. My family embarrasses the hell out of me.
Say what you will about Mother Nature, but today, she is on my side. It down pours just as I am reaching an even higher level of uncomfortable in front of my new friend, so we start laughing and cover our heads with our bags.
“Should we run for it?” I ask.
A horn blows from behind us, and I look over.
“Come on, Lana, you and new girl get in.” It is Pax, Lana’s popular and very handsome stepbrother. He is more beautiful than I could even put into words, and he seems like a very nice guy, too. He always smiles and either waves or says hi to me in the hallways at school.
“Thanks, Pax,” Lana says as she slides in the front seat.
“Lana, are you gonna let her in?” He laughs, as I squeeze in behind her to get in the back.
“I got it.” I laugh. “See? All set.”
As I look up, his blue eyes are smiling in the rearview mirror. Feeling my face heat, I turn away before he is aware. Dear God, now is not the time to develop your first crush, I tell myself.
“You like it here, new girl?”
“All except the torrential downpours when there is snow on the ground,” I answer as I look out the window, avoiding the chance that I may make a fool of myself and get lost in the rearview mirror again.
I am washing my hands in the school bathroom when Claire walks in.
She nods. “Hey.”
“Hey.” I nod back.
“Busy this weekend?”
I look around to see if I may have been mistaken, and maybe she really isn’t talking to me. She never talks to me, which is perfectly fine with me.
She laughs. “We’re the only ones in here, Had.”
“I suppose so.” I return the laugh.
“A few of the players and I are joining an outdoor spring league. Coach says we need to play more. I, for one, would love a shot at state this fall. Hell, nationals would be cool. You wanna join? You can ride with us.”
“I’ll ask my mom.”
“Cool, message me?”
“O … kay?”
“You have Instagram?” she asks.
“Oh God, you are in deep with the nerd herd.” She laughs.
“My friends and I read. Why does that make us nerds?” I question her.
“Oh, I just bust on Lana, all in fun.” Yeah right, I think. “I’ll be nice. The past is the past, right?”
“Yep, so they say,” I answer.
“Cool, chat later?”
“She said it was all in good fun?” Lana huffs as we walk home from school. “Crazy ass.”
“She said she just busts on you.”
“You aren’t gonna seriously go with them?” Lana asks, as if she already knows I won’t.
I shrug and she laughs, letting me know she thinks I’m joking. I don’t want to upset her, because she’s a good friend—my best friend—but I am really good at something for the very first time in my life. Not only am I good at it, but I love the game. I know I want to join them. On the field, it’s me, my teammates, the ball, and the goal. Nothing else. No one is better than anyone, and we all work together. I love it.
I also know Bee and Skylar won’t be upset about it. Lana, on the other hand, is making this about her and Claire.
When I walk in my house, I tell Mom about the indoor league and ask what she thinks. Of course she asks how much it’s going to cost. I hate money. Hate it.
“Not sure,” I say as I grab an orange out of the fridge, “I’ll find out.”
“We will make it work, I promise.” She smiles at me, but I see worry.
“If not, Mom, it’s seriously no big deal.”
Maybe it’s just not meant to be. I know we don’t have any extra money, and I don’t want her to stress out. Lana will be happier, too. Whatever happens, I know it will be fine. It always is.
Ally Derby lives in upstate New York in a small town. She is a middle school student,who loves field hockey, music, books, family and God.
She has no problem sticking up for what she feels is right, regardless of the social ramifications and that doesn’t always go over well.
She is also a fierce fangirl, and loves to role play on Instagram as @firefandoms.
Her favorite book genre is young adult dystopian. Her favorite book series include, The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, The Divergent series, The Maze Runner, and The Selection series.
Other books she devours are anything John Green, and Gayle Foreman.
Her books are her life and when Ally gets in trouble at home, her mother grounds her from books, *gasp*
Jacqueline Ross is an author, and mother to Ally. She reads almost everything Ally does and enjoys the romance genre.
She is ‘one of those moms’. Meaning she is overprotective and pushes Ally to do her best at everything she does.