“So which is it going to be, Hannah?” Molly asked. “Trunk or Treat or the crazy party in Eastwood?”
Hannah twisted a bead on her Friends for Life bracelet, looking around the section of the library where after-school tutoring took place. The tutoring center was totally dead. Nobody had come in all afternoon and there hadn’t been very many tutors signed up, either. Mr. Collins sat at a desk at the front, grading papers, and Hannah’s choices were to keep talking with her friends or stare at the childish Halloween decorations on the wall, the brightly colored ghosts and tombstones that they should have outgrown in third grade. There was a skeleton in the corner that at least was sort of scary looking, and this morning Hannah and Molly had stood on chairs to hang a chain made out of construction paper and a sign reminding people to stay safe this Halloween by avoiding alcohol and drugs. It didn’t look like it fit with everything else and she was sure no one was looking at it.
“I don’t know,” Hannah said. “Maybe neither.”
“I do know,” her other best friend, Sierra, interjected from the other side of the table. “You’re going to come with me and have an awesome time instead of wasting the night away giving out candy to a bunch of snot-nosed kids and pretending to smile at their lame costumes.”
“Sierra!” Molly said.
“I’m just saying.” Sierra pulled on Hannah’s sleeve. “Come on, Mouse, don’t you want to live a little for once? Jake said I could invite anyone I want and I bet there’ll be a ton of hot guys there. This is your chance to meet someone amazing.”
“I doubt that,” Hannah said weakly, leaving out that she wasn’t too happy to hear that Jake was involved. Jake was Sierra’s boyfriend, sort of, and more than once Hannah and Molly had had to stay up all night listening to Sierra cry her heart out after one of their fights.
“You won’t know until you try.” Sierra turned to Molly. “Give her one good reason why she should go to your stupid babysitting party instead.”
“Um, cause she just put up this thing,” Molly said, gesturing towards the chain and the sign, “and all week long she’s been putting red ribbons on people’s lockers to encourage them to stay sober.”
Hannah’s cheeks reddened and she looked away. Molly was right. It didn’t look good for the Vice-President of Students Against Destructive Decisions to go to a party where everyone would be drinking, especially not during Red Ribbon Week, which was a week-long campaign to get people to stay sober during their Halloween celebrations. “I’m not going to drink,” she said. “So it’ll be fine.”
“Yeah,” Sierra said. “Hannah doesn’t give into peer pressure. You’re just jealous because she’s not afraid to live a little, unlike some people.”
“I’m not afraid to live,” Molly said. “I just actually have common sense. Don’t do this, Mouse. Come – “
“Do what?” a voice said, and Hannah knew before she looked up that it was Brad’s voice. It was a little higher than most boys’ voices, but still deep enough to be masculine, and he had a stronger New York accent than she did.
“Oh,” Hannah said, ignoring how much faster her heart had started beating when she looked into Brad’s soft, brown eyes. She pushed her hair behind her ear. “Brad. Hey.” She fidgeted with her hands, twisting them together and drawing way too much attention to them. They felt too big to her all of a sudden and she was sure Brad thought so too. “I’m going to a party tonight,” she said, “but Molly doesn’t like it.”
“In Eastwood,” Molly interjected.
“Wow.” Brad’s eyes widened and Hannah couldn’t tell if he was impressed or worried. “I didn’t think you were the partying type.”
“Oh, I’m not. Usually, I mean. I’m more the kind of girl who discourages it.” Good going, Hannah. Make yourself sound like some stuck-up goody-two-shoes, why don’t you? “But Sierra’s going and I want to make sure she’s okay.”
“Really.” Brad tried to raise one eyebrow but only succeeded in scrunching up his entire face, making Hannah’s heart do flip flops again. “Hey, you got the math homework? I lost where I wrote it down.”
Oh. That was all Brad wanted. Of course he didn’t want to talk to Hannah just to talk to her. Her heart sank while she felt stupid for hoping. “Of course,” she said, keeping her feelings firmly in check. “I put it in my phone right away. You should do that too so you don’t lose it again.” Her fingertips brushed Brad’s as she handed him the phone and she argued with herself about whether she’d done it on purpose on top of telling herself that she was sure she was wrong that he liked it.
“Thanks.” Brad grabbed a pen off the table without asking and wrote the assignment on his hand.
“Brad!” Hannah said as he gave her back her phone. “Use paper!”
“I’ll lose it again. Can’t lose my hand, right?”
“That’s a shame,” Sierra said, prompting Hannah to glare at her. “Now if you’re done wasting Hannah’s time, do you mind moving out of the way?”
“Sierra,” Hannah said, but her voice wasn’t as forceful as she wanted it to be. It never was. That was why her friends called her Mouse, a nickname she secretly hated but pretended not to.
“Not til I do this.” Brad took a step forward, looking Hannah in the eye, and for one terrible, wonderful second she thought he was going to try to kiss her. “You sure you want to go to this party tonight?” he asked, and her heart sank again. “Cause my friend Mark’s doing this thing and you’d be welcome. If you want, I mean.”
Whoa. He was asking her out. Hannah totally hadn’t expected THAT. “A thing?” she asked, trying to play it cool, but she couldn’t help smiling a little anyway.
“Nothing big,” Brad said, looking away from her. “We’re just gonna chill and watch a couple cheesy horror movies and laugh at how dumb they are. Costume optional.”
“She’s not interested,” Sierra said. Hannah frowned but Sierra said, “Trust me, Mouse, you’re not. Chill’s code for ‘get stoned out of your mind.’ and he’s going to be pushing you to do it too. You don’t want that.”
Hannah’s eyes narrowed. She didn’t like the way Sierra was talking, and anyway, there was going to be worse than weed at Jake’s party, from what Molly said. “I hope Sierra’s wrong about the weed,” she said to Brad, feeling she had to do her duty as vice-president of SADD and encourage him to stay sober. “It’s not good for you.” Brad’s eyes narrowed and she realized too late how judgmental that sounded. “Anyway, it sounds great and I’d like to come, but I already made these plans with Sierra, so…”
“Right.” Brad’s voice was flat. He played with the pen, flicking the button to open and close it over and over. “Um, sure you don’t want me to write my digits on your hand in case you change your mind?”
“She’s positive,” Sierra said before Hannah could answer. “And give us our pen back.”
Brad’s eyes flashed. “Whatever,” he said, throwing the pen down. “Have fun watching this one’s back,” he said to Hannah. “Hope she gets someday that you’re a way better friend to her than she deserves.”
“Brad – ” Hannah began, but Brad turned and walked away, his feet hitting the floor hard enough that she was sure they could hear it down in the cafeteria. She slumped down in her seat. “Sierra! You just ruined the only chance I’m ever going to have with him!”
“I just saved you, you mean,” Sierra said. “You can do way better than him, trust me.” She pulled her purse over her shoulder. “Let’s get out of here. He and his lame excuses for talking to you are the only ones who have been here all afternoon and the sooner we go, the sooner you can meet Mr. Right instead.”
Hannah’s eyes snapped, but the idea of arguing with Sierra any more made her feel tired. “Fine, whatever,” she said. “Let’s go have fun.”
“YAY!” Sierra said, loudly enough that Mr. Collins looked up from the papers he was marking. “Come on, bestie,” she added, lowering her voice slightly. “Tonight’s the night we really start to live.”
What have I got myself into? Hannah thought as she picked up her backpack so she could follow Sierra out of the tutoring center.