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Small Spaces / (by Katherine Arden, 2018) -

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Small Spaces /   (by Katherine Arden, 2018) -

Small Spaces / (by Katherine Arden, 2018) -

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Small Spaces / (by Katherine Arden, 2018) -
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2018
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Katherine Arden
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Renee Dorian
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/ / intermediate
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intermediate
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05:17:05
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Small Spaces / :

.doc (Word) katherine_arden_-_small_spaces.doc [1.27 Mb] (c: 84) .
.pdf katherine_arden_-_small_spaces.pdf [1.35 Mb] (c: 154) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: Small Spaces

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1 OCTOBER IN EAST EVANSBURG, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton_s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don_t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to snow. But Mr. Easton was teaching fractions and had no sympathy for Olivia_s fidgets. _Now,_ he said from the front of the room. His chalk squeaked on the board. Mike Campbell flinched. Mike Campbell got the shivers from squeaking blackboards and, for some reason, from people licking paper napkins. The sixth grade licked napkins around him as much as possible. _Can anyone tell me how to convert three-sixteenths to a decimal?_ asked Mr. Easton. He scanned the room for a victim. _Coco?_ _Um,_ said Coco Zintner, hastily shutting a sparkling pink notebook. _Ah,_ she added wisely, squinting at the board. Point one eight seven five, thought Olivia idly, but she did not raise her hand to rescue Coco. She made a line of purple ink on her scratch paper, turned it into a flower, then a palm tree. Her attention wandered back to the window. What if a vampire army came through the gates right now? Or no, it_s sunny. Werewolves? Or what if the Brewsters_ Halloween skeleton decided to unhook himself from the third-floor window and lurch out the door? Ollie liked this idea. She had a mental image of Officer Perkins, who got cats out of trees and filed police reports about pies stolen off windowsills, approaching a wandering skeleton. I_m sorry, Mr. Bones, you_re going to have to put your skin on_ A large foot landed by her desk. Ollie jumped. Coco had either conquered or been conquered by three-sixteenths, and now Mr. Easton was passing out math quizzes. The whole class groaned. _Were you paying attention, Ollie?_ asked Mr. Easton, putting her paper on her desk. _Yep,_ said Ollie, and added, a little at random, _point one eight seven five._ Mr. Bones had failed to appear. Lazy skeleton. He could have gotten them out of their math quiz. Mr. Easton looked unconvinced but moved on. Ollie eyed her quiz. Please convert 9/8 to a decimal. Right. Ollie didn_t use a calculator or scratch paper. The idea of using either had always puzzled her, as though someone had suggested she needed a spyglass to read a book. She scribbled answers as fast as her pencil could write, put her quiz on Mr. Easton_s desk, and waited, half out of her seat, for the bell to ring. Before the ringing had died away, Ollie seized her bag, inserted a crumpled heap of would-be homework, stowed a novel, and bolted for the door. She had almost made it out when a voice behind her said, _Ollie._ Ollie stopped; Lily Mayhew and Jenna Gehrmann nearly tripped over her. Then the whole class was going around her like she was a rock in a river. Ollie trudged back to Mr. Easton_s desk. Why me, she wondered irritably. Phil Greenblatt had spent the last hour picking his nose and sticking boogers onto the seat in front of him. Lily had hacked her big sister_s phone and screenshotted some texts Annabelle sent her boyfriend. The sixth grade had been giggling over them all day. And Mr. Easton wanted to talk to her? Ollie stopped in front of the teacher_s desk. _Yes? I turned in my quiz and everything so__ Mr. Easton had a wide mouth and a large nose that drooped over his upper lip. A neatly trimmed mustache took up the tiny bit of space remaining. Usually he looked like a friendly walrus. Now he looked impatient. _Your quiz is letter-perfect, as you know, Ollie,_ he said. _No complaints on that score._ Ollie knew that. She waited. _You should be doing eighth-grade math,_ Mr. Easton said. _At least._ _No,_ said Ollie. Mr. Easton looked sympathetic now, as though he knew why she didn_t want to do eighth-grade math. He probably did. Ollie had him for homeroom and life sciences, as well as math. Ollie did not mind impatient teachers, but she did not like sympathy face. She crossed her arms. Mr. Easton hastily changed the subject. _Actually, I wanted to talk to you about chess club. We_re missing you this fall. The other kids, you know, really appreciated that you took the time to work with them on their opening gambits last year, and there_s the interscholastic tournament coming up soon so__ He went on about chess club. Ollie bit her tongue. She wanted to go outside, she wanted to ride her bike, and she didn_t want to rejoin chess club. When Mr. Easton finally came to a stop, she said, not quite meeting his eyes, _I_ll send the club some links about opening gambits. Super helpful. They_ll work fine. Um, tell everyone I_m sorry._ He sighed. _Well, it_s your decision. But if you were to change your mind, we_d love__ _Yeah,_ said Ollie. _I_ll think about it._ Hastily she added, _Gotta run. Have a good day. Bye._ She was out the door before Mr. Easton could object, but she could feel him watching her go. Past the green lockers, thirty-six on each side, down the hall that always smelled like bleach and old sandwiches. Out the double doors and onto the front lawn. All around was bright sun and cool air shaking golden trees: fall in East Evansburg. Ollie took a glad breath. She was going to ride her bike down along the creek as far and as fast as she could go. Maybe she_d jump in the water. The creek wasn_t that cold. She would go home at dusk_sunset at 5:58. She had lots of time. Her dad would be mad that she got home late, but he was always worrying about something. Ollie could take care of herself. Her bike was a Schwinn, plum-colored. She had locked it neatly to the space nearest the gate. No one in Evansburg would steal your bike_probably_but Ollie loved hers and sometimes people would prank you by stealing your wheels and hiding them. She had both hands on her bike lock, tongue sticking out as she wrestled with the combination, when a shriek split the air. _It_s mine!_ a voice yelled. _Give it back! No_you can_t touch that. NO!_ Ollie turned. Most of the sixth grade was milling on the front lawn, watching Coco Zintner hop around like a flea_it was she who_d screamed. Coco would not have been out of place in a troop of flower fairies. Her eyes were large, slanting, and ice-blue. Her strawberry-blond hair was so strawberry that in the sunshine it looked pink. You could imagine Coco crawling out of a daffodil each morning and sipping nectar for breakfast. Ollie was a little jealous. She herself had a headful of messy brown curls and no one would ever mistake her for a flower fairy. But at least, Ollie reminded herself, if Phil Greenblatt steals something from me, I_m big enough to sock him. Phil Greenblatt had stolen Coco_s sparkly notebook. The one Coco had closed when Mr. Easton called on her. Phil was ignoring Coco_s attempts to get it back_he was a foot taller than her. Coco was tiny. He held the notebook easily over Coco_s head, flipped to the page he wanted, and snickered. Coco shrieked with frustration. _Hey, Brian,_ called Phil. _Take a look at this._ Coco burst into tears. Brian Battersby was the star of the middle school hockey team even though he was only twelve himself. He was way shorter than Phil, but looked like he fit together better, instead of sprouting limbs like a praying mantis. He was lounging against the brick wall of the school building, watching Phil and Coco with interest. Ollie started to get mad. No one liked Coco much_she had just moved from the city and her squeaky enthusiasm annoyed everyone. But really, make her cry in school? Brian looked at the notebook Phil held out to him. He shrugged. Ollie thought he looked more embarrassed than anything. Coco started crying harder. Brian definitely looked uncomfortable. _Come on, Phil, it might not be me._ Mike Campbell said, elbowing Brian, _No, it_s totally you._ He eyed the notebook page again. _I guess it could be a dog that looks like you._ _Give it back!_ yelled Coco through her tears. She snatched again. Phil was waving the notebook right over her head, laughing. The sixth grade was laughing too, and now Ollie could see what they were all looking at. It was a picture_a good picture, Coco could really draw_of Brian and Coco_s faces nestled together with a heart around them. Phil sat behind Coco in math class; he must have seen her drawing. Poor dumb Coco_why would you do that if you were sitting in front of nosy Philip Greenblatt? _Come on, Brian,_ Mike was saying. _Don_t you want to go out with Hot Cocoa here?_ Coco looked like she wanted to run away except that she really wanted her notebook back and Ollie had pretty much had enough of the whole situation, and so she bent down, got a moderate-sized rock, and let it fly. Numbers and throwing things, those were the two talents of Olivia Adler. She_d quit the softball team last year too, but her aim was still on. Her rock caught Brian squarely in the back of the head, dropped him thump onto the grass, and turned everyone_s attention from Coco Zintner to her. Ideally, Ollie would have hit Phil, but Phil was facing her and Ollie didn_t want to put out an eye. Besides, she didn_t have a lot of sympathy for Brian. He knew perfectly well that he was the best at hockey, and half the girls giggled about him, and he wasn_t coming to Coco_s rescue even though he_d more or less gotten her into this with his dumb friends and his dumb charming smile. Ollie crossed her arms, thought in her mom_s voice, Well, in for a penny . . . , hefted another rock, and said, _Oops. My hand slipped._ The entire sixth grade was staring. The kids in front started backing away. A lot of them thought she had cracked since last year. _Um, seriously, guys,_ she said. _Doesn_t anyone have anything better to do?_ Coco Zintner took advantage of Phil_s distraction to snatch her notebook back. She gave Ollie a long look, and darted away. Ollie thought, I_m going to have detention for a year, and then Brian got up, spitting out dirt, and said, _That was a pretty good throw._ The noise began. Ms. Mouton, that day_s lawn monitor, finally noticed the commotion. _Now,_ she said, hurrying over. _Now, now._ Ms. Mouton was the librarian and she was not the best lawn monitor. Ollie decided that she wasn_t going to say sorry or anything. Let them call her dad, let them shake their heads, let them give her detention tomorrow. At least tomorrow the weather would change and she would not be stuck in school on a nice day, answering questions. Ollie jumped onto her bike and raced out of the school yard, wheels spitting gravel, before anyone could tell her to stop. 2 SHE PEDALED HARD past the hay bales in the roundabout on Main Street, turned onto Daisy Lane, and raced past the clapboard houses, where jack-o_-lanterns grinned on every front porch. She aimed her bike to knock down a rotting gray rubber hand groping up out of the earth in the Steiners_ yard, turned again at Johnson Hill, and climbed, panting, up the steep dirt road. No one came after her. Well, why would they, Ollie thought. She was Off School Property. Ollie let her bike coast down the other side of Johnson Hill. It was good to be alone in the warm sunshine. The river ran silver to her right, chattering over rocks. The fire-colored trees shook their leaves down around her. It wasn_t hot, exactly_but warm for October. Just cool enough for jeans, but the sun was warm when you tilted your face to it. The swimming hole was Ollie_s favorite place. Not far from her house, it had a secret spot on a rock half-hidden by a waterfall. That spot was Ollie_s, especially on fall days. After mid-September, she was the only one who went there. People didn_t go to swimming holes once the weather turned chilly. Other than her homework, Ollie was carrying Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, a broken-spined paperback that she_d dug out of her dad_s bookshelves. She mostly liked it. Peter Blood outsmarted everyone, which was a feature she liked in heroes, although she wished Peter were a girl, or the villain were a girl, or someone in the book besides his boat and his girlfriend (both named Arabella) were a girl. But at least the book had romance and high-seas adventures and other absolutely not Evansburg things. Ollie liked that. Reading it meant going to a new place where she wasn_t Olivia Adler at all. Ollie braked her bike. The ground by the road was carpeted with scarlet leaves; sugar maples start losing their leaves before other trees. Ollie kept a running list in her head of sugar maples in Evansburg that didn_t belong to anyone. When the sap ran, she and her mom would_ Nope. No, they wouldn_t. They could buy maple syrup. The road that ran beside the swimming hole looked like any other stretch of road. A person just driving by wouldn_t know the swimming hole was there. But, if you knew just where to look, you_d see a skinny dirt trail that went from the road to the water. Ollie walked her bike down the trail. The trees seemed to close in around her. Above was a white-railed bridge. Below, the creek paused in its trip down the mountain. It spread out, grew deep and quiet enough for swimming. There was a cliff for jumping and plenty of hiding places for one girl and her book. Ollie hurried. She was eager to go and read by the water and be alone. The trees ended suddenly, and Ollie was standing on the bank of a cheerful brown swimming hole. But, to her surprise, someone was already there. A slender woman, wearing jeans and flannel, stood at the edge of the water. The woman was sobbing. Maybe Ollie_s foot scuffed a rock, because the woman jumped and whirled around. Ollie gulped. The woman was pretty, with amber-honey hair. But she had circles under her eyes like purple thumbprints. Streaks of mascara had run down her face, like she_d been crying for a while. _Hello,_ the woman said, trying to smile. _You surprised me._ Her white-knuckled hands gripped a small, dark thing. _I didn_t mean to scare you,_ Ollie said cautiously. Why are you crying? she wanted to ask. But it seemed impolite to ask that question of a grown-up, even if her face was streaked with the runoff from her tears. The woman didn_t reply; she darted a glance to the rocky path by the creek, then back to the water. Like she was looking out for something. Or someone. Ollie felt a chill creep down her spine. She said, _Are you okay?_ _Of course._ The woman tried to smile again. Fail. The wind rustled the leaves. Ollie glanced behind her. Nothing. _I_m fine,_ said the woman. She turned the dark thing over in her hands. Then she said, in a rush, _I just have to get rid of this. Put it in the water. And then__ The woman broke off. Then? What then? The woman held the thing out over the water. Ollie saw that it was a small black book, the size of her spread-out hand. Her reaction was pure reflex. _You can_t throw away a book!_ Ollie let go of her bike and jumped forward. Part of her wondered, Why would you come here to throw a book in the creek? You can donate a book. There were donation boxes all over Evansburg. _I have to!_ snapped the woman, bringing Ollie up short. The woman went on, half to herself, _That_s the bargain. Make the arrangements. Then give the book to the water._ She gave Ollie a pleading look. _I don_t have a choice, you see._ Ollie tried to drag the conversation out of crazy town. _You can donate a book if you don_t want it,_ she said firmly. _Or_or give it to someone. Don_t just throw it in the creek._ _I have to,_ said the woman again. _Have to drop a book in the creek?_ _Before tomorrow,_ said the woman. Almost to herself, she whispered, _Tomorrow_s the day._ Ollie was nearly within arm_s reach now. The woman smelled sour_frightened. Ollie, completely bewildered, decided to ignore the stranger elements of the conversation. Later, she would wish she hadn_t. _If you don_t want that book, I_ll take it,_ said Ollie. _I like books._ The woman shook her head. _He said water. Upstream. Where Lethe Creek runs out of the mountain. I_m here. I_m doing it!_ She shrieked the last sentence as though someone besides Ollie were listening. Ollie had to stop herself from looking behind her again. _Why?_ she asked. Little mouse feet crept up her spine. _Who knows?_ the woman whispered. _Just his game, maybe. He enjoys what he does, you know, and that is why he_s always smiling__ She smiled too, a joyless pumpkin-head grin. Ollie nearly yelped. But instead, her hand darted up and she snatched the book. It felt fragile under her fingers, gritty with dust. Surprised at her own daring, Ollie hurriedly backed up. The woman_s face turned red. _Give that back!_ A glob of spit hit Ollie in the cheek. _I don_t think so,_ said Ollie. _You don_t want it anyway._ She was backing toward her bike, half expecting the woman to fling herself forward. The woman was staring at Ollie as if really seeing her for the first time. _Why_?_ A horrified understanding dawned on her face that Ollie didn_t understand. _How old are you?_ Ollie was still backing toward her bike. _Eleven,_ she answered, by reflex. Almost there . . . _Eleven?_ the woman breathed. _Eleven. Of course, eleven._ Ollie couldn_t tell if the woman was giggling or crying. Maybe both. _It_s his kind of joke__ She broke off, leaned forward to whisper. _Listen to me, Eleven. I_m going to tell you one thing, because I_m not a bad person. I just didn_t have a choice. I_ll give you some advice, and you give me the book._ She had her hand out, fingers crooked like claws. Ollie, poised on the edge of flight, said, _Tell me what?_ The creek rushed and rippled, but the harsh sounds of the woman_s breathing were louder than the water. _Avoid large places at night,_ the woman said. _Keep to small._ _Small?_ Ollie was torn between wanting to run and wanting to understand. _That_s it?_ _Small!_ shrieked the woman. _Small spaces! Keep to small spaces or see what happens to you! Just see!_ She burst into wild laughter. The plastic witch sitting on the Brewsters_ porch laughed like that. _Now give me that book!_ Her laughter turned into a whistling sob. Ollie heaved the Schwinn around and fled with it up the trail. The woman_s footsteps scraped behind. _Come back!_ she panted. _Come back!_ Ollie was already on the main road, her leg thrown over the bike_s saddle. She rode home as fast as she could, bent low over her handlebars, hair streaming in the wind, the book lying in her pocket like a secret. 3 OLIVIA ADLER_S HOUSE was tall and lupine-purple and old. Her dad had bought the house before he and Mom had ever met. The first time Ollie_s mom saw it, she said to Ollie_s dad, _Who are you, the Easter Bunny?_ because her dad had painted the house the colors of an Easter egg, and ever since, they_d called the house the Egg. The outside had plum-colored trim and a bright red door. The kitchen was green, like mint ice cream. The bedrooms were sunset-orange and candy-pink and fire-red. Dad liked colors. _Why have a gray kitchen if you can have a green one?_ he would ask. Ollie loved her house. When her grandparents visited, they would always shake their heads and say how white walls really opened up a place. Dad would nod agreeably, and then wink at Ollie when Grandma wasn_t looking. Mom had given the rooms names. _Dawn Room,_ Ollie remembered her mother saying, holding her hand and walking her through the house, waiting while Ollie_s stumpy legs climbed the stairs. Ollie must have just been learning to read, because she remembered looking up at the sign on each door and trying to sound out the words: _D-a-w-n. Dawn._ Her mother_s hand was warm and strong, callused from climbing and paddling. Ollie could still remember her small fat fingers secure in her mother_s thin brown ones. _That means when the sun comes up, Olivia._ Ollie_s mom was the only one who called her Olivia. _If you have a brother, we_re going to name him Sebastian. Two beautiful names. Why make them shorter?_ Ms. Carruthers had tried to call Ollie Olivia at the end of fifth grade, and a few teachers had tried since, but Ollie refused to answer. All the best heroines of Ollie_s books were stubborn as rocks, or roots, or whatever the author liked to call them. Only her mom called her Olivia and that was that. _Dusk Room,_ Ollie_s mother said, tilting the sign on the door so Ollie could see. She and Dad had painted the signs themselves. Dad_s were perfect, with suns and moons and tiny flowers. Dad was crafty; he painted and knitted hats and baked. Ollie_s mom liked digging in the dirt and running and flying and adventurous things. Her signs were exuberant blobs of paint in which the letters were barely visible. _Dusk means when the sun goes down!_ Ollie_s voice piped in delighted reply. _And this one?_ said Ollie_s mother at the end of the hallway. The door to this room had an old-fashioned keyhole and a doorknob shaped like a dragon. _Your mother found that doorknob in some yard sale,_ her dad told Ollie once. _She had to have it. _For my daughter,_ she said._ _Ollie_s room!_ Ollie cried triumphantly. Her mother had laughed and scooped her up and run with her upside-down all the way back to the kitchen. _ Ollie had to pass the Brewsters_ house on her way home. During the day, the skeleton in their attic looked silly, but now, at dusk, it looked sinister. Its lit-up green eyes seemed to follow her. The witch on the front porch grinned and cackled. Ollie hurried past, trying not to look over her shoulder. Just a crazy person. I just met a crazy person. That_s all. That doesn_t mean I have to be scared of everything now, come on . . . And stole something from a crazy person, another part of her replied. They put people in the slammer for stealing stuff. Juvenile detention. You_ll have to graduate high school in prison pajamas. It was easier thinking that than the other thought. What if she knocks on the door at midnight, with that same look in her eyes, wanting the book back? Ollie heaved her bike into the toolshed and clattered through the front door. The streaky shadows on the lawn seemed to chase her indoors. The weather was changing; the wind that had rattled the leaves by the swimming hole was now tearing down the mountain, swinging arcs of sunset shadows across the Egg. Rain began to spatter the driveway. The warm weather was over. But inside the Egg, everything was bright and normal. Ollie hung her jacket on its peg, pocket heavy with the weight of her prize. She reached for the book, then thought better of it. If she didn_t show it to anyone, she could always deny taking it. Would anyone believe her? Would they believe the woman by the river? Her dad was in the kitchen. Simon and Garfunkel crooned on the speakers, accompanied by the clanking of pots. Over the music her dad called, _That you, Ollie?_ _Nope,_ said Ollie, still a little shaky. _It_s the postman. Someone just sent me a puppy, a kitten, and a pony for my birthday._ _Great,_ came her dad_s voice from the kitchen. _The pony can mow the lawn, and I will personally feed the kitten to Mrs. Who._ Dad didn_t like cats. Mrs. Who was the great horned owl that lived in the dead hickory tree at the far corner of their yard. _But you can keep the puppy,_ her dad added with an air of generosity. _Although I thought your birthday was in April._ _Ha-ha,_ said Ollie. She crossed the slate floor of the entryway, edged around the piano, stepped into the living room. As she did, some of that afternoon_s weirdness started to lose its grip. Ollie_s dad sold people solar panels. He liked it fine. But what he really loved was making things. Ollie had never seen his hands still, not since she was a baby. In the long summer afternoons, he built birdhouses or furniture; in the evenings he cooked or knitted or showed her how to make plates out of clay. That evening, her dad was baking. The whole house smelled like bread. Ollie sniffed. Garlic bread. There was tomato sauce. And Dad, seeing her come in, had just dumped a pile of noodles into a pot of boiling water. Spaghetti. Great. She was starving. The living room and the kitchen were one big space, with a kitchen island separating them. Ollie dropped her backpack and threw herself backward over the couch. Ollie_s dad stood behind the kitchen island, stirring, humming along with the music. His shirt was long sleeved and mustard colored. Dad liked colors on clothes like he liked colors on houses_the brighter the better. Sometimes they didn_t go together. Mom teased him for it. Ordinarily her dad would have handed her a piece of garlic bread and while Ollie ate it, they would have argued over her drinking a ginger ale before dinner, and by the time she_d worn him down, the pasta would have been ready, and it wouldn_t be before dinner anymore. But now her dad_s expression had turned serious and the garlic bread stayed in the oven. Ollie thought about staging an oven raid and then thought better of it. She surveyed her dad upside down. It was possible the school hadn_t called. Her dad pressed pause on Simon and Garfunkel. _Ollie._ _The school called,_ said Ollie. _Brian Battersby_s mother called me first,_ said her dad. He couldn_t maintain angry-dad voice even when he was trying; now he just sounded exasperated. _I got an earful, let me tell you. And then the school called. You have to go to the principal tomorrow. Ollie, you could have really hurt that boy._ _No, I couldn_t!_ said Ollie, sitting up. _It was only a tiny rock. Besides, they were being mean to Coco Zintner. You always tell me I should stick up for people._ Her dad quit stirring the sauce and came and sat down beside her. Now he was going to be understanding. She hated understanding voice as much as she hated sympathy face. Ollie felt her ears start to burn. _Ollie,_ he said. _I_m really glad you were trying to help someone. But don_t try that innocent face with me. There_s about a million ways to help a friend out without giving anyone stitches, as you know perfectly well. I don_t care if Brian was being a little turd. Next time get a teacher, use words, blind _em with mathematics; God, use that imagination of yours._ He knocked playfully on Ollie_s forehead. _First thing tomorrow morning at the principal_s office, young lady. You_re going to be in detention for a while if Brian_s mother has anything to say about it._ He paused, added mildly, _Brian is fine, by the way. His mother seemed to think he wasn_t taking the incident as seriously as he should be._ _Of course he_s not. His head_s about seven inches thick,_ grumbled Ollie. _I could have thrown a brick and he_d be fine._ _Please don_t,_ said her dad. _As the caterpillar said to the blackbird. Also, Coco Zintner_s mother called. Coco says thanks for standing up to them. Apparently, no one else did._ Ollie said nothing. She felt bad now about hitting Brian in the head with a rock, and also bad because she didn_t really like Coco Zintner. Coco squeaked too much. Ollie just didn_t like watching someone get teased. She was also hungry, and she wanted to tell her dad about the woman beside the swimming hole, but it didn_t seem like the time. She did not want to be in detention until Christmas. Well, Ollie thought, if they put me in jail for stealing a book, I won_t be. But that was hardly better. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. _If you want to throw things,_ her dad said gently, _why not rejoin the softball team? They_d take you back in a heartbeat, I know, slugger. Remember your home run last__ She stiffened. _Don_t want to._ Her dad stood up. He didn_t look mad or exasperated. He just looked hurt, which was worst of all. __Kay, fine,_ he said, heading back toward the stove. _You don_t have to. But, Ollie, you can_t hide in your books forever. There are all kinds of people, and good things, and life, just waiting for you to__ She had known he was going to say that, or something like that. She was on her feet. _To what? Forget? I won_t, even if you have. I_ll do what I want. You are not the boss of me._ _I am the dad of you,_ her dad pointed out. He had gone pale under his beard. _I_m trying to help, kiddo. I_m sad still too, you know, but I__ She didn_t want to hear it. Of all the things in the world, it was the last thing she wanted to hear. _I_m not hungry,_ said Ollie. _I_m going to bed._ _Ollie__ _Not hungry._ She grabbed her backpack, made for the stairs, in the entryway, scooped up her prize from the swimming hole in passing. The stairs were steep, the hallway to her room long and full of shadows. She sped down it. Part of her wanted her dad to follow her, tell her she was being silly. She wanted him to crack a dumb joke and coax her downstairs to dinner. But only silence chased her up the stairs to her room. Ollie didn_t slam the door. No, she_d already had her tantrum. To slam the door would be too obvious. Make her an angry kid (which you are, dummy) instead of an angry almost-teenager who Had the Right to Be Mad. So Ollie gritted her teeth and closed her door very softly. Then, where no one could see, she threw herself onto her comforter and buried her face in her pillow. She didn_t cry. She squeezed her eyes shut but she didn_t cry. It wasn_t something she had tears for, anyway. Tears were for things like skinning your knee, not for . . . Whatever. Ollie just got mad sometimes, and people talking to her made it worse. It was easier to be by herself, up here where it was quiet. Even though she was hungry. She could still smell garlic. But her dad would want to talk more and Ollie didn_t have any words for him. Or maybe he_d let her be quiet. Sometimes he did. But in its way, silence between them was worse. Better to stay up here. Ollie dug a russet apple out of her bag. Evansburg had the best apples. It was harvest time and the market was full of fresh cider and every type of apple in the world. Red and purple and yellow and green apples. Crunch. Ollie bit down. Apples were good. She would think about apples. Ollie practically lived on apples in October. She tried to convince herself that an apple was as good as pasta. Fail. But it was something. She_d sneak down later for a proper snack. Snacks. She thought about snacks. Not enough. She needed a better distraction. Distractions were good. Then she wouldn_t have to think of her dad, pale under his beard. She wouldn_t have to think of Mr. Easton and his too-sympathetic face. She wouldn_t have to think about fire in a torn-up field beneath the rain. She wouldn_t have to think at all. Ollie had dropped her backpack on the rug and tossed the old book onto the desk when she first came in. Now she got off her bed and wandered over to examine it. The book had a worn-out cloth cover with its title stamped in faded gold letters. It was very thin, less than a hundred pages. Ollie picked it up. Small Spaces. No author. Just the title. Ollie opened the book, scanned the copyright page. 1895. Wow, Ollie thought. Super old. Printed in Boston. Ollie turned the page. It started with a letter. My Dearest Margaret, I wish I could have told you this story in person. More than anything, I wish I had one more hour, one more day, a little more time. Ollie bit her lip. She too had wished for more time. She sank down on her bed, reading, chewing her apple without really noticing. But I don_t. This_these words are all I have. I know you have often wondered why I do not speak of your father. I am going to tell you why. I do not know if you will believe me. Set down in black and white, I barely believe these words myself. But I promise you that everything I say in here is true. Once you have read, I hope you will forget. The farm is yours now. Sell it, if you can. Above all, I beg you to leave the past alone. Think of the future. Think of your family. Do not go back to Smoke Hollow. The twilights when the mist rises_the dangerous nightsFiltered more frequent as the year draws to a close. Jonathan told me that. Before he . . . well. I will come to that. I can_t tell you how I have thought of leaving this place. I meant to, you know. Your father and I even talked of it. But he said the curse was his alone, and he could not escape it. I would not leave him. Now he is gone. There_the candle is guttering. Lights flicker, you know, when they are near. Sometimes I hope desperately that Jonathan is with them. That he has never left me at all. But mostly I hope he is safely dead, and that I will see him in the next world. Because the alternative is so much worse. God bless you, my dear. Even if this story seems strange, I beg you will read it. For my sake. With all my love, Beth Webster, n?e Bouvier Smoke Hollow, 1895 Ollie turned the page, fascinated. The next page only had an epigraph: When the mist rises, and the smiling man comes walking, you must avoid large places at night. Keep to small. Ollie frowned. Small spaces, said the woman by the creek. Well, the woman was obviously not right in the head; maybe the book had set her off somehow? Ollie eyed the epigraph with puzzlement. The rain tapped against her skylight; the wind was working up a temper outside. Ollie turned another page. I was born just after the end of the war. And I was a child in 1876 when Jonathan and Caleb and their mother, Cathy Webster, came to Smoke Hollow. They were all dusty, the boys barefoot, wearing patchwork shirts. Between the three of them, they had nothing but a little bread and smoked ham tied up in a napkin. They walked past the farm gate, past the hog pens and the chicken coop. When they got to the barnyard, the first thing they saw was me, as I was then. A pigtailed girl, wearing brown calico, red-faced from the oven and holding a pie dish. _Mister,_ I said to Jonathan. _Pop_s in the north field._ Jonathan was fourteen then: nearly a man in my eyes. But he grinned at me, like we_d known each other forever. _We_ll wait,_ Jonathan said cheerfully. _I was hoping your pop was hiring._ 4 OLLIE_S ALARM WENT off way too early the next day. She poked her bleary head out from under the covers, heard the rain rattling the roof, said, _Nope,_ and pulled her head back in. Small Spaces lay, bookmarked, within arm_s reach. Ollie had stayed up late reading. She wished she_d just read all night. After she finally went to sleep, she woke up twice from the same nightmare: gray skies and burning grass and trying frantically to run to someone she couldn_t see, while an endless stream of giant people holding casseroles crowded around her, saying, I_m so sorry, Olivia. It was still raining. Ollie_s bedroom ceiling sloped down low over her bed. Sometimes when it poured, she would pretend she was lying in a jungle waterfall. But now Ollie kept herself tucked in her blankets. _Ollie!_ her dad bellowed from the foot of the stairs. _Don_t even think about that snooze button! Rain boots, extra sweater, brush your teeth, and get down here now! You_re going to the farm, remember?_ A large stuffed rabbit, eyeless and noseless, lay face-to-face with Ollie. She glared at it. _Today? Maybe I should hope for detention._ The rain roared down, as though in agreement. Their whole class was going to Misty Valley Farm; no little downpour would stop Mr. Easton. He_d been talking it up for weeks. They were going to learn about milking cows and slaughtering hogs (cut the throat and then hang it up to drain!) and growing broccoli (the yummiest flower). It was supposed to make them appreciate Vermont_s agricultural history. Ollie looked out her skylight and was sure of only one thing: it would make them get wet. Very quietly, as though her father downstairs would hear, Ollie stuck an arm out from under her comforter, reached for Small Spaces, and pulled it under the blanket with her. The first part of the book was all about Beth_s childhood with Caleb and Jonathan. There was a lot of haying and pie-baking and lambing and fishing. Ollie had been delighted, but it didn_t really explain why the woman by the creek was trying to throw the book away. But now Beth_s tone had changed. Dearest, I have told you a little of my youth. Forgive an old woman_s rambling. I wished to set it all down so that I could live it again, and so that you could remember the good times you did not see. But now I must tell you the rest. Jonathan told me this part of the story himself. It may seem unbelievable. You may judge for yourself. But I believe him. Listen now, but do not condemn your father. He meant well. I have told you of our delightful childhood years, after my father hired Caleb and Jonathan and Cathy and gave them a home at Smoke Hollow. The boys were my dearest friends, and Cathy was like a second mother. But when I was seventeen, my father died. Suddenly I was no longer a child. I was a woman with a farm to manage. Overnight it seemed that Caleb and Jonathan weren_t just my childhood friends anymore. They began vying for my attention, and eventually to grow suspicious of each other. I am afraid I did little to prevent them. I was an heiress, you know, and they loved me. I_I rather liked them fighting for my time. It was like knights-errant, I thought. I was young and foolish. Of course, I had always known which brother I wanted to marry. I had known since Jonathan smiled at me, the day I met him. When Jonathan asked for my hand, I said yes. Caleb was furious when he found out. The two brothers quarreled. Jon wouldn_t tell me all that they said, but I gather that some of the insults on both sides were unforgivable. The night they argued, there was a storm up. You remember how Smoke Hollow gets when it storms in October. There was ice on the rocks by Lethe Creek; freezing rain poured down. The brothers_ shouting came to blows. Jonathan struck his brother. Caleb, weeping, ran outside alone. Jonathan, still angry, decided it best to let Caleb go. He would get cold, Jonathan reasoned, and come back. But Caleb didn_t come back. One day, two days, and Caleb didn_t come back. Search parties were sent out. They found no trace of him. Their mother, Cathy, frantic, blamed Jonathan for Caleb_s disappearance. Grief made her wild. One night, she and Jonathan fought in turn. Cathy must have been half mad with sadness and shock by then. She told Jon to leave her house and not return until he had brought back his brother. Jonathan was eaten up with guilt. When his mother ordered him to go out, he went. It was raining, he told me later. Very softly: a rain like cold tears. The mist was rising with the rain, the mist that gives Smoke Hollow its name. It was nearly Samhain, which, in the Old Country, marked the turning of the year. I cannot excuse what he did next. But Jon was desperate, outside in the wet, grieving. _Please,_ Jonathan said aloud. _Please. I_m sorry. I just want him back. I_ll do anything. Anything._ And, out of the mist, a voice answered_ _Are you reading?_ Dad bellowed from below. Ollie popped her head out of the covers with a jerk. _Put it down. I want to hear footsteps! Clothes! Boots! Coat! Now!_ And then he added, in a coaxing sort of bellow, _I made bacon and oatmeal! I know you_re hungry._ She was. She had skipped both dinner and snacks the night before. The smell of bacon drifted deliciously up the stairs. What she really wanted was to eat bacon and oatmeal in bed, and to finish Small Spaces. Putting a quiver in her voice, Ollie called, _I think I have a fever._ She pressed an experimental hand to her forehead. Definitely warm. _I shouldn_t go out in the rain,_ she added. _I might catch pneumonia._ Ollie heard her dad_s footsteps. She managed to shove her book under the covers, huddle down into the blankets, and assume a pathetic expression a second before he walked in. Ollie_s dad wore blue plaid. He looked as though he hadn_t slept at all; he was rumpled, and a splotch of oatmeal was stuck to his shirt. His fingers fidgeted, as though looking for something to do. At first he seemed worried, then his look turned to exasperation. _Yep, you do look sick,_ her dad said. _Very sick. Nothing to do but to stay here with some tea and dry toast._ He pounced on the book, which was just peeking out from under her blanket. Ollie winced. _No books, of course,_ he added. _Too much excitement might give you the flu._ Ollie looked from her dad to the book. A day alone in bed with dry toast? At least she could read on the bus. She coughed once, bravely. _I am feeling a little better._ She tried out a noble expression. _I don_t want to get behind in school._ _How brave of you,_ said her dad. Ollie got out of her bed, with dignity. _Five minutes,_ said her father, bounding back down to the kitchen, from which drifted the smell of now-burning bacon. Ollie looked up at her skylight. The rain slanted across the glass. It was like looking into an aquarium. Maybe, Ollie thought, they all really lived underwater, like merpeople, but didn_t know it, because to them water was just like air. No, that was silly. The cool air of her room was punishment after her warm covers. She shoved her feet into fuzzy slippers and stumbled, shivering, to her dresser. After some consideration, Ollie put on faded jeans, a long green sweater, and woolly socks her dad had knitted with a fish on one and a fisherman on the other. Her yellow rain boots were waiting for her downstairs by the back door. She reached under her pillow for a big black wristwatch with a cracked face and put this on carefully. She didn_t bother to comb her hair. Combs just made her curls frizz. Finally, she stepped back, scowled at her reflection, went to the bathroom, hastily brushed her teeth, shoved Small Spaces into her backpack, and padded down the stairs. Ollie didn_t make a lot of noise in her socks, but when she stepped into the kitchen, her dad still turned around right away. In some ways, he hadn_t changed much since last year. He told jokes and knitted socks just like he always had. But his thick, dark hair had silver threads that hadn_t been there before, and sometimes Ollie would catch him staring blankly into space when he thought she wasn_t looking. _Look at your dad_s eyes,_ her mom had said once, when all three of them were paddling down the Connecticut River. Ollie was sitting in the middle of the canoe and her dad was behind her in the stern. From the bow, Ollie_s mom looked back and smiled, her nose sunburned red. _Aren_t your dad_s eyes the loveliest in the whole world?_ They were: big and velvety. So dark that you couldn_t see where the colored part ended and the pupil began. _You have just the same eyes, Olivia, my heartbreaker._ Ollie had smiled and her dad had laughed and said, _You_ve got my eyes, maybe, Ollie-pop, but you_re as brave as your mother._ Standing in the kitchen, Ollie shook the memory away. Her dad had gotten Bernie, the woodstove, going. The fire crackled and pinged behind the stove_s glass door. The hallway and the stairs had been cold, but the kitchen was warm. A big pot of oatmeal steamed on the stove and three nice crackly-brown loaves sat on the counter. Dad must have kept on baking after the garlic bread. Maybe he_d baked all night, waiting for Ollie to come down. Ollie decided not to think about that. She wasn_t going to feel bad about that. Think about breakfast. Toast? Ollie decided on oatmeal. She got herself a bowl, crumbled bacon into the oatmeal, then dumped a lot of cream and maple syrup on top. Ollie had helped tap the trees for syrup herself, the winter before. This was the last batch of syrup they had all made together: Mom and her tapping and her dad keeping the big pot boiling for days on end. Don_t think about that either. Ollie put her oatmeal on the kitchen island and went to pour herself some coffee. _You_re too young for coffee,_ said her dad, not looking up. He was sitting at the kitchen table and scrolling through the news. _I_m not too young to go out in the rain and catch pneumonia,_ said Ollie, pouring herself a cup anyway and stirring in sugar. Her dad looked up. He wasn_t eating his own oatmeal. _Take more oatmeal, then,_ he said, catching sight of her bowl. _There are raisins and walnuts in the jars on the spice shelf. You must be starving. You didn_t come down last night._ He had waited up. Ollie definitely felt bad now. Guiltily_and also because she was really hungry_Ollie added some raisins and a pat of butter to her oatmeal, and gave the whole mess a stir. _Ready for the farm today?_ her dad said. Just yesterday, _I was talking about Misty Valley with Mr. Brewster. Linda Webster_s only been in business for five years, but she_s really doing well for herself. The farm_s revitalized the county. I_m a bit jealous you get to see it all firsthand. Think I could join the sixth grade and come along?_ _Only if you_ve been practicing your drowned-rat impressions,_ said Ollie, with a dark look at the streaming window. She added warm milk to her coffee and brought her mug and her refreshed bowl of oatmeal back to the table. Her dad snorted and glanced at the rain sluicing down the windows. _There is that. Bring a hat. I_ll have the stove going when you get back._ _Hot chocolate?_ Ollie suggested. _With marshmallows,_ said her dad, and smiled a smile that went all the way to the crinkles on either side of his eyes. It was a smile she didn_t see very much anymore. Ollie almost smiled back. Maybe getting wet wouldn_t be so bad. She took a big sip of her coffee and opened Small Spaces. She could feel her dad watching her over her book, but she didn_t look. Looking would make her feel guilty all over again. Ollie forced her attention to her book. White mist crept up from the creek. Softly it slipped toward Jonathan, standing tearstained in the rain. A man walked out of the smoky dark. _What did he look like?_ I asked Jonathan later. _He smiled,_ Jonathan told me. _He didn_t tell me his name. I don_t think he has a name. He had long fingers. Long, thin fingers, and, oh, I can_t remember the rest. I felt as though I_d known him since the day I was born, and I felt the most indescribable horror at the sight of him._ When the man spoke, his voice was gentle. _I think you called me,_ he said to Jonathan, while the rain streamed around them. _No,_ said Jonathan. _I called my brother._ _Your brother is gone,_ said the man. _But I could bring him back for you._ He smiled. _For a price._ Jonathan_s knees shook. But he still stammered, _Wh-what price?_ _When I ask, you will come with me and do as I say,_ said the man. _If you do, you will have your brother back again._ _For how long?_ Jonathan asked. _How long would I have to do as you say?_ The man_s smile broadened. His eyes were dark as a river at midnight. _Until the mist turns to rain,_ he said. _Ollie. Ollie!_ Ollie took a deep breath, blinking in the cozy, firelit kitchen. She had thought it was dark as a rainy night on an old farm. Her dad looked from her to the book. _Were you not listening at all? I was giving you such a fantastic speech too._ _Speech?_ said Ollie, still dazed. _Yep,_ said her dad. _The _Be good today, stay dry, I love you_ speech. It_s in the manual somewhere._ Ollie just blinked at him. Her dad sighed. __Kay,_ he said. _How about this instead?_ He thought for a minute. _What did the frog say about the book?_ _Dunno,_ Ollie said distractedly, still thinking about Small Spaces. _Reddit,_ said her dad, making frog noises. _Reddit._ Ollie groaned. _And then what did the chicken say?_ asked her dad, looking pleased with himself. Ollie put her head in her hands. _Book book book booook!_ said her dad, making clucking sounds. Ollie cracked a tiny smile. _Come on,_ her dad said, taking a last swig of coffee. _I_ll drive you. Hurry._ Ollie finished her own coffee, swiped her spoon through the last of her oatmeal, and followed her dad into the rain. 5 BEN WITHERS MIDDLE SCHOOL always looked shabby, its paint peeling around the windows, its roof drooping in. But today, under the gray sky, the school looked sad and lonely. It lay curled up behind its fence like a huge stray dog. Ollie imagined that the building was actually a giant dog. It would come to life and be Ollie_s friend and they would go on adventures. Her dad drove into the parking lot, bouncing over potholes. The car shuddered to a halt, and Ollie_s daydream disappeared. She hunched in the passenger seat, one finger holding her place in her book. _Can_t you leave that with me?_ asked her father hopefully. _You might try talking on the bus instead. Jenna misses you_and I know Coco Zintner wants to be your friend__ Something in Ollie_s face silenced him. _Jenna just wants to talk about how she feels bad for me. Still. I hate it. Coco_s from the city and just silly._ Ollie pointed to her book. _I think Jonathan might have just sold his soul to the smiling man!_ _Well,_ muttered her dad, _it was worth a try._ Ollie picked up her polka-dot backpack and grabbed the door handle. _Look, Ollie . . ._ said her dad. She waited. Her dad sighed, and changed whatever he_d been about to say. _Okay, how about this one? What_s the difference between a cat and a comma?_ _Dad__ _Well?_ _I don_t know, what?_ Her dad grinned. _A comma,_ he informed her, _is a pause at the end of a clause._ Ollie saw where this was going. _Dad._ _But a cat,_ her dad finished blithely, _has claws at the ends of its paws._ He busted up laughing and Ollie snorted despite herself. _That was better than usual._ She slouched out of the car. _Oh wait, I forgot. Here,_ said her dad. He reached into the back seat and thrust her lunch box out the window. Ollie undid the clasps and peered into the depths. Carrot sticks and peanut butter cookies_way too many of both_and a very large turkey sandwich, cut in quarters, on homemade bread. Maple granola, with sugared walnuts. A chocolate chip muffin. Dad really must have baked all night. _I_m too old to pack a lunch,_ Ollie said, but not very convincingly. The muffin looked fantastic. _They_ll have lunch at the farm. And I think someone is supposed to bring donuts to homeroom this morning._ _Pah, donuts,_ said her dad. _That_s not food, that_s like anti-food._ Ollie was fond of cake donuts. _They_re totally food._ _Come on,_ said her dad, abandoning that argument. _Take it anyway. You never know. You might get hungry!_ Her dad was smiling. But his eyes were dark and a little sad: Please, Ollie, I made it for you, come on, and so she took the lunch box and stuck it hastily into her backpack. _Thanks, Dad,_ she said. Her lunch box was pale blue, with a pink unicorn on the front. She had loved it when she was younger. Her dad refused to hear her hints about switching to paper sacks. _Love you, Ollie-pop!_ he called as she strode away, loud enough for the entire town, let alone the middle school, to hear. _ Ollie had her hand on the front door when she remembered that she had to go to the principal_s office. Gah. Principal Snyder_s office was down a long hallway. The hallway had green walls, not so nice a shade as Ollie_s kitchen, and green-and-brown-freckled linoleum. The office door had a large WELCOME sign on it, with a worm waving from a hole in an apple. Ollie disliked this sign. One of her dad_s jokes went, _What_s worse than finding a worm in an apple? . . . Finding half a worm in an apple._ Ollie had found both worms and half worms in apples before. Most kids from Evansburg had. Thinking of apples, Ollie went in. The first person she saw was Brian Battersby, looking helpful and sincere. It was not an expression that sat naturally on his face, in Ollie_s opinion. He spent too much time acting cool. The next person she saw was Principal Snyder, looking frustrated. _Now, Brian,_ she said, _tell me again what happened._ _I tripped,_ said Brian cheerfully. _Bad luck._ Ollie stared at him. Was Brian_covering for her? _Ollie,_ said Principal Snyder, turning gravely to her. _Um, yes?_ said Ollie. _That_s me. Ollie here._ She waved. _Did you throw a rock?_ said Principal Snyder. _Yesterday? Did you hit Brian with a rock outside the school building?_ Behind Principal Snyder, Brian shook his head at Ollie. _Um, maybe?_ said Ollie, not sure how Brian wanted her to play this. _I did a lot of things yesterday. I do most days, you know, with the school and the home and__ _Anyone could have done it,_ Brian put in. _No harm, no foul._ _It cut you in the head!_ cried Principal Snyder. _Accidentally,_ said Brian, and he added, with unexpected crispness, _You can_t pursue justice on my behalf if I don_t choose to have it pursued. I_m the star witness._ Ollie gaped at Brian but hastily arranged her face to vigorous agreement when Principal Snyder looked her way. The principal rubbed her temples, looking from Ollie to Bryan. _I can_t have students injuring other students,_ she said. _Just an accident,_ said Brian. _Besides, it probably wasn_t her. If there was a rock, I definitely didn_t see her throw it._ _Of course you didn_t see her!_ said the principal. _She hit you on the back of the head, therefore she was standing behind you!_ Neither of them said anything. Principal Snyder looked again from Ollie to Brian. Ollie thought of Coco Zintner and tried to look angelic. Maybe it worked. Abruptly Principal Snyder_s face softened. Sympathy face. Ollie almost let her innocent expression slip. She hated sympathy face. _Well, it is chivalrous of you, Brian,_ said the principal. Ollie bristled. Implying that Brian was only sticking up for her (Why was he sticking up for her?) because she was a girl: that was dumb. Or worse, it was because Ollie was that girl. But she bit her tongue. Whatever Brian was doing, it was working. _Make sure it doesn_t happen again,_ said the principal, misty-eyed now. _I_m so glad to see you making new friends, Ollie. Run along, you two._ Ollie and Brian burst together out of Principal Snyder_s office, and the second the door banged shut behind them, Ollie turned to Brian and said, in a voice dripping scorn, _Chivalrous?_ Brian looked lofty. _I didn_t want to get a girl in trouble. You could say thanks, you know. I just got you out of detention until Christmas._ _First of all, I got myself in trouble,_ Ollie said. _I don_t need you to get me in trouble, thank you very much. And don_t treat me special because I_m a girl. That_s sexist._ _Being nice to you is sexist?_ _If you_re being nice just _cause I_m a girl, it is!_ _I didn_t even say chivalrous; that was Principal Snyder! Besides, can we focus on the part where I just got you out of detention?_ Brian had been looking proud of himself; now he looked a little deflated. _You could have just stuck up for Coco. Then I wouldn_t have been in the principal_s office in the first place. Where was your chivalry then?_ _I couldn_t stick up for Coco,_ said Brian in a reasonable tone. _Then people might think I liked her back._ They were hustling down the hall; the bell was about to ring. _Who cares what people think?_ Ollie demanded. She was a little out of breath, trying to walk faster than him, but Brian just glided along beside her, hands in his pockets, acting as though he weren_t in a hurry to get to class at all. _I care,_ said Brian. _Where_d you even learn to talk like that, anyway? Star witness._ _Law

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