Alex and I are lying together on a blanket in the backyard of 37 Brooks. The trees look larger and darker than usual. The leaves are almost black, knitted so tightly together they blot out the sky.
“It probably wasn’t the best day for a picnic,” Alex says, and just then I realize that yes, of course, we haven’t eaten any of the food we brought. There’s a basket at the foot of the blanket, filled with half-rotten fruit, swarmed by tiny black ants.
“Why not?” I say. We are staring at the web of leaves above us, thick as a wall.
“Because it’s snowing.” Alex laughs. And again I realize he’s right: It is snowing, thick flakes the color of ash swirling all around us. It’s freezing cold, too. My breath comes in clouds, and I press against him, trying to stay warm.
“Give me your arm,” I say, but Alex doesn’t respond. I try to move into the space between his arm and his chest but his body is rigid, unyielding. “Alex,” I say. “Come on, I’m cold.”
“I’m cold,” he parrots, from lips that barely move. They are blue, and cracked. He is staring at the leaves without blinking.
“Look at me,” I say, but he doesn’t turn his head, doesn’t blink, doesn’t move at all. A hysterical feeling is building inside me, a shrieking voice saying wrong, wrong, wrong, and I sit up and place my hand on Alex’s chest, as cold as ice. “Alex,”
I say, and then, a short scream: “Alex!”
“Lena Morgan Jones!”
I snap into awareness, to a muted chorus of giggles.
Mrs. Fierstein, the twelfth-grade science teacher at Quincy Edwards High School for Girls in Brooklyn, Section 5, District 17, is glaring at me. This is the third time I’ve fallen asleep in her class this week.
“Since you seem to find the Creation of the Natural Order so exhausting,” she says, “might I suggest a trip to the principal’s office to wake you up?”
“No!” I burst out, louder than I intended to, provoking a new round of giggles from the other girls in my class. I’ve been enrolled at Edwards since just after winter break—only a little more than two months—and already I’ve been labeled the Number-One Weirdo. People avoid me like I have a disease—like I have the disease.
If only they knew.
“This is your final warning, Miss Jones,” Mrs. Fierstein says. “Do you understand?”
“It won’t happen again,” I say, trying to look obedient and contrite. I’m pushing aside the memory of my nightmare, pushing aside thoughts of Alex, pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school, push, push, push, like Raven taught me to do. The old life is dead.
Mrs. Fierstein gives me a final stare—meant to intimidate me, I guess—and turns back to the board, returning to her lecture on the divine energy of electrons.
The old Lena would have been terrified of a teacher like Mrs. Fierstein. She’s old, and mean, and looks like a cross between a frog and a pit bull. She’s one of those people who makes the cure seem redundant—it’s impossible to imagine that she would ever be capable of loving, even without the procedure.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence, behind a wall of smoke and flame.
Copyright © 2012 by Lauren Oliver. All Rights Reserved.