THE GIRL WHO
The second I stepped into the room, somebody screamed.
I turned to look behind me—for a rock star, or a grizzly bear, or the Loch Ness Monster. But no one was following.
The scream was for me.
“Norah Levy! Omigod! It’s Norah Levy!” Two girls jumped up from their chairs to smother me in a hug. Kylie Shen and Aria Maldonado, who smelled like bubblegum-scented shampoo. Or shampoo-scented bubblegum.
“Hey, hi,” I managed to say.
They pulled away.
“Omigod, Norah, this is so great, how are you?” Kylie squealed. She had the kind of voice that took over a room, even though she was tiny. Not as tiny as me, though.
“Pretty good, actually,” I said.
“Well, you look amazing,” Aria said. She gave me a pep-talk sort of smile and bounced on her toes.
“Incredible,” Kylie agreed. “And I love your hair!”
“Yeah, Norah, you look so cute in a pixie cut.”
I ruffled my hair, much shorter than it used to be, but finally long enough to be a style. “Thanks. It dries really fast. And no tangles, so.”
“I wish my mom would let me get a short haircut,” Aria said. Which was insane. Besides, with her warm brown skin and her height, no way could Aria look like me, even if she got permission.
“Everyone, please take your seats,” boomed the homeroom teacher, a man I didn’t know from before. A gym teacher, by the look of his track pants.
Kylie grabbed my arm. “You’re sitting with us, Norah,” she informed me.
“Hey, aren’t you the girl who—” Now a boy I didn’t recognize was talking to me. Oh, wait a sec. Right. His name was Malik. Malik Thrash. As if it was possible to forget a name like that.
“Malik, don’t be rude,” Aria snapped at him.
“I’m not rude,” he protested. “How was I being rude?”
“You shouldn’t make Norah talk about it.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “Yes, I’m definitely The Girl Who.”
“That’s so funny. The Girl Who. I like that!” Kylie laughed, a little too enthusiastically.
Malik looked confused. “Sorry, Norah. I just didn’t expect to see you. I heard—”
Aria and Kylie popped their eyes at him.
“People should shut their mouths if they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Kylie said. “And they should also consider other people’s feelings.” She petted my arm. “Don’t pay any attention to him, Norah.”
“It’s fine,” I said.
I realized then that everyone was watching us. Delete that: They were watching me. Mostly, they were giving me out-of-the-corner-of-their-eyes looks, like they were trying to be subtle, but a few kids were flat-out staring. So I wiggled my fingers in a sort of general hi, but they got embarrassed and turned away.
What was that about? Were they doing a before-and-after? Maybe I looked weirder than I thought I did. I patted my hair with a sweaty hand and tugged at my orange tee. Why hadn’t I protested when Mom bought me orange? And why had I put it on this morning? I looked like a Cheeto in a hazmat suit.
Then I pretended to read my schedule. First period was math, where at least I’d be with my best friend, Harper. (I knew this because I’d texted her the second my schedule showed up in my mailbox; she called back to tell me gossip about all the teachers, including how our math teacher handed out Smarties during tests.) My other good friend, Silas, wasn’t in math with us, but maybe we’d be together in English or science. So if I could just make it through morning homeroom—
“Norah Levy?” the homeroom teacher called as he hung up the classroom phone. “You’re wanted in Guidance.”
“Now?” I glanced at the clock. “But it’s almost first period.”
“Right. Ms. Castro says she needs to see you before first.”
“You want me to come with you, Norah?” Aria asked.
I looked at her. “What for?”
“Just . . . you know, so you don’t get lost.”
“I can find it. But thanks.” I stuffed my schedule into my backpack. In some zippered pocket was a map of the building, but I’d check it in the hallway. Not here.
“Whoa, your backpack looks heavy,” Malik said. “If you want, Norah, I could help—”
“Nope, thanks, got it,” I said.
A girl moved her chair out of the way to let me pass. “Sorry,” she murmured. Apologizing for what? The fact that her chair had been in my way, and now wasn’t? The fact that everyone was acting like I was made of cloud wisps and dandelion fluff, and one false move and I’d blow away forever?
“No problem,” I said, feeling the scorch of everyone’s eyes as I fled the room.