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She’d suffered through this whole freaking first morning at school, wandering alone through the hallways, the other kids staring and pointing at her like she’d landed here from the planet Zebo, only to finally find her way to the lunchroom, locate the one freaking person her age she knew in the entire school — no, make that the entire country — and discover he looked like an alien himself.

Not like the cool hot guy she met in the gazebo, or smoked pot with at the Futureama.

But like that movie star, what was his name, in that movie, what was it called. Like this:

Except not with the shades and not looking happy. All hunched over and sitting alone. Not only was the entire rest of his table empty, but the kids had left a clear circle around him stretching at least half a lunch table on every side. It was like he had AIDS, the way they thought about it way back in the last century.

For a second she thought maybe she’d just turn around and walk the other way. He seemed even more of an outcast than she was. Figures, that the one kid she’d meet would be the biggest loser in Arkansas, which, from what she could tell, would be really saying a lot.

But then she thought: Fuck it. He was cute that night. Funny. And if the other kids in this stinking place thought he was a loser, that was probably saying something good about him.

She walked over, aware that everybody was watching her.

“Hey,” she said, throwing her books on the table, sitting down.

He looked at her through his eyelashes, chin still down.

“I don’t really look like this,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“This janky-ass suit. This was my brother’s idea. He’s taking me in hand. This is crazy.”

He looked to the left and to the right, seemed scared.

“The suit’s a little bit cool,” she said. “Like Phoenix.”

“Who’s Phoenix?”

“A French band. Thomas Mars. You know, Sofia Coppola’s….”

She could tell he had no idea what she was talking about. “Never mind. But why’s your brother doing this? Does this have something to do with the fire? Don’t you have parents?”

“It’s not the fire. My Ma knows about that. She just doesn’t want me to get caught. This is about the murder.”

“Murder!” Juliette jerked away from him so hard she thought she might topple backwards off the bench.

“Jeez,” he said, leaning toward her. “I didn’t do anything. I’m just the one found the body. But now all the candy-asses in this place are saying I killed the lady and chopped off her head.”

Again, he looked to both sides like a hunted man. Juliette’s eyes followed his and she saw that all the other kids, the ones who’d left them such a wide berth, were nevertheless gawking at them, open-mouthed.

Juliette started laughing. She couldn’t help it. It was a lot more fun having everybody stare like this, like they were really fascinated, than to have them sneak nasty little glances like they thought she was some kind of worm.

“Did you use an ax,” she said loudly, “when you chopped off her head?”

“Ssssssh,” Darrell said, reaching across the table, grabbing her hands.

“Or did you use a sword?” she giggled. “God, you are such a fucking bad-ass.”

And then, because she knew she had their full attention now, she stood up, leaned across the table, and kissed him long and hard straight on the lips.

She was thinking it would be like the play they did at the ecole last year, with her friend Alexei who was totally gay as the boy. That had been like kissing her own hand.

But Darrell kissed her back. Better than Hugo. She felt her heart flutter and take flight, the pounding in her ears so loud that it was a minute before she heard the applause.

Read Juliette’s side of the story.

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