A Fateful Decision
'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 dead except for her and her two friends. Molly had creamy white skin, green eyes, and red hair that was always tied back into a loose ponytail, while Sierra had eyes the same shade of light brown as her skin, framed perfectly by silver-rimmed glasses, and her hair was done up in millions of tight braids that were bunched together.
No matter how hard Hannah looked, there were no other faces in the whole library except for theirs, and Mr. Collins’, of course. He sat at a desk at the front, grading papers. Since no one else was there, Hannah’s choices were to keep talking with her friends or stare at the childish Halloween decorations on the wall:
Brightly colored ghosts and tombstones that they should have outgrown in third grade.
A skeleton in the corner that was sort of scary looking.
And a chain made of construction paper she and Molly had hung from the ceiling along with a wall sign reminding people to avoid alcohol and drugs this Halloween.
The sign didn’t look like it fit with everything else, and Hannah was sure no one was looking at it.
“I don’t know,” she said, staring down at her hands. Her fingers were too long and her nails were uneven. She didn’t like looking at them. “Maybe neither.”
“I do know,” 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. More than once Hannah and Molly had to stay up all night listening to Sierra cry her heart out after one of their fights, but within a few days Sierra always took him back and gushed about how sweet he was and how stupid she was to ever let him go.
“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, because she just put up this thing,” Molly said, gesturing toward the sign, “and all week long she’s been putting red ribbons on people’s lockers to encourage them to stay sober.”
Hannah 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. "I'm not going to drink," she said. "So, it'll be fine."
"Yeah," Sierra said. "Hannah doesn't give in to 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 up at Brad’s oval face. He was tall, which was fine with her because she was too, and had sandy brown hair that looked blond when the light hit it right.
Hannah fidgeted with her hands, twisting them together and drawing way too much attention to them. They felt too big to her suddenly, and she was sure Brad thought so too. "I'm going to a party tonight, but Molly doesn't like it."
"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. Had she done that on purpose? Not that it mattered, because she was sure he didn’t like it. . . or did he?
"Thanks." Brad grabbed a pen off the table without asking and wrote the assignment on his hand. The black ink stood out against his white skin, and Hannah wondered if he had any tattoos. He seemed like the kind of boy who might.
"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 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. “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 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 plans with Sierra, so. . . "
"Right." Brad played with the pen, flicking the button to open and close it over and over. "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 told 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 felt like shoving the table hard enough to knock it over, but of course, she didn’t do that. “Fine, whatever. 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 picked up her backpack and followed Sierra out of the tutoring center.