Chapter 15

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On Monday morning, Mr. Dean shook my hand and told me with sincerity that my Rake Sale had been a huge success and was a shining example of precisely the kind of ingenuity for which he'd spent twenty-one years of his career waiting. The glow of his compliment faded before I even took my seat. I was woefully unprepared for impending mid-terms, and knew it. Not even the promise of a ski adventure in January was enough to corral my thoughts during classes when I was supposed to be paying attention. Every kid in school seemed to be buzzing with a little extra energy that week; on Friday the annual Winnebago Days carnival would open on the western outskirts of town near the lake and seniors would prowl through the crowd, marking freshmen with red lipstick F's on their foreheads as an act of high school initiation. The carnival brought with it each year a small, strange crime wave and the roar of rock music blasted from the carnival's janky rides, which would carry over the flat land of our town for miles. Every year, I could hear Def Leppard jams from a distance as I tried to sleep in my own bedroom. My mother was not a fan of Winnebago Days, claiming that it was little more than three-day plague of riff-raff and litter upon our town each year.

"What if we break her legs?" Mischa wondered aloud during gym on the track as we walked our laps, wearing our fall jackets over our gym uniforms. Our eyes followed Violet on the other side of the track as she ran, with Tracy struggling to keep up with her.

"Violet's legs? What would that accomplish?"

"Not Violet's legs," Mischa corrected me. "Candace's."

I stopped walking on the track and shook my head in disbelief. "What are you talking about? Are you proposing we just hit Candace with baseball bats? Why would we break her legs?"

Mischa shrugged. "Well, if she has casts on her legs, then she won't be able to go in water. Maybe we can't prevent her from going to Hawaii, but we can do something to keep her from swimming."

I resumed walking, noticing Coach Stirling keeping an eye on us where she paced, carrying her clipboard, close to the double doors leading to the gym.  "You have lost your mind. I don't want to get thrown out of school, or worse, go to jail."

After gym class, Coach Stirling barked at me as she passed me in the locker room, "Brady! Stop by my office after you've changed. I need to have a word with you."

Violet, changing near me, offered me a worried expression. A private one-on-one with Coach Stirling was rare and never a good thing. I couldn't even guess what it was that the coach wanted to discuss with me; I had never shown much athletic aptitude and did my best to avoid her attention.

"Hi," I said, knocking lightly on the door frame of her office, where she sat at her desk, watching ESPN coverage of the WNBA online. She turned at the sound of my voice, and closed her laptop.

"McKenna. What is going on here?"

She sounded concerned, and I wasn't sure what exactly gave her reason to believe there was anything going on with me at all. "I'm not sure what you mean, Coach," I said innocently. "There's nothing going on with me."

She rolled backward in her office chair and crossed one of her legs over the other. "McKenna, it hasn't gone unnoticed that you lost a considerable amount of weight over the summer. While I commend you for stepping up your efforts to get in shape, I have to tell you kid, enough's enough. Your jeans are falling off and you have circles under your eyes. I'm making an appointment for you to meet with Nurse Lindvall this afternoon so that she can start monitoring your weight." Coach Stirling swiveled back to her desk and began writing out a pink hall pass for me.

"But I'm not trying to lose weight," I claimed. "I'm eating a lot, I swear. I'm just under a lot of stress."

Coach Stirling handed me the pink slip and stared me down. "We don't casually dismiss eating disorders, McKenna. Please report into Nurse Lindvall after sixth period. She'll be expecting you."

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