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Richie tossed the pillow at me. All eyes were trained on me. I hugged the pillow to my chest and dove in, with no clue where I was going to land.

"It was hard leaving my friends when I moved ..." I let the last word linger for Justin's benefit. The common factor among all of us, as far as I could see, was that we were loners. I wanted Justin to know that at least for me, it was by circumstance only.

"Do you guys know Tiffany Miller?" I asked.

Groans and somber nods all the way around.

"She used to go to my old school, about an hour and a half from here. The only good thing about moving was leaving Tiffany behind. Except she followed me to Kennedy. Well, not really, but her family moved here right after mine. Pure nightmare coincidence." I cleared my throat. "It started when I was six, I think. She and her friends used to follow me home from school. They talked behind my back like I wasn't there, and it just got worse."

"How?" Nora asked.

"I had to wear this back brace in the seventh and eighth grades, and I could only take it off in—"

"Scoliosis," Nora said. "Three out of a hundred teens get it."

I rolled my eyes just a bit, but she caught it.

"I read too much," she admitted.

"I know where you're going with this," Zoe told me. "I had a feeling the girl was a loser."

"She called me Hunchback every day," I said.

"What did your parents do?" Nora asked.

I paused at the unexpected question. "I don't know. I didn't tell them."

If I had, they would have said something lame like, "Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you." When that didn't work—because it didn't—Mom would have set up a meeting with the teacher. After that, she'd call Tiffany's parents. Then the principal. Adults were hung up on bullying, but in the end, they usually made things worse. At least, my mother did. She could chop my social life to bits faster than a wood chipper.

Zoe patted me on the back, imitating the generic parent. "Don't worry, dear. Tiffany behaves that way because she's jealous of you."

"They forget how hard school is the second they graduate," Nora added.

Justin looked unimpressed. "What else did she do?"

I hesitated, afraid that if I gave more examples, it would only show that I was a coward, unable to stand up to Tiffany. I didn't want them to think of me as the victim type, whatever that was. Besides, reliving these memories was like pouring rubbing alcohol on a skinned knee. But Justin wanted to know more. The last thing I wanted to do was disappoint him.

"You can tell us anything, Ariana." His fingers brushed against my knee, light as a fallen leaf.

I rooted through my memory for something more dramatic. "There was one time in fifth grade when Tiffany sent this boy a letter, begging him to be my boyfriend. She signed my name to it. The next day he told me he'd rather eat maggots than get near me."

Back then, I thought I'd never be able to face school again. But here, right now, it seemed like nothing more than an immature stunt. Not bad enough to qualify for lasting-humiliation status. Maybe it had been kid stuff. I probably should've let it go a long time ago.

My eyes drifted to Justin's hand, resting on my knee. He didn't want to hear kid stuff.

"Then this other time, she stole my sneakers out of my locker and rubbed them in dog crap. I threw them away and told my gym teacher I'd forgotten them. He made me pick up trash around the jogging track for the rest of the period."

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