Chapter One: That Time My Stolen Year Started

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I woke up late for school on the day I almost died. I don't know if I should blame the pale boy, the politician, or the biggest bitch I ever knew for saving my life. It was mid-October, 2011, and I was a fifteen-year-old sophomore who never thought twice about the food I ate.

But I'm getting way ahead of myself. I'm going to be a journalist so I'm used to jumping right into the story. Date, setting, event. That's how they tell the news. This isn't a news article, though, this is my life. My name's Haley, and I shouldn't be alive.

In the seventh and eighth grade, the high school newspaper, which some creative soul named The Chronicler, was a huge deal, and not only because there's not a whole lot for kids to do in Nowheresville, New Hampshire. This rock star group of teens handled the paper and everyone read it. Everyone. It had local news, national, international, comics, horoscopes, puzzles, and even an advice column from someone going by the name The Love Doctor. I always thought the Love Doctor was one of the school's librarians, but no one would ever come clean. The advice wasn't always that great, but the mystery was fun.

I thought becoming a freshman would be a huge deal. I could finally join The Chronicler, my boobs would come in, and my real life would start.

As it turned out, the seniors wouldn't let any underclassmen join the paper, no boobs, and my boyfriend, Jacob Jackson, dumped me for Stacey Thompson once her braces came off. I was devastated until Jacob broke an ankle playing soccer and Stacey dumped him as soon as she saw his cast. I like how it made him look vulnerable and needy, but she was into boys who were mobile.

I fought to get on the paper for an entire semester because I wanted to do Mom proud. She's a weather woman, does a lot of traveling. If I knew anything about her, it was that she was determined. That's what Dad said, anyway.

After a lonely protest and a petition that mostly consisted of forged names, the seniors relented and let me on during my second semester freshman year. I got to watch the cool kids work, buy them soda, and clean up after meetings. But then they graduated and I was the only one left to shepherd in the incoming rush of kids eager to work on The Chronicler.

Busted Becky and Nerdy Neal were the only two sign-ups. For the record, I did not give them those nicknames. Becky took horseback riding lessons the summer before sixth grade and fell one too many times, and Neal wore a lot of Star Trek uniforms to school. It only took one month for the paper to lose all of its cool, and barely anyone read it, not even the teachers. I thought the art teacher was an avid fan because she took so many copies, but then I realized she only wanted them for papier-mâché projects. Becky handled proofreading and marketing and Neal did all the layout. Content was my job. All of it. Our advisor, Mrs. Steinberg, suggested we go monthly instead of weekly, but I refused, and ended up filling most of The Chronicler with Associated Press articles. Even Doctor Love stopped returning my emails.

On a Thursday afternoon in mid-October, I sat in Mrs. Steinberg's room with Busted Becky and Nerdy Neal. It was chilly, but Mrs. Steinberg refused to run the heat in her classroom since she shared radiator systems with a mean-spirited math teacher who complained constantly.

"Who wants to cover the play tomorrow night?" Mrs. Steinberg asked as she pulled a shawl over her bony shoulders. An English teacher, she was once proud of her popular paper, but now she merely went through the motions, hopeful for another crop of enthusiastic students to make her look good again. She knew I managed all of the writing, but she still asked the group for some reason.

"Haley can handle that, right?" Becky asked. "I'm not even going."

Thanks, Becky. It's not like you have anyplace better to be.

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