Chapter One - Before

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We were not always freaks.

Sure, most of us occasionally exhibited freakish behavior. But that’s not the same thing.

Olivia Byrne, when she worried about something, picked the skin around her thumbnails until her fingers bled.

Cooper Miller sang badly. When he walked down the hall, when he studied, when he ate. He wasn’t singing the Top 40 either—he made up tunes and lyrics about his everyday life. Walking to school. Being late to math.

Mackenzie Feldman, Cooper’s girlfriend, hated needles. Not that any of us liked needles, but Mackenzie truly hated them. She hated them so much she’d never even gotten her ears pierced. She wore clip-ons to her own Sweet Sixteen. Or her Sweet, as we called it in Tribeca, our little downtown corner of Manhattan.

So yeah, we had certain quirks, but before October 2, which was eleven days before the Bloomberg High School carnival and eighteen days before Mackenzie’s Sweet, Olivia, Cooper, Mackenzie, and the rest of us were pretty much just regular sophomores.

Even October 2, the day that changed everything, started normally enough. We got ready for school. Most of us lived in Tribeca, within a few blocks from BHS, Bloomberg High School.

Tribeca is one of the wealthiest areas in Manhattan. Not that we were all wealthy— definitely not. Half of our parents owned our apartments; the other half rented. A bunch of us shared rooms with our siblings. If you lived in Tribeca and your parents were really rich or famous—like if your mom was Beyoncé or your dad ran an investment bank—you didn’t go to BHS like us. You went to private school.

Anyway.

On October 2, we arrived at school, most of us on time. We locked our stuff in our lockers and headed to room 203, where 10B met for homeroom. Cooper didn’t arrive on time—he was always late. He also didn’t lock his locker, because he didn’t bother having a lock. He could never remember the combination. And he trusted us. Back then, he trusted everyone.

We claimed our usual seats and chatted with our friends.

“Darren Lazar asked me if you were single,” Renée Hinger said as she sat down beside Olivia in the middle of the room. Renée’s leopard-print scarf fluttered behind her. She was also wearing a black hair band, earrings, and a silver bracelet crammed with charms. She was an accessories kind of girl. She was a busybody kind of girl. We’re relieved she’s not one of us. We have enough busybodies without her.

Olivia’s heart skipped a beat. “What did you tell him?”

Renée laughed. “What do you think I told him? I told him you were. Unless you’re involved with someone and keeping it a secret?”

Olivia had never been involved with anyone. Fifteen and never been kissed. She was afraid that when the time came she would barf all over the kisser.

Olivia did not have much confidence around boys or girls. One of the main reasons she hung around Renée was that Renée did 99.9 percent of the talking. Of course, we didn’t know the degree of her lack of confidence back then. We didn’t know about her lack of kissing experience either. We didn’t know any of each other’s hidden thoughts or secret histories. Not like we do now.

“Do you think he’s going to ask me out?” Olivia asked.

Renée twirled her scarf around her wrist. “Do you want him to ask you out?”

“I don’t know.” Olivia tried to picture him. He had light brown hair and red cheeks. Green eyes, maybe. Dressed well. Button-downs and the right jeans. He seemed nice. No one called him by his first name—he just went by Lazar. They had public speaking together. Her stomach clenched at the thought of the class. The next day she had to make a speech on Lyme disease, which was worth 40 percent of her grade. There was nothing that terrified her more than speaking in front of others.

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