Chapter 36

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She throws me a pair of black sweats that look stretchy enough to fit my curves. "I hope they're okay."

"You didn't have to do that you know," I say, slipping on the pants. "I mean you don't even know me."

"Sure I do," she smiles. "You're Jess, Hazel's friend."

Hazel's friend. I have to get past that. She'll never remember me if I'm known as 'Hazel's friend', let alone invite me into her home. I have to connect with her.

That's when my eyes catch something glittering in her closet. I frown at it and gingerly make my way to the opening.

"Um–"

"Is that a foil?" I ask, picking up the blade and weighing it in my fingers.

Forgetting my intrusion of privacy, Lizzie blinks in surprise. "Y ... you fence?"

"I used to," I lie. I've only read up on it recently, knowing it's one of her hobbies. It's the only interesting thing about her, so I decided to go with it. "I was with the Regional Youth Circuit program at my old school."

Lizzie's face brightens and I know I've hit the jackpot. "I'm with the RYC now! Were you in Robinson's class?"

"No I was with ... um ... Aramis." Wow. You couldn't have thought of a name that didn't relate to the fucking Musketeers?!

Lizzie nods slowly, her face a little puzzled. But she buys it. "Yeah, I love the sport. It's so classy and yet really dangerous at the same time."

I pretend to agree, even though fencing is just about as dangerous as knitting scarfs. "I know, I just wish people stopped judging the sport. It's timeless, and yet everyone thinks it's just a bunch of rich people pretending to be badass."

"I know!" she exclaims. "I hate that they think that! You know what I do when I'm training with Robinson?" She leans closer to me, her eyes glimmering with rebellion. "We take the safety off our point."

I let my mouth drop open. What the fuck is she talking about? "Seriously?"

She nods mischievously. "So basically it's like we're fighting with blunt swords."

"No way!" I am so over this small talk, I have to get to the point or I'll go crazy. Pretending to be interested in Lizzie is so exhausting. "I'd love to get back into it again, do you think I could come over sometime and you could give me a recap? Maybe I'll learn something new from someone who sounds like such an expert."

Lizzie blushes and looks a little taken aback. She stutters with her next words. "Uh ... yeah, sure. Any friend of Hazel's is a friend of mine."

I beam at her. "Awesome! Maybe we could practice without the point," I add.

It's just too tempting for her to resist. "Deal. How about Tuesday night?"

"I'll be here. What time?"

Her face suddenly falls. "Oh, I don't think it's a good idea you coming here. No offence," she adds, "it's just ... my Dad doesn't like inviting strangers into the house."

I look around at her bedroom. "Uh, you have like a hundred strangers in your house right now."

"Yeah, I mean when the family's home. It's hard to explain. How about the gym at my school?"

"Sure." This is going to take forever, I moan to myself.

We exchange numbers and she promises to text me the address.

"I have to go throttle my brother, but are you going to be okay with your jeans?"

"Yeah yeah," I wave her off. I have what I need. "Go be a good sister."

She smiles and leaves the room. Figuring it's as good a chance as any to have a poke around, I wait a few more seconds before I creep to her desk.

Cluttered with everyday teenage stuff that makes me scrunch up my nose, Lizzie's desk is as uninteresting as her stereotypically bubbly personality and popular, teenagery life. Aside from a weird jar of sand, I find nothing.

It doesn't matter, I tell myself as I leave her bedroom, my eyes catching the fencing sword she left on her bed. I'm in. Come Tuesday, I'll be alone with Lizzie. Maybe this mission won't be so hard after all.

With that liberating thought in mind, I start back downstairs.

I am suddenly so sick of being at the party. Without Nick it just doesn't feel right. I look around at the drugged, alcohol–induced faces and wonder whether these people know what they're getting themselves into. Most of them will become addicted in a few year's time – hell, some probably already are addicted – and others might even need rehab for it. What a waste of youth.

Hey, like you can talk.

I duck down the hallway and make straight for the door when someone taps me on the shoulder. Under the great chandelier in the foyer, I turn and come face to face with Ted, the boy from the church.

"Hey Jess!"

It is a very small, goddamn world.

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