Today Tonight Tomorrow(8)

He passes the slip to me but holds it tight, preventing me from escaping. “Wait a second. I want to show you something.”

He lets go of the slip so suddenly that I stumble backward, then hops off his chair and heads out of the office. I’m annoyed but curious, so I follow him. He stops in front of the school trophy case, gives it a theatrical wave of his arm.

“I’ve been here for four years, so I have, in fact, seen this trophy case before,” I say.

But he’s pointing at one particular plaque, engraved with names and graduation dates. With his index finger, he taps the glass. “Donna Wilson, 1986. Westview’s first valedictorian. Do you know what she ended up doing?”

“Saved herself four years of agony by graduating three decades before you enrolled here?”

“Close. She became the US ambassador to Thailand.”

“How is that close?”

He waves his hand. “Steven Padilla, 1991. Won a Nobel Prize for physics. Swati Joshi, 2006. Olympic gold medalist for pole vault.”

“If you’re trying to impress me with your knowledge of past valedictorians, it’s working.” I step closer to him, batting my lashes. “I am so turned on right now.”

It’s over the top, I know, but this has always been the easiest way to ruffle this seemingly unruffle-able guy. He and his last girlfriend, Bailey, didn’t even acknowledge each other at school, and I wondered what they were like outside of it. When I thought about him shedding his stony exterior long enough for a make-out session, I felt a strange little tremor in my belly. That was how horrific I found the idea of someone kissing Neil McNair.

Just as I hoped, he blushes. His skin is so fair beneath his freckles that he’s never able to hide how he really feels.

“What I’m trying to say,” he says after clearing his throat, “is Westview High has a history of successful valedictorians. What would it say for you—Rowan Roth, romance-novel critic? It’s not quite at the same level as the others, is it?”

I’ve told Kirby and Mara I don’t really read them anymore, but McNair brings up my romance novels whenever he can. His derogatory tone is the reason I keep them to myself these days.

“Or maybe you’d graduate to writing one of your own,” he continues. “More romance novels—exactly what the world needs.”

His words push me backward until his freckles blur together. I don’t want him to know how much this infuriates me. Even if I get to the point where “romance author” is attached to my name, people like McNair won’t hesitate to tear me down. To laugh at the thing I love.

“It must be sad,” I say, “to despise romance so much that the thought of someone else finding joy in it is so repulsive to you.”

“I thought you and Sugiyama broke up.”


“The joy you find in romance. I assumed that was Spencer Sugiyama.”

I feel my face heat up. That is… not where I thought this was going.

“No. Not Spencer.” Then I go for a low blow: “You look different today, McNair. Did your freckles multiply overnight?”

“You’re the one with the hidden cameras.”

“Alas, they’re not HD.” I refrain from making a dirty joke I really, really want to make. I flash the green slip in front of his face. “Since you were kind enough to write me a late pass, I should probably, you know, use it.”

Last homeroom. I hope the walk to class is enough to get my blood flowing normally again. My adrenaline always works overtime when I’m talking to McNair. The stress he’s caused me has probably sliced a half-decade off my life span.

With a nod, he says, “End of an era. You and me, I mean.” He wags his index finger between the two of us, his voice softer than it was ten seconds ago.

I’m quiet for a moment, wondering if today carries the same sense of finality for him that it does for me. “Yeah,” I say. “I guess so.”

Then he makes a shooing motion with one hand, snapping me out of my nostalgia and replacing it with the contempt that’s been both a warm blanket and a bed of nails. A comfort and a curse.

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.


Westview High School Library

<[email protected]> to [email protected] June 10, 2:04 p.m.

This is an automated message from the WESTVIEW HIGH SCHOOL LIBRARY.

Library records show the following item(s) are overdue. Please either renew them or return them to the library immediately to avoid accruing a fine.

- Your Guide to a 5: AP Calculus / Griffin, Rhoda

- Conquering the AP Government Exam / Wagner, Carlyn

- Love Notes: Romance Novels through the Ages / Smith, Sonia, and Tilley, Annette

- Analyzing Austen / Ramirez, Marisa

- What Now: Life After Senior Year / Holbrook, Tara

8:02 a.m.

FIFTEEN MINUTES WITH him, and I already feel a McMigraine coming on. I rub the space between my eyes as I hurry to homeroom.

“Our future valedictorian,” Mrs. Kozlowski says with a smile when I hand her my late pass, and I hope she’s right.

Our homerooms are mixed to foster camaraderie between the grades. McNair proposed it two years ago in student council, and the principal ate it up. It wasn’t the worst idea, I guess, if you ignored every single one of our other, more pressing issues: rampant plagiarism among the freshman class, the need for an expanded cafeteria menu to accommodate dietary restrictions, reducing our carbon footprint.

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