It was another three days before Madison saw anybody besides her family.
Mom came up every morning, of course, and every hour or so thereafter, to see if she needed anything. Madison had gone most of her high school career without missing a day of school; to miss three, now, in a row, was an unprecedented disaster. But Mom seemed to realize that maybe space was best, that silence was golden, and didn't push her to get up and face the world.
Dad came up when he could, but it was clear that the whole matter sat strangely with him; he seemed caught between sympathy, morbid curiosity, and a wild hope that Madison would suddenly emerge from her bed and declare her intention to become the star quarterback of the NFL. Connor she never saw, but she thought she saw him skulking around at times, and once he seemed about to come into her room before changing his mind and backing out again. She didn't know what to make of her brother. He probably didn't know what to make of his either.
Her parents, of course, had immediately taken Connor to the doctor and asked for a full battery of genetic tests. The results took a bit longer to come back (last she had heard, in fact, DNA testing was an overnight process; she wondered what miracle had allowed Dr. Winters to deliver an answer on hers in under half an hour), but they showed that he was in perfect health, with no uncharted anomalies to his name. Mom joked that she had hoped he'd become the first human male to get pregnant, but Madison could tell that she was relieved.
Her relationship with her mother was strained now. Thomas Bechtel hadn't tried to hide his confusion over his bizarre new child; Cassie Bechtel did, but without much success. The joking, the teasing, the openness was gone; it was as if Madison were an alien creature, ready to burst out with some new strangeness if anybody's back was turned. Madison began to dread her mother's visits, and didn't mind when they started to get shorter.
And then, finally, on Thursday night, a new face poked in through the doorway.
"Where the hell have you been? Craig's been nagging me day and night— Haven't you heard your cellphone? I'm sure he's left you like a gazillion messages. I know, because I left you a message, or tried to, but your mailbox said it was full and wouldn't let me leave one. He called, I called, Jessica called, Wanda called, you didn't pick up." Nancy Butler dropped her backpack in a corner and advanced on Madison, still talking. "Dr. Zelvetti asked me if I knew what was going on. Lisa Myers—you remember her, last year's president?—she called, and I don't know how she found out seeing as how she's a freshman at college now. Nobody knew anything, and you sure weren't showing up. So finally I said, Screw it, and came over here." She plopped herself down on the foot of the bed. "So what's going on? Did you come down with something? Did you catch the eep or something?"
Madison tried to muster a smile at this, but didn't manage to succeed.
"So, what's going on," Nancy said. "On Monday you say you're getting this amenorrhea thing checked out, and then you don't come to school for three days. Did they find out that you secretly bleed delicious, delicious chocolate pudding?"
"No," said Madison.
"That you're pregnant?"
"Well, it's not an STD, 'cause you've never done it."
Nancy waited, blinking behind her glasses, but Madison said nothing.
"Look, Madison." Nancy gave her a direct look. "Do you trust me?"
Madison sighed. She wished it was as simple as that. "Yes."
"I'm your friend. I love you. I'm worried about you, and if you're willing to tell me, I want to know what's going on."
Madison covered her face with her hands. Do you? So did my mom. Look where it's gone since then. "Do you promise?"
"Promise what?" said Nancy on the other side of that black wall.
"That you're my friend. That you love me."
Nancy rolled her eyes. "We've been calling ourselves BFF for two years, Madison. What do you think?"
I thought I was a girl!
Madison sighed and took her hands from her face.
She wasn't sure how much she'd be able to explain, but it startled her to realize she remembered almost all of it—it was like Dr. Winters' explanation had been burned into her brain. She could picture it, see it, remember it like it was happening right now.
"There's a mutation in human DNA that can cause the person to be unable to respond to testosterone. The testosterone shows up, but the body doesn't know what to do with it. Now obviously that doesn't cause much trouble when the person is a girl—she doesn't have much testosterone flying around to begin with, just a lot of estrogen, and she develops normally. But what happens when it's a guy?"
Nancy's eyes had grown wider by the word. Now she said, "What happens?"
"He..." Madison felt bile rising in her throat. "He develops into a girl. ...He develops into me."
"They found out yesterday that I don't have a uterus or ovaries. Instead, I have testes. Me. I have balls! They're just... Floating around in my body somewhere." She had a weird mental image of a burping up a testicle and tried to shove it away. The image, not the testicle. Both. What would she do if that happened, swallow it again? What would it taste like? She had a brief but fleeting sensation of warm, salty rubber in her mouth. Hurriedly she pushed down the bile. "Evidently my body's just normally converting the testosterone into estrogen, so everything's fine, but... I'm... It's..." She felt tears threatening her cheeks, as they had so many times over the last few days—she, Madison, who never cried. It was one of the masculine things she prided herself on.
Opening her eyes, she saw Nancy's gaze darting to the computer on Madison's desk.
"It's called Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome," said Madison, and immediately Nancy was on the Internet. She was there for some minutes, occasionally ejaculating comments like, "Ohh, androgens are the steroid hormones. They control development of masculine characteristics," and, "Ohh, 2 to 5 out of 100,000;" and sometimes less-helpful analyses like "Wow" or "I didn't know that." Finally she came out of her reverie and went back to the bed.
"Madison, that's... Well, you're really lucky, aren't you?"
"I don't see how," said Madison in a fragile voice. It figured that Nancy would go hunting the data before coming to address her friend. She'd always been nerdy, but Madison had always been willing to forgive it before.
"Well, you... I mean, think of all the mutations you could have suffered. Most discrepancies just cause spontaneous abortions in the womb. Instead you've... You've grown up, you're here, you're healthy. You're... You're a perfectly healthy girl."
"But I'm not a girl!" Madison burst out. "I have balls. I'm a guy!" Then—she didn't know how it happened, but it did—she was bawling on her best friend's shoulder, while Nancy wrapped her arms around her and held her tight. It was the truth she'd been trying to deny to herself all this time—the ones her parents had skirted around, the one she hadn't felt comfortable saying until her best friend was here—her last, best hope for finding somebody who would not judge. "Wuh-wuh-what the hell am I, if I have... If I have b-b-boobs and a snatch and... And-and-and and testicles! I have long hair! I have dresses! My closet has p-p-pink in it! And purple! And... I have a boyfriend, and... And I was... Th-th-thinking about having sex with him! What the hell am I?!"
"You're Madison Bechtel," said Nancy simply.
"But who is that," Madison moaned, and her best friend didn't have an answer.
After Madison had managed to pull herself together again, Nancy said, "I guess you'll want to break up with Craig."
Madison didn't see any way around it. There was no way she could possibly remain with him, not with all these things lurking over her head. "I hate to ask this of you..."
Nancy put her hand on hers. "Of course I will. I wouldn't want to face him either if I were you."
"Just... Please don't tell him everything," Madison said, mopping her face with her hands. "Just... Tell him that I... That I know he only wants to have sex with me, and that I'm not interested, and that we should just end it before it gets worse."
Nancy paused. "Does he really? Or is that just an excuse?"
Madison sighed. "I don't know. It—" Well, ever since Nancy had brought it up... But so much had changed in the past week; she felt like she didn't know up from down anymore. In her gut, she felt like, yes, it was true. But my gut has testicles in it. What could she trust? What was true anymore? "I think it's true."
Nancy gave disgruntled shrug. "Close enough for government work, anyway."
"Don't tell him anything else. If he wants to know more..." A sigh. "He can talk to me."
"And are you going to tell him?"
"No," said Madison. "Please don't. I don't want this to get out." But somehow, it did.
But that was a matter for later, for weeks from now, and a matter of change. For now, she had enough to deal with as Nancy began to chivvy her from her bed. "Come on. Your mom says you've been in there for three days straight. You need to get up and stop being a lump." She wrinkled her nose. "And you need a bath, too. Just because you're secretly a guy doesn't mean you're allowed to turn into a slob."
Madison tried to muster a smile at this. This time she succeeded a little more. "Most guys don't seem to realize that."
"Well, you're not most guys," said Nancy. "I don't make friends with just any old guy. Or any old girl, either."
Madison turned and gave her a hug. "Thank you."
Nancy gave her one of her rare smiles. Even this was twisted, as though she wasn't used to doing it. "You didn't give up on me—not for years. I'm just returning the favor."
Madison hugged her again. She had never been very demonstrative with her friends—she wasn't one of those kiss-the-air types; it just didn't suit her. And now she found herself wondering how she ought to be reacting to hugging a close female friend. Should I be getting an erection? What does it feel like to have an erection?
Nancy was giving her a direct look. "What are you thinking of?"
"Trust me," said Madison, "you don't want to know."
"The doctor did say that you'd be able to have sex comfortably, right?"
"Yeah, she did. But... I mean... I mean, how do I know, right?"
"Well, there's always Pinkie," said Nancy, referring to the vibrator they had, with much giggling and blushing, procured from a disreputable shop a year before. Neither of them had ever gone back in—Madison because her sex-toys days were done, Nancy because she'd found out how to get things much more cheaply on the Internet.
"Yeah, but... That's not the same," Madison said. "How do I know if what I do to myself is anything like what a boy would do to me?"
"Well, if you really want to find out, you're asking the wrong person," Nancy said with a wry smile. "The person you really need is Craig."
"God no," said Madison. "He'd freak out. Can you imagine that? 'Craig, thanks for showing me what sex is like, now, you should know that I'm actually a boy.' "
Nancy gave her a pointed look. "You could, you know. Lie."
"You know I don't do that," Madison said.
"I know," said Nancy. "It's one of the craziest things about you." And then: "It's one of the greatest things about you."
After she had gone, Madison began to attempt the trip down the stairs and into the kitchen. The key word seemed to be 'trip'—she was dizzy, light-headed on her feet, weak. Part of it was the black-outs; her doctor (not Dr. Winters) had said that this was normal for teenagers, whose bodies sometimes outgrew their circulatory systems. But even more than that, she realized she was hungry. She hadn't eaten in three days.
Her parents seemed surprised to see her, but they covered it well: "We were wondering if Nancy was going to have any effect on you." They seated her at the table and gave her food to eat. Madison wondered if they had expected her to remain a hermit for the rest of her entire life. It was only later, when she kept seeing that hastily-covered look of surprise, did she realize that it wasn't her presence that startled them, but her existence.
Other than that one comment, though, there was no other real response to her sudden return from exile. She got up and did her homework (at least, what little homework she knew was assigned), and nobody treated her any differently from what had come before. And when she got up and went to school the next day, she felt as though she had entered a time warp, because other than a little look of sympathy from Nancy none of her friends treated her differently either.
But then, none of them knew yet.
The only two real differences were after school ended.
The first was that her father came to pick her up, instead of her mother like usual. Cassandra Bechtel worked part-time, and more to occupy her time than for the money, so she was more available for errands like that. Stanley Bechtel, who was a high-up in a local corporation, took as much time as he could away from his work to be with his family, but there wasn't much of it to be had. There had been weeks when Madison didn't even see him. Clearly, this wasn't to be one of them.
At first it was just the same pleasantries: how was your week? Just fine, how was yours? Just fine, very busy at work. Much homework? Rather too much of it—finals were coming up. And then for a while there was silence.
Finally Dad said, "Your mother's been beating herself up over this."
Madison blinked a lot. "My... Really?"
"We looked it up online, and this... This particular syndrome only manifests when the mother provides a faulty gene. It can't have been me—if I had it, I'd be like you—beautiful and sterile." Dad gave her a quirky smile. "So your mother is kind of blaming herself for being a carrier."
"Well, that's ridiculous," said Madison. "It's not her fault. These things... Well, these things happen, don't they? It's not like she had any control over which genes she released to make me."
"I know, and that's what we've been telling her," said Dad. "We're hoping she comes around."
Madison said, "What about you?"
Her father was silent for a short time. Then he admitted, "Well... I have to admit, I'd always hoped for a first-born son."
Madison said nothing.
"And, now that I have one... I'm starting to think what a stupid wish that was," he said.
Madison said nothing.
"All of this is so weird to me," said Dad. "I'm just a normal guy. All these biological facts are beyond me. The only thing I'm good for is integrated research and fact-finding for facilitation of R&D. It's..."
"...what they pay you for," Madison agreed, completing his catch phrase.
"And I can't lie and say that this shit hasn't confused the hell out of me," Dad said. "But... No matter how confused or weirded out I get, I keep remembering: this is my— My son, my daughter, whatever: this is my child. I... can't turn away from that."
Madison felt another wash of tears in her eyes and blinked them back desperately. "I... I don't know what to say."
"That's all right," he said. "I didn't know what to say either."
"I must get it from you," she said.
"Aren't girls supposed to be the ones that are good with language?"
"No, that's Connor."
"So... Are we going to find out something weird about him?" Dad said.
"God forbid," said Madison, and they laughed.
The second was about half an hour after they got home, and it was rather less pleasant. Specifically, it was Craig, hammering at the front door, demanding to be let in. "You owe me more than that! You can't just—just send some lackey to break up with me! I've been with you for five months, I deserve more than—"
Madison hurried to the front door. "Don't bang on it. The glass, remember?" The panes on the front door had been shaky for the last three months, thanks to an incident involving Connor and a thrown football he had been sure he could catch.
He caught her wrist in his hand. His grip was stronger than she'd realized. "You owe me more than that. What's going on? What did I do?"
"It's not you, Craig." With a hand on his chest she eased him back out the door and shut it behind her. "It's me."
"That's bullshit," he said. "People don't just change overnight."
Don't they? "What if I had... What if I discovered something about myself I hadn't known was true?"
He snorted. "What, did you turn all lezzie or something?"
Well... That might be kind of close. "Look, Craig. Nancy wasn't lying: I don't want to have sex with you." Not even to find out? She squashed the errant thought.
"That's fine," he said aggressively, "I can take it. Even if you don't wanna do stuff with me—"
"Craig, don't lie to me," she said. "I know how boys think." How much of that is learned psychology, I wonder—and how much is in me? "Now, tell me honestly: if I'm not going to let you score on me, how interested are you?"
He gave her a shifty look. "What, you think I'm stupid?"
She stifled the obvious answer. "Craig, I'm asking you not to be stupid. I'm not offended. I know that just about any boy I date will want to get into my pants. Heck, I think just about any boy who's dating wants to get into his date's pants. And believe it or not, the girls you're dating are curious too. But that doesn't mean we're going to let things happen. And, in this case, I'm definitely not going to. I'm sorry, but that's just not what I want to do with myself right now."
"So? Madison, I've been with you for five months. You don't think I'm not in it for the long haul?"
"What if I said I was waiting for marriage?"
That took him aback for a moment, but he rallied quickly. "Well, you just turned seventeen, so it's another year until you're legally of age, right?"
"Don't lie to me, Craig," she said again.
He tried a different tack. "Look, what changed? You said you found things out about yourself, right?"
She sighed. "Craig—"
"Come on," he said aggressively, "lay it on me. I can take it."
"You don't want to know this," she said. "Not about me."
"I'm your boyfriend," he said. "Who else would you tell?"
You're not my boyfriend anymore was her immediate response. And yet, he had been, for five months. That wasn't that short of a time—she'd seen Wanda and Jessica go through boyfriends in a matter of days. Maybe his loyalty would hold.
(Nancy would have said, "You don't have to trust him, you know. It's one of the craziest things you do. And the greatest.")
In the end, she told him all of it, everything she knew: the genetic discrepancy, the androgen receptor mutation, the statistics, everything. And even before she'd begun she knew it was a mistake, only it was too late; now she had to go through with it. And when she was done he pulled away with a look of revulsion on his face: "Holy shit, I kissed a guy!! Ugh, fuck!!"
And by Monday morning it was all over the whole school.
She knew from the looks that people gave her as she walked in—the whispers, the pointing, the stares. There were people undressing at the south gate (the Program still being in full swing), and nobody was paying attention to them. She knew then that it had been a mistake: a mistake not to trust him, a mistake not to lie.
And, when she came up to Nancy and Wanda and Jessica and Haley and saw the way the others drew away, she knew it had been a mistake to think of them as friends.
Nancy found her at lunchtime in a distant corner of the library where she had taken refuge. She didn't say anything, merely sat down beside her and opened her bag lunch, but it was enough. And Madison was surprised to get a summons from the principal, Dr. Zelvetti, over sixth period—and even more surprised when Dr. Z didn't say anything at all, merely opened her arms and enfolded her to her massive bosom, like a promise of freedom, of safety, of shelter. Of home.
Madison cried then, though she tried not to.
Of course, there wasn't much to say. Madison pointed her to the proper websites, and told her (truthfully) that, thank you, but, no, there was nothing she could do to make things better. Except rewind the past. Except teach secrecy. Except scar a young girl named Madison Bechtel more than she already had been.
The next two weeks were intolerable.
She began taking refuge in the library as often as she could; the stares followed her, of course, but it was easy to ignore conversation in the depths of those silent vaults. Nancy came with her; none of her other "friends" did. She heard from Nancy that they had quickly glommed onto Vanessa Seelix, another pretty, popular girl; Madison wondered when they would turn on her, too. The teachers were as supportive of her as they knew how, but despite the staff-wide memo Dr. Z. promised she'd sent, none of them had any of their information straight—rumor, falsehood and fact blended together in a dizzying muddle, and Madison was not inclined to set them straight. The kindest was Mr. Felton, the strikingly cute math teacher, and it was obvious he would have liked to be a friend to her, but there had been allegations a couple years ago of him having gotten too close to some Program participant, and for obvious reasons he was now keeping his distance from the students. Madison regretted it. She could have used some more friends.
She did her homework and came to classes, but only to go through the motions; her grades began to slip, a dangerous proposition with finals creeping ever-closer. She ate and showered and groomed herself, but only to go through the motions; she began to tire more easily, and noticed that sometimes she smelled. She remembered once joking to Craig that a woman's body odor was floral in nature, and perhaps that was true; her newly-discovered testicles might explain the rankness coming from her own armpits. The stares, the whispers, seemed to follow her constantly; at times she awoke in the night with their dull susurrations in her ears, the burn of eyes on her skin. She had never before understood the acrid touch of stares: not even in fifth grade, six grade, seventh grade, tall for her age and slow to develop, had there been widespread spectation as there was now—just some whispers, occasionally some veiled taunting. And then her breasts had come, her hips, her figure, and the stares had taken on a different dimension: there were leers, and whistles, and catcalls, but at that time she reveled in them—such a sweet sound, to a girl who had (in silence, deep in the dark places of her heart where she kept the things she didn't even want to admit to herself) begun to wonder if she would ever sprout at all. The taunting too had changed, laced instead with the sour smell of jealousy. Her womanhood had arrived, and she was glad to have it, and if the cost was jeering and greasy appreciation from the jocks, then she would pay it. Nancy certainly never had anyone wolf-whistle at her.
This was different. Now the stares were not a form of praise.
She began to be adept at finding spare corners, places where people rarely went; she knew the spot would soon be compromised when Nancy managed to track her down. If Nancy had any complaints about this constant game of hide-and-seek, about being deserted by her best friend on a regular basis, she kept them to herself.
The one hiding place nobody ever found was the roof of the Homer building, the administrative wing of Mount Hill High. And it was there she went, in the end.
The funny thing was, she didn't discover the spot herself. She had often passed by the door labeled "Roof Access" up on the third floor of the building, but it was very clearly locked and she'd never known it to be open. One time, however, she saw someone standing near it, their hands very near the handle—and without her seeing what the person had done or who it was or even whether it was a he or a she, the door had opened and the person was heading up the stairs. Madison wanted to fling herself after them and run up to the roof too—but some unknown instinct held her back, some understanding that, if she did, she would have to face the person who had preceded her, have to deal with their questions and curiosities and sideshow spectation, and she didn't want to do that right now.
Instead, she came back later and worked out how to do it. In the end, it was surprisingly easy—just the application of her library card, some downward pressure on the handle, a little bit of wiggling, and the card was sliding down pushing the bolt in, and off she'd gone.
It was always peaceful up there. No one ever came up (except her original benefactor, whom she never saw again), and nobody ever looked up either, so no one saw her; and since Mount Hill was in a residential area, she could see out around her for miles, into the vista of trees and houses and cars and roads. Sometimes she saw people moving around in the houses; always she could see other high-schoolers walking around on the ground. Above her was nothing but clouds and sky, more clouds and more sky (it seemed) than she'd seen in all her years of life, too many of which had been spent (it seemed) under roofs and inside buildings. And there was nobody here: no one to speak to her, nobody to ask her stupid questions, nobody to burn her skin with their eyes.
In the end, it was Craig that pushed her over the edge—or, at least, Craig's friend Bart. One day he followed her straight out of the classroom and all into the lunch period, discoursing with extravagant volume on Craig's opinion of her. "Yeah, he said that. You're a lousy lay. He said you couldn't take how big he was and wimped out, and you were like crying and stuff. It was total shit. And then you made up this crap about being half a guy or whatever to get more attention. He says you're a cocktease and a slut and a total attention whore." And at that point it was taking all her effort not to cry and/or strangle him, so she said nothing until he was done haranguing her, and everyone within earshot—this took a good five minutes—and walked off with a self-satisfied smirk. Then she ran for the roof.
She stayed up there this time. Before, though she had been tempted, she had always descended before the bell rang—after all, it wouldn't do much good to be seen coming out of this supposedly-impenetrable door. This time she didn't even bother. Let the world pass by under her. Let it all go away. After class had ended for the day she heard Nancy running around on the ground calling her name—Nancy, and then Dr. Zelvetti, and then Mr. Felton. And then her brother, who had started at Mount Hill this year. She was surprised to hear him. Connor had never had much use before for his older sister.
She stayed, though the wind picked up as the sun began to set, and she began to be chilly. She stayed, though her tears dried on her cheeks. She stayed, as the voices below grew faint and eventually gave up. She stayed, curled up in the crook made by the corner of the low wall bordering the roof, her eyes lifted skyward, listening to the song of the heavens.
It seemed to be calling to her.
The thought had immediate appeal. To leave all this mess—all the betrayal, all the loss, all the confusion. Once her life had been something else than this; now it was lost to her, and what she had left was a dull wreckage, a shell of her former self. A shell with testicles in it.
How tempting, then, to leave—to just, simply, leave. To stand under the roof of the world, and spread her arms, and fly; to step out onto the air, and let gravity do the rest.
She had begun to climb onto the thigh-high wall when someone said, "Oh, there you are!"
The shock of it almost brought her plan to fruition: she jolted, one knee in the air, and struggled for balance for a moment until, heart thundering, her weight shifted and she fell to the gritty surface of the roof. She turned her head to look at this interloper.
It was someone she'd had classes with before, though she couldn't remember his name. He had the black hair and pale skin of all Japanese, but she'd never heard him speak with an accent. He was skinny—almost scrawny—and his voice was soft-spoken and high-pitched. "I didn't think to find you up here. I was in the library doing a lot of work, and now that I'm done... This is one of my favorite spots." He was very gentle—meek was the word for it, actually—and between it all, she wasn't sure how he had survived high school unscathed thus far.
Madison scrambled to her feet. No matter how mild this person was, she didn't want to face him sprawled on her ass.
"Umm... How did you get up here?" the boy asked.
She found her voice. "You taught me how. I've been coming up here a lot." It didn't help that he was almost as tall as her. Weren't Asians supposed to be short?
"I did?" said the boy, surprised. "You saw me?"
Shock was fading into irritation now. She let it pour through her voice. "Wow, great conclusion, genius."
"And, if I may ask..." His brown eyes regarded her steadily. "What, precisely, were you doing that required you to begin climbing over the wall and onto the sheer side of the building?"
Now it was shame instead of indignation. "That wasn't... What it looked like."
He gave her a smile that was warm and skeptical at the same time. "I see."
"What do you know? You haven't been— I wouldn't've—"
"Oh, not much," he said. "Nothing that being a minority would've taught me. Nothing from having an effeminate voice and wimpy build. Nothing from the discrimination all teenagers engage in like breathing. No, I'm sure I wouldn't have any experiences in common with you, Miss Bechtel."
She stared at him. His words were mocking but his voice was gentle, and there was even a hint of a smile around his eyes.
"Well," she said, pulling her shreds of dignity around her. "I'm going to go back downstairs now."
"I think I will too," he said. "I wasn't planning to come up here for long anyway."
Dr. Zelvetti found them after they'd gotten out of the locked stairwell. "Oh, thank God! Devin! Devin, where did you find her?"
Before Madison could respond, the boy—Devin? She seemed to remember that, yes, this was his name—said, "In the girls' bathroom on the third floor."
"We looked there," Dr. Zelvetti protested.
"She might've been moving around," Devin said. He shot Madison a significant look.
"Yeah, yeah, umm," said Madison. "I was, umm. I just. Needed some time alone."
"Well, next time, you silly child, you come to me and you tell me you need some space, and I'll see that you get it. Your family's been worried sick that you'd gone and hurt yourself somehow. We all have."
"Yeah, umm... Sorry," said Madison.
"Well, come along," said Dr. Z. "They're all waiting in my office."
Madison looked at Devin.
"Well, that's taken care of at least," he said. "Listen, the next time you feel like, I dunno, like taking a walk out somewhere dangerous—" He fished a scrap of paper from his backpack, scribbled a number on it. "Give me a call instead. I promise, having conversations with someone is a lot more constructive than trying to paste yourself to the ground."
"Yeah," said Madison, "whatever." His number was indeed there, along with his name: Devin Albright. She wondered how he'd gotten it; it didn't sound Japanese to her.
In the office was not only Connor, Nancy Butler, Mark Felton and Dr. Zelvetti but Mom and Dad, as well as Regan di Rocco, the student body president, whom Madison hadn't expected to see at all. She had barely taken two steps into the room when its entire population seemed to tackle her at once; she found herself in the center of a loud and many-armed hug, followed by about fifteen minutes of repeated admonitions to never do that again, do you hear me? Of course, Devin had gone his own way already, and everyone was surprised to hear that he had somehow been involved in Madison's recovery. Nancy was mostly amused by his cover story: "He went into the girls' bathroom?"
But after the furor had died down and she was safely ensconced at home for the weekend, it was not her brush with death that weighed on her mind. It was the encounter with the boy; with plain, soft-spoken Devin Albright. Had it been anyone else to discover her, any other member of the student body, she didn't know what would have happened; quite possibly she would've been driven to pitch herself over the side. Quite possibly the person would not have nightmares over this. But somehow, she knew that Devin would have. She wasn't sure how she knew, only that she did. It would be some months later before she understood how she knew—before she realized that Devin Albright had saved more than her life by becoming the first person in weeks (it felt like a year) to treat her like an actual person.
Weariness overcame her, and she slept.
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