9.

Serena, Amy, and I returned to school the following week. I'm usually not all that fond of school, but by now I was desperate for life to get back to normal, and school is about as normal as it gets.

It was kind of weird walking into class. The whole room went silent when people saw me. I slid into my seat just as the bell rang, but I could feel them staring at me.

During a break, I approached Jenny Tanaka. Jenny and I weren't good friends or anything, but we'd had a few conversations. The main point was that she got pretty good grades, and I needed to borrow someone's notes and find out just how far behind I was in everything.

"Hey, Jenny!"

She looked at me a bit warily. "Yeah?"

"Can you catch me up on what's going on?"

She didn't say anything at first. Her eyes widened and she looked at her friends, but they didn't answer either.

"I . . . I haven't been taking . . . I mean . . . that is . . . um, my notes aren't very good. You should probably borrow someone else's." She looked nervous.

I blinked. She was even worse at lying than I was.

"Uh . . . no problem. Thanks anyway." I hadn't expected this.

"Sorry," she babbled. "Maybe someone else can help you. Or the teacher." Who did she think was going to help? The whole class had shut up and was watching us. I didn't see anyone rushing forward to offer their notes.

I looked around. Everyone hastily turned back to their conversations, pretending that nothing had happened. The only person who met my eyes was Nancy Yamada. She smiled slightly.

I took a deep breath. Nancy and I hated each other, and had from my first day at Crossroads. She was just like most of the girls at my old school, and I hadn't gotten along with them either. She seemed to think that everyone should be grateful for her very presence in their drab little lives. I thought she was a stuck-up snob, and I'd told her so on my second day at Crossroads. If she was smiling now, I was in trouble.

"Lita? Do you need help?" She managed to make it sound as if I were too stupid to know how to ask people for something without screwing up. Like it was my fault Jenny wouldn't share her notes?

Everyone else was carefully ignoring us. I could see where this was going. No one was going to lend me their notes except Nancy, and she was going to make me crawl for them.

Just ask her for the rotten notes. Just ask her and get it over with! If you don't, you'll have to ask the teacher for help. Then he'll wonder why you couldn't borrow them, and you'll have to tell him about this.

The idea of being sent off to confess all to the school guidance counselor didn't bear thinking. Crossroads would probably rat on me to CPS. So, cheeks burning, I asked.

Of course, she gave me her notes. Very graciously, too. I almost threw the nearest chair at her.

By lunch, I never wanted to see Crossroads Junior High School again. CPS hadn't even trusted me to pack my own lunch, and what they'd sent me with wasn't appetizing. But the way I was feeling, I wouldn't have wanted to eat the finest gourmet foods.

"Hey, Lita!" Serena. I could have kissed her. She plopped down next to me. "Aren't you going to eat that?" Normality, at last!

"Here, you have it." I shoved the bag at her.

"You're not going to eat anything? Are you all right? Is your arm hurting?" She gave me a worried look.

I wanted to tell her everything, but at the same time, I didn't want to upset her. So I didn't say anything. Of course that never works with Serena, but before she could ask any more, Amy and Molly came over. Amy looked slightly overwhelmed, but this was an improvement over what she'd looked like for the past week, so I wasn't going to complain. Molly seemed to be in a bad mood. Maybe she'd done badly on a test or something.

"So what's wrong?" Serena persisted.

I might have told her if we were alone. But what I was going through was nothing compared to what Amy was probably feeling, so it seemed . . . I don't know . . . stupid to talk about it in front of her. And I didn't know Molly very well, which made it hard to talk about personal stuff with her around. So I just muttered "Nothing" and hoped Serena would get the hint. Serena? Ha.

"Oh, come on, Lita. Tell us."

"Get a clue, Serena. What do you think is wrong?" I was surprised to hear Molly join in. I was even more surprised when she asked me, "Are all your friends pretending you're dead, too?"

What?

I looked back and forth between them. Molly was definitely angry. Serena's bubbly mood had evaporated. "Molly, I don't want to talk about it," she hissed.

"Well, I do," I snapped. "What are you talking about, Molly?"

"No one will talk to her!" Molly said heatedly. "They just pretend they're busy or they have to go somewhere or something."

Serena glared at her. "Will you shut up? I didn't want to tell them! Besides, it's noth-" She broke off as she made the connection, and looked at me.

I nodded.

"But I don't get it," Molly protested. "So the police talked to you for a while. That's no reason to treat you like this!"

The thought occurred to all of us at once. "Amy?"

From the way she was picking at her food, I'd say her appetite was about as strong as mine. She murmured, "I never talked to the other students all that much before. I hadn't noticed much difference."

She was lying. I wasn't sure how I knew-maybe because she was looking at her food instead of us-but something had happened this morning. I could make a guess about what. Nancy's best friend was in Amy's class. But Amy wasn't talking, and I didn't dare call her on it, not after yelling at her about Raye.

We'd arranged to get together with Mina after school. By the end of the day, I think we were all desperate to see a friendly face.

"My day? Just fine, I guess. Everyone kept asking me about the bandage of course, but I knew that was going to happen. It's getting me lots of sympathy. Though I think it throws everyone when I tell them I can't remember hitting my head. They get this sort of amazed look on their faces. How was life at

Crossroads?" When we told her (or, in Amy's case, didn't tell her), she did a pretty good job herself of looking amazed. "But aren't some of them supposed to be your friends? And they still treated you like that?"

"Would you like to come to our school and explain that to them?" I growled. I was still smarting from having to ask Nancy for a favor. At least my appetite was coming back, but even treating myself to an extra piece of pie wasn't making me feel all that much better. Eating left-handed was a pain.

"Maybe it's just the shock," Mina offered. "How can everyone just suddenly forget that you're nice people?"

I wasn't feeling very forgiving. "You know what gets me? They didn't even know Raye. I could maybe understand it if we all went to the same school or something, but no one at Crossroads was friends with her except us, and they're still acting like we killed one of them."

There was a small clattering noise across the table from me as Amy pushed her chair back. "I really should be home studying. I've gotten behind in everything, and it'll take me a while to catch up. Good-bye." And she was out the door before any of us could react.

Mina looked from me to Serena, a puzzled expression on her face. "Do either of you know what that was about?"

"Um, no, not really," Serena mumbled. Lying of course.

It hit me right then, and I flushed. I'd said the 'k' word. Stupid! When was I going to learn to think before opening my mouth?

"Lita? Are you feeling all right?" Mina was still confused, but she was starting to sound annoyed as well. "Will one of you please tell me what's going on?"

"You explain," I ordered Serena. "I've got to find Amy!"

"Lita, wait!" Serena yelped, but I ignored her and dashed out the door after Amy.

Running with my arm in a cast felt weird, like I was off-balance somehow. Still, my legs are a lot longer than Amy's, so it wasn't all that hard to catch up with her. Of course, the minute I caught up to her, I couldn't figure out how to say what I had to.

"Did I forget something back there? You could have given it to me at school tomorrow."

Tomorrow. Oh joy. We were going to get to go through this all over again tomorrow. I'd managed to not think about that until now.

"I'm sorry."

She kept walking.

"Amy?"

"I heard you." She showed no signs of slowing down.

Frustrated, I looked around. Yes! A low wall was only a few feet ahead.

"Come on," I said, pointing at the wall. "Sit down for a moment, will you? I'm getting tired of talking to the back of your head."

"I told you, I have to go home."

"Amy, sit down." She sat, but she didn't look very happy about it.

"I'm sorry," I said again. It sounded really lame. Amy just stared out across the road, picking at something on her bookbag. When she didn't say anything, I made myself go on. "It wasn't your fault. I know you didn't deliberately leave her there." Still no answer. "You didn't kill her, Amy! I

shouldn't have made it sound like you did. I say things without thinking-you know I do!" She stopped picking at her bookbag. "Amy, would you please say something?"

"It's all right." Amy's voice was flat. "I wish you'd stop apologizing. I know you didn't mean it."

"No, it's not-"

"Look, I need to get home. My mother gets nervous now if I stay out too late." She stood up. "Don't worry about me. I'm fine." She turned the corner and disappeared, leaving me sitting speechless on the wall.

About a minute or so later, Serena appeared, panting. "What happened? Did you find her?"

"Where's Mina? You didn't just dump her at the restaurant, did you?"

"She'll catch up. She didn't look up to running, but I was afraid I'd never find you if I walked. Where's Amy?"

I pointed towards the corner. "Going home."

Serena went from looking exhausted to looking torn. She glanced at me, turned towards the corner, looked back at me, and bit her lip.

"Go on," I sighed. "I'll wait here for Mina." Maybe Amy'd talk to Serena, even if she wouldn't talk to me. Serena gave me a guilty half-smile, took a deep breath, and launched herself around the corner, yelling for Amy to slow down.

I waited, trying to keep the last few minutes from going around and around in my head, and not having a lot of luck. After a bit, Mina showed up. She was carrying two bookbags and looked more worn out than Serena.

"I don't believe it. Serena's making you pick up after her?"

"What was I supposed to do-leave her stuff in the restaurant? She took off before I could stop her." She dropped both bags on the wall and sank down next to me. "Where are they, anyway?"

"Headed for Amy's, last I saw."

She raised an eyebrow. "You . . . weren't invited?"

"I don't think Amy wants to talk to me right now." Or ever again. Serena ran after her.

"Oh." She hesitated. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"What's there to talk about? I said I was sorry. I think this is the third time I've apologized since . . . since it happened. She says it's all right, but she says it in this tone of voice so you know she's lying. But she won't get angry or yell at me or anything, and it just . . it just feels wrong!"

"You'd rather have a screaming match with her? I can't even imagine her getting that angry."

"At least if she yelled at me, I'd know she was mad. I said I was sorry. If everything's all right, then she shouldn't be acting like this. If it isn't all right, then why won't she say so?"

"Do you mean it?"

I stared at her blankly.

"When you apologize. Do you mean it? Do you really think it wasn't her fault?"

"Do I mean-what kind of question is *that?* Of course, I mean it!"

"Are you sure? Look, the way all of you talk about what happened, you pretty well put all the blame for Raye's death on Amy. So maybe she thinks you meant it then, and you're just trying to be nice about it now because Serena jumped down your throat when you yelled at her."

I could feel my face turning red. I really, really felt rotten about what I'd said back at the construction site. But I couldn't stop thinking things like if you'd looked up from your computer just once, you'd have known that was a youma, not Raye! How could you be so blind? How could you just leave her there?!

"Do you mean it?" Mina pressed.

"No," I whispered. "Yes. I don't know!" I couldn't believe I could be so mean to Amy. When I'd first said all those things to her, I was hurt, tired, scared-I guess I had some excuses for losing control, even though I shouldn't have. But I didn't have those excuses now, so why couldn't I stop thinking these things about her? She was my friend!

"Lita . . . " Mina shook her head slowly. "Lita, if I could figure it out, Amy's going to have known it all along. She's looking to see if you're really apologizing or not."

"Then why does she keep saying it's all right? If she thinks I'm lying, why doesn't she say so?" Somehow I had the idea that if she'd just get mad at me, it'd make us even somehow.

"Maybe she figures you were right the first time. If she thinks it really is her fault that Rate died, then . . . " She sighed.

"Now what?" I said finally. "You're saying she won't accept any apology I make, right? Am I just supposed to pretend that everything's all right anyway? It's not! She's barely speaking to me!"

Mina shrugged. "I don't know. Give her some time, maybe? And she might talk to Serena. Anyway, we've been here for a while, and Serena hasn't come back yet, so that's a good sign, right?"

I tried to think positively about it. Serena was Amy's best friend in the Sailor Scouts. I didn't know Amy nearly as well, so maybe that was why things were so awkward between us. Serena'd make it better somehow. It'd be all right. I hoped.

"Do me a favor?"

"Huh?" I jerked my head up, startled. I'd gotten so focused on wondering how this was all going to work out that I'd almost forgotten Mina was there.

"Sure. Um, what?"

"Earth to Lita, Earth to Lita!" She smiled slightly. "I'm sorry, but I'm starting to crash." She looked at me hopefully. "Could you . . . um . . . pick up after Serena?"

"You mean, drop her books off at her house?" I groaned. "Yeah, no problem. Though she'd deserve it if we just left them here."

"Suit yourself." Mina grinned. "But I'm not the one who's going to have to listen to her wailing all through lunch tomorrow about her teacher bawling her out in front of the whole class for having lost her books."

"Thanks for reminding me," I said sourly. "I'll run them by there right now. They'll probably get home before she does."

"Thanks." Mina sounded relieved. I looked at her more closely. She looked sort of white and sick.

"Are you all right?"

"Oh yeah-I just need to get some sleep. Everyone said this might take a while to recover from. You know, someday, when Amy's a doctor, I want her to tell me why it's taking this long to get better from getting a bonk on the head, while I felt just fine after coming back from the dead. It doesn't seem quite fair, somehow."

I glared at my cast. "Tell me about it. I was never meant to be left-handed!"

Mina stood up. "Hey, good luck tomorrow! It's got to be just a temporary thing, I bet. They've just got to remember you're nice people!"

I didn't think it was going to work out that easily, but why spoil her mood?

"See'ya!" I waved as she headed back the way she'd come, then tried to pick up both my bag and Serena's. Silly me. Why did I say I'd do this, when I didn't have two free hands? People walking by turned and stared as I suddenly yelled at the sky, "Serena! You owe me big time for this!"