When I explain how I didn't fit in when I came back to start my senior year of high school, she asks, "Is that sup posed to make me feel sorry for you? Listen, I've got more to deal with than a busted-up leg. My dad's a drunk, and my mom walked out on us five years ago. I'm not really crying over your limp, so you might as well save your breath and the rest of your story for someone who actually gives a shit."

I didn't get much sleep last night. Caleb's not talking to me. I'm crabby and my nerves are on edge. If this girl doesn't want to have sympathy, fine. But that doesn't mean I have to sit here while she patronizes me.

You listen," I say, then lean across the table so I've got her undivided attention and to make sure she hears me loud and clear. "Just because you've got a bad home life doesn't give you the right to sit there and be rude."

"Sure it does," she fires back. "I bet you've got parents with money-"

"My mom works as a waitress in a diner."

"Well I bet your dad ain't a drunk-"

"I wouldn't know," I tell her. "My dad walked out on my mom. I haven't seen him in years. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I fell for the guy who went to jail for hitting me with his car. I wasn't supposed to be talking to him in the first place. Then he came on this trip, but now he's not talking to me again, and I'm supposed to pretend like we're just friends and I'm afraid of losing him although I know that's stupid because I feel like I've already lost him ... and none of it would have happened if it weren't for a reckless driving incident. So when you get out of this place, please don't drive recklessly or you might end up with a permanent disability, boyfriendless, and an outcast at school."

Instead of the girl falling asleep or giving me attitude, she's now staring at me wide-eyed. "All right. You made your point. I get it."

"Thanks," I tell her, and mean it.

"Does it suck when people stare at you when you walk?" she asks.

At first when I got out of the hospital I didn't even want to get out of my wheelchair and walk, because I knew I drew more stares from my ridiculously pronounced limp than being confined to a wheelchair. I hated the stares.

"I hate being stared at, but I try and block it out," I tell her. "I admit it makes me feel like I'm the main event at a freak show." I look down and say what I don't like to put into words but it's the honest truth. "There's not a day goes by that I wish the accident hadn't happened and that I could be normal. It's on my mind every day."

"Not a day goes by where I don't regret doin' what I done to get myself locked up in here," she says.

"I don't know if I can ask you questions about why you're here."

"Let's just say I hurt someone real bad," she tells me, then focuses at a spot on the wall. Maybe she doesn't want to see my reaction.

I look at the female guard blocking the door and Ms. Bushnell on the opposite end of the room. They're eye ing the inmates. I wonder if there's ever a time they're not being watched or evaluated. I think of Caleb, who told me he hated being watched by guards every second of the day. I wonder how he's holding up now, being here again.

"It must be horrible being in here," I mumble.

The girl shrugs. "Actually it ain't that bad. Beats bein' home. I guess I hate bein' here 'cause it reminds me of what I done. I hurt this girl. The memories of that night give me nightmares most nights. I was thinkin' about wri- tin' her a letter, but she'd prob'ly throw it out and never read it."

"You could try. If anything it'll probably make you feel better to write it down."

"I don't think so."

"Just think about it."

"You have one more minute, ladies!" Ms. Bushnell announces loudly. "Say your good-byes and line up at the door."

"Yeah, well, I guess it was cool meeting you," the girl says. "The girls who don't got no visitors got to come to talk to you guys. It sucks when it's visiting day and nobody calls out your name that you got a visitor, so, uh, thanks for bein' here." She clears her throat. "I'm Vanessa. My friends back home called me V, but to be honest I don't got no friends anymore.

I raise my hand. Ms. Bushnell walks over to our table. "Is there a problem?" she asks.

"No," I'm quick to tell her. "I just wanted to know if I could have Vanessa's address ... so we can be pen pals."

Ms. Bushnell's stern face softens. "That would be fine. I'll give you the information before you leave the building."

"You didn't have to go an' do that," Vanessa says when Ms. Bushnell walks away.

"I know."

Vanessa smiles, the first smile I've seen from her since she walked in the room. "You're okay, Maggie. And if you do ever write me, I promise to write back. Just don't expect no fancy writin'."

"It's a deal."

"And just so you know, I don't think you're a freak at all. In fact, I think you're one of the coolest girls I've ever met."

I smile. "I'm a geek," I tell her.

"No you're not." She points her finger at me. "You, Maggie, are one cool chick. Don't forget it."

A cool chick? "Nobody has ever called me cool before."

"That's 'cause you don't act it. If you think you're cool and act like you're the shit, everyone'll start treating you like you've got it goin' on. You get what I'm sayin'?"

"I think so."

"Don't waste a single day thinkin' you're a Beek, or you might as well be locked in here like me."

Vanessa and the other girls get in a single file line by the locked metal door with their hands held behind their backs. Some of the girls look really young ... like they're barely in high school or even younger than that. The guard leads them out. Before Vanessa leaves, she looks back and gives me a small good-bye nod.

According to Vanessa, my limp and scars don't matter. I'm a cool chick. I just have to start believing it.

Our whole Re-START group is quiet as we leave the DOC. I head for the back of the van where Caleb usually sits, but when he sees me, he slides into the front row next to Trish.

I'm stuck in the back with Lenny.

When we get back to Dixon Hall, Damon tells us we have two days off to rest and have fun. Matt suggests we go to Independence Grove tomorrow to rent canoes and fish in the lake.

Caleb seems really distant since we left the detention center. I wonder what happened with him on the guys' side of the jail. I don't find out, though, because Caleb spends the rest of the evening alone in his room. Damon calls him to the lounge area for dinner.

"I'll just grab something from the fridge later," he says. When we're about to watch a movie in the lounge, I peek in and see him lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling.

"Caleb, we're watching a movie."

"Watch without me."

"Are you okay?" I ask tentatively. "Want to talk?"

He gives a short laugh and shakes his head.

"Are you going to be mad at me forever?"

He doesn't answer.

The next morning, as we're all rubbing on sunscreen, Caleb is the last to get ready. He slaps on a baseball cap, long shorts, and a tank top. Caleb's tattoo reminds me of black flames licking his skin. It makes him look tough and untouchable, which I'm sure was the look he was going for when he got it.

At the park, Damon buys us worms. He rents fishing gear and three boats, and tells us we're on our own and he'll be back before noon with lunch.

"Hey Trish," Lenny says as he watches her lay out a towel on the sandy beachfront. "Do you know you can see your nipple outline through your bikini top?"

"You're a pig," Trish says, then pushes Lenny away.

Lenny holds his hands up. "What? I was gonna say you have nice nips. Geez, Trish. Get a grip and learn how to take a compliment."

We're all looking at Lenny as if he's out of his mind.

Trish crosses her arms over her chest and makes a big deal of checking out Lenny's lower regions. "Do you know you can't see your dick outline through your bathing suit?" She tosses her hair and says, "Just so you know, Lenny, that wasn't a compliment."

Without warning, Lenny picks up Trish and carries her into the lake, kicking and screaming.

"You better not throw me in!" she screams, still kicking, as she grabs onto Lenny's neck for dear life.

"Oh, yeah, baby, you're bein' tossed." Lenny says, seemingly oblivious to the kicks and pleas of the girl he's been at odds with since this trip started.

I look over at Caleb, who's watching Lenny and Trish. He turns to me and an evil look crosses his face. He nods, as if Lenny is carrying out the most brilliant punishment to a girl who pissed him off.

"You're not thinking of tossing me in the lake," I tell him.

"Yeah," he says. "I am."



his is the first time since I met Lenny that I get a glimpse his brain is capable of making a smart decision.

My mind does the mental gymnastics to justify what I'm thinking: Maggie's leg hinders her on land, but in the water she's just like the rest of us. She really screwed everything up for me by calling Damon. I need to take control of the situation and have no regrets. Which means ...

Maggie needs to get wet. And, to use a Damonism: right now.

"Come here," I tell her. I strip off my tank in one swift movement.

She steps back, her bare feet sinking into the sand. "Promise me you won't toss me in the lake." She glances quickly at the water, then looks back at me. "There's fish swimming around in there."

"They won't hurt you."

"I can't swim," she says quickly as she takes another step away from me.

"Caleb, not a good idea," Matt chimes in from beside her.

I give Matt a you're an idiot look. "I've known Maggie all my life. Don't let her fool you-she's an excellent swimmer." So much for her being honest with me.

A big splash brings our attention back to Lenny and a now very wet Trish. I take this break in Maggie's concentration to catch her. I lift her and carry her to the water's edge.

"I'm wearing pants!" she screams, wiggling violently. "Let me down! Seriously, Caleb. I'm the shit, so back offl"

I suppress a laugh, 'cause I never expected those words to come out of Maggie. "You're the shit, huh? And all along I thought I was the shit."

I walk further into the water. Her hands are wrapped tight around my neck, locking behind me like a vice.

"Okay, joke's over Caleb. Let me down."

Her head nestles into the crook of my neck, and her wild hair is flying in my face. If I wasn't so angry with her I might be tempted to like the way she's clinging to me.

"Don't throw me in. Promise me."

I go deeper. The sand on the bottom of the lake is soft, making my feet sink in. The water is up to my knees now. I pass Lenny and Trish, who are splashing each other. They're both soaked.

Maggie and I are about to get soaked too.

"I'm not gonna toss you in," I tell Maggie as I turn into a little bend in the lake for some privacy. Nobody on shore can see us now. "I promise."

She loosens her hold on my neck and leans her head back to look into my eyes. "You're not?" she asks, letting out a sigh of relief.