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If she were being circumspect, which she usually isn’t, Hannah would think of it as emotional triage. You sort out everything you’re supposed to be dealing with, weighing factors like deadlines and importance and how quickly the problem can be solved, and you address accordingly. Recently, this has meant father, school work, college applications, Christmas. Occasionally things jump their way to the head of the line – a 24 hour stomach flu, the requisite pre-vacation bomb threat at Neptune High (they’ve gotten fashionable this year).

What has not been addressed, in this system of triage, is the matter of Henry. Partly because she addressed it so much while he was . . . away that she has convinced herself that there isn’t much left to address. And partly because she knows, deep down, that there’s still a lot to address, and that when she does, it’s going to bring the whole triage system crashing to a halt, which means it has to wait until she’s mailed all the college applications, navigated the ins and outs of a joint custody Christmas, and passed her last midterm.

(The whole issue of Sam – which is, after all, directly related to the issue of Henry, whether Hannah will admit it or not – has only been addressed as far as a “wait and see.” Which means it hasn’t really been addressed, either.)

But even the best of triage systems doesn’t let you ignore a problem indefinitely, and life has a way of making you address the things you haven’t. And so, this morning, Hannah is almost to her locker when she sees the first sign announcing the coming Winter Formal. And she just stops, right there in the middle of the hall.

She’s not sure how long she stands there. Or how long she would have gone on standing there if a sophomore basketball player hadn’t walked into her. He almost falls over himself apologizing, picking up the things she’s dropped – sophomores (even basketball players) do not walk into seniors at Neptune High.

Hannah is trying to tell him that it’s okay, she’s all right, thanks for picking up the books. She’s trying to remember his name. Something in the “Tr” family, she thinks. Trevor? Troy? Travis? Maybe Trent?

“Everything okay here?” Sam asks, tone implying that he’s already half-decided that it’s not. It reminds Hannah of Agent Booth, a little.

“It’s fine,” Hannah says. “I’m fine.”

“Trey?” Sam asks. “Everything’s okay?” The sophomore nods, mutters one last apology and flees.

“Trey,” says Hannah. So “Trent” was close.

“What about him?” Sam asks, looking after him, like he’s ready to haul him back for questioning if necessary.

“Nothing. Just couldn’t remember his name. I’m fine, Sam. Really. He just bumped into me, and I was the one standing in the middle of the hall.”

“So can I take those for you?” he asks, of her books. She’s about to say sure and hand them over, when she sees what he probably thought was a subtle glance over at the dance poster.

And she knows what’s coming, even before he can ask, as friends, not like a date, no pressure. Emily probably put him up to it, or maybe she didn’t, and Hannah isn’t sure which of those is worse.

What she is sure of is that she absolutely cannot handle being asked to the Winter Formal by Sam Keith before homeroom, not as anything, as friends, as enemies, as relative strangers who happen to attend the same high school, anything.

“Actually, um . . . actually, I . . . I left something in my car. I should . . . I really need to get that and, um, so I’m going to go do that, and I’ll . . . um, see you later, Sam. Thanks . . . I really . . . right. Bye.”

She calls her mother from the parking lot, says she’s not feeling well and she’s going home and would her mother please call the school.

She makes it halfway home before she has to pull over because she’s crying so hard she can’t see well enough to drive.

She stays on the side of the road for a long time.

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Hannah Griffith

June 2009

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