* “Eloquently written and packed full of suspense, debut author Cosimano strikes gold with this page-turning thriller that will have teens chomping at the bit to get to the end.”—School Library Journal, starred review
Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother's job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone's skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn't trust: the new guy at school—a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her.
Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn't figure it all out soon—she'll be next.
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Elle Cosimano grew up in the Washington, DC, suburbs, the daughter of a maximum security prison warden and an elementary school teacher who rode a Harley. She annually attends the Writers' Police Academy at Guilford Technical Community College, Department of Public Safety, to conduct hands-on research for her books. Elle is the author of Nearly Gone and it's upcoming sequel, Nearly Found. She lives with her husband and two sons in Mexico. Follow her on Twitter at @ellecosimano.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Most scientific laws can be boiled down to a simple mathematical if-then equation. If you follow the rules, then you get the desired result. If you deviate, then there is a consequence. The rules of law don’t concern themselves with why.
My mother really only had three rules: A) no bad grades, B) no trouble, and C) no touching. A + B + C = admission to a good college. In her mind, this was an incontrovertible direct mathematical proof. It wasn’t a theory. It was the only possible outcome.
I used to believe that too. But that was before I started to wonder why.
Sometimes, the only way to find a solution is to break the rules.
“Who can tell me the purpose of Dr. Schrödinger’s experiment?” Mr. Rankin paced between the rows on the other side of the classroom.
I huddled over my open textbook, concealing the Missed Connections ad in the personals section, dissecting the words again for some hidden meaning. Newton was wrong. We clash with yellow. Find me tonight under the bleachers. It read like a science riddle, and I couldn’t seem to stop looking at it. Stupid.
“Anyone?” Rankin’s chalk-smudged slacks paused beside me. I inched my arm over the ad. I’d never been so careless to read them during class. Especially so close to the end of the semester, with finals only a few weeks away. Stupid. No personal ad was worth losing a scholarship over.
He passed on, and I tucked the folds of the Missed Connections tighter under my textbook.
At the blackboard, Rankin underlined the words DEAD OR ALIVE. He’d scrawled them there yesterday at the end of class, along with a reading assignment, a disturbing preview of today’s lecture.
“Dead or alive? This is the question quantum physicists havewrestled with since Erwin Schrödinger first devised his experiment in 1935. Mr. Petrenko, do you care to enlighten us?”
Every head turned to the back of the room, where Oleksander Petrenko reclined, his feet crossed at the ankles, fingers threaded behind his head. The laces on his black high-tops were red, which always seemed out of character to me. Everything else about him—his buzz cut, the sharp angle of his jaw, his brusque Ukrainian accent—was clipped, stark, and ascetic.
He shrugged beneath a dark hoodie. “What is the point?” The consonants rolled off his tongue, stopping abruptly against his square white teeth. He blinked gray eyes, sharply outlined in dark lashes. His lids were hooded, making him look bored when he finally answered. “Schrödinger was a physicist. This is AP Chemistry.”
I suppressed a smile. I didn’t have one thing in common with Oleksa, but I couldn’t agree more. Schrödinger’s experiment wasn’t about chemistry or even physics. It was a matter of philosophy, and philosophy had no place here. Hard science follows rules. Its assertions are quantifiable and concrete. Clamp down the facts under a bright light and magnify them to the 10x power until the details are so clear, the truth isn’t a matter of debate. It justis.
Rankin raised one eyebrow and approached Oleksa’s desk, drumming his fingers on the surface. Oleksa regarded them coldly, as if he might enjoy breaking them.
“As usual, Mr. Petrenko, you are smarter than you are industrious. This is indeed Advanced Placement Chemistry. I assume this to mean you have the capacity to appreciate the broader implications of Schrödinger’s experiment. I am continually amazed that someone with such a large brain can be so small-minded.” I cringed, feeling the sting of Rankin’s insult. I wasn’t small-minded.
Oleksa crossed his arms and slouched lower in his chair.
“Anh Bui, care to take a stab at it?” Rankin turned, and heads shifted to my side of the room. Anh’s throat cleared beside me.
“It’s a thought experiment,” said Anh. “Schrödinger presented a scenario in which a live cat is sealed in a box with a toxic substance to prove that you can’t know for certain if the cat is dead or alive until the box is opened.”
Rankin waggled a finger in the air and surged to the blackboard. “Proof!” he exclaimed, making Anh and me jump in our seats as he scrawled frantic letters across the board. “Proof by contradiction! An indirect proof by which a proposition is proved true by proving it is impossible to be false.” He slapped his chalky hands together. “Schrödinger places a cat in a steel chamber with a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. If a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will in turn break the vial and kill the cat. But how do we know for certain?” He paused, looking expectantly from face to face. “Schrödinger presents a paradox. The cat cannot be both alive and dead at the same time, and yet to the universe outside the box, earlier theories of quantum mechanics suggest the cat would be both—dead and alive.”
“The cat’s dead,” muttered TJ behind me. Rankin’s eyes swung in his direction, and the class turned collectively to look at him. The brace on his outstretched leg bumped my chair as he shifted in his seat. Five years ago, TJ’s mom had locked herself in her Saab inside their garage with the engine running. As far as TJ was concerned, if you poisoned something and put it in a box, it was dead.
“Many would agree with you, Mr. Wiles,” Rankin said, brushing over the awkward pause and drawing heads back toward the front of the room. All except TJ, who was staring a hole through his lab table. “Schrödinger himself knew this idea was absurd, and yet he argued that we cannot know the true state of the cat until the box is opened. Until we can prove it.”
TJ grumbled something unintelligible. Beside me, Anh’s lips turned down. She’d stayed home sick when we’d dissected frogs in biology class, and done extra credit assignments for a week to make up for the grade. Anh was a vegetarian whocaught spiders in cups and put them outside rather than killthem. It didn’t matter that we were lab partners, or even that we were friends. If Rankin made us do something horrible to a cat for our lab final, I’d be on my own. Which, as much as I hated to admit it, might not be such a bad thing. Our cumulative scores for the year were a little too close for comfort.
I doodled a dying frog on the upper corner of my newspaper, an exaggerated tongue hanging out of his mouth and eyes rolled back in his head, then tipped it toward Anh so she could see it. She clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle, drawing Rankin’s attention toward our end of the room. I slid my textbook to cover the exposed edge of the page.
He frowned at us but didn’t bother with reprimands. Instead, he checked his watch and sighed. “Speaking of absurd, there is a pep rally for the soccer team in the gymnasium nextperiod. Lab report scores will be posted on Monday as usual, and we will reconvene to discuss your upcoming practical exam, in which you will design a chemistry experiment that demonstrates your understanding of proof by contradiction. That, Mr. Petrenko, is the point.”
Slamming textbooks and shuffling papers muffled his final instructions. Rankin raised his voice. “Mr. Petrenko, please come prepared to participate next week. And Leigh Boswell, please leave the personal classifieds in your locker, lest they become a distraction in my class.” The bell rang and Rankin reached for his mug. “Dismissed.”
My lungs collapsed as if the breath had been kicked out of them. I’d made it almost the entire year, and Rankin picked now—the tail end of the fourth quarter—to call me out in front of everyone.
Anh glared at Rankin, hunched over his desk. “Don’t worry about it, Leigh. I’m sure no one was paying attention. But you really should consider leaving the love connections in your locker. You’re going to get us both in trouble.”
I wiped my ink-blackened fingers on the front of my pants. “They’re not love connections.”
“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes playfully, like she knew something I didn’t. I adored Anh. Really, I did. But the last few weeks, it had been hard not to resent her crisp white shirts, her hair cropped to perfection over each neat eyebrow, the way she never broke a sweat before a test.
There was only one chemistry scholarship, and I was a fraction of a point behind her, which meant Anh stood between me and a chance for a new life. Alphabetically fated as lab partners for the last three years, we’d been setting the curve since. Which meant that we needed to help each other as much as we needed to crush each other. Most days, the thought of crushing Anh just hurt. And yet, I wanted to out-seat her so bad, I could taste it.
I hated myself for the thoughts I hoped she couldn’t read on my face. I felt like Schrödinger’s damned cat. It was stupid to think there was more than one possible outcome. To wish we could both come in first. To think of our situation as anything but black and white.
I jammed the Missed Connections into my backpack, scooped up my books, and then paused. There was graffiti on my desk that hadn’t been there yesterday. I’d been in such a hurry to check the paper, I hadn’t noticed it earlier. The letters were blue and bold, and exactly mirrored the words Rankin had written on the blackboard yesterday afternoon. DEAD OR ALIVE? I looked up, cradling my books. The room was almost empty.
“I thought I’d go to the library and study for our trig test. Are you going to the pep rally with Jeremy?”
Anh stood waiting beside me. I paused, trailing a finger over the letters. They felt creepy and intentional. The blue ink didn’t smudge, but I could still smell a hint of indelible marker fumes. Probably the same blue markers we used during labs. Someone must have been sitting in my seat before class and thought it’d be funny to freak me out. It wouldn’t have been the first time a classmate pulled a practical joke at my expense. This one seemed harmless enough.
Anh was still waiting. At this point, I wanted nothing more than to be as far away as possible from Mr. Rankin and the gossip-worthy morsel he’d just served up to my entire chem class. As if they didn’t already have enough to chew on. “Pep rally. Sure. See you at lunch.”
Jeremy waited outside my class, leaning against the wall and fiddling with his camera case, his baby-blond bangs falling limp over his eyes. He paused his tinkering to push his wire-rim glasses up his nose with a long, slender finger. Someone bumped into him, and when he looked up, his pale gray eyes found mine. He smiled.
I wanted to smile back, but my mood was too dark when I walked out of Rankin’s class and I couldn’t make myself return the greeting.
“Hello, sunshine.” He tossed me a pouch of Twinkies. Jeremy’s smiles felt brighter lately. Anh insisted he only smiled now when he was with me. The simple fact that I felt responsible for them made those rare smiles feel like spotlights. And I’d already been under enough spotlights this morning.
He looked past me, over my head, and frowned. “Is Anh coming?”
I dropped the World News section of my paper into his waiting hands, and kept the rest for myself. World news mattered to Jeremy. His world was bigger than mine. His parents owned time shares in Aruba and the Cayman Islands. I, on the other hand, never saw much sense in concerning myself with global headlines when my entire world fit inside a tin can trailer and the front seat of Jeremy’s Civic.
I handed him back a Twinkie and scarfed mine down in huge bites as I put distance between the lab and me. His camera case bounced against his chest as he tried to keep up.
“Good morning, Jeremy,” he mumbled through a mouthful of cake. “Great to see you. How was your morning? Fantastic,Nearly, thanks for asking. Hey, that’s great. Mine too.”
I flinched at the sound of my given name. Back in middle school, we’d had a writing lesson about eliminating unnecessary adverbs, and the class had latched on to my name: Nearly Boswell. I became an adverb. Expendable.
Jeremy had decided a new name would make me feel stronger. So he came up with Leigh.
Not that it had mattered. I’d gone from being “Nearly A Freak” in grade school, to “Nearly Has Boobs” in middle school, and now “Nearly Invisible” to most of West River High.
Jeremy never called me Nearly unless he wanted to make a point.
He looked me over thoughtfully. “Don’t let Rankin get to you. He’s not going to mess with your grade just because you were reading the personal ads during lab.”
“You heard that?” I glanced around to be sure no one was listening.
“Should I be jealous?” he chided. “Reading the personals used to be our thing. Since when did you start reading them with Anh?”
“How long were you standing out there? Why weren’t you in class?”
He waved a pink slip. “Excused absence. Friday morning therapy with Dr. Matthews.”
I didn’t break eye contact to double-check his excuse. He’d been seeing Dr. Matthews since he’d tried to OD on a bottle of cough syrup when he was twelve. “So why weren’t you in therapy, then?”
Jeremy fanned his fingers and a second pink slip appeared behind the first. “Excused absence. Illness.”
I gave him a quick head to toe. He definitely wasn’t sick. But he was smiling the same wide-eyed smile he wore the first day he picked me up for school, right after his father forbade him from driving his car anywhere near my neighborhood. The same reckless twinkle in his eyes he’d worn when I dragged him through the back window of my trailer on Friday nights while my mom was at work so our nosy neighbor wouldn’t see.
Normally just the thought of cutting class would have had him scrambling for a Xanax. He’d spent his whole life doing exactly what his parents expected of him—well, except for the time he spent with me. His father was wound way too tight for Jeremy to risk anything else. And yet, he was smiling—like he’d tasted his own free will, and he liked it.
“How many sessions have you skipped?”
He ignored my question and started casually toward the gym.
I trotted after him, taking two steps for each of his, growing more anxious when the smile slid from his face. “You’re going to be in serious trouble if your mother discovers you bugged out on your shrink appointment.”
“First she’d have to care,” he grumbled. “She didn’t even notice that I paid your rent with my dad’s poker money . . .”His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed the rest, as if only just realizing he’d said it out loud.
My eyes flew open wide. “You did what?”
“It’s no big deal,” he said, tucking me under his arm as he walked. “Dad came home from his game last night drunk with a lot of cash. Vince’s dad lost big.” He arched a brow conspiratorially. “So I snuck a few hundred and gave it to my mom. I told her it was your rent payment. It should keep her off your mom’s back for a few days.”
“You shouldn’t have done that, J. What if you get in trouble?” His parents were our landlords, and ever since my dad left, they hated us. Probably because we always seemed to be late with the rent.
“It’s no big deal.”
He pasted on a paper-thin smil...
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