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“Nobody ever did that,” says Agnes. “It’s an urban legend.”

“Are you sure?” says Fantine. “If the ashes were fine enough–”

“You don’t snort something that smells wrong by accident! Because when you start to snort, you put your nose near it!

“Cocaine dulls your sense of smell,” says Diego. “Also how are you so knowledgeable about snorting?”

“I’m knowledgeable about basic critical thinking skills,” says Agnes, “but only in comparison to present company.”

“Look, there’s only one way to resolve this.”

So they break into the crematorium. It doesn’t resolve anything, but Fantine’s coat smells like fire for a year.


“Please hold your applause until the last student has crossed,” says the dean in his careful accent. “Hector Alvarez!”

Hector steps double-time to the oomp oomp of the brass, grips firmly, and exits the stage with a diploma and a hushed audience. So too do his classmates, until it comes to Diego–whose cousin can’t strangle a whoop of proud glee.

After that each family dares a little more, and before the dean presents the class, the place is a roaring, stomping tide.

“Hey,” says his awkward dad, outside. “Sorry we didn’t–”

“I totally understand,” says Hector, who totally understands.


They crack the secret Derrida Vault and gape at the array within: devices quite unlike crowbars, yet dissimilar to lightsabers: plentiful and simple enough that everybody gets one. Or at least a pretty good facsimile.

Milan finds the one Laetitia brought home and opens some leftover moving boxes. “Best unpacker we’ve ever had!” he says, when he lets Fantine borrow it.

Fantine calls it a deboxer when she loans it to Diego; naturally, he takes it to the gym.

“That’s starting to cause some real pain now,” groans his boxing partner.

“It’s probably a good hurt!” grins Diego, winding up again.


Pretty soon Chicago’s going to end the fight with a kick to the ankle and a shoulder to the jaw, but right now she’s enjoying it. Harley’s got better reach. Harley’s got a scholarship to Wellesley. Lithe, blonde Harley the volleyball player can’t throw a punch.

Not that Chicago took boxing lessons: her cousin Diego taught her to fight filthy, when they were young and short together. Diego grew up with four big brothers. Chicago, with none, always wondered why he didn’t run and hide.

This is what she’s learning: it’s a hot sick good time, hurting people bigger than you.


And it’s so easy to feel badass with the headphones on, with the bass up. Agnes rocks her wrists to keep from dancing.

“I’m not afraid of the dark!” she exulted to Diego, earlier.


“I got my black belt, D,” she said. “My black belt.

He laughed. “You’re that much better than you were last week?”

“I gotta go. The police want me to register my hands.”

Agnes bops the shadows between streetlights, looking down all the alleys. This new and easy confidence. Sneaker Pimps and her hoodie.

You want some of this, she thinks.

Are you talking to me!


“I was informed that there would be pillowfights,” says Diego.

“I think first we do each other’s nails? And talk about boys,” says Caleb.

“Actually,” says Chyler, “we probably complain about our thighs while eating the whole damn box of Oreos.”

“I like my thighs okay.”

“That’s why you’re no good at this.”

“We can do the leopard spots in your hair, but not your eyebrows,” explains Ayane. “If it gets in your eyes–”

“But I wanted stripes in them!” says Kai, under the apron. “Like the leopard is hunting them. Zebra eyebrows! Zebrows! Wa-ching!

“Pillowfights?” Diego says sadly. “Pillowfights.”






“Um. Clean?”






“What?” asks Rose, startled.

“Girls smell like MSG,” Diego repeats. “That’s the question, right? What’s the most popular response so far?”

“Just ‘good,'” says Rose. “Nine of twenty-eight couldn’t come up with anything else.”

“Right,” says Diego, “like if you asked them how Chinese food tastes. Only they’d say ‘MSG’ instead of ‘good’ because they’ve been told that’s what it is.”

“Girls smell like Chinese food.”

“No,” he shakes his head, “but it does the same thing. Bypasses your discernment, your categories, all of that. Just hits the pleasure center straight on.”


Chyler’s voice is a little raw, a little stuffy, trembling on the edges. Some of her words burst out accidentally when she speaks, as if her throat’s still tight and she hasn’t quite got control of her diaphragm.

“You want to come over later?” Diego asks, keeping it light and easy.

“Yeah,” she says, “I’ll–I’ll get a cab.” There’s a tired giggle in her words. She’s been sobbing. Or laughing. Or both.

“You want to eat? I can put some noodles on.”

“No,” she says, “not hungry.”

She will be, Diego thinks. He picks down garlic, basil, sage and thyme.


“Eighteen days,” says August firmly. “To the minute.”

“Lord, honey, a year,” drawls Willie. “Or better yet, don’t.”

“Ooh, the same thing happened with me!” exclaims Laura. “And then that Friday, Ben… um, went into a coma.”

“A fortnight!” says Jason happily. “Actually I just wanted to say ‘fortnight.'”

“I don’t know,” says Hector, “A couple days?”

“Two weeks,” says Ayane. “Four weeks. No, two weeks.”

“It’s cool,” says Diego sagely. “Seriously, babe, I don’t mind. What was the question?”

“Five days,” says Agnes.

“A month,” says Tom.

“Just ask him, Chyler,” groans Emily, “honestly, can we talk about something else?”