SIXTEEN YEARS OLD and the new kid at school, Natalie Fuentes would like nothing better than to avoid attention. But before making it to even her first class, Natalie witnesses a brutal attack by a masked stranger on the schoolâe(TM)s janitor and soon befriends his son, Jacob, as she pieces together what exactly is going on at Western High.
From Strange Times at Western High by Emily Pohl-Weary:
Thursday morning sunlight crashed through the east-facingwindows of her room and woke Natalie up inthe middle of a dream. Sheâe(TM)d been back in the oldBrooklyn apartment, before things got really bad between herparents. The three of them were lounging on the couch, watchingthe evening news like they did every night.
Suddenly the scene had shifted. Her parents faced off ateither end of the couch, screaming over her head about whoseturn it was to walk the dog. Brenda got louder and more emotionalin response to Jorge withdrawing. Both of them wereignoring Natalie, who was caught in the middle, trying toshut out their screaming by covering her ears with her hands.Brenda threatened to call the cops if Jorge didnâe(TM)t take the dogto the park. She wound back her arm to whip the leash at hishead just when Natalieâe(TM)s eyes popped open.
She lay there in bed, blinking, disoriented by the fact thather family had never owned a dog. When she finally realized itwas a dream, she groaned loudly and burrowed down into thepillows. Unfortunately, her stomach was rumbling insistently.
She gave up on sleep and threw back the comforter witha dramatic sigh. It felt like she was starring in a bad B-moviecalled Betrayal Of The Fifty-Foot Parental Units or maybeAttack Of The Killer Blondes. She swung her legs off the bed andpulled on a jean skirt and a T-shirt, thinking she should startscreen-printing her own slogan shirts with fake movie posterson them.
When she left the house to head to school, she found Ruthand Matt waiting outside. She told them to go on without her,that she was skipping gym class. As the Hamiltons rode off,Natalie scanned the front windows of her house to make sureher dad wasnâe(TM)t watching, then dragged her bike around to theside walkway. Putting on her MP3 player, she sat down on theground to wait. Once heâe(TM)d driven off, she ran back inside andwent up to her room, where she turned on her computer andsurfed over to Jacobâe(TM)s website to pass the time.
The front page was a collection of short news items hefound interesting. Most of them were about ownership of Internetcompanies and had comments written underneath them bypeople with nicknames like âeoeSomeguy,âe âeoeGhostâe and âeoeSpider.âe The most recent item was about a hacker whoâe(TM)d managed toread the U.S. Secret Serviceâe(TM)s email for over a year. She loggedin under the username âeoeNataliaâe and posted a quick responseto let him know sheâe(TM)d stopped by.
Next, she clicked on the Info page. There, she found aprofile of Jacobâe(TM)s face drawn entirely out of ASCII letters (itwas virtually impossible to tell it was him) and a couple ofsentences next to it: âeoeAfter being educated the hard wayabout security on the Internet, Jacob Kaufman decided heneeded to figure out what the people whoâe(TM)d had him arrestedwere able to see. The publisher of the online magazine TheAnarchives, heâe(TM)s also known as a Toronto high school student.âe
At that point, it was almost ten, so she took off for schooland discovered that someone had painted the bike stand withheavy black paint overnight. It was more than a little disconcertingto lock up to an enormous black banana. She swung bythe auditorium doors to see if the threat to Principal Jefferson was stillthere, but theyâe(TM)d been scrubbed clean.
Avoiding her locker, she headed straight to geography. Halfa dozen students dotted the room when she arrived. Just asshe was about to take her place under the window again, shenoticed that Jacob was sitting at the back of the room, hunchedover the short reading theyâe(TM)d been assigned during yesterdayâe(TM)sclass. She zigzagged through the desks and tapped him on theshoulder.
âeoeHey,âe he said.
âeoeYouâe(TM)re not surprised to see me.âe
âeoeI already knew you were in this class.âe
His eyes glinted. âeoeI have my ways.âe
She wiggled spirit fingers. âeoeOoh. The mysterious computerhacker is investigating me.âe
His jaw dropped.
âeoeYou didnâe(TM)t think I knew about your sordid past, did you?âe
âeoeWell, to be honest, how do you?âe
She slipped into a seat across the aisle from him. âeoeEasy. IGoogled you.âe
âeoeAhh. The joys of living under a global monitoring system.âe
She opened her bag and took out her binder. âeoeHowâe(TM)s yourfather doing?âe
âeoeBetterâe"much better, actually. Theyâe(TM)re releasing him thisafternoon.âe
âeoeYeah, Iâe(TM)m going to get him after school. Hospitals like tofree up beds as soon as possible.âe
âeoeNot in the States. They keep you there forever, to run upyour bill.âe
The classroom door opened, and Ms. Rahman entered, followedby a flood of students who had clearly been stalling inthe hallway until the very last second. Natalie didnâe(TM)t have anopportunity to ask any more questions.
Natalie noticed Jacob scribbling something on a piece ofpaper. He folded it into a small square and tossed it onto herdesk while the teacher was writing notes on the blackboard.
She opened it:
Need to talk. Meet me in the hallway near my dadâe(TM)s office afterschool. âe" J
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