Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson




CHAPTER 1


By the time the bell rang, I was already halfway out the door.

I didn’t look behind me as I hustled down the hallway of Stanwich High School, knowing I was missing last-minute assignments and instructions, but at the moment, not caring.

I had honestly not been paying the slightest bit of attention in the second half of AP US History. I’d spent the last twenty minutes of class with my eyes fixed to the clock on the wall, willing it to go faster, not taking in a word of what Mr. Batcheler was saying about the Continental Congress. Because the sooner class ended, the sooner I could get to Advanced Acting… and the sooner I’d find out the casting for King Lear.

And that cast list—seeing that piece of paper—would answer the question that had been keeping me up nights. It would let me know if I’d gotten the part that would determine the rest of my year, college acceptances, and, potentially, my entire life going forward.

I had been so fast out the door that the hallways weren’t too full yet, but even so, I was surrounded by people walking just as fast as I was, and not because they had life-changing news they needed to get. (I mean, as far as I knew. Maybe the kids who were really into forensic science or coding were also waiting on big news. I didn’t know their lives.) Stanwich High was huge—over two thousand kids—and as a result the building had been expanded over the years to try and accommodate everyone, sprouting wings and annexes and ad hoc trailer classrooms. But even though the school had gotten bigger, the time allotted to get from one class to another had not gotten longer, which meant that everyone just tended to hustle in the hallways, like this particular public school in suburban Connecticut was home to a surprising number of speed walkers.

And today, I was among them as I beelined for my locker.

It wasn’t technically mine. I shared the locker of my best friend, Stevie Sinclair. I’d misplaced my combination the first week of school, and rather than go through the hassle of dealing with the front office, I’d just started using Stevie’s. It worked out, since we could drop off and pick up things for each other, and leave notes on the occasions our phones got confiscated.

I grabbed my coat, tossed three books in my bag, then after a moment’s hesitation, grabbed Stevie’s coat for her too. The first play meeting was always right after school, after the cast list was posted. And since we had Advanced Acting as our last class of the day, this way we could just stay in the theater and Stevie wouldn’t have to come trekking back over here to get her long black puffer.

I slammed the locker shut and gave the dial a spin. I wanted to get over to the theater as soon as I could, to be in the building where it happened. I couldn’t help but think that the next time I saw this door—the next time I opened this locker—I would know. About the cast list, and everything after.

I would know if I’d gotten Cordelia.

“Kat!” I looked over to see Zach Ellison speed-walking toward me. Stevie had been mentioning lately that she thought he was cute, and Zach always seemed to be hanging around the locker when she was here too, so I was subtly trying to nudge them together. Stevie hadn’t expressed any interest in anyone since her boyfriend of a year had dumped her at the end of the summer. As it was now early November, it was well past time for her to be crushing on someone new, and Zach seemed like a promising rebound.

“Hey,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Can you give this to Stevie for me?” he asked, digging in his messenger bag and coming up with a marine biology textbook. He held it out and I took it with a silent sigh. Why were boys so stupid? Why didn’t he realize that he could have used this opportunity to give it back to Stevie himself?

“Sure,” I said, tucking it under my arm, since my bag was getting pretty full. It wasn’t surprising that he’d given something of Stevie’s to me. Since we were always together, people tended to treat us like we ran an old-timey post office or something, knowing we could get whatever it was—clothes, books, messages, veiled threats, and one time an oversized teddy bear—to the other one. “But you could also give it to her yourself,” I said, raising an eyebrow.

Zach just blinked at me. “But you’re right here.”

“Okay,” I said, giving up. I didn’t have time to give Zach Ellison instructions on flirting opportunities. I had to get to the theater building. “See you.” I headed down the hall, which was now more crowded than before. I made it to the end of the hall, then pushed out of the doors of Lansing House and joined the crowd going down the stairs to the student center. Stanwich High was divided into four houses, like a fancy British boarding school, but with less cricket and more AXE body spray.

I crossed my fingers as I took the curving staircase down to the student center. It felt like maybe—hopefully—everything was lining up. In my experience, you didn’t get many moments like this, and I wanted to savor it. It was a Friday, my favorite day, in November—my favorite month. It wasn’t freezing yet, but there had been a bite in the air all week, the good kind of cold, the kind that made you dig for your thicker sweaters in the cedar closet and search for last year’s gloves, the kind that let you know that winter really was on its way.

The first semester of senior year hadn’t been quite as hard as we’d all been led to believe, which was a huge relief, since junior year had come close to doing me in. My bangs had finally grown out enough that I could tuck them behind my ears (never, ever get breakup bangs. You will regret them. Stevie and my stylist and all the people who answered my Insta poll had told me this, but I hadn’t listened), and I was wearing my new purple cashmere turtleneck sweater, the one with little puffs at the top of the sleeves.