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The Force of Gravity

By:Kelly Stevenson



The white tiled floor is icy against my knees. My heart pounds erratically, my chest tightening around it like a boa constrictor. I clutch my stomach.

Just breathe.

The tiles sway, then rush toward me, and I slap my hands against the floor before it smacks my face. I hover over the floor as my lungs burn, wondering if this is what it feels like to drown.

Why can’t I get any air?

I collapse on my side, pressing my face against the cold stone, and close my eyes.

Maybe I am drowning.

I’ve been treading water for far too long, and I can’t do it anymore. I’m tired. Tired of hurting everyone around me. Tired of living a lie. Tired of staying afloat.

My body sinks into the unwelcoming tile, and I imagine being submersed in the frigid water as it swallows me whole. The harsh fluorescent light penetrates my eyelids, but soon fades as I sink even deeper into the darkened water.

My body goes limp as I let go.


I HIT THE SNOOZE BUTTON for the countless time and squint at the numbers on the clock.

6:55 a.m.

Panic shoots through me. I rip off the covers and race to the bathroom, striking the corner of the wall with my hip.


“Kaley?” my dad calls as he walks out of his bedroom. “You okay?”

“Yes,” I croak, hobbling into the bathroom.

“Are you just now getting up?”

“Yes! I have to hurry!”

I shove the door closed and frantically brush my teeth, catching a glance of my hideous reflection in the mirror. The whites of my eyes are bloodshot and invading on the blue. Oh, hell. I look like a walking ad for substance abuse. After washing my face, I force a comb through my tangled hair, but it’s near hopeless. Giving up, I decide on a ponytail. I sweep blush across my cheeks and throw on mascara in an attempt to look less like a zombie, but the dark circles under my eyes will only fade with sleep. Agitated, I hustle back into my bedroom to change.

7:10 a.m.

First period starts in ten minutes. Not good. Mr. Hanson not only detests tardiness, but uses humiliation tactics to ensure it’s never repeated. I snag a crumpled pair of jeans off the floor and throw them on before ripping a plain white T-shirt off a hanger and pulling it over my head. I slip on my sandals as I double-up on my deodorant, then snatch my bag and sprint down the stairs. The smell of coffee lingers throughout the house, and I hesitate for a split second.

No time.

I will have to endure first period precalculus—the worst subject in the entire universe—and grumpy old Hanson without my morning coffee.

On a Monday.

God help us all.

I dash out the front door and toss my bag into the backseat of my 1970 Chevelle and start the engine. Even in the mild March weather of Phoenix, Arizona, my car prefers to be warmed up before driven. But today won’t allow such a luxury, and my car groans as I slam on the gas.

The Chevelle and I have a love-hate relationship. I love finally having my own car, but I kind of loathe the beast. It runs okay—as long as it starts—and the chipped black paint is a dull shade of embarrassment. My boyfriend, Tommy, was able to hook my parents up with a great deal through his dad’s auto shop. And I really am grateful . . . for the most part.

Tommy is the reason I’m late this morning. We stayed up until two in the morning talking on the phone. There’s no excuse, really, since we just spent our entire spring break practically inseparable. Part of me was worried how he’d take the news about me moving to Los Angeles for college, but he’s been nothing but supportive. Even though he has no college aspirations, he’s surprisingly relaxed about us being in a long-distance relationship. I wish I could say I felt the same.

We’ve hung out in the same circle of friends since junior high, but it wasn’t until last summer that we finally started dating. We became exclusive on the last day of summer vacation and things have never been better. Well, except that he’s become a little restless about going all the way. I know he gets a lot of flak from his friends about the fact that he hasn’t scored with me yet—sometimes I overhear them asking him about it. Boys are so vile.

Tommy isn’t a virgin, but he’s only had sex once in his life. It was at the first party of the summer with some random girl about two weeks before we started dating. Classy, I know. But he isn’t a bad guy; he’s pretty great, actually. He’s just . . . well, a guy. I know any other girl in school would have slept with the dark-haired, blue-eyed hunk by now, but I’m not ready to lose my virginity just yet. I’m still waiting for the perfect moment.

I pull into the crowded parking lot and circle around twice before parking on the side of the road. I glance at my phone and groan.

7:35 a.m.

I made pretty good time, but I’m still terribly late as far as Horrible Hanson is concerned. To be blunt, Mr. Hanson is a grouchy old man who’s probably been on tenure longer than I’ve been alive. I got stuck with him because I procrastinated on my registration and missed out on the good teachers. Now it’s mid-semester and I am somehow holding onto an A. But to be honest, I always feel like I am hanging on by a thread.

I snatch my bag and dash across the student lot. It’s a pretty large campus—home to a huge two-story building and several sports fields, including the baseball diamond where Tommy is currently in mid-season.

When I arrive at the entrance, I yank open the heavy blue door. It slams against the brick wall, and I flinch as the sound ricochets through the silence. My footsteps echo as I sprint down the hallway, and I try to mentally prepare myself for Mr. Hanson’s wrath. I’ve never been late to his class for this very reason. It’s cringeworthy just watching him lay into a student. This time, that student will be me.

I round the corner and rush through the classroom doorway, avoiding all potential eye contact, and plop down in my seat—which unfortunately is front row center. I literally brace my body as I stare at my desk, waiting to be humiliated.

But it never comes.

Instead, I hear an unfamiliar voice.

“Are you Kaley Kennedy?”

I look up and see a much younger man than I’m expecting. He’s holding the class roster in his hands and is wearing what looks to be a very expensive three-piece suit. His warm caramel eyes pierce into mine, and I try to find my voice.

“Um . . . yes?” I say, unsure why my answer comes out as a question.

He erases what is probably an absentee mark, and I take advantage of his brief distraction to quickly look him over. I have no idea where this guy came from, but there’s no way he’s a math teacher. First of all, he looks like some Ivy League professor, or a prestigious lawyer. And yet, he’s so good-looking and youthful, he gives the impression of a European fashion model—so much so that I’m surprised a British accent didn’t come pouring out. Either way, he looks completely out of place in a public high school in the middle of the East Valley suburbs.

He catches me staring at his perfectly disheveled locks—that remind me of milk chocolate drizzled with honey—and I drop my gaze to my desk, remembering how unsightly I look. Wait . . . why do I even care? I should just be grateful I’m late on the one day Mr. Hanson isn’t here.

His dark-brown designer slacks interrupt my thoughts as they come into view. Standing directly in front of my desk, he peers down at me as I slowly raise my head, meeting his focused eyes. Suddenly, I can’t feel my lips.

He speaks softly, and I force myself to hold his tranquilizing gaze. “I just got through informing the class that Mr. Hanson passed away last week.”

“Oh shit.” My face grows hot at my explicit reaction, and I quickly mumble “Sorry.” I sense the faint hint of a smile in his eyes for a moment before he continues.

“He died of a massive heart attack Thursday night,” he says. “The school counselor was here at the beginning of class to offer counseling for all of his students. I wrote her office hours on the board, if you need them.”

I peer up at the board and admire his perfect handwriting in all caps.

“I’m Mr. Slate,” he continues, “and I’ll be your new math teacher for the rest of the semester.” He pulls his gaze away from mine as he turns to his desk, and my mouth goes dry.

Okay, so he’s not a substitute. He’ll be here every single day . . . no big deal.

Mr. Slate instructs us to open up our textbooks and asks us where we left off as I shuffle in my bag for a pencil. The class begins to buzz with chatter, and I desperately try to smooth out my ponytail. What is my deal? My reaction to him is so silly. It’s probably just my lack of sleep. And let’s face it—it’s shocking to have such a hot math teacher. I mean, has there ever been one before in the history of time? He’s like some kind of mathematical unicorn. I scan the classroom and notice Avery—who sits three seats to the right of me, directly in front of his desk. She’s sitting up straight, gazing at him like a pit bull salivating over tenderloin. I roll my eyes and bring my attention back to my textbook.

In what normally drags on, class flies by in a blur. I try my best to pay attention to the equations we’re working on, but he’s so mesmerizing that I end up observing him more than the assignment. And it turns out he’s funny on top of everything else. He has the class laughing as he frets over the dirty whiteboard.