When You Leave


By Monica Ropal

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 7, 2015. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Cass has a theory: everyone eventually leaves. Her father walked out, her mother is starting a new family, and she almost lost her best friend to cancer.

When Cass transfers to a preppy new private school, her plan is to stay anonymous by hiding her skater girl veneer beneath plaid skirts and knee socks. But when her cute locker neighbor, Cooper, takes an interest in Cass, keeping a safe distance isn’t easy. And once Cass lets her guard down, the unthinkable happens: Cooper is mysteriously murdered.

As the investigation unfolds, Cass’s close friend, Gav, is suspected as the killer. Determined to find answers, she must go through her list one by one until somebody cracks. However, will uncovering the truth really give Cass what she is looking for?


Chapter 1

I fought the tickle, my nose to the blackboard, stifling the urge to sneeze.

Old school detention was medieval. It would be a slow cruel death of boredom. Under my uniform skirt my knees bobbed. I glanced down to where my bag was flopped open on the floor next to me. I could see the inside pocket that held my phone. It would take me twenty seconds tops to text Mattie. He’d give me a thumb lashing for getting in bad with the Sister again, but any communication would help dash away the quiet in the empty room and calm the noise in my brain.

I let my forehead roll against the cool slate.

Only three weeks into my three-year sentence at St. Bernadette’s, and already I was on the brink of a rep with Sister Rita for my attitude. The plan was to have no rep at all, to suffer through in anonymity in my long blonde hair and just-like-everyone-else uniform. I’d even gone as far as straightening my slouch and sitting pretty with my knees close together to appear like a girl who belongs at a private school, instead of a skater girl who didn’t.

I thought of Mattie again. Even with his ten-minute skate ride from Kellogg Senior High, he’d be out there waiting. I’d barely flexed my fingers to reach for my phone, when the door clicked open, causing me to snap to attention.

Footsteps moved behind me. Those tapping footsteps didn’t belong to Sister Rita’s clodhoppers, and neither did the musky cologne that overpowered the smell of chalk.

Drawers slid open and closed. Nothing like the controlled movements of Sister Rita.

I braved a full turn around. There, with his back to me, was Cooper McCay standing at Sister’s desk, hand still gripped on the open drawer to his left. Cooper’s locker was two down from mine, but our social statuses were on entirely different planes. He was part of a loud, obnoxious, in-love-with-themselves trio of guys that had girls wetting themselves at every smile tossed their way.

Typical pretty boy. Except some things about him weren’t. Like how he’d get easily bored by the fawning cheerleaders or emit the occasional irritated sigh in the wake of his buddies’ foolishness. I’ll admit to finding him more . . . interesting than the average St. B pretty boy.

I took the opportunity to admire the strong line where his neck met the width of his shoulder. Not to mention other pleasing attributes that this view allowed. There was something about a good pair of khakis on a nice—

“Getting an eyeful, newbie?” he asked, pausing in his search, unruffled by my staring at him.

“It’s Cass,” I blurted out. Not even sure why. I usually wasn’t one for sharing. “Does Sister Rita know you’re going through her desk?”

He shrugged. “Maybe I’m the new cleaning staff?”

“And maybe you’re trying to steal her rosary.”

“Well, Cass, maybe—”

There were voices in the hall and I swung around toward the door, realizing we were about to be found out. I heard Cooper bump the edge of Sister Rita’s desk. In three long strides his arm was around me, pulling me toward him. Before I could blink, his lips were on mine. It could only have been sudden insanity that had me going along and not kneeing him in the balls.

“Mister McCay!” Sister Rita drew out the s, hissing her dismay.

He pulled away. His arm loosened its grip and my weak knees threatened to leave me puddled on the floor. And I’m not the kind to puddle. I rubbed my hand over my arm to smooth away the goose bumps.

Sister Rita looked as if her eyes might make a leap right over her reading glasses. She ran a hand over the cross hanging in the front of her blue sweater.

Cooper touched the back of his hand to his mouth. “Sorry. I was just about to go meet my father when I saw my girlfriend in here.” He paused to flash that crooked smile. “How embarrassing.”

He was either crazy, or a genius, or both. But embarrassed? Not.

Sister Rita’s eyes were nearly as big as mine as her head jerked from him to me and back to him.

“I wasn’t aware that you and Miss . . .” She trailed off as if placing us both in the same sentence was beyond her. She settled at narrowing her eyes.

He tipped his head in conspiracy. “Well, it’s sort of on the down low. Seeing as we come from such . . . different . . . families and all.”

He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, dodging a quick glance in my direction. Funny that he’d get all fidgety when it came to the truth of it.

“I see.” She looked over to me again, then her eyes flicked back to Cooper. Her left eyebrow arched. “Did you say your father was waiting for you?”

Either Cooper’s dad had some pull in this school or maybe she simply didn’t want to deal with the two of us, scandalizing as we were. Ha.

Sister Rita sat down at her desk, her attention turning to a stack of papers. “You are dismissed,” she said without looking back up.

Cooper picked up my bag and slung the strap over his shoulder. He held out his hand.

“Ready, Cass?” he asked.

Hell yes. Genius. Loved it. I took his hand and let him lead me out.

I know when I’m being used. But I never count it as being used if it’s mutually beneficial in some way.

The classroom door shut behind us. We couldn’t even make it ten steps before releasing the laughter we were holding. When his gaze lingered on me, the laughter dried and I pulled my hand from his.

I glanced around, but didn’t see anyone in the hall. Another two classrooms and we’d reached our row of lockers. I worked my lock and tried to avoid eye contact with Cooper as he slouched against his locker only inches away from me.

“Thanks. I needed a reason to explain why I was there,” Cooper said.

I shrugged. “I figured it was that. That . . . that was the thing.” I took a breath to school my emotions as the lock clicked open. All my friends were guys. Guys did not make me nervous. Usually.

Cooper rubbed the back of his neck again. “Yeah . . . ,” he said under his breath.

I heard a noise by the stairs, but when I checked around again, no one was there. “What were you looking for in Sister Rita’s desk?” I asked in a low voice, and grabbed my French text off the top shelf.

“She confiscated a girl’s iPod in second period. I told her I’d try to get it back for her.”

A girl. Figures. Then I remembered I didn’t care. “Whatevs. You got me out of detention early, so we’re even.”

“Yeah,” he said again. His body was already half turned, but his shoulders seemed to be shifting back and forth with physical indecision about whether to stay or bail.

I slammed the locker door and tucked the textbook under my arm. It was time to make the decision for him before he started getting any funny ideas.

“This never happened.”

Chapter 2

I turned away from Cooper and made my way to the art hallway at the back of the school, my daily incognito escape route. I hurried past the pottery room, glancing over as the kiln in the back whooshed—the fire hardening the day’s collection of bowls and ashtrays.

The fact that I had to shake my hands to rid my body of the rigid adrenaline was freaking me out. It was just a kiss. It didn’t mean anything.

I pushed through the exit door at the end of the hall and closed my eyes as the cold blast of air hit my warm cheeks. There was no lingering Minnesota summer humidity this year. I was sure we’d be seeing snow by Halloween.

I stepped out onto the loading dock and looked down at Mattie perched on the edge. His skateboard was next to him on his right, mine to his left. Even in fifty degrees he was already in a sweat, which told me he’d been having a skateboard sesh without me. His six-foot, skinny frame was folded up. Even with sweaty hair his cowlick refused to lie flat. I combed it down with my hand.

He tapped his watch with his finger twice.

You’re late.

It had been nine years since cancer surgery took Mattie’s voice. But without a glitch, I continued to hear him—only inside my head instead of through my ears. After growing up with him, every quirk of a brow and shrug of a shoulder spoke to me. Since he’s a guy, it’s possible I get more words out of him now than I did before.

I shifted my weight. “I know I’m late. Sister Rita—”

He hopped to his feet, throwing his gorilla arms out wide. Again?

“She has it out for me.”

He wiped his fingers across my forehead. Chalk.

“See? Medieval.”

I heard the door creak behind me and whipped around to see Cooper stepping through.

He glanced over at Mattie, and then back to me. My cheeks were feeling that long-lost August humidity.

Cooper held out my bag. “You forgot this. In detention.”

I glanced down at myself. Of course it wasn’t there. I stepped forward and grabbed my bag without looking at him. “Thanks,” I said, but in a whisper because I had forgotten to breathe. I stared at my bag, not daring to look at Mattie.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cooper turning back the way he came, until Mattie snapped his fingers.

Mattie wasn’t working at getting my attention, he was looking at Cooper. Mattie pointed at him and indicated his own face. I shot a look at Cooper and saw what Mattie was talking about. Cooper had the faint remains of chalk dust—my chalk dust—on his left cheek and forehead.

Cooper wiped it away with his sleeve. “Thanks. Sister Rita’s chalkboard needs some cleaning.” His eyes went to mine for a second, and then he pulled open the door and went back inside, leaving Mattie and me in silence.

Mattie raised his eyebrows at me.

“As if,” I said, and left it at that.

Really? He asked with a tip of his head.

“It’s nothing. It never even happened.”

“It” what?

“Drop it. I have a skate park to thrash.” I waited to see if he was going to interrogate me, but when he started kicking chips of loose cement over the edge into the parking lot, I figured he must be over it . . . or not interested . . . or biding his time to use it against me.

I took the steps down to the uneven blacktop, then moved behind Dumpsters along the brick wall. I heard Mattie’s shoes smack as he jumped down instead of using the stairs. I tried to ignore the smells of rotting carpet and glue coming from the Dumpsters as I pulled out the change of clothes from my bag.

“Sister Rita does have it out for me, though,” I said, pulling my pants over my tights.

I peeked around to see Mattie feigning a yawn.

“It’s true.” Pants buttoned, I unhooked the skirt. “You’d think slouching was a capital offense—what?”

His shoulders were doing their bounce of silent laughter. He shook his head at me.

You did not.

“No, I didn’t get detention for slouching. I’m just saying. I don’t know what I did wrong. Move and breathe? I swear the woman hates everything about me.” I started to unbutton my shirt.

Oh, Cass, you roll me.

He was the first to call me Cass. Not “Cassie” like my parents, or “Cassandra” like Grandma Rossi or Sister Rita. Just Cass.

When I got to the final button I realized his shoulders had stilled and his eyes were fixed.

“Mattie you have two seconds to turn your fat face before I break it.”

He turned, but there went the shoulders again.

I changed my shirt, zipped on my hoodie, and tied my hair in a knot. It wasn’t that he’d never seen me in a sports bra. He’d no doubt seen me in less over the years of friendship that had sprouted in toddlerhood. But it was only recently that there was anything there to see. I’m what you’d call a late bloomer.

“Go ahead and laugh, but let me remind you, I did not even let out a single giggle when you started shaving—yes, I noticed—or when I found those dirty mags in your—”

He clamped a hand over my mouth and rested his forehead against my temple.

I’m sorry.

And I knew he was. Mattie never lied to me. But I never claimed to be as good as him.

He pulled away and stomped the tail of my board, catching it midair, before handing it over.

Two more taps on his watch. We’re late.

Chapter 3

Gav and Franklin were already at the skate park when we arrived. Franklin was working on rails in the Street Plaza and Gav was on the half pipe—hard to miss with his lock of black hair dyed fluorescent green to match the bottom of his board. I pulled on my helmet and pads and watched him do a series of frontside early grabs. That boy could do frontside early grabs forever. He didn’t care a lot for tricks. But me? If I don’t land a tre flip this year I might not be able to skate anymore. I waited for his last axle stall and dropped in right next to him.

I’m kidding about the tre flip. Sort of. I’d become more competitive lately. If I’m not hitting it hard and working up a sweat, then I’m not doing it right. I wanted to leave the pipe exhausted. Wrung out. Thoughtless. I loved the physicality of skating. I loved getting my mind and body in sync with something amazing. And I loved that when the boys and I were out together, skating was ours. We owned it.

But thirty seconds after dropping in, Cooper was on my mind and my wheel hit the coping. I slid down on my knee pads.

Gav came to join me as I sulked in the grass. “What’s up with the sucking today?” he said. “You were way closer to nailing it a week ago.”

“Not feeling it today.”

“Did something happen?”

“Why would something need to happen? I’m just not feeling it.”

He laughed. “You think you have it all nailed down, but I know you. You wear your heart on your sleeve when you skate. I see you.” Gav was the unofficial caretaker of the group. Always checking in. Always trying to get us to open up.

“What do you see, idiot?” I said, swinging my arm around his neck, ignoring the slick of sweat from his hair on my skin.

“Something has changed.”

I took too long to answer. Because I didn’t know the answer. No, I did know. “Nothing has changed. I’m here. I’m going to kill that tre flip before it kills me.”

The next day I managed to dodge Cooper’s occasional glances by stifling my own ill-timed glances. I told myself to knock it off.

After school I sat on the bench next to Mattie at the bus stop across from my school. We were waiting for the 63B bus to take us up to Rosedale Mall. Our buddy Franklin knew some girl from Kellogg High who could get us free sub sandwiches when she was working. With his American Indian/something exotic ethnicity, Franklin was the kind of attractive that always had some girl willing to get us some thing. Gav was supposed to meet us, too, but had apparently made some excuse to Franklin about being late.

I thought of Cooper again, and the way his eyes would move to mine when we were both at our lockers, and how it made my heart beat fast. Even now, thinking about it was affecting me. Aware of Mattie’s knee bouncing next to mine, I shook off my thoughts of Cooper and glanced at my watch. Six minutes until the next bus. Franklin’s too-loud-for-public voice was rattling on about the sandwich chick and how her boobs were as big as—

“This chick better have sandwiches as big as her tits,” I said, cutting him off. “I’m starving.”

Franklin slapped his leg. “Damn! Sounds like the perfect woman. Big sandwiches and titties. Am I right, Mattie?” Franklin laughed, not waiting for Mattie to answer.

Franklin was tall, like Mattie. But where Mattie had the makings of some kind of build going on, Franklin was just a bag of bones. He looked like straight up and down six o’clock. His dark arms stretched out dramatically, letting out a yawn that was more like a moaning yowl, causing a lady in a business suit to edge farther down the sidewalk away from us. Idiot.

Mattie’s knee stilled and I glanced over at him. He was squinting with his gaze across the street, on the fence that lined the grounds of St. Bernadette’s. I was about to question him when I saw it for myself.

Gav, as usual, was hard to miss among the lingering uniforms that lined the sidewalk in front of my school. He wore his black Windbreaker lined with fluorescent green piping, matching the lock of hair. Hard to miss.

I opened my mouth, but Franklin was already calling out to him. Gav didn’t seem to hear him across the traffic. Instead of looking for us, he was chatting with a tall brown-haired girl. Weird because Gav wasn’t generally into brunettes, and weirder because he wasn’t at all into girls.

“Who dat girlie?” Franklin mumbled under his breath.

We watched Gav for a minute, shooting the breeze with this stranger, and I glanced again at my watch. Two minutes. My phone buzzed and I heard Franklin’s alert tone next to me.

Should I get him? Mattie had texted, now standing.

Behind Gav, two guys stepped through the school gates onto the sidewalk. One was a shorter African-American-looking guy, the other a taller brown-haired white guy. Both built thick like footballers. As soon as they saw Gav with the brunette girlie, they went straight for him. I sucked in a breath as the bigger one shoved Gav from behind, causing him to lose his footing. I stood up and toed the curb. Those guys . . . they were Cooper’s friends who rounded out the popular trio. I scanned the space that was visible through the gates—without any sign of Cooper—and looked back to Gav.

Even the shorter one, who I think was called Eli, had a foot on Gav, not to mention fifty pounds of muscle. Devon, the taller one, was yelling with a finger pointed in Gav’s face. I was still processing when the movement started around me. Franklin and Mattie were off the curb and edging forward, barely waiting for a break in traffic. I reached out for their arms. I tried to simultaneously calculate the level of danger Gav was in, while making sure Mattie and Franklin didn’t get themselves creamed by the heavy traffic on Snelling Avenue.

“Wait,” I said.

The St. B’s guys were backing off. Gav looked across to us, giving a single nod of reassurance, before dropping his board down and riding toward the intersection as the light turned green for him to cross. Franklin jogged over to meet him halfway on the crosswalk. I jerked the back of Mattie’s hoodie to get him back up on the curb as a Lincoln rolled by and nearly shined Mattie’s shoes with its tires.

We boarded the bus together and paid our fare in line. The driver grunted at us. Franklin and Gav plopped down in the sideways bench behind the driver, and Mattie edged over in the first row on Gav’s right, and I dropped in next to Mattie.

“You okay?” I said to Gav, leaning forward. “What was up with those guys?”

Gav stood up and stuffed his wallet in his back pocket. He took his time shaking out his legs and rolling his neck. Gav was ADHD, so answers would come whenever he and his body were ready. “Typical shit. Skater haters, you know.”

The bus jerked as it started off again. I looked out the window across Mattie and my heart jumped as I saw Cooper with Devon and Eli. Mattie was eyeing me sideways, but he didn’t say anything.

Franklin was also staring out the window. “Assholes. All of them. Steer your brilliant mind clear of that lot, Cass.”

I stiffened and dropped my gaze to Gav’s board. The wheels were Racers brand. High end, big buck. Gav and the boys live in the Frogtown area of St. Paul. Frogtown boys. Frogtown, though only a handful of miles from the hipster area of St. B’s, might as well be another planet. High crime, low income. Bulletproof windows around the cashiers at the gas stations and off-duty cops at the grocery.

Gav and his sister, Greta, live mostly with their mom who got by on welfare and child support, which they never saw the results of. He never had anything that wasn’t charity, borrowed, or stolen. I should know because up until we moved in with my stepdad, Mom and I lived two doors down from Gav. Our mothers were constantly comparing notes on who was giving away what. I remember being in kindergarten and Gav’s mom and dad sharing food stamps and WIC coupons with us, or us with them, depending on who was having a better month. Of course, all that changed when Mom remarried. Now we ate steak once a week, had a TV in every room, and Mom acted like she didn’t know Gav when he came over. As I opened my mouth to ask Gav about the new wheels, Franklin broke in.

“Those guys are all about ego. They think they can shit on us. Just like Decker at Harding, jumping us every chance he got.”

My stomach turned at the thought. In junior high, Vaughn Decker and his buds made it their hobby to beat on the boys, and talk a mile to me when they caught any of us out alone. They broke Gav’s arm one day after school. Cops believed their story that it was an accident, and never even bothered to press charges or generally just give a damn. Luckily, Decker moved away shortly after that or Franklin might have made good on all his chat about street justice. But this wasn’t like that. Cooper wasn’t like that.

Franklin was still going off. “If they think they can just disrespect us ’cause we’re skaters, they’re gonna have another thing coming. Am I right?”

I really hated when Franklin asked “Am I right?” like we all had to agree with him about everything. Mattie’s knee budged into mine and I realized Franklin was staring at me.

“Swear to God, Cass, you can make out with every guy at the Aquatennial Skate Fair next summer—”

“Again,” Gav said with a smile.

“—just don’t fall for any of those losers,” Franklin said.

I looked at Gav who was barely holding back his laughter. I felt the smile spread across my face. “Excuse me. There was one guy at the skate fair.”

“You got the numbers of, like, three others!” Gav said.

“Please. There were only two other skater girls at the entire fair and, like, a hundred guys. Could’ve gotten more.”

Mattie’s shoulders were going.

“You probably got more numbers than me, Gav,” I said.

“True. I got mad game.”

Next to him Franklin’s green eyes were still drilling into me from behind his dark bangs. He was taking my disregard for his statement as mutiny. His eyes glided over to Mattie. Had Mattie given something away?

I spoke up to get Franklin’s attention back on me. “Don’t worry. I’m not at that school to make friends, especially with guys like that.”

Chapter 4

On Thursday I was still trying hard, but failing badly, at dodging eye contact with Cooper. Something was different, and it took me until midmorning to realize what it was. He’d been smiling at me. Smiling made me nervous. If the kiss never happened, there was no reason for smiling.

At first I thought it was my imagination. I kept my head down as I approached my locker between second and third period trying to think what I needed, with the usual chaos thundering around me in the hall. Cooper was whispering to someone standing between us. I glanced just for a second and could see the framing of brown hair and wide brown eyes simpering up at Cooper on his other side. She looked like Gav’s girlie from outside the school.

“It’s just between us, right? I don’t want anyone else to know,” she said to Cooper.


  • “Romance and a murder mystery intermingle in this gritty and engaging novel… Readers will find much to like in this fast-paced and well-written story.”
    —School Library Journal

On Sale
Apr 7, 2015
Page Count
336 pages
Running Press Kids

Monica Ropal

About the Author

Monica Ropal lives in friendly St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband and three children — whom she lovingly refers to as her three-ring circus. In addition to writing and playing ringmaster, Monica also works as a hospice nurse.

Learn more about this author