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By Erin Downing
Also by Erin Downing Kiss It Drive Me Crazy Prom Crashers Dancing Queen A Funny Thing About Love (Three Book Collection) Juicy Gossip
Text Copyright © 2012 by Erin Soderberg Downing Cover Photo/Design Copyright © 2012 by Vania Stoyanova/VLC Productions
The rain had finally stopped and slivers of clear. A keg was nestled inside a pile of blankets in the wagon bed. I squeezed in beside her to peek outside.” We continued to stare out the window. He’s even hotter. The view from the wagon is probably pretty spectacular when you’re half-passed-out and spinning. watching as Johnny drove his lawn mower in figure eights. It had stayed upright. “Is he really an idiot?” Grace asked innocently. “But I guess the mower isn’t just for the beer. He ducked under a thick vine and laughed—a short. wasn’t he?” . I’d been lucky enough to witness my uncle Mitch swaying into the keg before he pretended to mount it (super-gross. Ella blurted out. “Idiot!” But Johnny just laughed and hopped off the mower to put his makeshift beer tractor back together again. “Ooh. I haven’t seen him without a hat since school let out last year. trying to count in my head as I watched Johnny goof off on the lawn below. It’s also Johnny’s drunk-girl limo. “Couldn’t his friends just help him carry it? Does he really need to hitch up that busted old wagon every time he throws a kegger?” Grace Cutler leaned over both of us for a better view. narrowing her eyes to try to see who else was over at Johnny’s house. cheering when Johnny made a sharp turn and accidentally tipped the wagon. I know). Her strawberry-scented curls tickled my bare shoulder. The roar of a riding lawn mower cut through the silence of the early evening as my neighbor Johnny Rush drove straight through the middle of a clump of overgrown raspberry bushes. loud burst of a laugh—when the thorny branch snagged his stocking cap off his head. holding it hostage in midair as the lawn mower lurched on through sodden grass. if that’s possible. That’s saying something—Mitch is not a slim dude. slowly weaving his way back to his hat. anyway?” Ella Ambrose stared out my open bedroom window at two thick. The keg rolled out onto the grass and I heard someone shout. right?” I asked. sapphire sky ripped through the gray horizon across the lake. I hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to lift kegs.” “A keg must weigh at least fifty pounds. but they seemed awfully heavy. A few of his friends assisted from across the lawn. Johnny had attached an old Radio Flyer to the back of the mower with rope. Think about how long that walk from the beach must feel when you’re completely wasted. “He was in AP English last year. At my dad’s last birthday party. Johnny’s hair’s gotten really long this summer. wet strips of matted-down grass that made a zigzag pattern across my neighbor’s yard.CHAPTER ONE “How much does a keg weigh.
waiting for some answer.” “Finally.” “It could be one of his last parties ever.” Ella singsonged. trying to pull myself away from the window. The couch was too short for my lanky frame.” I said. . She looked like that a lot. “You sure? You’re welcome to join. We ignored each other. then tucked his hands into the pockets of his baggy carpenter pants. hand in his hair.” I declined out of habit. Grace was often very serious about not-such-serious stuff. then yelled. Her incredible focus had earned her straight As and the captainship of all her sports for this year.” “It’s okay. so I draped one leg over the edge and wiggled my foot in midair. and the rest of last year’s seniors are going to take off soon. “Yeah. watching Johnny. Johnny waved.” I shrugged. but his parties were intimidating and I knew I’d feel out of place. fully aware that Johnny probably couldn’t see my head shake. Grace. For example. by the lake. my family had moved less than two miles from our old neighborhood—where I’d lived around the corner from Grace and just three blocks from Ella—but it felt like a different universe. “He’s not that bad. watching from above like some sort of creep as our neighbors had parties. That was enough to keep me away. but she sort of had a hard time loosening up. Johnny was staring up at my bedroom window. “A bunch of people from his class have already left for college. No one ever got hurt being overly cautious.” Grace pulled her eyebrows together. Three smaller houses could have fit in the space between Johnny’s and mine. Johnny had invited me before. but always a step behind on jokes.” I said. and I realized I still hadn’t said anything. Here. that’s the end of Johnny Rush’s famous lawn-mower keggers. more quietly this time. sloping lawns that all led down to the lakefront. really. That Rush boy is simply out of control. But it’s not like I’d ever actually go. “You’ve got to be curious. He’s just trying to make nice so I’ll keep my parents from calling the cops. We weren’t even neighbors. The fascination waned when I realized he’d seen me snooping. Isn’t it sweet that he invited you?” “Yeah. concerned. “No. “Why not go. But I was fascinated.” I said in a fake snooty English voice. “We’ll finally get a bit of peace in this neighborhood. it’s okay. preferring to hide behind the invisible fences between our yards. is he?” Ella and I looked at each other and laughed. though. Ella nudged me. neighbors didn’t share sugar. it’s really sweet. a little.” Then I stepped away from the window so I wouldn’t be tempted. The houses in our neighborhood were set far apart. minimansions on wide-spaced. “Hey. A few years ago. Sophie—you guys want to come by tonight?” I shook my head no. Grace was great. Once they’re all out of here. “Have fun. Thanks for the invite.” I wasn’t sure if this was actually true. “At least he’s nice. Or behind a thin window screen.“Beats me. She was so literal. Johnny pushed his overgrown hair away from his face. Sophie?” Ella asked as I settled into the sofa that stretched across one wall of my room. I’d have to pretend I’d been admiring the mosaic sky and not playing Peeping Tom with my neighbor. It was too late to pull the curtains or flee to the floor.
Grace didn’t have to live up to her student council president campaign-poster promises. since someone always started laughing before it got too serious. Besides. I may be gullible and .” Grace looked from me to Ella. Thankfully. “Might I remind you that he invited us?” Ella said. but she pushed away and swatted at me. pulling her spiraled hair back into a loose ponytail. actually.but I couldn’t figure out why else someone like Johnny would invite someone like me to his parties. but I’d never even really spoken to him. “Even though I am cute. She was the one person I knew who could speak to Ella with the tone of voice she’d just used and not get frozen out. or perhaps he could leave a little note with the butler? Is a shouted invite through an open window not welcoming enough for Miss Sophie?” “Yes. I guess I could just be me without anyone judging.” she muttered. “Should I ask him to mail you an invitation next time. I watched her. and things you didn’t do that you maybe wanted to do. “What did I miss?” Grace whined.” I said. and only around us—was a lot tougher. Johnny and I had exchanged nothing more than generic nods in the hallways at school since I’d moved to this house. Ella could take off her rebel hat.” I said. “You’re so cute. then shook her head. Gracie. rolling her eyes.” Ella said. and Johnny’s parties were the latter. “If he could leave a little note with the butler. We’d never even really fought. there were things you did in life. and I drifted and kept to myself more than I maybe should. our friendship had survived. in the special tone of voice she usually reserved for Grace in her especially naive moments. and always had some beautiful girlfriend. It’s not like we had any mutual friends or hung around in the same circles or had anything in common. but Grace—deep down.” Grace said harshly. “Wait…you have a butler? When did you get a butler?” Ella and I both cracked up. Ella. I think we still clicked in part because we were all so different. grinning. “How are you so smart. “Oh. My best friends and I had gone down totally different tracks when high school started—Ella had found her home in the artsy yearbook crowd. Totally out of my league. When the three of us were together. Grace glared at Ella. Ella was tough. I’d been silently crushing on him from afar for the last few years.” “It is a miracle you’ve survived as long as you have in high school. He was the most lusted-after guy at our school. yet so dumb?” “That’s completely offensive. Grace was the popular joiner. It was just too scary. not dumb and you know that perfectly well. the three of us had also known each other long enough that a little teasing didn’t actually hurt anyone else’s feelings. watching him. I squeezed her into a hug. and I…well. pulling her onto the couch with me. “I am. I’d be lost without these girls. Ella swung her legs up onto the window seat and settled in to watch Johnny and his friends again. “Neither one of you is allowed to make fun of me for being naive. But somehow.” She stood up and brushed at her chinos. most assuredly. it would be divine.” “Don’t Gracie me.
I don’t want to watch his party. “Inertia. The car was heinous and made funny noises when I turned right. Hopefully no one would puke in our driveway this time.” Grace said finally. And the present. “Well. will you?” “Yeah.” I said with a weak smile.” I reminded them. doing nothing.sometimes—sometimes—a little ditzy.” I agreed. point B being anywhere other than here. I wished I had the same joie de vivre or je ne sais quoi or whatever French term would best describe Ella’s attitude about life after senior year. Day. circa 1995—my aunt had impeccable taste. I could hear the sounds of more people arriving next door. but it was all mine—and. Want to do a little joyriding in your new wheels. Every. I don’t care what color it is. but I was significantly more freaked out about my future. Suzy had been more like an older sister to me. Let’s go. and didn’t really unwind again until mid-June. She had bragged about how it was going to take her places. The car was brutally ugly. or even if it farts when you start it. it had been Suzy’s until she died. now someone is peeing on the raspberries.” She peered out the window as someone screamed down below. “It’s a car. That had been known to happen before. but my dim and clueless parents blamed an animal. It gets us from point A to point B.” Grace was beyond ready for senior year to start. “I’m going to go crazy if we just sit in your room all night. “Okay. but it actually was the truth. “I think I just saw someone throw up behind Johnny’s garage.” I muttered. we’ve got to do something. “It’s a real looker. stirring. but my aunt truly had loved her car. But guilt wasn’t going to get me off the couch. “A luscious tan Toyota. They thought some sort of wild animal had barfed up corn and strawberry wine coolers. things I hadn’t understood when I was eight. Things I was beginning to understand now. “You have a car.” Ella said. which had been stuck in my grandparents’ old barn for the last ten years. you know? A body at rest likes to stay at rest. “It suits me. If we’re not going to Johnny’s party. more importantly.” . “And it’s only six o’clock.” Ella said.” Ella chirped. I realized how lame that sounded. Driving around in her car made me feel connected to her in a way I hadn’t in a long time. how it would set her free.” “We’re not a scholarship committee. “I’m happy here. I like being a directionless moron.” I joked about it. but at least I know what I want out of life. I’d just inherited my aunt Suzy’s car.” It sounded like she was joking when she said stuff like that. She’d saved for several years and had bought it only a few months before the accident that killed her. but she’d adored it and everything it stood for. She began to get seriously antsy in August every year. Single. “Geez. Lay off on the empowerment speeches. As the baby of my mom’s family.” Even as I said it. My carefree aunt had often talked about things like that. shrugging. Soph?” “Okay. Suzy had always told me that her car represented freedom. and I’m going for it. It’s seriously pitiful.
“Tonight’s goal, as always, is to find Sophie a date.” Grace squirmed in the front seat of the car next to me, full of energy. She jiggled her leg and opened and closed her window. Nervous energy. East Central’s sports teams didn’t start practice until the first day of school, and Grace didn’t do well when she couldn’t get her restlessness out on the field or the court or the track (the venue changed, depending on the season). So she got her energy out by planning things for everyone else. “Good plan?” “A fine plan.” I pulled the car out of my driveway and headed uphill. “The catch is, we have to go up the hill in search of guys. Actually, we’ll have to experiment with what happens if we only go straight or left, because my car makes rude noises when I turn right. Any objections?” “So we’re just going to go left all night?” Grace asked, pulling her eyebrows together. “Where are we going to end up?” “You sound a little scared, Gracie,” Ella teased from the backseat. “Don’t like the idea of an unknown destination, eh?” Grace waved her arm in the air dismissively. “Go left. Knock yourselves out.” She pulled out her cell phone and sighed happily. “How is good ol’ Ian?” Ella asked. It was obvious Grace was cooing over a text from her perfectly polished, white-toothed, uptight boyfriend. “Is he ready for a super-duper first day of school?” I shot her a warning glance as we drove past the grocery store and a gas station. Ella thought Ian was a dweeb of epic proportions, and I sort of agreed, but she was supposed to keep that opinion locked away. It seemed like he made Grace happy, and I didn’t want to see our happy threesome split up because Ella couldn’t keep her opinion about Ian to herself. “He could have come out with us tonight, Grace.” “Oh, no, it’s okay. He didn’t want to intrude.” “What a sweetheart,” Ella said. “If only I had a boyfriend just like adorable Ian.” Grace sighed happily again, either pointedly ignoring or blissfully unaware of Ella’s sarcasm. Sometimes it was hard to tell if Grace feigned naivety to keep conflict to a minimum. Ella could be a real turd a lot of the time. “I know. I wish we could find someone perfect for both of you. Unless you’re ready to actually start talking to Peter Martinson again this year, El? I think you should.” “I will.”
“You will?” I asked. Ella had been in love with the same jerky guy forever. She and Peter Martinson had kissed, once, way back in seventh grade, and she had been trying to figure out a way to finagle a do-over ever since. Ella firmly believed that she and Peter were made for each other, but that nothing else had ever happened between them because she’d kissed like a leech. Whatever that means. I think nothing else ever happened between them because they’d be a strange couple and had nothing in common, but there was no convincing her of that. “When?” “I will. Sometime. Eventually.” Ella stared out the window. “But at the moment we’re not talking about me. We’re talking about you. After all, tonight’s goal is to find you a date. A man date.” The road hit a T, and I had to turn. I went left again, heading onto the beaten-down old road that slowly wound around the far side of the golf course. I knew it would wrap us around so we’d be headed back downhill eventually. It was a gorgeous evening, we had the windows down, and we weren’t really in any hurry to get anywhere in particular. I reveled in the fact that I owned a car and could drive anywhere I wanted, with no end point in mind. “I’m all about finding me a date,” I said as the wind whipped at my ponytail and pulled pieces loose around my face. “But please don’t say ‘man’ like that. It sounds like I’m trying to hook up with someone’s dad. Man implies old, bald guy.” “Gross.” Grace giggled beside me. “Sophie, I wish you and Sean were still together.” She put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed, as though she was comforting me through a difficult breakup. “I don’t,” I said, and meant it. “Sean acted like an eleven-year-old, and his mouth was always cold.” “His mouth was always cold?” Ella blurted out. “What do you mean?” I shrugged. “I mean, kissing him reminded me of drinking a milkshake. Even after we’d been kissing for, like, five minutes, his mouth still seemed cold and slippery. It was like his spit failed to keep pace with the rest of his body heat.” Ella and Grace both said “ew,” but it was true. I’d dated slippery-lipped Sean Holton for a month and a half at the end of junior year, and his chilly spit was only part of the problem. He was also completely shallow, and we never had anything to talk about. Mostly, we just hung out when a bunch of people got together on the beach or at someone’s house. He was a boyfriend of convenience and circumstance more than someone I would have actually sought out and kept around for a meaningful amount of time. I don’t think he necessarily adored me either, but it was nice to have someone to kiss. Until I realized he was sort of a waste of time. Why bother, when it wasn’t going to go anywhere? There were a few guys I’d hung out with since high school had started—none for more than a few weeks or months—that were like Sean. Guys who were fine enough, who seemed fun and even were fun…at first. But no one was worth any significant time investment.
“Sadly, the pool of potential is smaller this year,” Grace reminded me. “You’ll either have to dip into the underclass boys, or take another look at our class now that everyone older than us is taking off for college.” “Well, at least Ella still has Peter,” I said sweetly, grinning back at Ella. “There’s always seventh-grade crushes to fall back on.” As I drove on, I thought about how people had always said senior year was when we’d see tides shift (a cheesy term, but I swear I’d heard that—verbatim—from someone). I’d assumed that meant we were supposed to evolve and live out all our unfulfilled childhood dreams so we could head out into the world with no regrets. Oh, The Places You’ll Go, and all that. But so far it all felt exactly the same. Same conversations. Same lame jeans I’d been wearing since freshman year. I was pretty sure that when school started in a few days, I’d find the same mole on the back of Brennan Donnelly’s overly large head, always nodding and bobbing right in front of me in half my classes. “…remember, there are plenty of other fish in the sea!” Grace was saying, when I tuned back into the conversation they were still having about Peter Martinson. I peeked in the rearview mirror just in time to see Ella roll her eyes. Suddenly, the car lurched and there was a loud boom. A rock or a funny pothole or—God forbid—a small mammal with sharp horns attacked my tire and pulled my fancy new car out of my control for a few seconds. Something thunked and the car screeched out a banshee scream as it lilted to the right. I slammed on the brakes and we came to a sudden stop on the rocky shoulder. “Crap.” I put the car in park and unbuckled my seat belt. “What was that noise?” Grace asked, peeking out from between her fingers to see if someone or something had landed on the hood of the car. “Did your car just scream at us?” “I told you, it doesn’t like to go right,” I grumbled. “Did we pop a tire?” Ella asked, opening her door. She and I both climbed out of the car to inspect for damage. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. This car really is a beauty, eh?” “I have a spare,” I said. “My Grandpa kept the car well stocked. And this isn’t exactly the middle of nowhere. The golf course is right there—someone might come by eventually. Or we can walk back to a busier road.” Ella and I wandered around to Grace’s side of the car. The front passenger tire was, indeed, flat. I didn’t see any dead animals, which was a relief. I’d never been big on blood—or anything else that suggested danger. “Who knows how to change it?” Grace climbed out of her seat and stood next to us, all three of us in a line looking at the flattened front tire. The doors of the car stood open, gaping, and everything was silent. No one said anything. “Please tell me one of you has done this before?” I put my hands on my hips and faced my friends. “Grace?” “Nuh-uh,” she said. “I can look it up on my phone, or call Ian, if you want.”
The handwriting was small and scratchy. or at least some tips?” “Yeah. but only out of practicality. After she died. they’d used it as an extra set of wheels that they could pull out of the garage when one of my mom’s six other siblings came into town to visit. We’re smart girls. It was handwritten.” Though my grandparents had purged almost everything. you guys look for the manual and get the tire out.” Ella said sharply. but I wasn’t sure what else I needed and I wanted to make sure we wouldn’t pull the car apart when we began to disassemble things. Ella looked over my shoulder. I sat next to Ella on the warm front hood and quickly searched for the section on tires. only ten years younger than Suzy. It was probably rotting from lack of use. after all. a piece of paper fluttered out of the manual and fell into my lap.” Ella settled in on the car’s hood while I dug through the glove box. I realized it was sort of a miracle that the car’s manual was even still in the glove box. don’t push boundaries. As I flipped to the back of the book. a piece of lined notebook paper filled with faded ink. I was eight when she’d died. “I’m sure we can figure this out. “What is that?” she asked. It was their way of moving on. and I’d never dared to ask for more. my mom had explained at the time. The unspoken last part of that lesson was. “I only have one bar. her smooth hair tickling my cheek as she leaned in close. but not yet old enough to realize she was being erased. Sometimes now it seemed as though she’d never been part of the family at all. “or you’ll die. and I immediately recognized it as my aunt Suzy’s. . anything more than a picture that would remind me of her. No one ever talked about her.” I nodded. all business. searching for the car’s manual. and so it was taboo to talk about her.” Grace said. I remember how angry I was at the time that they’d been so eager to erase her. It had been mostly parked in a garage for ten years. realizing it hadn’t been attached to the manual. my grandparents got rid of or put away just about everything of Suzy’s almost immediately. We were a family that didn’t talk about difficult things. She had always just been a warning to us all—don’t be too careless or stupid. But now I had found some sort of list. stunned. they decided to keep her car. The car was older than I was. “Maybe there’s something in the car manual? A visual step-by-step. I stared at it. I scanned the paper. But all I had were memories and a few fading photographs. so it’s going to take a while to load something. In the ten years Suzy had been gone. Otherwise I would have fought to keep something for myself. When I found the little booklet in the glove compartment. It can’t be that hard to change a tire. to chuck everything so unceremoniously and hide any remaining memories of her away in a box in the attic. I knew I had a spare tire in the trunk.” She sat in the gravel on the side of the road and pulled out her phone.“Don’t call Ian. “I’ll try to find a little how-to video on my phone.
” Grace and Ella knew about Suzy. and she hated my grandpa’s goatee. From 2002!” “ ‘Number one. my throat suddenly thick with tears that were suddenly just there.” “Oh my God. “ ‘Confess my crush and kiss X. “Huh. “Any luck over there? What did you find?” I waved her over. “So what do you think this is?” Ella asked. her bony shoulder pressing against my side as she leaned into me. Sounds like Sophie and Johnny Rush. The water at the bottom was near freezing most of the year. “Look. blissfully unaware that the list was making me feel sick…especially the last thing on the list. “Look at this one.” I said quietly. “It’s Suzy’s list. I pretended I’d gotten over it—I thought I had gotten over it—but I suddenly wasn’t so sure. excited about the prospect of being privy to secrets without having to pry. ‘man’ makes it sound like he’s a baldy.” Ella snorted. There’s no way I’m going to get a video to load. “ ‘Number ten. “My aunt’s. We were already friends when she’d died. but Suzy hadn’t been someone we talked about much since. pointing.” She furrowed her brow. sitting quietly at the back of the church while I squeezed into the front with my extended family. which I had just noticed and was now trying hard to ignore. Remember. “A boy of mystery. “Some kind of bucket list? A list of goals? Dares?” I swallowed.” Grace cooed.’ ” She looked at me pointedly. “Maybe he is a baldy.” I cleared my throat and said. “Of course it is. and you had to get your toes right up to the very edge before jumping in order to clear the branches that hung out from the cliffside below. “Like a list of dares or something.’ ” Ella said.” “Or secrets. I think I better try to find a blog or something. finally getting my eyes to focus on the paper. “This is taking forever. Maybe they’re someone’s secrets? Things they’ve done. I stared at the list without seeing the details.” I said.’ ” The jumping spot at Hanging Rock jutted forty feet out over the swimming hole.Grace looked up from her phone.’ Who do you think X is?” “Ooh. Maybe he has a beard. “He’s a man of mystery. She died in 2002. but loved when gossip accidentally fell in her lap. knowing my aunt would never have gone for a guy with a beard. They’d played a big part in me getting over the loss. “This was tucked inside the car manual. She wasn’t a big gossip herself.” Ella said.” I tried to smile.” Grace squinted at the paper. “ ‘Jump off Hanging Rock. “ ‘Number four: Get invited to one of Seth’s parties…and actually go. She always got on my dad’s case for his fugly mustache. “Maybe. and they’d come to the funeral.” Grace said. and they wrote them down?” Grace drummed the tips of her fingers together.” Grace said. “What is it?” “It’s some sort of list.” I said numbly. . scanning the paper.” “I doubt it.’ ” I read.
” I said casually. I didn’t need to write up a list of reasons I should be disappointed in myself. “You should!” Grace giggled. “Yeah. “There’s just stuff. I scanned the rest of the list. “The important thing is that it’s Suzy’s list.” Ella said. “Let me see it. realizing a lot of the things on it sounded a little too familiar. I was always disappointed that nothing ever changed in my life. She looked from me to Grace. “It’s just a little weird.” Grace and I both laughed. “Nothing is crossed out. but I’d never let myself dwell on them. or do you think she didn’t get a chance to finish before the accident?” I was relieved when neither of my friends answered. My mom probably had a hearty list of my failures already jotted down and notarized—we were good at judgment in my family—and I bet she would happily provide me with a copy if I asked for it. Like.” Ella took the list out of my hand. pushed away in the back of my mind that I sort of always hope I’ll have the nerve to do. . I’ve always wished I could turn myself into a prep to see what it felt like to blend in.“You okay?” Ella asked. and then looked at Grace and me. “Do you think she just forgot about it. for once. There was a reason I never went after all that much…it was too easy to fail and let my parents and everyone else down. And the list had been lost and forgotten for all these years. it would be depressing. Ella and I looked at each other.” I offered up. But she hadn’t been able to finish. “Don’t you guys have some stuff. to break the silence. too? Things you wish you could do?” Of course there were things. She’d hit on exactly what I’d been thinking.” Ella said slowly. “Everyone has one. “Do you guys have a list?” Ella finally asked.” I continued. And I was still pointedly ignoring the last thing on the list. It seemed like these were all things Suzy had wanted to do in her senior year. She had a list of goals or dares or whatever. crinkling her forehead. but I never actually went to the effort to do anything about it.” I held the folded paper in my lap. Other than that…I don’t know. Many of the things on the list were things I’d always wanted to do—things it seemed everyone else at our high school did—but that I hadn’t ever bothered to actually do.” I nodded. I guess Peter counts.” I noted. right?” “You have a bunch of secret dares stored up inside?” Grace asked. and this is it. her hand touching my knee. after a pause. on Ella’s behalf. “It’s really sad. you know?” Ella nodded. actually. since I knew she’d at least attempted it. “Anyway. If I did. I didn’t really want to think about the answer. “You’d be a cute prep. pulling the list onto her lap. She looked at me when she said. I folded the list in half. You can borrow my pearls. “Like what?” “Like kissing Peter Martinson again. “Yeah.
a bit of the something I needed to get my life in motion.” I said quickly. exactly. She patted her hand nervously on the hood of my car. As I looked at my friends. I worried. We could fulfill Suzy’s destiny—live out her last wishes. but keep the spirit of the list and finish it with her. really!” . “I think Sophie’s suggesting that we use the things on Suzy’s list. though the rest of her hand was pristine. “My mom would kill me. sitting up. you guys. “Something’s got to change. I tilted my chin up so my ponytail swung in the air behind me. For her.” Grace chirped enthusiastically. It’s fate. It was all about control. That thumb looked like beavers had attacked it. but had managed to confine the chewing to just her left thumb by the time we hit high school. I squinted into the darkening sky and said. Neither. I lay back on the hood of my busted-up car again and stared up into the sky. They both shot me looks.” Maybe figuring my own life out would be easier if I was pretending to live out a part of someone else’s.” I wished I was the kind of person who did that sort of thing. “But it scares the crap out of me. sort of. “I’ve sort of always wanted to jump off Hanging Rock. sitting up so my elbows were resting on the hood of the car. “I guess now I wish I could figure out how to change a tire?” Grace and Ella both laughed. To live the life she would have. “We can introduce some modifications. “How is it going to help? It’s just a regular old piece of paper. “Number two! Learn how to change a tire. I could have lain there for hours. Then Grace whooped. Suzy’s dares and dreams could kick-start senior year with some fresh ideas. Those some might be right. was I. and do them.” Ella laughed out loud before saying. watching the sky in its captivating stillness. We would need to revise the list a little bit—change up names. “I wish I could. but the idea of actually jumping off Hanging Rock made me want to hurl. I started to get really excited. but it’s like—I don’t know—I haven’t evolved or something. “I didn’t know that. The world is your oyster. “No. I groaned. as a tool for changing the tire?” Grace asked.” Grace said finally. My aunt’s car was like a genie. if she’d lived.” “Yeah. “I know I’ve never wanted to do this first thing on the list—jump off Hanging Rock. “I just feel like nothing ever happens. “Yeah.” I admitted.” “You guys?” I said suddenly. She’d been a nail-biter since I met her in first grade. “What if we used her list?” “Like.Grace bit her thumbnail nervously. and even more afraid of general danger. grabbing the list from me and waving it around in the air.” I got jazzed as I carried on.” I said.” “You have?” Grace asked. Some might call me a coward.” I nodded.” “If you didn’t die in the process. I was deathly afraid of heights. and Grace had plenty of it.” I muttered. a little new excitement. Take this list of dares or dreams or whatever they are.” “So fix it. but that wasn’t going to get my car out of the ditch and back on the road again. you know? It’s not that there’s anything wrong with my life. granting me wishes I didn’t even know I’d asked for. fiddle with things to fit our own lives.
” she said. “A few of these are a little out there. even as the last thing on the list stared me down and scared the hell out of me.” “What about that last one?” Grace asked. It’s right here. Still. Grace nodded reluctantly. feeling optimistic. “What if we act like number sixteen isn’t there?” Ella suggested. “It could be fun.’ Is that even something that’s possible?” she asked. Ella narrowed her eyes at me and said. “So do this. Life is what you make of it. I nodded and took the list. Apparently bad weather had come in fast and ultimately turned into an ice storm. watching the words on the list swirl as tears sprang into my eyes.’ And this one—” She pointed. I added silently.” Ella said. And it’s not like we’ve talked about it much since then. “People do it all the time—climb up the water tower.” Grace gasped. “ ‘Number sixteen: Eat dessert on top of the water tower. Suzy had been climbing up the water tower on the night a big storm had rolled in. but Ella cut in. I could suddenly see the poster. “ ‘Borrow a motorcycle’…that means steal. “It’s okay. somehow.” I said.” Ella squinted.” I stared into my lap. “The sentiment is true. But she was always more of a rebel than anyone else in the family. “Maybe it is stupid. and I’ve made nothing of mine. for once. not your fault. “So she died doing something on this list. Sims’s wall?” Grace demanded.“That phrase is on the poster in Mrs.’ Was Suzy a little bitter?” “I don’t know. “Never with me. I started to say something. For her. Like the missing piece I’d been waiting for. and the little I’d since learned on my own. wide eyed.” I didn’t have a lot of details about that night. “We don’t know that. or does it seem a little stupid to talk about trying to do the stuff on this list when your aunt died doing one of these things?” I shrugged. peering over Ella’s shoulder at the list. “It was an accident. studying the list. Fate had dropped a chance to change into my lap. I stared down at the paper that represented my aunt’s unfinished life. then. Sims’s office. There was a picture of a person inside an oyster shell that was painted to look like the earth. Though that isn’t saying much. I didn’t even think about that!” I bit my lip. “Keep it from feeling morbid?” .” When Ella said it. But from the little my family had told me. hanging on the wall behind Mrs.” I said with a shrug. But I still want to try to do the other things on her list. right? ‘Dine and dash.” Ella said with a smile. She slipped from the top of the tower and plummeted to her death. Is it just me. I mean. “You can’t believe everything you read on the guidance counselor’s wall. Sophie.” “Okay. It was a fair point. “ ‘Make them envy me.” For me. “Oh my god. Sims’s desk. Number sixteen. “We kind of do.” I looked at her and lied.” “Yeah. Even though that’s how Suzy died. “So what if it’s on Mrs.” I grumbled. But suddenly the list felt essential. It feels like something I have to do.
but I knew there had to be some reason I’d found it. “We can’t all kiss X. processing. I wanted to feel the pressure of trying something new—of risking something before we were thrown out into the world with a bunch of strangers and all of the security of home stripped away. “Maybe…” Ella added sheepishly. Ella leaned up against me. It was. “So who’s pumped about learning how to change a tire?” .“Sure. my body bubbling up tiny bits of excitement at the challenge that lay before us. “We’re with you.” I agreed. “Obviously. I was intimidated by the list. for a few minutes. Let’s start with number two and go from there. sure. “But you know. But that didn’t mean the whole list was worthless. there are obviously some things that can’t or shouldn’t actually be done by all of us. The minitantrum made Ella and me burst out laughing. my friends and I could practice stepping out of our comfort zones with each other to fall back on. even though I really couldn’t pretend it wasn’t there. “Will you do it with me?” My friends glanced at each other. That’s just sort of skanky. Soph. By fulfilling Suzy’s dares. I’m kissing X. Fair?” “Fair. where X equals Peter Martinson.” Her eyes sparkled. knocking her fist on the hood of the car.” “I’m not kissing anyone but Ian!” Grace said. “Okay.” She smiled sheepishly. Then I scooted off the hood and faced my friends expectantly. Grace. We all sat.” I clapped my hands.” Ella rubbed her head. I folded the list up and stuck it in my back pocket. “Like number nine: Confess a crush and kiss X. like…” She scanned the list.” I grinned. “Calm down.
my friends and I had managed to find and assemble the jack. that I wondered if it was just a toy tire put inside the trunk as a joke. “This class is always full of morons. but also small looking—so small.” she said. you’re a lifesaver. Sophie. Calling Triple A to bail you out was not on Suzy’s list— figuring out how to change a tire was. and I need to make copies of the syllabus. but we’d made it. “How motivated are your students this semester?” “Haven’t met them.” Mom was always quick to judge. embarrassing guffaw of a laugh that made me cringe when we were at home and made me want to melt into a puddle of invisibility in public. “Class starts in twenty minutes. just bustled along. She stopped singing and whooping long enough to hover over the table and stab a large slice of pork tenderloin. it was supposed to connect to the car. or I probably would have called someone. It was rusty and there was something sticky and black that covered most of it. “Digital age!” she sang.” I suggested. in fact. Luckily. gathering up papers she’d scattered around the house for the past week as she prepped for her night class. “I have to get my butt in gear. but my girl changed a tire all on her own. but I can safely say: probably not very. Then I remembered the list in my pocket. I felt ridiculous driving home. “You’re right. “Let’s keep that between ourselves.” she laughed bitterly.” She stopped for a nanosecond and pointed at me. shall we?” She popped the last bit of pork in her mouth. playing with all the parts and trying to figure out where.” my dad said at dinner the next night. so we’d fussed and fiddled for far too long. and comforted myself with the knowledge that we’d already completed one of the things on it. “Will people actually look at it if it’s only online?” I shrugged.CHAPTER THREE “I’m proud of you. There were no instructions on how it worked. shoved her things into an old . still not realizing I hadn’t answered. his huge.” “You could just post it online. “You could just as easily have called Triple A. That’s what I call initiative!” Dad laughed. taking bites off it like a child might eat cotton candy. He stabbed a piece of pork and stuffed it into his mouth before charging on. She didn’t stop to hear my answer.” She lifted her hands in the air and wiggled her arms. the spare tire was clean. “Are you ready for your first day of school?” My mom rushed past the table. After nearly an hour. “Save a tree. exactly. I didn’t realize we had Triple A.
She flew out the door. you always could see it). “Do you want to take a look at the tire tonight?” I asked finally.” “Not at all. I hate Tuesdays. . and I didn’t tell him.” “Thanks.” He could have easily given me a thumbs-up when he said that and it wouldn’t have been out of place. “Of course. and I wished—not for the first time—that he had a volume knob. but that wasn’t enough to challenge her.” “Excellent. There wasn’t really any reason to worry with me. “You look sharp. “Good luck. I know how careful you are. I looked at him. I’ll get a real tire back on there in a jiff. so I’m sure it’s on there nice and snug. You’re a smart girl—successful at everything you do. So she’d found a gig teaching management classes at our local community college.” “Thanks. Dad had sort of stepped back and disappeared (as much as someone that loud can disappear). So now she worked full time. to help pay for college and fulfill some unfulfilled something. What had been infrequent family outings became even more infrequent mother-daughter dates. I loved that I could just wander through the backyard and stumble down the steep. “Can you see the Popsicle stain on my blouse?” Neither Dad nor I actually looked (we knew you could see it—whatever she’d spilled. which was within easier walking and biking distance of just about everything. Can one of you clear my plate? I’ll just make some toast later. if that sort of thing wasn’t frowned upon. Sylvia. since I never got into any kind of trouble. standing up to dump my dishes in the dishwasher. dear. but could come up with nothing. My mom had picked up a second job right after my brother left.” “And Thursdays. She worked in human resources at the energy company. She had gotten her MBA online when I was in middle school. Matt.” Dad boomed. I could hear the fridge motor in the kitchen. Dad didn’t ask where I was going. and the teaching gig had come out of that. blah blah. Dad and I sat silently for a while. I decided to head down to the lake to sit by the water and relax. and my mom had always been mine—especially after Suzy died. plus two nights and a weekend day.diaper bag that she still used as a purse. and Saturday mornings. I’m fairly sure my dad would have loved to just move into the dorm with Shane. “But sure. He’d always preferred my brother. My dad and I had very little in common. chewing the overcooked pork. And when Shane went off to college. God.” Dad laughed again. dirt-crusted hill that led to the water.” I drifted off. “Help me get a real tire back on? I don’t really want the spare to come flying off while I’m driving to school tomorrow. she said. switching on and off. but we both answered without hesitation. trying to figure out something to say about something. and noticed that my dad’s jaw clicked on every fifth or sixth chew. and planted kisses on the top of my head and my dad’s head.” Mom smiled. “Nope. my mom had felt this pressing need to protect me.” I muttered. I still really missed my old neighborhood. but this house had the benefit of being on the lake.
choking the asparagus that had just appeared—ta da!—the first summer we lived in the house. Johnny Rush.” “Okay. “Did you plant those big guys?” I shook my head.” “Why would you?” he said.” I said. I was delighted to find the orange treasures hidden underneath. My bare feet would be stained green. I wasn’t sure why he and I were suddenly having a random conversation about pumpkins in my backyard. Squatters. looking at me like he was expecting me to say something more. thrust his hands in his pockets and gestured with his chin. “Nothing?” I answered. “What?” My neighbor. I was comfortable around the people closest to me. “Looking for the Great Pumpkin.” I jumped up. Johnny was the most charming guy at East Central. I got like this a lot when I was in unfamiliar situations. there was a small garden that had been left by our house’s previous owners. Crept into your garden from who knows where and made a home for themselves. but I’d only recently noticed that a pumpkin vine had appeared this year where none had been before. ending suddenly where erosion had ripped away the edge of the grass.” “I don’t mind. not quite sure why I sounded defensive. “What are you up to?” he asked. and started to walk away.” “It’s not here. What you’ve got here is a pumpkin patch full of stowaways. It was my yard. I knew the answer. “That wrinkled one. I hadn’t realized anyone was behind me. who was as gorgeous as she was powerful. I wasn’t sure what.I kicked at the grass as I walked through my backyard.” “Then they’re stowaways. in the worst possible conditions. Weeds had grown up. And he was dating Mackenzie Gardner. Before he graduated. “No. but everyone else was iffy. . At school. Nothing good had come up since that year. Dibs on that one.” He stood there. I want it. “They’re getting big. Frankly. Every time I pushed the leaves aside. a color I’d long ago decided was the most perfect shade on earth and it was a shame they hadn’t named a crayon for it. and the sound of a familiar voice startled me. Just before the lawn fell away. I guess. grinning. “They’re pretty cool. None of my family were big gardeners. But I felt like I was on the spot. trailing along behind me. in classes I was fine—school was something I could study for and I always knew that if I was volunteering to speak. secretly growing and thriving despite my family’s complete negligence.” I gave him a funny look. It had gotten long and was lush and green. The plant had picked our garden to move into. Johnny Rush seriously intimidated me up close. and had somehow made it. that color that only exists in summer. He’d crept up on me. because of all the end-of-summer rain. so we’d left the plot untended. I crouched down to check on the five fruits that had been growing for the past few weeks.
” I said.” I said. but was at a loss for words. then slowly began the slide down toward the lake. “Not enough anymore. and his shoes made a loud crunching sound when they landed on the rocks. and the pebbles that his feet dislodged shot into the backs of my legs. I perched on my favorite rock. “He’s fine.” “Excellent. I opened my mouth to say something. none of the future stuff had seemed to matter as much. I looked away. “How’s your brother?” “Shane?” “No. But since he’d gone to college and eventually stopped coming home for summers. and dipped it in the water. and began skipping them. “What are you doing?” I turned and looked up at him.” I turned and continued down the steep path. not yet. we’d done things as a family. and then he said. I have time for one more party. thinking about how much I missed having my brother at home. When my brother had been around (and Suzy before him). “Let’s hang out. When Shane had been around. My dad always approached conversations about my future with this annoying optimism that made me freak out just a little more every time he patted me on the back and expressed his confidence in what would become of me.” . and that was what worried me. but I laughed anyway. I waited for him to say something more. sliding down the embankment behind me. probably.” “I guess most of your friends are gone by now?” “A bunch of people left. what would happen to me after high school. I was anxious more often. yeah. I spent too much time worrying about where I was going to go next. “Haven’t you left for school yet?” His eyes flickered down to the ground. but it was getting increasingly hard not to wonder.” “Does he get home much?” “He did. I got up and picked a piece of long grass. the other brother. A few times. Johnny hopped off the path when he was still about three feet above the beach. We sat in companionable silence for a while. watching as the rock morphed from dull gray to black and red with sparkly bluish tones slicing through it in places. grabbed a few rocks.” It was a stupid thing to say. and remembered that I was supposed to go to this one. a big striped one that jutted out into the water. I tried not to obsess. just for a moment. When we were still a foursome. I loved the way this specific rock changed colors when it got wet. “No. I guess he was bored. I began to draw lines and shapes on my rock. Then I thought about Suzy’s list. the kind with a little tuft on the top. “Are you sneaking down to the lake to pee or something?” “No!” “So why all the privacy?” He lifted his eyebrows. He was following me. I didn’t even have answers for myself. everything was more relaxed.The only thing I could think of to say was. Just about everyone takes off sometime in the next few weeks. Johnny followed after me. Eventually. Johnny said. But he just plunked down.
trying to shift focus. “I don’t exactly measure up. “Doesn’t really matter. The silly grin gave him away. When I turned to say something.” He glanced at the rock I was sitting on. “This is a good one. Then I stretched my feet out in front of me and wiggled my grass-green toes. I seemed to remember them being around when we first moved into the house. and that’s it.” I said. He knew it. without another word. putting his finger in the air. considering it. continuing to trace patterns on the rock until every free space around me was wet and filled with shimmering colors. but then they were gone. right?” I was pretty sure Johnny had two sisters who were a few years older than he was—maybe a year or two younger than Shane. then turned one over in his hand. When I looked up. Therefore it’s not a real school and it was not a valid choice. the University of Wisconsin was one of the schools I was considering for next year. giving you gifts and special time?” “It doesn’t exactly work like that. He was scrambling back up the hillside. at this point.” I said. being able to duck and weave into the fabric of people around me with no one keeping a close eye on my every move. to thank him for the bizarre gift. . I realized Johnny was gone. One’s finishing up at Yale. Johnny was watching me and I immediately grew self-conscious. but I couldn’t really remember.” He threw a few more rocks into the lazy waves.” “That’s nice. marveling at its perfect oval shape.” “Madison is a good school. Eventually he walked over and handed the rock to me. “Madison is not Columbia. the other one’s at Columbia.” Johnny said archly. I could tell. “Is that how things work at your house? You have sisters.“You’re not loving the only-child life?” “Not so much.” I said. It had a vein of yellowish green running through the center. It was one of the prettiest rocks I’d ever seen on the beach. I applied for Madison. I liked the idea of getting lost in the grandness of a giant school. “Twin sisters. The time for that argument has passed. “Don’t you like your parents doting on you.” He paused and muttered. “It’s not Yale. They’re high achievers. In fact. then reached his hand out and traced one of the red lines that ran along the surface.” “Not really.” he said. I let the small black stone he’d handed to me rest in my open palm.
” I agreed.” “Yeah.CHAPTER FOUR “When did the love of my life start wearing polos?” Ella linked her arm through mine as we walked toward my locker a few days after school started. then looked up as someone started humming beside me.” “I feel like we must have had something in common. Once again.” He called it that—a “food installation”—like it was some kind of art or something. I didn’t want to think about what strange project Andy was going to host in our bank of lockers this year. “I swear to God.” . once. That ugly. who was hustling along to subtly keep up with the sports pack. preppy jock. Last year Andy left the same salami sandwich in his locker all year. collared shirt is pink. “Now he’s just another pretty. “Peter’s always been a pretty. a pack of interesting misfits that alternately intrigued and irritated me. Andy was one of the quirky theater guys. spinning the dial on my locker.” I said. It’s just that the pink polo makes him stick out like a sore thumb. You shared spit in middle school. “You and Peter did have something in common once. I was lucky enough to have Andy Eisenberg as my locker neighbor. I knew exactly how the script went. I hardly had to pay attention to our conversation. It always amazed me that he could get so much pleasure out of something so stupid. which did appear to be pink. Peter mostly blended— everything except his shirt. This was the same conversation Ella and I had almost every year in the first week of school. aren’t they?” I asked. Well. but salmon pink. trying to get a better view of Peter Martinson. preppy jock. you did.” “Nothing’s changed. Not cute pink or ironic pink.” Ella sighed. as an experiment. Sophie. Once a week he would wave me over to show me what fascinating fur had grown on his “food installation. “Maybe they just share clothes?” “He used to be so cool. “Peter and his dad are about the same size. trying to keep pace with Ella. I popped open my locker to grab my lunch. Is it pink? Do you think Peter’s dad buys his clothes for him? Or maybe his mom gets a special deal if she buys father-son matchy-match accountant shirts? Do they have daddy-and-me deals at Costco?” Ella craned her neck. who blended into a pack of guys from the football-slash-hockey-slash-baseball team. I turned around to look at Ella. That’s it.
“The thing is…” She gave me a halfhearted smile. and find another guy to go after?” I glanced over just in time to see her lightly place the back of her hand over her straight auburn bangs.” I said.” I mumbled. It was her woe-is-me pose. then flopped against the locker on the other side of mine dramatically.” “I can’t. tights that had been washed so many times they were no longer stretchy. El!” To most people at East Central. “It was four years ago. “Your boots don’t even have laces. once and for all. “All the single ladies!” “Yes. (Also. “No. I vote for that.” I swiped some grape lip jam across my lips. “There’s that. “I’m sure all he thinks about every time he looks at me is what a bad kisser I am. and recycling—including guys. “Let’s make this a new year. I nudged her leg with my foot and said.Ella huffed.” she said hopefully and wiggled her hips. But it was ridiculous that we kept rehashing the same crap. kept a camera lens between her and everyone else most of the time.” I was as guilty as anyone of dwelling.” Peter and his friends strolled by us moments after Ella started dancing. I was mildly annoyed that we were still having this conversation. and slammed my locker closed. But maybe Ella would be able to tell me someday. would he stop and moan her last name? I’d like to think not. Just say hi to the guy. “You can do that. so I started laughing and dragged Ella down the hall. It’s time to kiss X. year after year.” she whined. Erickson?” Peter called. Martinson. She was big on reducing. Her yearbook-issued camera knocked against her chest. Once Peter was past. just so you can know. Thing. trying not giggle. “What’s up. Ella stopped moving and looked down. regardless of what may or may not have happened between you at the end of seventh grade. checked my ponytail for lumps. Ella scrunched down and pretended to tie her boot. “Not much.” Ella grumbled. “Why me?” She leaned down to tug up her paisley tights. and she had a reputation as kind of a badass. It’s silly to keep dwelling. I sometimes wondered…if he was making out with someone. “There is no thing. she had editorial control over the candid pictures that made .” I answered. reusing. You’ve gotta start somewhere.” I bit my lip. and realize that Peter Martinson is a pink-polo-wearing jock who is absolutely not right for you. But it was impossible to contain it. marched through the halls with her chin held high. Ella appeared to be one of the most self-confident people in school. But she loved those tights so much that I knew she’d never part with them. okay?” “Okay. “Why can’t I make myself believe he doesn’t exist. You just need to tell yourself that it’s time to move on already. Grace and I have been trying to make you forget about Peter for four years. Or you’ve got to go for it. Ella was the kind of person who would probably turn the tights into a purse before she would actually throw them away. One of the things that bugged me about Peter? He called people by their last names. “At least you and I are single together. She dressed in elaborately creative clothes.
making it the perfect pillow. resting her head against a giant root that protruded from the ground.” She tapped her camera.) Even though she actually wasn’t at all badass. “You see things when you’re behind a lens. if you just look at him for a while. She was a little scary if you didn’t know her.” “A ‘brow artiste’? You’re so odd.” “Think about it. not a single touch of brown or red or orange. Ian is not hairless.” “What do you mean. “Is Gracie coming?” “I asked her. “Oh. “Want to stay at my place tonight?” I asked as we settled in under the big maple tree outside the math wing. Ella. He’s an arrogant jerk. “Not his beard. ‘sort of’?” “The hair on his face got a trim. El.” Ella said. Whatever it is. The leaves were still a perfect pear green.” “Like. She was going to check with Ian. Did he get a haircut?” “Sort of.” “Oh. My favorite nothing was the sky. “Seems that way. but you have no time to just relax. But I knew she was just playing a part for everyone. snorting. she didn’t have a lot of free time. “He started waxing his brows.” She opened one eye and squinted at me.” “No. “His brows. which reminded me that it was technically still summer even though we were back at school. Don’t ‘poor Ian’ me.” “You’re really mean. A piece of moss had crawled onto the root over the summer. Poor Ian.” “Oh poo.” Ella said. She was like a cautionary tale for everyone who’d ever thought about getting involved in school—it looks good on your college apps. “Something physical.” Ella prodded. “It’s true. He’s had a brow artiste shape his furry curtains into submission. “For sure. “It’s super obvious. Between student council and sports and orchestra and Ian.” “I don’t know. he started to shave? I’m sure he had to shave before senior year. He deserves it. You’ll notice that his face is much more sculpted and streamlined this year. which was a position that came with power. we always had to schedule time to see Grace. even super-cool Ella. I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to run from this to that to the other thing without a break to just sit under the tree and stare at nothing. there’s no way he was still hairless. but it’s mean.” she mumbled.” “Have you noticed something strange about him this year?” Ella lay back.” . God.” Once school started. Everyone has something they’re hiding or scared of or disappointed about.” “He did not!” I screeched.it into the yearbook. people kept their distance. has that started? She ‘checks with Ian’ before committing to things these days?” I smiled. But you’re getting closer. No matter how runty the guy might seem. with its ever-changing personality that people were willing to accept and admire without comment. like we all do. I don’t know where you’re going with this.
It’s a different kind of education. since she had to get it out of her system somehow. I do not. When I waved back. “Why aren’t I honest. I know you know that. Sometimes Ella would get in a funk when we talked about college. super honest. “It’s just that you can’t go to a college your mom wants you to go to if you’re just going to be miserable. “What? You think I’m not honest?” Ella sat up. “College. She’s going to think you’re picking on her boyfriend. and Grace and I knew to just wait it out. Than you. look a little more streamlined than he had the last time I’d really taken a close look at my friend’s boyfriend.” “Not really.” I said. none of us saying anything.” “It’s your life. They were always serious together.” I gestured to where Grace had emerged from the side door. “No. which seemed so sad. But you better not let Grace hear you. one of which was her confidence in her unplanned future. “Wait for me!” I don’t know where she thought we were going. Explore. Just honest. “So I’m supposed to tell my mom that I want to make nothing of myself. it’s a huge waste of money. We all sat there. Take a peek. refusing to look at either of us.” I muttered. “You want to travel. Sometimes we let her.” I sighed. “Hi!” Grace called to us when she saw me. I could tell she was ready to get defensive. then said. That was the way things worked in her family—Ella had been trained to fight back. We had to wait for . giggling. Have you talked to your mom yet?” She wouldn’t look at me.” she snapped.“You scoff. but one of these days you have to tell her what you really want. It was obvious she was finished with the conversation. Ella closed her eyes.” “Yeah. they were just plain Not Fun. staying politely silent until she could seamlessly insert herself into the conversation. Together. but you’re going to notice that Mr. I didn’t like to fight with Ella. She’d move on. I noticed that Ian did. Sophie?” I waited a beat. If nothing else.” “I’ll do just that. She’s been saving every dollar of child support for you to go to college. can’t you?” Ella mumbled. in a serious conversation with Ian. Eyebrow Attack has normal brows this year. next time you see him.” Grace wandered up and plunked down. Unfortunately she never won at home. Think Grace said something?” I squinted at her. “Browsy McBrowerson isn’t quite as furry anymore. since it seemed fairly obvious that Ella and I weren’t moving anywhere quickly. “It’s not like I have to figure it out this second.” “I’m not mean. “You can see it. I think Grace is much nicer than that. Grace acted like a real dip around Ian. so she’d just try to boss Grace and I around.” I envied Ella for many things. “Maybe. but sometimes it was necessary or she’d walk all over you. not for the first time. and it’s not fair to keep her out of the loop. and expect her to get that?” “You don’t want to make nothing of yourself. indeed.
but no one really knew.” We’d decided to do the things on the list in order. a year of Important Changes and Fresh Starts and The Beginning of the Next Chapter of our Lives (per Grace). we’re cutting it off and sending it in. a movie at my house was our usual. or maybe go out to a movie. for now. Grace knew pretty much everyone. ladies. Sometimes we’d go to someone else’s house. “Get a good look now. Kind of like Ella. Every once in a while. or it was like feeding ourselves to a cage of rabid raccoons. black little eyes. “I sort of told Ian I’m super-tired from the week and bailed on him already. finally. (Raccoons aren’t the most ferocious thing in the world. She was that girl that everyone in our class knew. since Ella and I probably fit into that category. as much as possible.” I was ready to agree. “Let’s measure my hair tonight. And I hear they’re insanely fierce when they’re mad. I reached back and twisted my fingers through my ponytail.” Ella said. we’d conveniently skipped over number one. “We changed a tire. This was senior year.” Grace said. “I think we should just watch a movie tonight. the way they stare at people with those beady. the same ponytail I’d worn for about six months straight.her cue. Why rush it?” She waved to a car full of girls who drove past—I recognized Madison Chan and the other Ella in our class. so I guess there were a few of us.” . but they’re seriously creepy. Sophie. and her yellow fingernails shone through the thin fabric. we’d have a bonfire on the beach by my house or meet some other people from our class at the big beach. It could have been anyone.) “Maybe we should cut off all your hair for Locks of Love tonight. “We already did one thing. But that wasn’t enough. Things were supposed to be different. Without discussing it much. I’m sure my friends realized I was going to need to warm up with a few other things on Suzy’s list before I would be ready to leap off a cliff. obviously trying to save me from having to cut my hair. I pulled out my hair band and shook my hair around my shoulders and down my back.” Grace said with a yawn. If I’ve got ten inches when it’s pulled back. It was crimped from drying in the ponytail holder. We have all year. Okay. There are only fifteen things left on the list.” I said. She was playing with a hole in her tights. “Number three on Suzy’s list. but couldn’t see whoever was in the backseat. too—just to a lesser degree. I know. When Grace and Ella and I hung out.
A lot. “Are you making kissy faces at yourself?” Grace asked. now that I’d been thinking of him so much more often. I’d missed the chance. I only knew that I was thinking about him. Johnny’s hair had grown out over the summer into sun-kissed blond waves that fell to just below his ears. it was only a matter of days before he would drive off to Madison. “New hair does not make a new attitude. My neighbor was blessed—or cursed. I heard Ella sigh in the hall. with his stuff in the back of his parents’ SUV. peeking into my room. Maybe it was because. I didn’t want to be thinking about Johnny. at the fetal level. Johnny was a curiosity. depending on how you look at it—from the get-go. Now. fascinating. I don’t know.” I said. Someone with that name couldn’t end up like that guy in the math league. I was a little disappointed I hadn’t gotten to know Johnny before he left for college. Was he a porn star? A professional skateboarder? His parents must have had some expectation. I’d realized how silly his name was: Johnny Rush. I also spent some time wondering if my hair would look anything like Johnny’s hair when it was cut—could I pull off a messy shag that told people I just didn’t care? If I didn’t look like Johnny. “I like to think it will. Are you guys ready yet or what?” . These are the things I thought about as Ella and Grace worked to convert my third-floor bathroom into a hair salon later that night. I thought the odds were fairly evenly split.CHAPTER FIVE Ever since our conversation the night school started. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Johnny Rush.” I retorted. the one who sometimes wore a storm trooper mask to lunch (I don’t know what that guy’s name is.” “We’ll see. but he was popular. that he’d be popular to give him a name like Johnny Rush. and seemed genuinely kind. but I am willing to bet it’s not Johnny Rush). I had a feeling I would look like that guy who wore a storm trooper helmet to school. I wasn’t sure why I was thinking about him. He was sexy. I peeked into the mirror that hung over my desk and pulled my hair back from my face. He wasn’t a porn star. I puckered my lips into a pout and gazed lovingly into my own eyes. I guess it was because I wasn’t used to someone like Johnny talking to me. and it was too late for regrets. A fascination. And strangely magnetic. and he obviously lived up to his name. “Saying adios to the old hair?” “I’m practicing my new attitude.
” she said. so I guessed it was probably close. fluffing it and brushing it and adjusting my head in the mirror. As Ella played with my hair. “Yeah. “Pony it up. Ella and Grace had draped printed fabrics and brightly colored tissue paper all over the floor. Maybe I ought to have gone to a proper haircutter for this.” “What does that mean. how did you decide which of you is going to chop? Does either of you have any experience in the art of hair?” Ella cocked her head. “I do. I didn’t want them to know about Suzy’s list at all. please. gilt-edged mirror that made the room feel much larger than it was. “What are you thinking today?” “Well. fluff it for her. But one whole wall was covered in a giant. let’s measure it and then I guess we just snip and see what happens?” I was hoping for ten inches.” They led me up the stairs and into the cramped bonus bathroom at the very top of the stairs. I recognized the fabric from one of Ella’s skirts. and the pictures of the little kids with bald heads from the Locks of Love website. “So. And it’s not like I was likely to trust the ladies at Great Clips any more than I would trust my best friends. near my neck. Grace brought the tape measure close and proclaimed.’ Get rid of the holes in her hairdo. from binder to bottom!” . They had a way of convincing me out of stuff. trying to remind myself that I was lucky I had enough hair that I could help.” Grace stepped into my room and wrapped her soft hand around my arm. But all my money was saved for gas. reminding me that it wasn’t a good idea. ma’am.” Ella said. It was a tiny little commode. “Wait. Ella gestured to the chair. holding her hand out toward Grace. I believe the formal term is ‘ratting it.” Ella pulled my hair into two loose pigtails. I tease my grandma’s hair when she’s between trips to the hairdresser. we are. Grace taped the list to the upper left-hand corner of the mirror. I’d been looking at pictures of those kids all day. Mistress Hair. without missing a beat. She put a towel across my shoulders and fastened a piece of calico fabric around my neck like a cape. and I knew my parents weren’t going to shell out bonus cash to fulfill something that they would perceive to be a whim. That. “Ponytails. and had set one of our kitchen chairs in the center of all the color. please. “Thirteen inches each.” Ella commanded. but seeing it there made the whole cutting-my-hair-off thing easier. My hair had been growing without much weeding for a few years now. Grace pulled out a ruler. the amount they needed for the wigs at Locks of Love.“As a matter of fact.” “She has holes in her hair? From you?” I was starting to panic. Apparently she wasn’t going to provide further details about her hole-headed grandmother. It was a symbolic gesture. ‘tease’?” “You know. with a minisink and a toilet stuffed so tightly into one corner that you had to sit on it sideways. “Right this way. I also didn’t want to tell them about this until it was done. and I sat down.
and the way the sun had been shining on her face when I’d snapped the picture made it look like her cheeks were made of ivory silk. and my head felt empty and light. The second ponytail remained completely intact on the other side of my head. uneven layers framed my face and made my eyes look larger. Grace gathered the clump of hair that Ella was still holding close in her hand and stuffed both ponytails inside a padded envelope.We all let out a whoop. She didn’t smile a lot. but I closed them again when I saw that my head looked seriously lopsided. I smiled the tiniest bit. At least they’d done the legwork. and when I turned to the side. I could see the angles of my neck curving delicately up from the nape. She wrapped her fingers around it and looked at me in the mirror. in the lone picture of her I had hanging in my room—the one I’d taken of her on her camera. It was less than an inch long where the ponytail holders had been. I touched my hand to the back of my head and gasped when I felt the shortest section. The hair that had been held back with the elastic swung free. “Oops. She snipped the other ponytail and the rest of my hair was released. testing the new me out. Choppy. “Just a quick rinse. some landing just below my ear. but she smiled with me.” I just closed my eyes and let her get to work. Her eyes were nearly closed. When I stood upright again. I hope.” Grace lathered me up with some sort of pear shampoo that her mother had probably brought home from a church retreat. I want to cut it. Grace gasped and Ella muttered. I realized. while I was distracted. Once. her mouth agape.” That was the only time I opened my eyes. and she was smiling. That felt so good. Then. “Let me at it. as though the way I’d pulled my hair back for the last four years had held the skin of my face too tight against the bones. Just as I was about to reach up and touch the last of it. I just had to look funny for a few months. I saw that it was already addressed to Locks of Love. But I want to. that was a little loud. I looked a little bit like her. some falling far short. “Well. I thought it almost looked like the silhouette of a body curving from my back up to my head. finally.” She had a demented grin on her face. But her chin was tipped up. I would never forget that. . There was something about my reflection that reminded me of Suzy. Each of my friends held a fat wad of my hair in her hand while I sat stunned and—slightly— hairless. and we’re good to go. I smelled a little too fruity for my taste. Ella led me to the sink. just weeks before the accident. She covered her mouth. “Sorry. The ponytailed clump of hair landed in Ella’s hand. dark. sexy waves. “Does someone want to attempt to make a style out of what’s left of it?” “I do!” Ella shouted. I ran my fingers through it and short hair dropped over my face in damp. I came face to face with myself. The hair on the back of my head was cropped close. Ella pulled a pair of scissors out of some unseen hiding spot and snipped one of the ponytails off. Grace leaned forward and produced another pair of scissors. and then Ella dried me off. The angles of my cheeks were more pronounced.” I said. I could hear snipping and slicing and an occasional giggle as my friends pulled and tugged at my hair. Finally.
then took a Sharpie and crossed number three off our list. really happy I’d cut it. As long as we’d gone this far. what was stopping me from really stretching? “What do you think about a pink streak?” I asked. “If I’m supposed to jump off a cliff. I think I need a dash of new color. meeting my friends’ eyes in the mirror.Suddenly. I was really.” . I beamed at my friends. There was only one thing missing.
ladies.CHAPTER SIX By the time we’d finished cutting and streaking my hair with some leftover Manic Panic I found in Shane’s room. Sophie. and as I peeked out the window I saw the lawn mower careening toward the road. “Tell him we’re coming. As I moved away from the window to turn out the light.” Ella commanded. “Yo!” Johnny called out in a stage whisper. Even though. It was possible it was two someones. “Do something to make him notice you! We need to go to that party!” I pushed open my window just as the mower cut out. Too easy to count it as real sneaking out (number eight on Suzy’s list). Johnny stood astride the mower. “Let’s conquer number four!” I clicked off the light so they couldn’t see me blush. “What is he talking about?” I hadn’t told my friends about the brief conversation I’d had with Johnny down by the beach earlier in the week. the screech of my old wooden window filled the night with a howl. “Get yourselves down here. It had seemed so inconsequential. it was close to eight. en route to pick up more passengers at their cars and ferry them from the road to the rocky beach. Johnny looked up and I instinctively tried to hide. I found Ella on the floor with both of her legs up in the air. and I think she’d somehow managed to put on both lip liner and lipstick in the time I’d been watching Johnny out the window. it was kind of becoming a big deal. Cars lined the street in front of my house. some people have been talking about stealing our pumpkins. since my parents’ snores were fairly obvious from just about . “Open the window. In the momentary silence. She was pulling a pair of lacy leggings up under her stretchy skirt. in my head. *** It was disappointingly easy to sneak out of my house. and someone was rolling around in the wagon that was still hitched up to the back. but it was hard to see details in the fading light. Defend your turf! Save the stowaways!” “Is he drunk?” Grace whispered. “Are they having sex in the back of that wagon?” Grace asked.” Ella murmured from across the room. resting her chin on my shoulder from behind. and I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.
and learned how to get around in our house without making a whole lot of noise. “Smell my breath. pointing to a loose board here or a creaky step there. I noticed a few people from our own class. I could hear the low hum of the lawn mower. intimate get-together. We made it out and spilled onto the lawn a few minutes after Johnny had beckoned to us from the window. farther away from the fire. That’s better than plaque. Then I’d stuff it all in my mouth at once and chew as I sneaked back upstairs.” “Right. back in business. It worried me that this worried me.” She nodded. “Okay. I led Ella and Grace through the dark channels of my house.anywhere in the house. exactly?” “Crap. I didn’t understand why Johnny’s opinion of me mattered as much as it did.” Grace muttered beside me. There was a reason for this. I realized I was still wearing the same outfit I’d worn to school. one of those oddly airy soy-ice-cream sandwiches that my mom thought were a real treat. so I’d continued my sneak eating for years. when it came time to get out of the house to join Johnny’s party down on the beach. My mom’s dessert embargo was a perfect way to create food issues. There were at least thirty people gathered. so I’d come up with a regular act of rebellion when I was still in elementary school that had carried on until we moved into this house. Suddenly. some of whom I recognized from last year’s student council. “I don’t do parties. Every night when Mom went into her bathroom to do her face routine I would sneak downstairs and pluck three of my dad’s hidden Oreos or Milanos or sometimes. She looked pale in the light of the moon. and the buzz of the party crested over the hill from the beach. since it was obviously not a small. Mom wasn’t keen on me eating sweets (her weight issues…not mine). and others from their general notoriety in the halls of our high school. I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to who was who and who was doing whom. but I was pretty sure this was the cream of last year’s popular crop. if you ask me. some from the Homecoming Court. but couldn’t see everyone who was hidden in the background. It sounded like a decent number of people were still around. Well. God. if we were light on the real stuff. But no one asked me. the sound cut out.” . I’d long ago memorized the route through the house with the fewest number of creaky boards. down at the far end of the lawn.” I looked at her. “Okay?” “Cheeto-y. As we stepped onto the grass.” Ella demanded. “Oh. and it wasn’t anything exciting. So that night. you don’t smell like plaque then. I patted my hair nervously and noticed that Ella and Grace were both fidgeting on either side of me. coming up close to huff in my face. “What does plaque smell like.” We reached the edge of the lawn and stood overlooking the party from above.
weaving between couples and barely getting any notice. I could tell she was thinking the same thing I was thinking: that Johnny was either drunk or dumb.” “I cut it.” He nodded resolutely. And a perfect stranger. “Neighbor! You came. I shook my head and looked around. He’s dating Mackenzie Gardner.” I reached one hand up and touched it. which were a color that looked like it was made up of tiny aquamarine crystals. That in itself would be a little weird. but I had to distract myself from staring at his eyes. as though by him saying it. His sun-bleached blond hair hung loose in front of his eyes. I realized no one was really looking at me. it was a fact. I could feel the muscles in his cheek move as he smiled hugely at Ella and Grace.” Johnny said. And leaving for college.” He laughed again. identifying new arrivals? I don’t know. “Do we look like twins?” “Not really.” Ella said. to give ourselves time to acclimate. and tugged at her arm. Instead.” “Ooh. .’ ” We tucked into the corners of the crowd. “Of course we came. and he had a dopey grin on his face that made me wonder if maybe he was a little dim. but it was surprisingly easy to squeeze in. like lake water and grass. “Yours is blond. “Well. wiggling his fingers. which made it seem like he was serenading the people who were hooking up. others were stripping down to go skinny-dipping in the lake. He smelled good. He thought I was snobby? “I couldn’t miss the last lawn-mower kegger ever. “You can just consider this a ‘gathering. Suddenly a hand landed on my shoulder and then Johnny Rush was in front of us. With a streak of pink. I called it preparedness. more confidently than I felt. It wasn’t a charitable thought. Maybe that someone would rush over with beer and throw it on me. I thought I’d be more obvious—that I’d stick out as someone who didn’t belong. it looks fantastic. a pink streak. and pressed his cheek against mine so Ella and Grace could admire the comparison. which made his presence even creepier. “It looks a little like mine now. whatever you’ve done with it. self-consciously. I reminded myself. I know.” My two friends slipped and slid down the hill together. I thought maybe you were too snobby to join us. He was sitting alone. and that’s when I started to wonder what exactly I’d expected. and someone—who was that?—was playing a guitar. “Anyway. staring at the kissers. I could see that some people were making out around a fire. Welcome to our shared beach.” Ella deadpanned. We both had a tendency to jump to conclusions.” He laughed.” I said.“Come on.” He looked at me. “Fawwwncy. and my skin buzzed where his face touched mine. Don’t parties like this come with chanting and hollering. “The people down there are not movie stars. or that there would be chanting. could I?” “Who says this is the last ever? It’s just the last for a while. A few people glanced our way. It was too late to turn back now. maybe that’s just what I always imagined. Some might call it a flaw.” he said. But I’d never seen the guy before. Sophie’s is brown. “You have new hair.” I heard Ella say as she slid down the hill.
I could picture it now—Mackenzie and Johnny. “Surely you know the beautiful Miss Mackenzie.” she said with a pout.” Mackenzie said sweetly. They were envied and adored. another girl. Mackenzie!” I chirped. and we’d never spoken two words to each other in my three years at East Central. Oh. I was chirping. I guess I’d always assumed Mackenzie was one of those uppity snobs who refused to look down at the classes below them. I could smell her sweet perfume. I felt horrible pangs of jealousy and wondered how I could possibly feel possessive about Johnny Rush when I’d spoken to him for a total of. trying to shake the image of the two of them and the Shakespeare and the coffee cups from my mind.” I said. He was going to smell like girl. It was a world with only twenty or thirty people who lived at court. gilded high school world. I’ll take a beer. stepping away from me. maybe she wasn’t that bad. She knew my name.For some reason. and I didn’t want him to. My. Grace did—but that didn’t count.” I looked at Grace and Ella. “I take off for school tomorrow. I suddenly wanted to lean over and bite Mackenzie Gardner. and the rest of us were just faceless nobodies who stood around waiting to serve them. They were making me nauseous. What is wrong with me? Mackenzie grinned and nodded. the compliment made the inside of my body melt. Okay. God. Why did my voice suddenly sound so chipper? Surely someone was going to notice that I was acting like a total dork. Pete. twelve minutes in my entire life. It’s not like any of us really had anything against beer (well. and snuggled in closer against Johnny’s chest.” He pulled his girlfriend over and she slipped into his arms as though they’d been custom-fitted to her body. “Yeah. “Hi. Who knew? “Hi. pour a couple of beers. then laugh at something together. There were a few cliques of girls at our school that acted like they lived in their own special. I realized I really hated Mackenzie Gardner. and my heart stopped beating for a second. “How was your summer?” “It was fantastic. They’d read each other passages from Shakespeare. okay?” She looked back at us and said. “Or if you want a Coke. “Do you guys want a beer or anything?” Mackenzie offered.” “I’m sure. too. snuggled up in some extra long dorm bed. “How are you?” Oh my gosh. “Hey. Why not? It wasn’t like we had to drive anywhere. too?” I asked. maybe. you’re going to Madison. we’ve got that.” . then they would kiss and snuggle and fall asleep in each other’s arms.” she said. “Grace probably wants a Coke. Sophie. surrounded by classic literature and cups of latte. and I hated that it was blending in with Johnny’s clean lake smell. “Do you know everyone here?” Johnny asked.” “Oh. since Grace was against pretty much everything). but I was never exactly sure why or how they found their way up to the top of the turret. Maybe beer would soak up some of the tiny little beads of jealousy that were skittering around inside my stomach.” I said. “Madison. “I’m pretty excited about it.
a ten-year-old boy?—but he really did still have my Barbies and I knew Peter would hate me bringing it up. “To the water!” Johnny cried. I’m sure Ella nearly collapsed next to me. holding a beer out toward her. “Grace Cutler. whose arms were still wrapped around Mackenzie. Even still. grinning. We all turned to see what had happened. Peter Martinson walked over with three cups from the keg. no matter how bad he was at taking a joke. but she held her chin high and pretended she was as confident as ever. shut it. guys. He looked like a penguin. I don’t bring Barbie dolls to the games. Ambrose?” His eyes brushed over Ella. Peter dropped the empty cup on the ground and thrust his hands in his pockets before puffing his chest out.” Peter said.Grace smiled at me gratefully. reaching up to feel my short style again.” “Thanks. Unfortunately. “What are you doing at one of Johnny’s parties? I didn’t know you knew how to have a good time at non-school-sanctioned events. said. like chem lab gone wrong. “Super-dip!” . but then I realized you still have a few of them. Ella couldn’t get him out of her head. so he shrugged and drank it himself. then stopped on Grace. But then sometime in middle school he’d turned into a prick. or do you still like to play with them?” It was such a stupid thing to tease someone about—what was I. “Who ordered the beer? Hey.” I said. “Peter. “Aw. A few seconds later. too. She wordlessly took a cup from his hand and stared at the rocky ground. She’d love him just as much tomorrow. “Hey. but said nothing. No chaperones. This isn’t the Homecoming Dance.” I said. I was going to give my little cousin all my old Barbie dolls.” He downed the beer and wagged his finger in front of her face. Ella didn’t seem to notice that all of this was going on. She couldn’t see through the pretty exterior to the rotten core. “What’s up. “I was just thinking about you. The beer was warm and smelled pungent. She shook her head. Erickson. Which was why the pink polo had been so perplexing. Ella smiled at Peter. As a kid. isn’t that brown haired Barbie your good-luck charm at away games? Didn’t you knit her a jersey with your number on it last year?” “Rush. I kept forgetting my hair was all gone. waving his arms in the air like an air-traffic controller. It actually made the whole thing funnier than if he’d just let the stupid crack roll off his back. neat hair. you know. Johnny.” He was so upset. He was the kind of guy that valued his masculinity and image above all else. but was saved from further discussion when someone shrieked from waistdeep in the water. taking a sip from my cup. I tried to channel my new hair as I spat out. Peter squirmed. it’s so funny you’re here. Peter. Peter had been decent—we’d played together a lot until fourth or fifth grade. and I realized that at least half the partygoers had moved to the lake. Do you think I could get them back.” Peter said slowly.
“Johnny Rush is kind of hot. “I see you looking. “It’s a tradition.” I pulled my jeans off. to go back to shore and keep her company. but he played on. Ella caught me admiring his body. His name is still ridiculous. and Grace looked completely exposed. I was about to slip out of the water.Okay.” “What’s super-dip?” Grace asked timidly. Almost everyone else at the party had moved into the lake.” she teased. I left my tank top on and charged into the water. Luckily. “Come on. Most people still had at least some of their clothes on in the water.” Johnny yelled from a few feet out from shore.” Peter Martinson was jumping around and playing Frisbee with a few other guys near me in the water. staring guitar guy had turned so he could watch the water. and tossed his top on the ground before high-stepping back into the water. I had to get my mind off my neighbor’s assets. after a quick peek to see if I was wearing decent underwear. laughing and splashing at the people around them. Some people charged all the way out into the deep water. She stripped her leggings off and crashed into the water in her skirt. First his eyes. tightly muscled torso. though. “Do I have to get naked?” It was obvious she didn’t. reaching beneath the blackness of the surface to grab at people’s limbs to tug them under. The strange. The screaming and the feeling of panic as everyone began to peel their clothes away and run toward the lake—this combination of factors made me wonder if something was wrong. Johnny peeled his shirt away. he dropped her hand and ran back toward shore. I’d put on super-cute boy shorts that day—they went up my butt if I moved at all. revealing a slim. When Johnny yelled “in. a few feet back from the water line. She chewed at her thumb and tried to look like she was having a great time watching everyone else frolic in the lake.” I said. neighbor. considering. and we were all supposed to hide in the water for a while. “Come on. trying to peel my eyes away from Johnny’s stomach and chest and arms. despite the fact that it was so stupidly juvenile that it seemed impossible that these people could be having a . which was a good thing. while others lingered quietly near shore. Grace and Ella gaped at me from shore. A few people were still entangled in each other’s arms near the fire and didn’t look like they were pulling out anytime soon. Grace stood timidly. a game that was somehow fun for everyone. Superdip time. I only debated for a minute before I said. I realized this was some sort of tradition. I’ll admit that I thought maybe the cops were busting the party or something. when Johnny suddenly yelled “Fish nibbles!” People ran and scurried away from him and he dove and leaped in the water. though many had stripped down to bras and underwear. Johnny and Mackenzie held hands in water that was up to their thighs. and that was enough to pull Ella in. getting only their feet wet. “It’s not bad. As I watched.” I said. but they actually made it look like I had a butt. standing on shore alone.” everyone went in. rubbing at my arms and trying to keep my teeth from chattering. you guys. “I’m gonna go swimming. But within seconds.” “Let’s go in. It was like a giant game of tag. now his body.
“Aren’t you sad you never came by one of my parties before?” “A little. but it did make me feel sort of special.” He laughed. “You sure are an observer. Peter’s group wasn’t going to waste that time fretting about the future or staying sober. “Not always. and I envied him for that. with people tickling and chasing and grabbing at each other. “I only came because you told me I had to protect my pumpkins. and noticed that he grew quieter as the night went on. The game went on for a while. He obviously didn’t care about what people thought about him. Peter and his friends stayed close to the beer. and I huddled together at one edge of the group. listening to the guitar guy play songs. but I let my mind wander.” he said. Johnny spent time with everyone. We still had a year left. Having his attention didn’t make me feel like I was any different than anyone else at the party. “A watcher?” “Here. “Fish nibbles. that’s not true. but soon she was laughing and splashing in the water beside us. Ella. blooming Madison hoodie that reminded me that they didn’t need to get in their last kisses and final good-byes. waiting for the heat from the flames to dry our bodies and our clothes. Before I could rescue her. listening and watching while Johnny and his friends talked about memories and their futures. most of them planning for the year ahead. I watched Johnny as his friends teased each other. circulating between Mackenzie and his other friends.” I admitted.” The fire had quieted and I was in the darkened outer circle. Many of Johnny’s friends seemed to be going somewhere. Grace gasped as the water soaked her clothes. I looked over and saw that Mackenzie was cuddled up inside what I imagined was Johnny’s sweatshirt. Johnny had that magic that made everything more fun—and it was that magic that made him so magnetic and strangely charming. and clearly. They’d have plenty of time to be together. We curled up close to the fire. away from flickering embers.” “We’re an interesting group. giving everyone a bit of his time and his charm.good time. Johnny scooted over to sit next to me. pulling her into the water behind him. Or maybe that’s just how it felt to me. reveling in the buzz of the alcohol and the first week of school. When he saw me watching him. and Ella focused on watching Peter. Grace. until eventually everyone began to slink back out of the water to dry off on shore. making me lean in to hear him. Johnny charged out of the water and wrapped his hand around Grace’s waist. a big. “Now. far enough from the warmth of the fire that my face was dark and chilled. I caught myself staring at people as they cuddled and talked and pulled together collections of memories they could take with them to wherever they were going next.” he cried. sure.” . Grace got into a conversation with a couple of girls who had been cheerleaders. heading off to this school or that job. I guess it was my turn for his company. Johnny had a way of giving all of his attention to the person in front of him that made it feel like you were the only person on earth. making their way to something else that wasn’t this. aren’t you?” Johnny said this quietly.
“A little.” “What made you do it?” “I’m donating it to Locks of Love.” “Yeah. “Thanks. anyway? Did he come with you?” “You don’t know him?” “Nah. “Approved. “I didn’t need it anymore. so that wasn’t exactly the full truth. Dares are good. he just showed up. realizing his earlier compliment—the one that had made me feel so special— had actually been so hollow that he’d forgotten he’d already told me he liked my haircut. “I’m actually sort of a coward. “We might have come to your party as a dare. and looked back up at the sky. It’s just the beach. “What other dares? Cutting off your hair. I was making myself sound like a much better person than I actually was. “It’s possible. But it was hard. “Was anyone actually threatening the security of my little orange squatters?” Johnny shrugged. I mean.” “I guess I can finally relax. “Did you really only come because you were worried about the pumpkins?” “No. too.” I confessed. Not at all. “Unless you count the fish nibbles.” I said with a shrug. He turned his head so he was looking at me and said.” He nodded.” Okay.” Johnny gestured to guitar guy and laughed. I assumed he’d move on. lying back to look up at the stars.” I said. Sophie.” “Are you a daring person?” “Me?” “No.” “I like that. We don’t bite.” I said. As though I had a cause that I believed in.” We both laughed. “Who is that dude. “I’m not really.” He giggled—it was adorable.” “You’re approving me? Isn’t that a little arrogant?” He ignored the question. “I can’t get a handle on you.” He looked proud. actually.” “Ah. But instead. it was sort of a dare. coming to my party…I’m guessing the sudden interest in my party was also a sort of dare? You ladies looked scared out of your mind when you got down here. and my time was up. Again. “So are you? A daredevil?” He grinned.” Johnny said. hairless kids.” “What else?” .” “Mmm-hmm. that guy over there—the one playing the guitar. He’d played the part of perfect host. I tried to be still and not obsess. “Also.” I said again. Johnny lay down next to me. I wouldn’t worry about it too much anymore. But Grace and Ella and I are trying to shake things up a little bit for senior year. go back to Mackenzie or another friend. Locks of Love is good stuff.” I glanced at him. and had selflessly grown my hair out for the explicit purpose of donating it to poor. But dares are also fun. I figure he must know someone. and smiled. “I like your hair. “A while ago.
leaving me behind as he moved on. Sadly. easily slipping into other conversations. It wasn’t even mine—not really.I didn’t want to tell him about the list.” “Right on. even though I didn’t want him to be. “I’m not sure yet. Johnny Rush and his charming magnetism were stuck in my head. Somehow. anyway. . Johnny Rush was glued there. playing on repeat.” Johnny sat up then and nodded. Even though I knew I shouldn’t be thinking about him the way that I was. It felt like it was private.” Then he stood. even if it was just a dare. thanks for coming. I wasn’t sure moving on was going to be quite as easy for me. “Well. His face and eyes and the contours of his chest were imprinted on my mind the way one of those images from an accidental porn popup ad gets stuck in your head.
even for a “hallway status”—her clever catchphrase for casual chatting. So the preseason practices were met with a lot of lazy grumbling. Mom drank it black. I’d do just about anything to prevent her from setting up an actual meeting. There were a few people on the team who were really good. Are you happy? Doing well in your classes? Boys? Fill me in on everything. as far as parents go.” My parents really weren’t bad.” “Come on. “Do we need to set up a meeting?” “You’re talking to me now. and we all wanted to do something or had parents that insisted we do something (like me). and shot her a winning smile. “Okay. “Any good gossip? What’s the scoop?” “No scoop. My only sport—cross-country skiing— officially started just after Christmas. We hadn’t had one in a while. Why must there be a catchphrase for everything? “How are your classes?” She peeked at me over the edge of her coffee mug. and treated me with a decent amount of respect—as long as I was pursuing something parent-approved and not getting into trouble. had high hopes for me. “Tell me what’s happening.” my mom said as I tried to skirt past her in the kitchen a few weeks into the school year.” “What do you want to talk about?” I stopped moving around and looked at her patiently. wise guy.” she pleaded. however. Having that kind of support made it hard to dislike them as much as I sometimes did. and I’d been engrossed in the usual beginning-of-school stuff. It had been a busy few weeks.” I said. but it didn’t make it impossible. They obviously loved me. Always.CHAPTER SEVEN “I’ve hardly had time to talk to you since school started. enough with the attitude. but our coach had set up mandatory weight training sessions after school a couple days a week to get us all in shape. with one ice cube. But the rest of joined because there were no other sports that took anyone who wanted to join. Instead of nodding or oohing or even just . It seemed like she’d been too busy lately to pencil me in. My mom was a meeting fanatic—always going on and on about agendas and consensus and other boring work terms— and she loved to bring the structure of her nine-to-five home for the family to enjoy. did not like meetings and I had begun to hope and wonder if maybe she’d forgotten about home meetings over the past year. My father and I. One of the things that bugged me most about my mom was the way she would beg for information—“scoop” (see? Another catchphrase!)—but then she was completely unable to act normal when the details were dumped in her lap.
but she couldn’t keep herself from squeezing a little mom juice into our conversations. At least that’s what she said in a very loud. In fact. She had mastered it and knew how to accessorize it with carefully chosen words and vocal tones.” “Well. itching to just eat my breakfast already. But I knew I had to make it through a few more questions before I’d be excused. Besides.” “Not wimpy!” Mom cried. to help you work on your cardio? Wouldn’t that be fun? Get out and enjoy the fresh. “Gives you more time to focus on schoolwork!” “I guess.” Okay. In fact. Apparently. “So are there? Any boys in the picture this year?” She lifted her eyebrows at me. very cheerful voice after we’d gone over the class outline.” she said.” She winked. a member of East Central’s intellectualcheerleader crowd (yeah. “If only the weather would just cool off already. It’s like she wanted to be a friend or a big sister. that’s probably for the best. The coffee sploshed up over the rim of the cup and landed on her blazer. You really know how to spin it. “That’s why skiing is such a good choice for you. who is so eternally positive that she squealed a little bit when she found out we had to write a response paper every week for English. your face is supposed to tell people . “Dang it. Otherwise. you have to convey a sense of calm so no one comes back to kill you with a machete.” “The weight training is going fine. right? Maybe you should start running a bit. though. “They’re slender. so I was intentionally being negative. Melissa was sure the exercise would help her be better prepared for writing college application essays. to test my mom’s silver-lining-maker. “Nope. when you fire people.” I said. There is nothing wrong with a silver lining. That’s an impressive level of optimism. there is such a thing). She wrapped her hands around her coffee cup and sighed.sitting there mutely like a parent ought to do when they were privy to something.” My mother wore this look well. Mom. fall air.” “How are the weight training sessions with the ski team?” She poured herself another cup and plopped an ice cube in. And when you hire someone for a big position. skiing is all about endurance anyway. “My arms are wimpy. It’s too much work.” She shook her head. Like Melissa Mintz.” She tipped her coffee cup back and drained the remnants out of the cup. My mom lifted her eyebrows and gave me the look she always did when I made “bad choices. I hate running. I admired people who could find a little silver wrapper around anything. But there was something about my mom’s silver linings that just got to me. my mother had made a career out of very specific facial expressions. “Precisely. I’d find a note with a little “Let’s meet!” sticker on my bedroom door when I came home from school that night.” I tried not to laugh as I poured a bowl of Cheerios and sprinkled some sugar on top. she just couldn’t stop herself from finding a silver lining in every little thing.” “Maybe. “You get little breaks on the downhills.
She didn’t look at me. I got the sense maybe she was just as stifled and cautious as I’d been trained to be—and as desperate to break free.” .” I felt for the list in my back pocket.” I was horrified by the tone in my mom’s voice. But now that I’d found her list. When my mom gave me a food-inspired “look. “Mom!” “She was a nice girl. they made it seem like she was this major rebel.” “You don’t want to feel closer to your aunt. “Why are you asking about Suzy?” I shrugged. I’d always assumed that was true. She’s dead. But I had questions. Because of how she’d died. you’re nothing like her.” I said noncommittally. and I was trying to understand why she’d written the list—and maybe try to figure out what else she’d attempted to do before the accident took her away from us. I suppose she was unhappy and dissatisfied. it always seemed she was full of ideas and spontaneity.” my mom said more carefully. She turned every conversation about my favorite aunt into a lesson in safety and caution and learning how to be happy with your boring lot in life. Whenever I’d asked about Suzy in the past. my mom had blown me off and changed the subject. Sophie. I was sort of questioning just how wild she really could have been. Whenever anyone talked about Suzy. These are the nifty things I learned from my mom. I’d been eager to ask some questions about her since I’d found the list.that everyone is very happy and satisfied in their job—and the HR guru is the first point of contact. right?” My mom held her coffee in her hands without moving. So why was everyone always acting like she was so dangerously risky? Had she done more than that one big thing that had ultimately killed her? “Mom?” “Mmm?” I started out slowly. “Was she happy before the accident?” My mom sighed. leaving small bits of sugar and organic cookies in their wake. but I was only eight. People do always say the most important education you get is at home. “Yes. I debated asking my mom about Suzy. I just want to feel closer to her. Now that I had something of hers that gave me some insight into her last year. To me. just stared in at the sliver of ice cube that I could hear bobbing along the inner rim of her cup. I guess. “Suzy died in November. So yeah. “I don’t know. so I never brought her up anymore. I hated that Suzy was nothing more than a cautionary tale. but hadn’t yet mustered up the courage. Luckily. and that’s a good thing. “But she could never figure out what she wanted out of life.” it usually meant: “Don’t blame me if your thighs slowly grow and bulge to the point where they actually explode. November. As I pulled the milk out of the fridge.” Or something like that. and said. “I guess I’ve just been thinking about her more lately—it’s weird to think that she was my age when she died.
focus on the things that will get you what you want out of life. “Yes?” She startled. Sophie. Don’t make her a hero. since she ought to have left for work already.” “I guess I just want to see what it feels like when a city bear reaches his head inside the tent flap to take a bite out of my scrawny backside. and in the silence. I had to get out of the house and away from the passive-aggressive parenting. and her voice was distant again. and I was growing increasingly frustrated by that. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted out of life either. Were there things I ought to be doing on a weekend night. or some psycho killer could come by and hack me into bits. My mom continued. I just don’t want you to be disappointed.” Then I stood up and put my bowl in the sink. That’s a very negative attitude.” I said. stunned. I’d find the tent later. as though I’d surprised her. no.” “Ella and Grace and I just want to sleep in the backyard this weekend. The hazards of camping were too great to name. I walked away from my mom to eat my cereal at the table. She’d been staring right at me. but I could feel her eyes on me from behind. “I like camping.” I snapped back.My mom stopped to process her thoughts. I thought about how my mom could have been describing me. other than “Number five: Go camping in a real tent”? “Do you know where the tent is?” “Probably in the basement. When I sat at the table. “Mom?” I asked. watching me. . “I know. “That’s not what I was thinking about. She didn’t say anything.” She gave me a look that told me this was going to be it. I thought she’d leave me alone. and there are healthy snacks. I hope you’re not thinking about going camping. It’s important to play to your strengths. or maybe I’ll starve to death since I don’t know how to cook for myself. I don’t even want to start—” I cut her off. she made some bad choices. and I was relieved. “The tent? What?” “Where do we keep the tent?” She looked up. “I was just going to say that there are other things that you’re much more successful at. She was done talking about Suzy. “The thing about Suzy was. I know…I could get eaten by a bear. “Do you know where the tent is?” Now I could see her poking through her purse. Before I went at my mother with a machete. “But I don’t understand what’s wrong with sleeping inside? It’s warm. you hate camping. half wishing I could ask her what other things I was so good at that made camping such a certain waste of time. and it doesn’t make sense to spend a weekend pretending to be rugged if you’re just not a rugged kind of person.” she said after a beat. just stood there quietly. I could see her reflection in the windowed panes of the sliding glass door that led out to our deck. “Why do you need the tent? Oh.” She stared at me. worried because I’d never seen her stand still for quite this long at once. There are a million reasons why it’s a bad idea.” She cracked a smile.
. “A musical?” Ella moaned when she saw the posters for the first time. a few weeks later—the day of the auditions—we’d all agreed to meet up at lunch to practice our audition songs again. She didn’t appreciate our input. too. even though Ella and I had reminded her that Ian wasn’t her boss or her father.” Andy fixed his eyes on Ella with an even gaze. “I’m cool with trying out for a play. Grace bailed at the last minute. “You have a gorgeous voice. I’ll design sets. When Ian had found out about us going to the party. They’d been inseparable since right after Johnny’s party. but I know it sounds good on land. That’s as close as I’ll come to an audition. who was apparently bound to Grace with some sort of unbreakable twine. and then the little day-to-day things that kind of creeped me out. and his ears poked out in an elfin way. signs had gone up to advertise auditions for the fall play—Into the Woods. I sound good in the shower.” “You’re constantly singing show tunes. But Ella hung out at my locker after fourth period and kicked her boot-clad toes against Andy Eisenberg’s locker. won’t we?” Now. and I think your voice is lovely. “They’re messed up. Not entirely normal.” Ella spat back. He was way too weird for me—there was last year’s sandwich experiment. nuzzling against Ian. which I just couldn’t. Perhaps it’s even more beautiful underwater. “If you keep kicking. for one. he had scolded Grace for letting us drag her along to a party with alcohol.” “Fairy tales are romantic.” “I’ve never showered with you.” “In the shower. And I’m not singing in front of people.” Grace had countered. I don’t want to try out for the school play. “I guess we’ll see. But a musical? And Into the Woods? You’ve got to be kidding me.CHAPTER EIGHT The first full week after school started. and now Ian would hardly let her out of his sight. like an unintentional pompadour. His hair stood straight up on the top of his head. “Not the fairy tales in Into the Woods. Like the way he’d dance up to his locker and sing songs into the air vent. if you could overlook the kookiness.” Ella grimaced. and that we hadn’t dragged her anywhere. Andy was actually sort of cute. She’d apologized and promised that it would never happen again. the hamster is going to get upset. begging off for something or other she had to do with Ian. Fairy tales are ridiculous. Ian. had wrapped his arm around her and kissed her on the forehead.” I’d reminded her. He materialized just as she began to beat a tune. Screw number six on Suzy’s list. Alone.
” I reminded her. It could be considered animal cruelty.” “Are you saying you have a hamster in your locker?” “I didn’t say anything. “He’s not a bad guy. “What hamster?” she asked. Her smile was fixed on her face.” “I know what inference is. “You’re inferring—using the context of our conversation to arrive at a logical conclusion. I knew that in those situations. up on stage. She sometimes forgot her lunch—but refused to buy school lunch.” “It’s on your head if he does. was terrifying. and they’re so busy thinking about their own auditions that they’re not really listening to anyone else. just keeping it in there to see how long it lives before it starts to stink?” I laughed again. and one of the spare Clif bars I kept in a box at the back of my locker for Ella. I’d been dreading the auditions that afternoon. “I don’t hear anything. “So where should we practice? Somewhere that no one can hear us. He’s not going to kill an animal just for his stupid locker experiment. But that’s different—it’s just the theater people that actually go to listen. “He’ll have to open it eventually. it’s sort of impossible to ignore. “Please don’t kick the door.” Andy said serenely. Ella and I looked at each other. then left without opening his locker. “Do you have a hamster in that locker? Because if you do. Ella trailed behind me. he’d need to feed it. closing my own locker.” “I cannot say.I could tell Ella didn’t want to engage in a dialogue with Andy. right?” I asked.” “Everyone is going to hear you this afternoon. I laughed. “The auditions are public. “I know.” Andy said with a smile. preferably. then cracked up. like a plastic doll’s. If there’s a hamster inside.” She moaned. It was all just so public. We’re all considered competition. “Last year he kept that sandwich in there all year.” she spat.” . I’d grabbed my sandwich and an apple. Andy smiled.” I said. As we walked toward the side door. watching over her shoulder to see if Andy would return to his locker. after all—don’t they like to make up stories?” “I wouldn’t put anything past him. one eyebrow up. “I think Andy’s fibbing. on account of their tasteless. No scratching or moans of loneliness from a tiny rodent. “It’s impossible. everyone was listening and judging.” “That’s not true!” I protested. I pulled her along and said. “What if he’s treating the hamster like he did the sandwich? Like. but when someone mentions a hamster in the context of a locker.” She held her chin up.” She pulled her ear off of Andy’s locker just as Peter Martinson went past. Do you think he’s holding a hamster hostage this year?” Ella pressed her ear up against his locker. He is a theater guy. allbeige vegetarian options—and I never wanted her to go hungry. too—the idea that people would be watching me. “Everyone’s watching everything. right?” “You would hope!” Ella cried. When he was out of sight. her face fell and she said. that’s serious animal cruelty.
But somehow the intellectual cheerleaders are just that—perfectly smart girls who inexplicably like to jump around and yell random. Let’s just go sit in your car. if you think about the sort of stuff that could be on a list of dares.” She lowered her voice. “It’s the people who won’t be at auditions that make me nervous. It’s not like you’re going to take the lead role from Emily Hammond anyway. our list seems pretty tame. I asked. “You’re not going to be like this with everything else on the list. “And they have access to Peter on the bus to away games. No offense. No one really cares what you sound like. stop being so self-centered. “I think stealing a motorcycle and skipping out on the bill at a restaurant is a little out there. Don’t feel like you have to do the stuff on the list. Maybe we can drive around or something?” As we walked out to the parking lot. are you?” Ella kicked at the grass along the side of the walkway and asked. which gives them power that intimidates me. Soph.” “Yeah. You’re not supposed to be stupid and smart at the same time. “Why are you getting so defensive about it? I thought the list was supposed to be for fun. It was a little inconvenient when I was alone.“Oh.” I said. Something was permanently jammed in the driver’s side keyhole—gum. Non– theater people.” “What else should be on Suzy’s list?” Ella asked. we’re trying out…but it sort of feels like you’re just doing it out of a sense of obligation. rhyming crap. just because of me. what if Suzy had included things like—I don’t know—drive to the Grand Canyon to pee off the edge?” . They’re just concerned about their own performance. or one of the intellectual cheerleaders. okay? It’s the safest place. but you’re not that great.” “So if no one’s really listening. “They make me nervous. “But it just seems stupid that we’re intimidated by stuff like going to Johnny’s party and trying out for the school play. I may play the part of a rebel. Most of the stuff she has on her list are things everyone at East Central does at some point during high school.” “Peter?” “Peter.” “I’m sorry. You look all scowly and stuff.” I pushed my key into the lock on Ella’s side of the car. realizing I was taking my own frustrations out on her. Right? I mean. but jumping off Hanging Rock and changing a tire aren’t really that interesting. “Like what? I agreed to do these random things on someone else’s wish list. but you know that stuff pushes my limits.” “Yeah.” “Since when do you care what the intellectual cheerleaders are thinking about you?” Ella sighed hugely. didn’t I? I’m trying out for the play. then why do you care about where we practice before auditions?” She gaped at me. would we be approaching this whole list thing differently if it were a little crazier? Like. maybe?—so I always had to unlock the doors from the passenger side. I mean.
” Ella agreed. “You don’t want to get arrested. That’s the sort of thing that should be on a bucket list.” “I do! Or I want to do something that carries the risk of arrest. are you fantasizing about peeing off the edge of the Grand Canyon?” “I don’t know. if you like. I whispered. I really do want to take more chances.“Ew.” I blew all of this out in a huff. when I think about the prospect of doing something like peeing off the edge. “Can I at least tempt you with the idea of peeing off Hanging Rock?” . “Maybe I’m thinking about the Grand Canyon because. A list of dares that was more interesting than our list of dares.” “You’re a good girl—a rule follower. As she started to sing. too. for a second. It’s parent approved. I’m boring. “I want to get arrested. and we’re intimidated by stupid stuff like kissing Peter Martinson and trying out for the freaking school play?” “Kissing Peter is intimidating.” Ella snorted out a laugh. my mind immediately goes to a place where I think about the logistics of such a task—the reason why it would be impossible or silly or dangerous or a stupid waste of time. Is that something you wish was on the list?” “No. My mind doesn’t even.” I sat in the driver’s seat without turning the key in the ignition. Everything I do is really safe. She made a funny face. “Let’s just try out for the play first. “We can try to get arrested?” Ella laughed. and you…and I guess I am. “I don’t know. Then we can talk about it further. a little surprised at how tightly it was wound up inside of me.” “Well. “Or maybe I am?” I fiddled with my keychain.” I said. exactly. I’m not.” I agreed. I guess it’s just that—well. go to a place where I let myself imagine how much fun the actual act of getting to the edge of the Grand Canyon would be. and took a breath. but it wouldn’t kill sweet Gracie if she let loose a little. Why. it’s just an example of something that could be on a list of dares. Grace.” “We can do that.” “Really?” I asked hopefully. “I’d probably rather pee off the edge of the Grand Canyon than face that hurdle. It’s just our nature. Maybe we should get Grace into the conversation. Then I realized I was musing philosophically on the excitement of peeing at the Grand Canyon. Ella. obviously. too—I know you’re never going to convince either of us to pee off the edge of the Grand Canyon. we all are. Fair enough?” “Fair enough.” Ella muttered. “As hard as it is for me to admit it. our nature is boring.
or my mom? Neither fate tempted me. It took some pulling. pulling her in for a hug. it made me think about how people sometimes say that. I easily found the tent hidden behind the basement stairs. we eventually managed to put together a lopsided-but-upright tent just before the sun dipped below the horizon. The rest of the week flew by. which were actually sort of fun and generally uneventful. since neither of us was holding our breath for a part or anything.” “You too. I wondered. I was still trying to figure out what portion of the pile of loose fabric was rain flap. I’d tucked away all thoughts of the musical and moved on to our backyard camping. “I think we’ve got it. under two boxes of Shane’s old swimming trophies. everyone turns into their parents. I laid the tarp out next to the pumpkin patch and stood surveying the pile of confusion in front of me. all three . so by the time Friday came around. He continued to linger. “Sleep tight. Whenever I looked at my dad and my brother. Was it possible to escape the inevitability of becoming your parents.” “Call me later. and was pretty sure it wasn’t as simple as the people at REI always made it seem. until after lead role callbacks.” Grace cooed.CHAPTER NINE We survived the auditions. eventually. pointing out our mistakes every few seconds until finally Ella told him it was time for him to leave. I’d never assembled a tent.” Ian said. shrugging. His swimming prowess was a source of immense pride for my father. and which part was the tent itself. Grace. “Girls’ night. Maybe I would be lucky and get eaten by a bear instead. would I rather end up like my dad. “Do you want me to do it?” Ian asked. smirking.” “Looks that way. “Love you. We lay inside the tent with the flaps open.” After a lot of false starts. who had also been an excellent swimmer before he discovered beer and got fat in college. or was the life I saw them living the best I could hope for? Shudder. “Or maybe I should just take my girlfriend home before the tent collapses on her?” I glared at him. They weren’t posting the lists for a few weeks.” Ella said. My brother had been a superstar swimmer before he discovered beer and got fat in college. It was preferable to the alternative. When Ian dropped Ella and Grace off a little after six. If that was true. “No offense. but I eventually extracted the masses of fabric from the storage bin the tent had been stuffed in and pulled the whole mess out to the backyard.” he said.
it had slithered out and across her pillow. “If we’d found a list in your car that included stuff like ‘pee off the Grand Canyon’ or ‘eat meat from every part of a cow. because she always seemed like she could do whatever she wanted to do. and the whole scene reminded me of grade school. “You gonna pee in your bed tonight. “Yeah. What I’m saying is. and when she climbed in to go to sleep. The last time any of us had gone camping was in fifth-grade Girl Scouts. a dead cow?” Ella asked with a sneer. staring up into the sky as it shifted and grew dark.” I told her.’ we would never have decided to do any of it. where I often kept it. “I would not eat meat from any part of a cow.” I suggested. “No offense to Jesus. and she crinkled her nose in response. A snake had found its way into Ella’s sleeping bag before bed.” she answered. I couldn’t remember anything specific about those overheard conversations.” I nodded. “That’s all beside the point. “No. ripping pieces off its body and stuffing them in your mouth? You know that’s barbaric. that’s how I see it. “My relatives in Montana do that every year—they get a cow share. the list only seemed appealing and possible because most of the stuff on it feels familiar—it feels like Suzy lived a life like ours. “I’m going to pee off Hanging Rock. The way they talked about her made it seem like she pushed boundaries and broke rules—something I never did. but I remembered how much I envied my aunt. She rolled into me. right?” “You guys!” Grace interrupted. “Why would you pee off Hanging Rock?” We briefly filled her in on our earlier conversation. Had she worked on it with her friends? Did anyone even know she had a list? Was my mom right—had Suzy had the same feelings of boredom and dissatisfaction that were creeping into my life senior year? I remembered little snippets of conversation I’d overheard as a child. Streaks of pink and orange ripped through the black and blue above the lake. I guess I see your point.” Ella said.of us squeezed into the tent side by side.” Ella groaned in response. Sometimes in class I’d take it out and try to imagine what Suzy was thinking about when she wrote it. El?” I teased as Ella snuggled between two duvets. . Who would do that?” “You can buy a whole cow. when my mom—the oldest in their family—and my grandma sat in Gram’s living room discussing Suzy. “It looks like the windows at my church. crushing me against the side of the tent.” We filled the tent with blankets and pillows from my family room. pass it back and forth from house to house. At least.” Grace said. I liked having it with me.” “You share a cow? As in. her face glowing pink in the light. right?” “What?” Grace asked. someplace outside our regular lives.” “Or taffy. It was like a little den. then zipped ourselves inside again. “Reminds me of cotton candy. “The kind that gets stuck in your mouth and makes your spit thick.” I pulled the list out of my pocket. She’d been so scared that she had peed all over the floor of the tent. “What do you do. let alone every part of a cow.
Everyone else is. as though they. and gets along just fine—to quote my mom. Sometimes it’s not up to you. Some people are prone to depression. fat blank wall. had an insane energy that made it impossible to just relax. and broke the odd mood I’d set with my gloomy little soliloquy. exactly. I’m not either. you know?” They both looked at me blankly—probably in part because they both seemed to have a really happy picture of where they were going in their minds and didn’t get that my future was a big. “What if I just fade into the background noise for the rest of my life?” I took a breath. “That stands out.” Grace reminded me. “I’m not. We knew she was talking about her mom. I’m not okay with that.” “It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to be mopey or cheerful.” Grace conceded.” “Yeah.” I said. I’ve only missed school four times since ninth grade. “Not everyone is as graced as you are with happiness. and light all the time. but the list had gotten me thinking about what I’d really done in my almost eighteen years. and that was when we went to visit Shane at college!” “There’s nothing wrong with that. “But I guess what I’m thinking is. “What if I don’t ever do anything interesting? What if I can’t figure out if there’s anything I’m really. I continued.” Grace said. and I feel like I’m just here. which was scary enough—then what am I going to do with my life?” I looked at my friends.” Ella reminded her. “But it sounds like Sophie’s planning to graduate from high school and mope around for the next seventy years. “Fine. all humdrum and mopey through life. so I’m not going after anything specifically. I want to be happy. am I ever going to? If the extent of my high school excitement so far is going to Johnny Rush’s party—literally just showing up. too. “You have a pink streak in your hair now.” I seconded.” Ella reminded me. “But I only did that because the list pushed me to do it. Not much. But I also knew they were looking at me strangely because I’d never really complained about much before. then continued.” I agreed. clarity. “That’s not always true. What else am I not doing that I could or should do? I’m leaving East Central with absolutely nothing to show for myself except some good grades and a record of never getting into trouble.” I said. I’d made a rotten segue from the list of dares to the rest of our lives. if I haven’t done anything to push myself yet. I was starting to get sweaty inside the pile of blankets that was heaped on top of me .” “Yeah. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. super good at…and I’m just one of those people who goes along.” Grace lifted her brows and dared us to challenge her. I don’t want to get along just fine. who stared back at me.“I guess I’ve just been thinking a lot lately about how I haven’t done anything to make myself stand out or define myself as something. “But the problem is. She pushed her curls away from her face and they sprang back in front of her shoulders.” The way Ella said this made me laugh. whose moods swung every which way and knocked people over as they toppled from up high to way down low. “I know. just accepting whatever fate plops into her lap.
” Grace clucked at her. She had stopped fidgeting. rolling back into the tent. my neighbor lurking was a hair more disconcerting. so I hopped over the pile of blankets that were still half covering me and started to unzip the tent. I worried that everyone else around me would quickly move forward after high school. “Pizza. Grace. Do you think they deliver to backyards?” “I don’t think so. We all began to laugh. “Evening. After what felt like an eternity had passed. flashing his hand across his chest while his eyes shone aquamarine in the steady beam of light.” she said. and I realized this was sort of late for her. hoping my parents would be asleep when I got inside. had he been lurking? . in their matching flannel pants and shuffling slippers and distant optimism spiced up with a heaping tablespoon of caution. But I also knew Ella.” the person—bear?—growled.” Ella seemed relieved about the change of subject. but only slightly. irritated. “I just realized it now. and I think that was part of what scared me about not having it all figured out before we graduated. We might have some pizza rolls in the freezer. This means she goes to bed ridiculously early—as long as all her homework is done. “I didn’t know I was hungry before. so I blurted out. “Aghhhh!” I screamed. “I think I might be starving to death. I was tired of talking about it. ladies. She was one of those people who get up at six in the morning.” Ella snapped back.” I said. and I wouldn’t be together after this year. How much of our conversation had he heard? How long. “We don’t have any money anyway. I’m going to eat someone’s arm if I don’t get food soon.” Johnny said. Want me to check?” “Yes. I couldn’t face them.” We all relaxed. but I guess I’m just worried that my life won’t even deserve a Playbill!” I shoved at my pillow and it went sailing across the tent. just so she can get a jump on the day. too. and my heart pounded against my rib cage. Ella shined our flashlight straight at whoever was peeping inside our tent.and I kicked at them. Grace and Ella both screamed.” I opened the screen. And now I’m starving.” I sort of had to pee anyway. then peeled back the door and found myself face to face with a person. Visions of the backside-eating bear I’d teased my mom about came flying into my mind. bear-imitator lurking outside our tent—but in some ways. I could tell she was getting sleepy. “Why didn’t you bring it up sooner?” she grouched. exactly. “Roar. “Be back in a few with snackage. It was good to know there wasn’t some sort of massmurdering. “Me too!” “What do you want?” I asked. and I realized that just getting the words out had made me feel better. “Johnny Rush?” “In the flesh. clip-clopping down their own personal yellow brick roads while I just meandered in the ditch on the side of the road to…somewhere. “You guys know I don’t want to be an actress or anything. “Green olive pizza.
“Mind if I come in? The mosquitoes are eating me alive out here. I can get you pizza. I wanted to suck the words back in. Definitely not. “Why would you do that?” “I did not say I’d buy you a pizza. If you’re interested…” “You’d buy us pizza?” Ella asked suspiciously. “I came over to see what was up with the tent. come on.” Grace said. Sophie. But we’d need a car. now that he’d broken the neighborly seal and kept popping over the invisible fence between our yards. We’ll have to work for it. I swear.” Johnny teased. lifting his eyebrows.” Johnny said.” he said. But I didn’t like that he kept sneaking up on me. “We don’t need money. to press him on how we were going to get free pizza. but I’d already said it. and you didn’t invite me?” He stretched his legs out in front of his body and got comfortable. “Okay.” . don’t you?” “I do—” “Well. just go with the flow. as though he’d just woken up and hadn’t talked to anyone else yet.” I said with a smile. His hair was all shaggy and messed up. It was just like the day he’d surprised me beside the pumpkin patch—and then invited himself to join me on the beach. Strictly to see if he used product to get the casual surfer look that I wished I could achieve with my hair. “You’re having a slumber party. It was incredibly sexy and teasing.” Johnny laughed and began to unzip the tent again.” “Oh. you have a car. “I also heard you talking about pizza.” He slipped his shoes off and plopped his body onto the floor of the tent. Johnny stepped out of the tent. Not because I wanted to touch Johnny Rush’s hair. I was both surprised by and impressed at his ability to make himself comfortable in this situation.” I said. “You were practically screaming in here. then zipped it up behind himself. “I said I can get you pizza. once again jumping straight to the logical problems in a plan. and I realized he wasn’t wearing his hat. “We don’t have any money. And I felt an obligation to set some ground rules. That is so wrong. “Don’t you think it’s a little creepy to sit outside someone’s tent?” “I wasn’t lurking. “How long have you been lurking out there.” “We’re camping.” Johnny said.” “You were lurking!” I cried. His voice was low and rough. Let’s go get some pizza. then. Then the way he’d drifted in and out of groups on the beach at his party.I plopped back into the tent and covered up with a blanket while Johnny grinned at us from the unzipped tent door. and I kind of wished I could touch it.” I wanted to ask more questions. “And listening. you know. but then I thought about how I’d just been complaining about never doing anything without thinking it through and finding every possible obstacle first. too. grinning at her. but it will be worth it. “I see that. I wasn’t going anywhere. of course. “I just have to run inside and grab my keys. Sophie. Ella still had the flashlight fixed on his face. Johnny?” I demanded.
I thought that sounded really tiring. Since school started. Ella and Grace had hopped into the backseat together. an accomplice to a beating of some kind.” “Oh. I grinned. I glanced over at Grace in the rearview mirror and caught her yawning. I’d checked my hair before we left. ugly guys who wore trench coats and challenged one another to the modern-day equivalent of duels behind the middle school. we are going on a bit of a scavenger hunt. At least. That was a plus. leaving the front seat free for Johnny. right?” Johnny asked after we’d all piled in the car a few minutes later.” Johnny said. realizing she was defending her crush. I’d quickly gone to the bathroom and changed into a pair of jeans and a soft sweater while I was inside. . Ladies. I hoped not. I told myself. to keep watch over her or something.” I said. glancing at him beside me. I didn’t know if Ella had coordinated the seating arrangements. He didn’t respond well to Grace being in the company of other guys. It also made me look seventeen instead of six. “You don’t want to fight him or anything. Ian liked to know where she was at all times. That was more of a Trever German and crew thing—the beefy. “The tale of the borrowed Barbie dolls. “He lives on my old block. I’d learned that you’re supposed to tilt your chin down and fluff up your lips in mug shots—that’s what all the celebrities do. I have a score to settle with that guy.” I felt my stomach tighten.” “He doesn’t still play with Barbie dolls. tonight? But Johnny wasn’t the kind of guy to beat someone up. Rather. “What kind of score?” I asked. “Yeah. but she didn’t seem to mind. right. and somewhat codependent-bordering-on-obsessive. Johnny shrugged. I slipped on something that would be much more comfortable than my Disney sleep T-shirt and flannel pants. Peter Martinson is on my list. do you?” I pictured myself in a mug shot. I could smell him next to me. and I liked that I could look at him out of my peripheral vision without making a big deal about it. I didn’t change because of Johnny. As if Peter needed defending. chuckling.CHAPTER TEN “You know Peter Martinson. What if I had to call on that know-how now.” Ella piped up quietly from the backseat. I had a feeling Ian wouldn’t be happy if he knew we were out on a joyride with Johnny Rush. She smiled sheepishly at me before pulling out her phone to text Ian—probably to fill him in on her exact coordinates. “Barbie dolls or not. But I was grateful to whatever fates had intervened. or if it just worked out that way. and it looked okay.
” We all laughed. whooping it up with Mackenzie at the moment. if you want. just in case I can’t. “Okay. so I just kept driving toward Peter’s house.” I said. I don’t offer a money-back guarantee. what kind of guy do you think I am? I’m just looking for a little payback. “So—where exactly are we going anyway?” I asked. “We will make it a specific part of our evening’s mission to avoid right turns. “Not that either. “Did you drop out?” she asked. and my mind jumped to Mackenzie. “What do you feed this thing? It sounds terrible. unwilling to watch him plummet from the window and go rolling down the street. trying to change the subject. then. though. we didn’t need to put him through the third degree. I slowed down. “I can take a look at it for you. No offense. what are you doing home from school anyway? Are you home for the weekend or something?” Johnny shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “But I’m great at pulling stuff apart. cringing as my car whined in protest. “Sure.” “I hear that.” “Okay. Do you know anything about cars?” “Not really. “If we could avoid right turns as much as possible on this scavenger hunt.” “Probably a wise choice. “But you’re going to have to give me a few more clues as to where we’re going first.” Johnny opened his window and leaned his head out to look at the side of the car.” he offered.Johnny laughed—that short. I looked over at him in the passenger seat and said. sliding his body back into the car.” Grace poked her head between the two front seats eagerly. and I didn’t want to be the reason someone felt uncomfortable in my car. “It has a few quirks.” he said quickly. and looked over at me with a smile. “No. laughing.” Johnny said. The lack of appropriate padding in the passenger seat already made it uncomfortable enough. and I could tell he wasn’t enjoying the conversation anymore. “We eventually need to get to Sammy’s.” “It came like this. In the meantime. that would be great. but he could tell us the reason for it on his own time. too. Or I can just drive around all night.” I followed his instruction and turned right. I felt my stomach flipping again. It’s old. What would she say if she knew her boyfriend was out with three other girls? Was she the kind of person who got jealous about stuff like that? I suddenly realized something. the one on Park Drive. “I think I’ll just let it be.” he said.” Johnny tapped his knees and said. go right. “Hey. I don’t want to fight him. I was just as curious as Grace about why Johnny wasn’t at Madison. “Not exactly. Johnny didn’t say anything more. almost angry-sounding burst of a laugh that I’d heard on so many nights down below my open window when he was hosting parties. Here. shrugging. I can usually get it back together again. Jeez. the only one that wasn’t Godfather’s or Domino’s. It wasn’t any of our business to know what was going on with Johnny and school. But that’s not going to get us the pizza you promised. .” Johnny’s lips were pressed into a thin line.” Sammy’s was the best pizza place in town—really. I shrugged.” I said reluctantly.” Johnny smiled at me gratefully.
“I don’t know what you have in mind. old sports car. the kind with flashy spoilers and an ugly yellow paint job. too. I don’t know if she fantasized that maybe he would realize she was the love of his life as he handed her a white cardboard box. “Now follow him. At any rate. “Give him a little lead time so he doesn’t hear your car.” Again. Grace was probably nervous about getting in trouble. at the road that led past the old.” Johnny instructed. I looked back over my shoulder at Ella and Grace. When we got to Sammy’s. “Got it. Got it?” I cringed. He was grinning and giggling.” I said. He’d left his car running. “Okay. Johnny scooted up to Peter’s car and opened the back door. and try not to get noticed. We all knew this because Ella spent most of her babysitting money on Sammy’s delivery. Johnny was already back in my car with a pizza in hand. we all need to hide. Johnny pointed to the left. By the time Peter had turned to walk back to his car. on the off chance that Peter would deliver it to her. popping up and giggling as Peter’s car sailed out of the parking lot and down the hill. They both looked at me warily. Johnny opened the front door of my car noiselessly and slipped outside.Peter worked as a delivery guy at Sammy’s. A few minutes later.” “Respect the car.” “Don’t worry. we ate a few too many pizzas. just pull up as close as you can to his car.” Johnny said happily. Grace leaned back in her seat again. “He’s making his first delivery already. It was a tiny. curving front walk. A moment later. Peter emerged from the glass front doors with a stack of five insulated pizza warmers and headed toward his car. When I get back in the car. If you want a pizza. “No one will get hurt. I followed his directions. I did as I was told. who were giving each other a questioning look in the backseat. and it was obviously unlocked. “Nice! He’s got a multirun. Peter was in his car and driving away. Now turn off your lights. when Peter pulled up in front of a white stucco house with a long.” “Ooh.” he said. crouching down next to the passenger’s side door. “You stole a pizza!” I said.” Peter got out of his car and made his way to the front door of the stucco house. look. but your revenge is made possible thanks to my vehicle. Ella held her boobs a little higher and peered anxiously out the window at the pizza shop.” I cautioned.” he said. This is going to be perfect. this road will gradually get us up the hill and we won’t have to take any sharp turns at all. As soon as the front door to the house opened. you’ve got to trust me and get your sneak on. . I spotted Peter’s car in the lot. obviously disappointed that I’d staved off the gossip. recognizing my anxiety.” he instructed. He’d delivered a few of the pizzas we’d ordered over the years. “If we hang a left here. abandoned elementary school. Johnny motioned for us all to stay quiet and duck down. and Ella was probably concerned about what Johnny was planning to do to the love of her life. I knew Johnny had worked at Sammy’s. We’re not exactly incognito in this beast. “Impressed?” “Very.
He spoke with his mouth full. It was Super Bowl Sunday.” *** We ate pizza and drove around town for a while. He also proudly confessed that he’d been one of the organizers of a group of people who had filled our former government teacher’s yard with Democratic political signs. he’s going to be so pissed that he let himself get pranked. the first part of it.” “But what about Peter?” Ella demanded from the back seat. “Don’t worry about poor Peter’s feelings or anything. I came back to the car and found that every single one of my pizzas was gone. During his time at East Central. and find an empty warmer. taking a slice of pizza out of the box and biting into it. a prank that had gotten quite a bit of coverage in our local news. listening to Johnny tell us stories of pranks that had gone wrong between him and his friends. and then I didn’t get any tips on top of it. The person who ordered this has exceptional taste.” He handed the box into the backseat. which was oddly charming. criticizing “those foolish liberals” for having loose morals.” “Ah. They took fourteen pies!” “What about the people who had ordered the pizzas?” Grace asked. and my stomach grumbled hungrily. “Let’s see what we scored. I’m sitting there wondering what I’m going to do. This kind of thing happens all the time at Sammy’s. But anyway. ladies.” He grinned. when Peter and a couple of his buddies come driving by in an old pickup truck and Martinson yells out the window. “He’s done plenty. reach into the back of the car. Then he . “Peter’s going to drive all the way to his next delivery. Fourteen pizzas. “Did they ever get them?” “Eventually. since I was so late with the deliveries. It’s a lot less obvious.“That I did. “One time when I went out for a delivery. After all.” The smell of fresh pizza filled my car. wide-eyed. that’s part of the fun of stealing them one by one. and that we get pizza. ‘Don’t forget to lock up!’ Then they threw an empty box out the window of the truck and it beaned me on the head. “Payback. and the payback is drawn out over a period of weeks—you never know when to expect it.” Johnny said.” “What did he ever do to you?” Ella asked. Peter should feel lucky that I only stole one. At least. yes. Hennen had been inappropriately outspoken about his super-conservative views. “I had to pay for the ones I lost. opening the cardboard box.” Johnny shrugged.” He cracked up. I got this for you. “You took one of his pizzas.” Johnny said. Oh. since it’s only one and the late-night managers are more relaxed about that sort of thing. “He’ll only have to pay for the one missing pie. A classic. instead of taking everything. “Help yourselves. Or maybe he won’t. so I had fourteen pies in my car.” “When will he realize it’s gone?” I asked. “Nice! Olive and green peppers. “He didn’t seem to notice it was missing. Mr.” “You steal pizzas?” Grace asked. That’s the best part of this whole thing.” Johnny said.
. and about Johnny. What would it have been like if we’d become something more than strangers when he was my neighbor? Would we have become friends? Why was he home from college anyway? Mackenzie had told me she was leaving after that first week of school. I let myself wonder. Hennen wasn’t a hero—and a few weeks after it all went down. By the time we returned to my house. At least. not the people from our town. I kept thinking about our night. I had to get him out of my head. Johnny was obviously proud of what they’d done. A tiny piece of me wondered if maybe something had happened between him and Mackenzie. and finally. Hennen’s lawn with sign after sign supporting the loose-moraled liberals. Maybe they’d had a fight. at Johnny’s party. Surely they would have gone together. late in the night when I was sure everything else around me was asleep.accidentally impregnated a student’s (married) mom—and it soon came out that he was also having an affair with three students. Mr. though. Needless to say. they never came back if they knew what was good for them. crawled into the tent. it was well past midnight. for how long was he here? Most people didn’t come home for their first visit after leaving for college so early—not before Thanksgiving. as well. But now that he was home. and he needed to come home to get away for a while. I couldn’t fall asleep that fast. I could only wish and wonder. Maybe he’d be home often. someone stole hundreds of campaign signs out of other people’s yards and filled Mr. Once someone left. and I could hear both Ella’s and Grace’s breathing slow into sleep almost immediately. We said good night to Johnny. I drifted off with Johnny’s face etched into my mind. but I just couldn’t stop myself from wishing he still lived next door. or even Christmas. my thoughts flying into space.
of course. Guess I’d hit a nerve. The Friday after our outing with Johnny. Granted. just trying to be friendly. Mom.” Every time I had a conversation with Sandy. You just knew these things about your own home. A few hours around her mom and sisters made my house seem heavenly. storming into the room. always rubbing her feet with these low moaning sounds. and snapped at Ella for just about everything. Ella. When I got really fed up with my own family. and I had made plans to go to the football game together. it made me wonder how Ella was still even remotely normal. watching as Sandy painted her fingernails candy-apple red. “Isn’t Chloe old enough to babysit?” Grace asked with her usual innocence. I would hang out with Ella’s. “Are you going out tonight?” I asked. Grace.CHAPTER ELEVEN Ella’s house made me uncomfortable. but I think she probably knew. “You’d think so. She was constantly crabby. Grace and I sat on the two chairs in the living room. She’s too immature. but it was a cold. As luck would have it.” . “I started babysitting when I was eleven or twelve. pushing everyone around until finally Sandy snapped and kicked him out. but there was just this vibe that made me feel like something bad was about to happen whenever we were there. And Ella’s mom.” Sandy squinted at Grace. “You don’t need to be such a martyr all the time. I had a feeling Sandy would perceive it as sassing—her term for someone having an opinion of her own that differed from Sandy’s. But it had been a long couple of years of custody battles and fighting to keep Ella and her sisters away from their dad. Neither Grace nor I said anything as we drove the three blocks from Grace’s house to Ella’s house.” Ella said. but I knew we were both hoping Ella would be ready and out on the front steps when we pulled up. Sandy. she wasn’t. I got the sense there were a lot of them to hit. There wasn’t anything specifically wrong with the physical house or her family. wasn’t very easy to be around. Ella’s dad had been a total ass. and then we drove to Ella’s house. “They’re both perfectly capable of taking care of themselves for a few hours if you want to go out. “Are you volunteering to babysit for Chloe and Sammie so I can have some time off?” She laughed. wouldn’t you? But Chloe isn’t ready for that yet. I never told her that. then resumed painting her pinkie. Ella had two younger sisters—eleven and nine— and the three of them were constantly at each another. “When would I go out?” she snapped back. I picked Grace up first. I think. angry sound.
“Don’t do anything stupid tonight—I want you home by eleven. but she didn’t want anyone else to join her. and . and she’d turned on me.” Ella said. staring out the window.” Grace and I both nodded.” We nodded. She had a tiny ladybug necklace around her neck. She said it was poor form to disparage someone else’s parent. When we’d picked her up. Once I’d accidentally broken in and started agreeing too vehemently. she wouldn’t have to spend so much time trying to live four lives instead of one. smeared a little polish across her thumb knuckle.” Ella snorted.” Grace bit her lip. “It doesn’t need to be as hard as she makes it. “Fine. “Enough. If she’d just lighten up and let us make our own decisions from time to time. that she was crazy for thinking her life was a mess when she was the only person I knew who actually did have a semirealistic vision for life beyond high school. “I’m not going to be held accountable if someone screws up. “Ta da!” Grace gasped. but she cut me off. “She does have a sort of hard life. and the best thing we could do for her was to listen. loose pink polo with her dark-wash jeans.” she said diplomatically. “Never. “She’s a single mom to three girls—I’m sure it’s not easy.” Sandy spat back. I’m not pregnant…. Ella pulled off her faux-leather jacket and twirled. El.” “Does she really never date?” I asked when we were in the car and on the road. and all three of us climbed out of the car. Who wants to see my outfit?” And on that note.” She jutted out her chin. talking about how her mom had given up her life for her daughters and how they owed her something for that. That was her rule. “I’m not a bad kid. then began to giggle. “So why do I feel like I’m making a mess of her life all the time?” I started to tell her she was wrong. Ella carried on for a while longer. right? We are capable of making smart decisions for ourselves. but that’s about it.” Ella pushed out the front door. right? I mean. We turned out to be somewhat decent people. “She’s too angry to attract men. The usually elaborately accessorized and creatively dressed Ella was wearing a plain. She liked to rant about her mom. easily shifting right along with her. We’d pulled into the parking lot at the football stadium. It was the same stuff that got her every time—a discussion that always ended with her deciding that she maybe ought to want to go to a fancy East Coast school. then her thumb made its way up to the corner of her mouth. I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that her feet were in pristine checkered Converse that somehow looked cool rather than kidlike. Let’s not let Sandy ruin another one of my evenings. “I do!” Grace said. I’m smart enough. “It’s not like any of us are total losers or pain-med-addicted dropouts—my dad gave us his ugly-ass nose and a recessive red-hair gene. It was another one of those times when Ella needed to vent. and in the process. I make my own clothes so I don’t spend money on stupid stuff. she effectively changed the subject. and it seemed like a good one. just because it was her mother’s wish.“My job is taking care of you girls. but you could say whatever you liked about your own.” She leaned her head on the glass and looked out at the city passing by. He kept all of his other special qualities for himself.
honey. but it still always felt like Ian and Grace were just playing the part of a couple. “Hey. impressed. Grace said hi to nearly everyone. as an experiment. Prep in a box. You said prude. “I might have lifted them last time I was at your house. and Grace squealed when she saw Ian waving at us awkwardly from his spot in the stands. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have stolen your outfit. but that doesn’t mean I’m a prude. it was just that I’d never made a real effort to jump into the middle of any crowds. As we walked through the crowds outside the football field. “Stealing from Grace was the right call. I hoped I was wrong.” Grace said.” “I am not prep in a box.” she cooed as Ella and I reluctantly filed into the stands to sit with Ian. “I prefer cardigans to lace leggings. maintaining a low profile. People liked me just fine. “Oh my gosh. They’d been together for six months. She slipped a headband into her hair and looked like a different person. so she was sort of stuck with us.” Grace’s eyes widened.’” She looked to me for approval. Ella and I subtly looked for other options. A few people looked at Ella as she passed. are those my pearls?” She reached over to fix Ella’s headband.” She cleared her throat and spoke in an announcer voice.” Ella mused. Grace really is the model of pink perfection. She’d even quit the Key Club so she could spend more time with Ian.” I said. and I . We climbed the bleachers. But I never got the sense that Grace was Grace when she was with him. and she was constantly communicating with him—no matter where she was or what she was doing—so there had to be something. I don’t know what it was about Ian that made me so uncomfortable. “You stole from your best friend?” “Borrowed. clearly trying to figure out why she looked so different from usual. “We didn’t say prude. She insisted that they were very happy.” I snickered.” “Ella!” Grace gasped. “Do you care that I just went ahead and did this one for you? It let me fulfill my dream of turning into a prep. She was just great at hiding it. “Wait! That’s my shirt. “Maybe…” Ella said. smirking. “I’m a prep in a pink gift box. her hands on her hips. And I…well.” “Nice. I had always had Grace and Ella. For the sake of doing the seventh thing on Sophie’s list. looking for a seat. too?” Ella just smiled and marched across the parking lot to the stadium. and other than that I had a tendency to float in and out of groups of people.” she grumbled. Most of the other people Ella hung out with didn’t come to football games.perfect pearl earrings in her ears. With a ribbon. I didn’t have a lot of other friends. looking as confident as ever in her new preppy clothes. “‘Number seven: change my style.” “Fine. Grace bounced over to hug him.” “A pretty one at that. for Grace’s sake. It wasn’t that I was an outsider or super socially awkward or anything. But I knew she was probably a mess inside. once. “You look like me!” Grace giggled.
too.— and some other people?” Ella grinned. I waved at Taryn Mattson. since the game had started at four. She shook her head and shrugged. then added. “We’re going with a couple guys from the team—Martinson. “She’s like a zombie girlfriend when she’s with him. The Christmas Carolers was our school’s small choral group that toured around to local stores and nursing homes during the holiday season. “Yeah. Jimmy P. Taryn waved back. but I wasn’t sure what she was asking me. Taryn looked at me expectantly. “Mind if we sit with you?” It was almost as though she was asking his permission and waiting for his approval before she sat. Ian scooted over and Grace plunked down next to him. It was the healthiest dinner I could put together at the game. maybe. As I was waiting for my change. strangely irritated by this news. My mom would have been proud. Because there .” Ella said—somewhat too loudly—as we walked back down the bleachers. then bounced over. and after a longish pause. “Doesn’t it seem like he has her on an awfully tight leash?” “I don’t know.” she said. glancing at Ella. Grace didn’t even look our way. and I knew Ella did. “She wouldn’t try out for the musical with us. “Nothing. all conversation about Grace and Ian forgotten. A few hours and one major football-team loss later. Taryn beamed.” I said. singing Christmas songs in strange period clothes. Grace rubbed Ian’s arm mindlessly as she said. I was right. Just so they can be together. we were in the car on our way to Hanging Rock. who was one of the intellectual cheerleaders.” I muttered. not wanting to talk about Grace behind her back. It wasn’t even close to dark yet. I nodded. but she’s hoping to get into the Christmas Carolers. There was no doubt in my mind that this would be all we would talk about for the rest of the game. but I wasn’t the sort of person who had to schedule my calendar out weeks in advance. “I guess they’re just like that. I liked her a lot. “A bunch of us are going to Hanging Rock tonight after the game?” It sounded like a question. “Isn’t she always complaining about how she’s too busy for the activities she’s already in charge of?” We got to the concessions stand and I ordered popcorn and some taffy. but also a friend of mine from skiing. I could tell that her mind had moved on to the idea of Peter Martinson in a swimsuit at Hanging Rock. Ella and I offered to get popcorn just so we could get out of the way. She and some of her friends—the noncheerleader types—had come to a few bonfires at the public beach near my house during the summer. and we’d always had a good time. “If you want to come?” She grabbed my arm. we’re in. “What are you guys doing later?” she asked happily. Ian gave us a thin smile that made it obvious he couldn’t care less. Haddon.” “She hates the Christmas Carolers!” I said. There wasn’t enough room for all three of us.” “Did you know she’s auditioning for the Christmas Carolers?” Ella asked with a smirk. Ian wrapped his arm possessively around Grace and nodded approvingly.was never at a loss for something to do if I wanted to go out.
” I said. but only by suggesting that Ian come along. unsure of what else I could say. I noticed Ella’s body stiffen next to me. It wasn’t convenient.” “Well. he didn’t say anything. I didn’t much enjoy someone bossing me around.” I peeked in the rearview mirror and caught them giving each other this moony look while Ian rubbed Grace’s leg.” “Yeah?” I said. If he did. controlling. but I had thought it was for us only—not to share with dorky. “Why not?” Ella asked. Ian poked Grace on the nose. “Did you tell Ian about the list?” I asked Grace carefully. “None of you should be jumping. “I hope you know Grace isn’t going to be a part of most of your little list game. “We’ll keep it in mind. Especially when I was looking for any excuse not to make the attempt at jumping off the cliff. “Oh. most certainly not a friend’s boyfriend for whom she had no respect. “I’m not a piercing kind of a girl. It’s careless and it’s irresponsible. putting a hole in your body isn’t going to be that big of a deal. then said. “It’s probably one of your last chances before the water gets too cold. “Grace told me all about it. She didn’t like to be told what to do by anyone. Safety Officer Ian. don’t. “It was a pretty fun game. huh?” “If you’re just thinking about jumping off Hanging Rock because of that list you found. and the plan was set.was only one high school football field with a viewing area. I’m not a jumping-off-cliffs kind of girl.” Ella said.” “Thanks for the tip. but Ian didn’t seem to notice. “If you can chew your hand apart like that. reluctantly. Sophie?” Grace asked excitedly. Ian? Secret fantasies of a tattooed rebel? You seem like a fun guy. Her dreams. and I think maybe Grace saw it too.” Ian cleared his throat and Grace randomly said.” Ian added in his usual monotone. Grace laughed.” He looked at me. We’d convinced Grace to join us. Ella glanced back and said. but both Ella and I heard.” Ian laughed. “Of course I did.” Ian gave his advice quietly. “Do you think you’re going to jump tonight. “But I’m going to do it anyway. We tell each other everything. . I realized I’d never asked either of them to keep Suzy’s list private. I caught Ella rolling her eyes when he said yes. either.” The sarcasm was painfully obvious. through clenched teeth.” I said. He agreed. unibrowed boyfriends. there were always two games scheduled for every Friday. I thought. I could see Grace biting her thumb nervously. “Don’t you have a wild side. It’s a dare. looking at him in the mirror.” Grace tucked her hands under her butt and frowned. unfulfilled.” And it’s for my aunt. Soon we had our swimsuits on under our clothes and were back in the car and on our way out to the cliff.” “It’s not safe. But you know that. but no one said anything. but it made it easy to do stuff afterward when our team was scheduled for the early game. I saw her swipe it on her jeans and guessed it had started to bleed. “She’s not getting a nose ring. Or a tattoo. and maybe it was intended for Grace alone. and four high schools within fifty miles.
tell you what’s coming up in senior year—since he has. Those people are dropouts. Skipping class and—” Grace cut him off. He’ll be happy to show you around. horrified. It’s not like you’re going out there to smoke pot. “The Red Line does creep me out. trying to ignore Ian’s hairy face in the rearview mirror. “You can’t get suspended for stepping across the school’s property line.” For some reason. He paused. .” Now Ella was laughing. Lots of people go to the Red Line.” she said quietly. Grace considered that. “You guys know it scares me. “Curious. gone through it all before. I didn’t really know if it was true.“I also don’t know why any of you would want to skip class and go to the Red Line. “Most of the stuff on this list of yours is downright stupid. of course. When we got to the parking lot at Hanging Rock. this struck me as hilarious. you sound like the biggest prude ever right now. The Red Line was the imaginary line that divided school grounds from not school grounds.” Grace’s eyes widened. How many times can you flunk a grade before you have to just move on already?” “Haven’t you heard of No Child Left Behind?” Grace said haughtily.” I suddenly wondered if that was true. Maybe I was just uncomfortable with the vibe in the car. “I seriously doubt Trever German is twenty-two. but I wanted it to be something the three of us did together. “You’re not going to get suspended. I snorted. “You’re not even the littlest bit curious?” I asked. but I just worried that he’d get involved in it somehow. Maybe it was the way he seemed to have this control over Grace.” No one laughed. too. “The Red Line is filled with people who are going to have to repeat senior year. I cracked up and said. “I’m sure Trever’s a nice guy. defensive. “Of course not! I’m in sports.” “Grace…” Ian warned. I could feel the tension in the car. since I wasn’t a smoker and had never had occasion to go to the Red Line. “Trever German is obviously left behind! And he spends his days at the Red Line!” She was getting really upset. like.” “Lots?” She asked. it was filled with cars. I had known he’d try to talk her out of participating with us. Would we get suspended? Then I realized I was letting my practical side get in the way again. five times before they get to graduate. then said. and that he felt it was his place to weigh in on it. In fact. Ian said there’s one guy in our class—Trever German—who’s twenty-two! Twenty-two and still in high school. but all I wanted to do was laugh at this ridiculous conversation. oblivious to the tension in the car. when people would come up here to hang out and jump and swim.” “So what’s the problem?” I asked. none of us talked the rest of the way out to Hanging Rock.” Ian continued. Apparently the school couldn’t punish people for getting into trouble if they were off school property. It often was on Friday nights and weekends. It bugged me that Ian knew about my list. but not enough so to get suspended. “ ‘Those people?’ Grace. so smokers and classcutters would sneak out to that section of the woods in back of school and stand on the other side of the line.
“Actually. A bunch of people had beat us there. Ian suddenly looked uncomfortable. no. as though he’d only just realized that he was going to be completely out of his element. Not that anyone was floating around in the chilly water at this time of year. she’d said. “Let’s just let them be. “Clear the decks!” and to check to make sure there was no one under the protruding rock. I’d almost gotten the sense that she felt like it was her duty to give him a home. The guys all whooped and made a big show of what they were doing. protected pool of water below the jumping area where you could swim. When they first started dating. Suddenly. My stomach flipped nervously when I realized he was there. and arrogant. posturing for everyone along with a bunch of the other guys. I held my breath as his body dropped and twisted before landing with a huge splash in the water below. as my brother had done. who’d already climbed up to the top of Hanging Rock and was preparing to jump. We headed down to the pebbled beach next to the stream-fed swimming area. In many ways. Johnny was suddenly ever present. to prove that he had survived. a random collection of guys he had from student council and remnants of friendships he’d maintained from his one year on the basketball team. And I’d begun to get the sense that Ian was somewhat friendless because he was condescending. Even though the first few weeks of their relationship had been a little awkward. He stopped only long enough to yell. and I wondered if he was trying to convince her that they should go off on their own somewhere.” I murmured to Ella. but there was also a small. I think. Then he unceremoniously lobbed himself off the edge minus frills and animal calls and without a puffed-up chest. So there was that. Ian was one of those guys whom everyone knows. I think part of what attracted Grace to Ian was that he needed her. He ripped his shirt off and flung it around. Every bit of her attention was focused on Peter. A few were making animal noises or something equally charming. He was one of those guys who didn’t really fit in anywhere in high school. and Ella sucked in her breath in anticipation. and I realized that was what he’d told her. Grace had told me that Ian only had a few close friends. but no one really knows—the male version of Grace. but also that he was an unknown quantity with the masses at East Central. I continued to hold it as I waited for him to pop back up to the surface. someone hollered from behind them and Johnny Rush came barreling through the crowd of guys. Just when he was supposed to disappear forever.” I half jokingly made this offer to Ella as I watched Grace and Ian walk away and snuggle up close under one of the big birch trees that stood straight and narrow along the edge of the beach. “Ten bucks if you can convince Ian to jump. He seemed to be everywhere lately. haughty.” I looked over and saw that Ella hadn’t heard a word I’d said. Except that Grace kept herself at a distance as a kind of protection. including Peter and Taryn and some of their other friends. I knew Johnny and Peter and a lot of the other guys in the .The cliff itself was the biggest draw. I noticed him whispering to Grace. in some ways.
and let his eyes dance across the rest of the crowd that had gathered at the beach. but I couldn’t prevent myself from worrying. with no concern about what I might say to him or any worry about whether or not I’d be interesting enough to hold his attention. He looked around with the confidence of someone who’d never worried about what anyone else was thinking about him—and eventually. yeah. At least. and expected that a simple smile at Johnny would be just as daunting as a smile that was directed at any guy would. Johnny’s head popped up.” he said. He looked back up at the guys still standing along the edge and yelled. “Come on down. and I could see his huge. well…since my brother. But instead. “Why does it seem like you’re everywhere lately?” I asked when Johnny was close enough to hear me.” “What happened to Madison?” I asked. “Wait…you’re saying that your parents told you Madison wasn’t good enough? So you decided to go nowhere instead?” I couldn’t keep the disbelief out of my voice. I mean. or an absolutely terrible one. “So I’m one of those guys.” He sat down on the rocks and toweled off his legs. and I was finding it increasingly more difficult not to stare. like she was in a trance. but it didn’t reach his eyes. and stood alongside Taryn at the shoreline awaiting the return of their men from up on high. silly grin in the middle of the swimming pond. She had walked away from me. like a dog might do—if a dog were like. The chance of death. I found myself grinning easily and naturally. “Aren’t you ever at school?” I asked this teasingly. “I already told you—it wasn’t a valid choice. I noticed that he didn’t wipe off his chest.” . I hadn’t been that comfortable around a guy since.” One by one. and droplets of water sat temptingly on skin that looked like it was probably warm. It seemed like his grin got wider when he looked my way. for me it would be. not expecting the answer I got. they all jumped as Johnny swam to shore and climbed out. that’s taking rebellion to a whole new level. Just as he began to make his way toward me. “I’m not going. despite the chill of the swimming water. “No. “Nothing happened.” he said. He smiled at me. all confident swagger and wet torso.” He smiled at me. I didn’t know if my comfort was a good sign. It seemed ridiculous. and he was one of the guys who was up on the rock with Peter. his eyes settled on me. I don’t know. blue-eyed guy. I smiled again and tried to keep my eyes off his lean body. But maybe it was just the light. He wrapped a towel around his waist and shook his head to dry his hair. I’d never been totally comfortable around guys. Taryn had recently started dating Noah Shelton. There was a reason I’d never jumped off Hanging Rock. I’m not ever at school. I realized I’d lost Ella altogether. I swallowed and tried to smile back. a completely sexy.sporty crowd did this all the time. specifically. “I guess that’s sort of it. before boobs and other complications got in the way. Or Peter and the other boys who had lived in my neighborhood—but that was years ago. His tan had only faded slightly. The water’s perfect.
Grace was off in her own little world. “Yeah. . “Admit it. but people like you.” “You couldn’t find anywhere else you wanted to go?” I asked. Until they do.” He shrugged. Was that significant. But instead of touching. or was he just good at making people feel special? I knew it was the latter. and I suddenly saw a little bit of the fear that I thought didn’t exist for people like Johnny Rush.” Then he hopped up and reached for my hands.“One of what guys?” “One of the losers that sticks around here. I’d always thought it was funny how the rest of the world seemed to drop away when guys entered the picture. that’s what you’re thinking. It was like all clarity got washed away in a wave of lust or something. “Um. “It just seems so unlikely that your parents would rather you not go to college than go to Madison.” “Sometime?” He gave me a funny look. “There’s no better time than now. I guess I sort of am. “I thought that was one of your big life goals. because I wanted to touch him. Even though I knew he was an expert flirt. “I figure people will eventually realize I haven’t left. but she was too busy talking to Peter to notice me. I forgot what we were doing. with Ian and no one else. and focused only on the way his fingers wrapped around mine—his index and middle finger were looped around my pinkie and ring finger. waiting for people to come home from college to play with me over winter break and stuff. I looked over at Ella. And it looks like I’m here for the long haul. I let my eyes go there—and then immediately regretted it. “Are you intentionally misleading people?” He looked at me. it is one of the things I want to do. “Not my good friends. “Yeah.” I stared at him. “Well. and he pulled me to my feet.” He looked down and started to rearrange the rocks between his body and mine.” I said. I’m not going to announce that I’m one of the few sad sacks that didn’t go anywhere. trying to think back to our conversation on pizza-and-camping night. One of your dares. I almost reached out to touch the skin that wrapped around his shoulder blade and ran down his back to the top of his shorts. I felt special when Johnny lightly tugged at my left hand with his right and pulled me up the hill. His hands were colder than I would have expected. offering no further clarity. but no one was jumping.” “People like me?” I wondered. my voice ringing with disbelief. and I could tell he was done talking about it. “Aren’t you going to jump?” he asked. it is what it is. But I am sort of wondering why you didn’t just say you weren’t going to college when we asked you about it last weekend.” He shrugged. Sometime.” Johnny looked up at Hanging Rock. and I wondered if maybe I’d been wrong about his chest. But he hadn’t. “Why broadcast my lack of ambition?” he asked. and wisps of pink lined the edges of the clouds. I let him take them. The sky had started to fade into the deep blue of twilight. it’s not actually. right?” I’d completely forgotten that we’d talked about some of the dares the night of his party.
” “It’s not dark. To let myself take risks. and climbed. I promise. I’m not. and how I’d made promises to myself to go for things. and I certainly wasn’t going to let him convince me to jump. wondering how I could have let myself get sucked into something so stupid. and that’s when reality hit. He stopped right in front of me and put his hands on his hips.” That was true.” I insisted. I could just turn around and tromp back down the hill.My stomach knotted and my heart sped up.” Johnny said. “I’ll hold your hand. “Okay. his hand outstretched. I was at least fifteen steps behind him. still outstretched for me. “If you really don’t want to do it. Both sounded scary.” I said. urging me up the hill. It’s your call. but he didn’t notice right away.” Then I took Johnny’s hand. “I can’t do it today. That distance was enough that I could hold onto my wits and say again. “I don’t know…” I said. When he finally looked back. then stepped back down the hill. even if it meant failing.” “Then when?” he teased. I dropped Johnny’s hand. “No.” I said finally.” Holding your hand. which was still in my pocket. “It’s cold. my resolve wavering. “I’m not going to make you. absent of any pressure. “I can’t jump in the dark. Your life. To try. “It’s almost dark. But then I thought about the list.” he scoffed. knowing how weak it sounded. I wasn’t going to be his girlfriend. “You’re just making excuses. It won’t be scary. “I’ll try.” I stopped walking up the trail. . My out.” There it was. But his words were calming. grinning. or jumping? I wondered.
I knew it was probably best if I just got it out of the way—just went for it. “Thanks. .CHAPTER TWELVE We stood at the top of the precipice. were almost touching. and she looked happy. It had taken almost four years. and almost said yes simply because of the adorable smile that was splashed across his face. “Not yet. It felt intimate. Surely this couldn’t be safe. where there was no risk falling off the edge. Johnny’s toes were wiggling. so I wiggled mine and paid careful attention to the way the ground felt under my feet. both of us peering down at the water below. I wished it were something. but farther back. “Want to sit?” He patted the rocks and I sat. It was too bad that she had to dress up as someone other than herself to feel confident enough to talk to him again. off to the side. intending to jump in my swimsuit and T-shirt—so now the stones poked into the skin on my thighs. Even though this was nothing. I could see Ella talking with Peter. That’s when I noticed that our feet. Wrong. “You can sit on this if you want.” I whispered. Of course.” he said. I shifted. “Ready?” Johnny’s voice was a welcome distraction. thinking about how carefully Ella was going to analyze the situation later. “Give me a minute. “Any updates?” Johnny asked gently. I stared out at the water. thinking about him putting the shirt back on later. both bare. I grew self-conscious. I spread his shirt out under my rear end and thighs. I smiled. and made me feel like I was someone different. after I’d been sitting on it.” Johnny reached back and grabbed his shirt from where he’d flung it to the ground. Tiny grits of sand and larger stones mingled and poked at my soles. it felt like something. I looked over. It was exciting.” “Take as long as you like. somehow. but she was finally conversing with him again. thinking about my legs and Johnny’s chest together in the same mental image made me even more uncomfortable so I squirmed and tried to think about the jump again. before his first jump. I liked the way I felt when his eyes were trained on me. and at the group of people on shore. I couldn’t focus on anything below me. and settled in to sit on the ground with his legs dangling off the edge. I had a feeling we’d be seeing the pink polo and pearls again. since she’d surely assume they were the lucky charm that had made him notice her. I swallowed and tried to focus on something other than the water. I’d cast my jeans aside back at the beach. trying to find a more comfortable position.” I said. except the distance we were from the water. I could tell he was looking at me. before I could freak myself out. They were alone. It felt farther from way up high.
and realized it probably wasn’t worth it just to feel his arms around me. “You do know that. and I’ll be fine. “Whoa—you okay?” He caught me as I swayed back to the ground.” “Obviously. to wrap his fingers around my shoulder and touch my collarbone. I’m just being chicken. obviously. “I’m not big on heights. meeting his gaze. “I mean. watching you creep toward the edge like a little crab. It’s not like my social calendar is bursting with obligations. and I was tempted to fake a full-on faint. embarrassed. with not a lot to do. “I just want to do it. and it was obvious he realized it sounded like he was willing to hang out with me only because he had nothing better to do. He smiled at me.“Updates on what?” I asked. “Sports. just dealing with a whole lot of symbolism. I weighed out the pros and cons of fake fainting versus not fainting. talking to me slowly. I can do it.” he said.” Johnny laughed.” he said. And I really do have plenty of time. . Maybe we could come back another time and try again. Not torture. To rub my cheek and maybe even be forced to give me mouth-to-mouth. I’d like to come back and hang out with you again.” He grinned. “I just need to forget about what I’m doing. “Vertigo. right?” “Yes. This is one of those mind-over-matter things—I need to believe in myself. Think we’re going to do this today?” “Oh. Right?” Johnny reached out and gently pulled at my arm to lead me further away from the edge of Hanging Rock. It’s entertaining.” I smiled. “No. then felt my stomach clench angrily. as though I was a crazy person who might reach my chin forward and spit at him if he misspoke.” I began to stand again.” I said. and then got dizzy and sat back down again. wondering why I had to bring his girlfriend into the scene. eager to prove to him that I wasn’t actually insane. “It’s really not that big of a deal. Okay. Jumping off Hanging Rock is supposed to be fun. I bet that was sexy.” I nearly spat this out.” He paused. and know that I’m not going to fail. I wanted him to keep touching me. while you move your mind over the matter. “You’re not a failure if you don’t jump off Hanging Rock. You’re looking a little worse for the wear. pulling his arm away. That would be a surefire way to win him over. Do you give mouth-to-mouth when someone faints? I didn’t think so—but he might need to put my head in his lap. right? The rest of you just jumped. I can do this. Not one. and not even one of you died. even though it was the truth. I mean. really.” I explained sheepishly. “I’m not sure I want to jump anymore. Fantastic.” I began to stand up. Or dying.” “Until Mackenzie comes home. I know that. my coffee order…. “I don’t think this is such a good idea.” he said. He put his arm around my shoulder to steady me.” “Really?” “Yes. “Did you forget where we are? The jump. “Obviously. I was just a wee bit worried the food from the game was going to come up.” he agreed. the weather. Now I looked both crazy and angry.
what?” I wasn’t positive. “You always seemed so self-assured.” I put my hands on my hips. Do I really look like that? Like a twentiethcentury schoolmarm?” “No!” He said. It’s going to be fun hanging out with you this year. Sophie. “With that snazzy pink streak in your hair. “What?” I asked. I would let myself think that the things he was saying meant something.” “No. and the way you walk through the halls at school all—” He held his chest and shoulders high and pushed his lips out in a silly little expression.” .” He grinned. “I was going to say something really stupid. If it was anyone other than Johnny Rush sitting next to me. and I think it’s nice that I’m seeing some of the chinks in the armor. I was also realizing that he’d noticed me before.“Okay. but an opinion nonetheless.” Johnny agreed. “Why are you looking at me like that?” He shrugged. Not a flattering opinion. “You’ve always just seemed so much more…ballsy. it’s just—” He broke off just as I realized he’d called me cute.” “I will make you come back. That he’d paid attention to me.” “Really. “Yeah. my mouth suddenly dry and uncomfortable. and I could tell he had something more to say. He squinted his eyes as he looked at me.” I agreed. and looked long enough to have formed an opinion of me. “You look cute. but you have to promise that you’ll make me come back. “I’m glad we’re getting to be friends. That’s all. “It’s just that…nothing.” I said reluctantly. “You know.” “You can’t say that and then not say it. “I don’t know. eyes open wide. “We’ll give up for today.” I said. but I think he might have blushed. or something. I’d let myself get my hopes up. laughing.” I swallowed. It’s nothing. but I knew I’d be misleading myself if I let myself think his comments meant anything.
This is terrible!” She couldn’t stop talking about how inconvenienced she was by her spot in the chorus. then roasted the seeds and ate them up at Hanging Rock. which would keep her busy and distracted. But she still insisted she was interested in Peter Martinson and Peter Martinson alone. but I still thought it was a bad match. and at random times on the weekends. but I thought their interaction seemed a lot more like flirty banter. I still found him impossibly sexy. but I knew I would very probably die of frostbite in the instant my toes hit the water if I jumped. Luckily. but I also just liked being with him. Many days. since Mackenzie always managed to call or text Johnny whenever I let myself start to forget she was lurking there in the background. of course.CHAPTER THIRTEEN Johnny kept his promise and took me back to Hanging Rock several times over the next couple of weeks. or check on my pumpkins. I knew that . I’d hang out with Johnny out in the yard or down by the beach instead of going inside to read or study. who had been cast in one of the lead roles. Ella would have less time to obsess over Peter since she had gotten a spot in the chorus for the school musical. We would often sit down by the lake talking. Meanwhile. She was always going on about how annoying Andy was. which had continued to get fatter. Even. In those weeks. The air warmed up as the day went on. When the list went up a few weeks after the auditions and Ella’s name was on the list of understudies and background characters. Andy Eisenberg. around Andy. which would be totally unnecessary if she wasn’t just a little bit intrigued by him. “I thought the audition would be a few quick minutes of embarrassment. One day we picked one and carved it. She’d begun to come by my locker after almost every class. At least she and Peter had started to speak to each other after that night at Hanging Rock. I knew nothing could ever come of it. So we never even made it up to the ledge that day—but it counted as a partial attempt because we drove all the way there. Ella had groaned and said. Ella had begun spending a lot more of her time with someone completely unexpected: my locker neighbor. So I hung out with him whenever I could. or maybe especially. We went four and a half times before the weather turned colder—the half attempt was on the day the first fall frost lingered like icy cobwebs across my front yard in the morning. Especially when I found out that Peter had complimented Ella on how nice she looked in “normal” clothes and suggested she wear them more often. we grew closer—as friends. but I liked hanging out with him so much that I took any chance to be near him that I could get.
And Grace was spending most of her free time with Ian. slamming my locker closed. I was also sort of excited to see what would happen when she was in rehearsal with Andy a few afternoons a week. “Let’s go outside. let’s do that.” I said. I was hoping we’d have more time to hang out when the craziness of fall sports and college-application season were over. We hadn’t hung out in a while. It was possible I was even a little obsessed with it—which.” I looked at Ella and she shrugged. was understandable. Grace and Ella and I had eaten together every day. . “We might go to the lunchroom. We could take a walk.” She smiled. Ella didn’t seem to think as much of Grace’s distance as I did—she reminded me that Grace always seemed to get more and more absorbed in school activities every year—so I tried not to dwell. I grabbed a Clif Bar for her. and I was wondering if maybe we were starting to drift apart.even though she was griping about it. Or sit outside—it’s not freezing today. I loved the list. It wasn’t a big or surprising deal when she ditched us. “Is everything okay with Ian?” I asked. but not for me. Ella had started to roll her eyes when I brought up the other dares. She’d never been much of a joiner. Then I realized Grace didn’t really know what Ella and I usually did. Then one Thursday. We had completed numbers two through seven. but we weren’t any closer to starting or finishing anything else. and never seemed to care if we made any further progress. we hadn’t made much more progress on Suzy’s list of dares. Grace had always said it was her one chance to get away from everything during the day. she was probably pretty excited. I need to get out of here. she’d been madly studying to keep her grades up until college admission letters came. but it was a big deal when she turned up at my locker again. Except Hanging Rock—number one—which was a work in progress. I made a copy of it that I’d taped inside my locker. Because we’d all been busy. “Yes. of course. When they weren’t together. and wondered when we’d do the rest of the things on the list. as though it would make it less obvious that she was acting strangely. I had an amazing new haircut that made me feel much more confident. I knew I never would have started hanging out with him if it hadn’t been for the dare to go to his party in the first place. but she’d begun bantering with Andy Eisenberg and didn’t notice. shrugging. It was a surprise. I knew some of the initial excitement about the list had waned for my friends.” Grace said quickly. but I guess Ian served the same purpose when they started dating—so she’d begun to have lunch with him. Grace showed up at my locker before lunch. I still thought about Suzy’s dares every day. I reasoned. “Same as always. asking what we were doing for lunch. we’d changed a tire by ourselves…and. and she and I knew this was the best possible activity for her. Until Ian and every activity under the sun had come into the picture. I had started hanging out with Johnny. I had even started to talk to Johnny about how to sneak out into the planetarium—sneaking out (and in) was the next thing on the list. late in the fall. Nothing but good things had come from it: Ella had gotten into the play. only because she usually ate with Ian or had meetings at lunch. Maybe she’d finally move on from prickish Peter Martinson. But my friends were a different story.
Grace gave her a look. That’s not smart or nice.” “Except that he’s keeping a rodent in his locker.” “Everything’s fine. I asked.” Ella rolled her eyes.” “Of course you don’t. Again.” Ella shrugged. I mean.” “He’s in a few of my classes. tossing her hair over her shoulder. “Nothing!” She insisted. sometimes I get tired of being with Ian all the time.” she said. “He’ll be happy to hear he had visitors. “Where do you guys want to go for our walk? Your pick—I forgot my lunch again. stopping her scuffle with Andy to look at us like she’d been waiting forever. They were in a physical battle. which made me realize that she was probably more irritated by Grace’s abandonment than she’d been letting on. Or this weekend?” She looked at us hopefully. “Why?” “Just that you always eat with him. but she was smiling.” She and I both looked at Ella. “Do you really think there’s an animal in there?” “Beats me.” I handed her the Clif Bar. “I feel like I haven’t seen you guys much lately. I’m happy to see you. The wind whipped through the open doorframe and blew my hair around my face. actually. “What’s going on with Ian?” Both Ella and I asked at the same time. her trying to sneak a peek into his locker and him pushing her back. I don’t know. it wasn’t so much insistence as it was subtle suggestion—and Ella was incredibly bothered by the fact that she didn’t know if he was lying or telling the truth. Grace looked confused. We could hang out after school today.” “Maybe we could just walk around campus and get caught up?” Grace suggested.” Andy called after us. and pushed through the front door. “Thanks. but a little surprised you’re here. “No.” I grabbed my coat and started to walk toward the door. I owe you. “Are you guys ready yet?” Ella asked. “Let’s get out of here. and today you’re coming out with us.” “He’s boring?” Ella prompted. He sometimes breaks out in song when the bell rings. I don’t know if he thinks we’re living in a musical or something. “He’s really nice. . “I’ll let Hammy know you stopped by. It was colder than I’d thought it was. I love him and everything. “But I can confirm that Andy Eisenberg is bizarre. “I don’t need to be with Ian every second of every day. but Grace didn’t seem to notice.” “Hairy?” Ella said. He still insisted there was a hamster in there—well. since she hadn’t been a part of all of the hamster conversations.“Yep. grinning. Ella didn’t take the time to fill her in.” Grace said sweetly. but he seems pretty smart.” Ella said. who was warring with Andy nearby. Then she sighed. but…oh. A total crazy. They both seemed to enjoy the game. he’s not boring. She took it and grinned. “It’s just that—well.” Grace said hurriedly.
Ella?” Grace said caustically. following his directions—” “Enough!” I broke in desperately.” “Yes. “We hang out. you know?” “What do you and Ian do when you hang out?” Ella asked. you’re just Little Miss Involved. okay? I’ve got enough people giving me a hard time. and about student council. you and Ian don’t exactly seem like the most thrilling couple. “Work on Girl Scout merit badges together? I’ve got some suggestions for short cuts. “There’s nothing quite as wonderful as the passion of young love.” Grace laughed a little.” Grace said. She’d always been an overachiever. I never get to just hang out. “This is why none of us should date. “That’s right. Grace had been horrified. laughing bitterly. staring back at me in my mind.“Stop it.” I raised my eyebrows. You yourself just said that all you talk about is what he wants to do in life.” Grace sighed. her voice finally escalating.” “Also. “I’m just saying. Texting him. but there’s a lot of intense talking.” “You’re being a brat. And he’s totally self-absorbed—he never wants to hang out with us. Queen of Everything.” Grace said calmly.” Ella muttered. “What is intense talking?” “About our futures. Guys get in the way of everything.” Grace said. “I’m always doing stuff. and don’t need to take more crap from you. and Ella had made it her personal mission to earn every one of the easiest merit badges. I knew we were all thinking about the year we’d joined Girl Scouts. What about you? And don’t you get bored of him? Isn’t it stupid that you’re spending every waking minute with someone who just wants to analyze his life all the time? Wouldn’t it be more fun to get out there and live it. and since I’m always with Ian. it’s just the two of you together all the time.” “Thrilling. I just miss you guys. stuff like that.” Ella looked ashamed.” “Ha!” Ella said. “Not always. doing the absolute minimum she had to in order to earn each badge. instead of talking about what you will do. “Your futures? Like. so you have more time to just relax. “Lay off. all serious and hairy.” We all laughed. since all I could see was Ian’s face. shrugging. and had felt it her duty to earn an equal number of badges—but she picked the hardest ones to make up for Ella’s laziness. “Intense talking?” I asked. your future together? Do you talk about your futures as Grace and Ian Forever?” “Sometimes. “Everything is fine. She’d spent one weekend working on as many of them as she could. trying not to judge. But then she said. Aren’t you the one who can’t even tell your mom you don’t want to go to college? Why don’t you tell her to lay off? At least I don’t let Ian tell me what to do. Sometimes it’s just about what Ian wants to do in life. and stuff. But it was hard.” . “You have no right to criticize me for not focusing on what I want to do in life. Ian never tells you what to do. Ella Ambrose. someday?” “We do stuff. I feel like I don’t have time for anything lately. trying to stop their ridiculous fight before it got out of hand. You’re Miss Independence when you’re with him.
Ella was picking on Grace—and now on me. “You’re obsessed with Johnny. “I’m not going to pretend I like him. I had stuff to say. Instead. who has a girlfriend. “We’re not interested in your bitter sauce. Other students milled on the front lawn. And I was sure Grace was pissed about something. her eyes focused on her left sleeve. “And what about ourselves?” I said. because I’ve been spending so much time with Ian. I thought you guys would at least be happy about me hanging out with you today. “We don’t fight like this. anyway? How can you take someone seriously when they have a porn name?” “What’s with you today?” I spat. and hurt by Grace’s distance. “He’s none of your business—and I’m sorry that I’m happy and in a good relationship that takes me away from you. “Why are we all attacking each other?” I asked. but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.” Grace nodded.” . suddenly flat-out angry. I hoped she was pissed about Ian. don’t pretend I’m the only one that thinks this. Grace is obsessed with Ian. startling us both. We’ve never fought like this. What were we fighting about.” Ella blurted out. I was afraid he was here to stay.“Like you’re one to talk. But all you can do lately is complain. and I could see the Red Line crowd off to our left.” We’d reached the outer edge of campus. “When we found Suzy’s list. I was pissed about the way we seemed to be drifting apart when the list was supposed to be something that would bring us together. because you’re always with him. but it’s stupid that we’re jumping on each other. You’re not yourself when you’re with him.” “I don’t want to talk about Ian!” Grace shouted.” She shrugged. “Are you just pissed at your mom and taking it out on us? If so. Sophie. turning on me. You whine about the play. What about yourselves?” “Your judgment and rudeness are not appreciated. “Ella. finally. Ella. where she’d stitched a little owl onto her otherwise boring blue shirt. too. “You’re practically falling all over Johnny Rush. What’s with his name. too. stop. I hated Ella when she acted like this.” she said. Grace—and you hardly have time for us anymore. too. but now that we’d started fighting.” “I’m sorry. now you’re giving me a hard time about Johnny?” I took a breath.” Her arms were folded across her chest. okay?” “I’m just telling it like I see it. He’s a controlling twat. “You’re right.” I walked faster. so I knew she was still hurt by what Ella had said. you need to tell Grace you’re sorry. complain about Andy—who you’re obviously obsessed with. but I wanted to keep yelling.” Ella muttered. I didn’t even know what my point was. anyway? About guys? Or about nothing? I didn’t want to fight with my best friends. You’re always moaning about Grace and Ian. Maybe we need to talk about stuff. But I guess I was wrong. I was annoyed by Ella’s whining and lack of self-confidence. annoyed that we were fighting about something so stupid. “But I don’t like Ian. I thought we’d promised each other that we were going to do all the stuff on it together.
Do you need to text him to let him know that you’re still safe and sound? I’m sure he’s very worried. But no. “Like Grace suggested. and now those things were out there and we’d have to find a way to move on. I knew this was one of those times when Ella would just push on. “Maybe we could all go out after school?” I suggested lamely. “We’re truly honored that you’ve decided to spend some time with us. I wasn’t going to bring up the list right now anyway.” Ella said acidly.” I actually had been planning to suggest that we do something on the list. But it was too late for us to go back and start over. “It’s enough. “I don’t want to fight with you guys. I hoped that wouldn’t all fall apart before graduation. her mood not getting any better. reiterating my point. and Grace stared at the ground. close to the edge. attacking until someone fell over from the exhaustion of fighting with her. I lifted my hands in the air. Can we please just stop?” I could feel angry waves rolling off both of them. “Me either. yes. “I’m sorry. even after all these years. Quit the play. then don’t. We promise to return you to him by the end of lunch hour. for all I care.” Ella smiled slightly and kicked her boots against the dead grass that covered the school grounds. as we stood there at the outskirts of the school lawn. but I closed it before I could let them spill out and say something I’d regret. “I was just going to say that we’ve been friends for way too long to stand outside school and fight. and it was clear that the fight was over—for now. ignore Peter Martinson forever. “Maybe we should just take some time off.” We all looked at each other. and it’s going to suck if you keep pushing at one another. Grace. but I could feel it shaking and quivering. saying things I knew we’d regret later.” I said. if only for the afternoon. cool down—do something to distract ourselves.“Oh. “If you don’t want to do the stuff on the list. “Maybe if we all hunker down over a couple of stupid dares together. There had always been a certain comfort level we had around each other that made our friendship continue to work. “Stop! I don’t want to hear another word from either one of you. just because we’re all a little stressed out. We’d all crossed the line. There’s only so much you can say to a friend before stuff starts to stick and linger.” . Neither of them said anything. so I knew it wasn’t over over. we’ll bond and be merry and all that?” Really nasty words rolled around in my mouth. Please thank Ian for the gift of you. leaving a filmy layer of hurt behind. But none of us had ever said things like that to one another. then threw them down—like I was starting a drag race or something. Ella stared at Grace through squinted eyes.” “Is this when you’re going to suggest we unite over your dead aunt’s list?” Ella said.” “Sophie’s right.” Grace said sadly. But it was also clear that Grace wasn’t going to back down. You’re both obviously in horrible moods.” Her voice was coated in sarcasm.” she said. but I surely wasn’t going to admit that now. even after we’d all turned into our own people and become about as different as can be.
that I was coming across as desperate and obsessed. Then practice. then looked up meekly.” Ella nodded. and I promised my parents we’d do family time on Saturday.” “Of course. too? There was no way we could fight when we were united in a goal. Suzy had obviously thought doing the things on her list would change her life for the better. right? I swallowed. sticking her hand in her pocket to keep herself from chewing. But I was convinced that the list was the perfect thing to hold us together.” I could tell neither of them was excited about it. For you. but you guys could come? Oh. Finally. Ella reached forward to pull us both into an awkward hug. I just knew. Okay. I caught Ella and Grace give each other a look.” Grace said. “Okay then. “Or we could just watch a movie or something. too. biting at her thumbnail. I wasn’t ready to just give up on us. but I knew that once we were back on track with the list.“I forgot. they’d get into it again. And it is the next thing on the list.” Grace bit her lip. Sophie. We all believed in it. . we did promise you. unwilling to give up. but at least it was a start. then nodded. “Come on. But I was thinking it might be fun to sneak in to the planetarium? It won’t be that hard. It’s not like we’re the first people to ever sneak into the planetarium. but I wasn’t going to read into it.” I said happily. “Yeah. I knew that didn’t make everything perfect yet. “I have student council stuff after school. “Ian and I are going to a movie on Friday. We’ll sneak out. You promised. “Fine.” I said. We made a pact. so why shouldn’t her bucket list work the same way for us. “Tonight? Or this weekend?” “Yeah. you guys.” I knew I was pushing harder than I needed to. The risk is almost nonexistent.” Grace said.” She pulled out her planner. maybe. “Next Saturday? The weekend before winter break?” “Should we sneak out of Grace’s house? Number seven on Suzy’s list?” I suggested.
” I said seriously. “Just committed. but it wasn’t a pleasant sound. “Just be careful.” she said. then pulled out one of the masks. When I’d found it. everything had felt a little off since our fight on the school lawn. along with snacks and a rope and two flashlights.” “It’s very real. It rolled forward slowly as I stepped out.CHAPTER FOURTEEN To prepare for the next weekend’s adventure. “Don’t let it take over. but I had committed myself to the list. “I’m not letting anything take over.” I argued. How is that crazy?” Ella sighed. inching . somehow forgetting to put the car in park first. and pushed the door open quickly.” “Yes. It couldn’t hurt to be prepared. “The list was a starting point. On the Saturday before Christmas. I put the hats in a big paper grocery bag. I was excited that we were going to do the next thing on the list tonight. even though my preparations felt a little more Berenstain Bears than Bond. Actually. Soph. “You’re kidding. I had vowed to take her list and make it fit my life. You know. this list is supposed to be about having fun—a starting point for new adventures. and I was going to make myself—and Suzy—proud. And I guess ski masks made this whole sneaking thing feel a little more me.” “I’m not obsessed.” I agreed.” I spat back. not something you’re allowed to freak out about and get all crazy over. I went to the dollar store and bought three black knit ski masks. She riffled through the bag with a suspicious look on her face. The bag of supplies was sitting in the passenger seat. since I really was sure that it would be exactly the kind of thing we needed to pull us together. I pulled my car into the driveway at Grace’s house. exactly. “Why not go all out?” “You’re obsessed. right?” Ella said when I pulled up outside her house to pick her up.” “We’re going to have to get you committed after this. I layered on some spy masks and a few flashlights. those hats that come down over your face with holes for eyes and a mouth? I thought it would make the whole adventure a lot more interesting if we really got into it. I also knew it was sort of overkill. Remember. “This isn’t real.” She shook her head and laughed.” “Don’t be so melodramatic. Something between us felt forced. and she set it in her lap as we drove to Grace’s house.
knowing Ella the vegetarian would back me up. “Grace and I have been dying to see Survivor’s Dilemma—that new PBS documentary about the arctic explorers? It sounds like it’s really inspiring—and it just came out on On Demand.” she said apologetically. but it was so clearly not a joke that no one laughed. “Hi. I’d never known Grace to be big on depressing movies. There was no way he was going to get on board with a plan to sneak out and sneak into the planetarium. “Oops.) Ella and I glanced at each other. a tiny flick on the cheek or something. Ella stared at me. His condescending attitude made me want to hurt him. Just a little bit. My car let out a groan in protest.” Ian said. I was a little frustrated he was there. I had a feeling he must be.” She gave us both a pointed look that told us we better behave. We could watch that. setting the bag of props just inside the front door. do you?” “Of course they don’t mind. Suddenly. and now he was trying to make us like him. . “It will be nice for the three of you to get to know each other better. “I might hang out for a while. Who would suggest something so unfun? (Okay. like I’d shot down the best suggestion ever made on a Saturday night. because we’d talked about this being a night for us. which was part of the reason that Ella and I had such a low opinion of Ian. A chance for us to spend quality time together. “Distracted.” I seriously hoped he was trying to be boring.” She was right. “So…” I said. “We never hang out as a group. “You don’t mind. “No offense. A construction paper jack-o’-lantern taped to the outside of the front door blew around in the cool air. But she had obviously said something to him after our fight. “Make sure you’re not getting into any trouble. but he made it impossible. of course. I guess we’d have to bide our time until he left. “What’s the plan?” “Well.” I reached across the seat and grabbed my bag of supplies. She held it open.closer to Grace’s mom’s car parked in front of me. and I couldn’t help but wonder how long he was going to stay.” Ian said. you guys. I was really trying hard not to judge the guy. But at the same time.” Grace said sweetly. without all the distractions of regular life. When had that happened? “No offense taken.” Ian said. We never did hang out as a group. I dove back into the driver’s seat and threw it into park before anything bad happened. I guess.” I said. Like. which made me think he was trying to make us think he was making a joke.” I said. and I shrugged. Ian poked his head around Grace’s body and looked at us from inside her house. looking at all of us.” He winked. “Ian was just getting ready to leave. but I’m not really into watching dog cannibals tonight. He never seemed to want to combine his time with Grace with anything else outside their little universe. and if I was being honest…I’d have to say that Ian was a distraction. That had to be worth something. wrapping his hand around Grace’s arm protectively.” Grace called from the front door. “I assume you have another plan?” His tone was mocking. seriously. A documentary about six men who ate their own dogs to survive? I mean.
twisting her blond curls into tight spirals. “How do you know all of that?” “Johnny told me. so no one was ever allowed to mess anything up.” I yammered on. But Grace’s parents were in the family room. “The roof is apparently a great place to see the stars. a million. excitedly. “I’ve got everything worked out. “How many people have broken into the planetarium? Like. The moon is full tonight. so we made ourselves as comfortable as possible on the white sofas in the living room.” “Seriously? You think a million people have broken into the planetarium?” Ian asked haughtily. settling into a seat on the couch in the formal living room. “We’re not going to get arrested. the movie theater or something?” Ian nodded supportively. Grace stared at me. I wasn’t going to let something like fear of possible punishment stop me from doing this. “Maybe we should break into something else.” I argued. I had psyched myself up for this. “We were going to try to sneak out of here later—then bust into the planetarium. Everyone at school would drive by and honk at them when they were out there working. Remember when Rob Prescott got arrested for shoplifting a Cadbury Crème Egg? He got in just as much trouble as Janna Franklin did the time she tried to steal hundreds of dollars’ worth of clothes from Target. Grace’s mom spent most of her time cleaning and making sure everything was perfect. . Rob and Janna had both been sentenced to community service. She was chewing her thumb and gave me no sign of anything whatsoever. I continued. “Maybe it’s more like a few hundred. “You’re just as likely to get in trouble for breaking into the movies as you are for breaking into the planetarium. hoping if I showed a lot of enthusiasm that maybe Ian would get into the spirit. proud of the recon I’d done in preparation for the night. This was the room we weren’t allowed to eat in. so we should have a good view of the stars from up there.” “Worth getting arrested?” Ian asked. so I guess I can tell you about it. slipping his hand into Grace’s.” “So I’m exaggerating. and had to wear these horrible glow-in-the-dark yellow vests and pick up trash from the side of the highway right by the mall. and gotten over the fear of breaking the law—we were going to go for it. no matter what. It will be worth it.“Actually. watching educational TV with her little brother. you can get up there—and then there’s a trick door you can jimmy to get into the building. This has been the breaking-in tradition forever at East Central. or even look at the pillows wrong.” I said. You know about the list.” “I’m not so sure I’m comfortable with this. “That might be a bit of a stretch. and it just seemed so mortifying. If you climb up the fire escape.” I said.” I grinned. “It’s not the size of the crime that matters—it’s whether or not you get caught.” Both of those were cautionary examples I’d thought about a million times. I wanted him to stop talking. It’s going to be super fun. glancing quickly at Grace before I said anything I shouldn’t.” Grace said reluctantly. Like. or put our feet up on the couch. and it’s clear.” I countered.” I said.
“But maybe I should just stay here?” She lowered her voice to a whisper.” Ella nodded.” Grace looked at me.But Johnny had assured me that breaking into the planetarium was practically risk-free. “Yeah. I’ll stay here with you. “If this is something you want to do. to me. saving me from having to say any more. “But I think we’ve made our opinion about him fairly clear now. “Grace. “It’s a risk. Nothing’s going to happen. exasperated. “Enjoy the stars.” she said quietly. “You’re certainly not going with Sophie and Ella when they do this.” Ian said. “I know I agreed to do it. “I don’t know. “We’re doing this together. he stopped and turned back. It’s not like we’re going to change her mind about him.” Ian said. by all means.” she agreed.” Grace said. Maybe it’s time to lay off?” I sighed.” Grace stood up and stormed off toward her room. Grace looked like she might cry. then. Just as he put his hand on the doorknob. But don’t waste your one call from the police station on me. right?” Ian asked as he put on his jacket.” Grace said. I’m not bailing you out.” “Have fun.” I said. Simple. “For Sophie.” “That’s part of the deal. how hard could it be? “Grace. “I do kind of want to go.” Ian said levelly. “He’s so not fun.” “Don’t be like that. we all sat in silence for a few long moments. and finally her gaze landed on Ian. “And he does seem to make her happy.” I said finally. It was obvious to us all that he was pissed she’d made the choice she had. like I had to prove that Ian’s way wasn’t the only way. a little more angrily than I’d intended. That’s why it’s called a dare.” “You’re not sure about it because Ian is making you feel bad about it!” I said. are you?” “Of course she is!” Ella said. “Now I get what you see in him. Grace. That seemed safe enough for me. “What if my parents wake up and find us missing? They’ll be worried.” After he’d gone.” Ian said.” I felt bad for pressuring. “We’re studying tomorrow afternoon. It made me feel competitive. “You’re right. “Is that still okay?” “If you’re not incarcerated. then at Ella. but I knew she was only backing down because of Ian. Almost an allowable offense. “What?” I whispered to Ella. We’ll be there and back in no time.” he said.” “I was going to…” Grace said uncertainly. Come on. so maybe we’re really wrong about him? Do you think he hates us as much as we hate him?” . If everyone else had done it and gotten away with it. “Well.” He pecked Grace lightly on the cheek and made his way to the door. and smiled. Grace. I hope it’s worth all the trouble. do it. “Call me if you change your mind. and it’s a fun adventure. Don’t stay back because of me. Sophie. and began to stand up. but now I’m just not sure.” “I know. “I’m kidding.
“Yes. I muttered. It’s like a turf war. “We compete for Grace’s attention. standing up to follow Grace up to her room.” Ella said.” she said. “What did we do to him?” “Same thing he did to us.” . “I wish we could all just get along.” As I followed Ella up the stairs to Grace’s room.
” As soon as we were dressed (I was the only one wearing a ski mask. I had scouted around a little and realized it would be possible to prop open the tiny window in the utility room off the back of the attached garage and scoot out of the basement on our bellies. we began to get ready to sneak out. The conversation reminded me of one I might have with my grandmother in Montana. and it wasn’t armed with a security device. so Grace was sure her dad would hear if we opened it.CHAPTER FIFTEEN We spent most of the rest of the evening in Grace’s room. We had to disable the alarm leading out to the garage. There were no surprises. then rearm it before we closed and locked the door behind ourselves. if this was two months ago—before things started to change and the old normal just wasn’t good enough anymore. watching movies. and a sliver of the old Grace was suddenly noticeable. so there were only wisps of it in the backyard—not enough that we would leave tracks on our way out. “I’m sorry. The front door was loud and centrally located. “You’re right. so it was actually possible.” She grinned. I wanted to talk to them about Johnny. one of the twice-a-year calls where I’d catch her up on the same highlights I’d shared in our previous superficial conversation. pretending that everything was normal. “Do you think I could get kicked off student council if we get caught?” “We’re not going to get caught.” she said eagerly. but I already knew that wouldn’t be as difficult to get around as Grace’s conscience was proving to be. But the window off the utility room led straight into the backyard. for fear that it would get us on the subject of guys in general. then nodded. and Grace talked about student council and her excitement about her early-decision acceptance to Brown. But I was too nervous to bring up the conversation. . Ella told us a little bit about rehearsals for Into the Woods and her Christmas-tradition dread. Around midnight. It might even have been normal. “What if Ian is right?” she said as she slipped into an all-black outfit.” I said again. and to hear them tease me about it. Instead. and I didn’t want to go there. but it was all really generic conversation. The snow had been slow to come this fall. we sneaked downstairs to Grace’s basement. “I promise. Grace’s parents had installed a hardcore security system a few years back. rolled up—for the time being—like a normal hat). only the things we talked about every other day between classes or after school or in the car.” She looked at me for a long moment. as they would have done in the past. “Okay. to tell them how much I liked him. Her curls bounced around her cheeks.
I was feeling immensely proud when it all went off according to plan. Until I realized I’d left the keys to my car inside the house. “What are we going to do?” Grace whispered, her eyes wide and panicked. We all stood in a line pressed up against the back of the house. “We can’t go back in—not unless we’re going in to stay. There’s no way we’re going to get past my parents’ room again without them waking up and wondering what’s going on and coming to check on us. We’ll be lucky if they didn’t notice the first time.” She groaned. “We should have just sneaked out of Sophie’s house.” “This is part of the fun,” I said, thinking that the fun of breaking out wasn’t going to be nearly as fun if we didn’t have anywhere to go once we were out. I mean, it wasn’t impossible to walk to the planetarium—it was only a few miles away—but it didn’t feel right. There was something less sneaky and even sort of sad-looking about the image of us walking along the side of the road to our intended break-in. “Breaking out of your house feels more legit, Grace. My parents never hear anything. It’s not even a challenge.” “Screw legit,” Ella mused. “We’ve succeeded with our legit breakout, but now we’re stuck hanging out in Grace’s backyard. Not a total success. Unless…” “Unless what?” I asked, hopeful. “Well, my dad taught me how to hot-wire a car. We could try it.” “You know how to hot-wire a car?” I gasped. “Why hasn’t this come up before?” I thought about how “borrowing a motorcycle” was on Suzy’s list—my list—and realized how convenient Ella’s trick would be when we moved on to that. “Hot-wiring is not really a skill I use,” Ella said. “And I’m not proud that my dad taught me how to steal a car. That’s not the kind of daddy-daughter moment you brag about.” She led us around to the front of the house. We all slipped quietly toward my car, avoiding the motion detector light in the front of the garage. “I’ll put it in neutral,” I stage-whispered as quietly as I could. “Then you guys give me a shove down the driveway.” I felt it was important to get as far away from Grace’s house as we could before attempting anything. “Sound good?” They both nodded, and I slipped the car into neutral. The car didn’t move at first, but slowly it began to roll and clunk, inch by inch, down the driveway. I guided it out to the street and parked in the shadows of a huge pine tree that stood in front of Grace’s neighbor’s house. “You guys stand watch and I’ll give this a try,” Ella whispered. It felt like we were shouting, the way our voices seemed to carry down the street. I was giddy with the rush of it all, and felt myself getting swept up in the thrill of this new hurdle. For almost ten minutes, Ella tried to get the car started. She swore and grunted and ripped her jeans on a rock, but it was soon obvious that my car wasn’t going anywhere. “I have another idea,” I offered, as Ella sat on the sidewalk in front of Grace’s house preparing to give up. “I could text Johnny. He could probably come pick us up. Then we’d have an accomplice … someone who could help us.” “Johnny Rush?” Grace asked. “I don’t know, Soph.”
“I thought tonight was all about us?” Ella added. “But now you’re inviting your boyfriend?” I gave her a nasty look. “One, he’s not my boyfriend. Two, he’s our only hope. He can come and get us, or we can weasel our way back inside Grace’s house and get our beauty rest. It’s your call.” The tone of my voice was colder than I’d intended, but I was feeling defensive. Grace and Ella both agreed, and a few minutes later Johnny promised to be there to pick us up within twenty minutes. Fifteen minutes later, I heard a familiar sound roaring toward us from down the block. I looked up and there he was, sitting astride his riding lawn mower. It plowed down the street and the Radio Flyer wagon attached to the back clanked loudly as Johnny drove over the speed bump in the middle of the block. Finally, our escape vehicle purred to a stop in front of Grace’s house. “Hop on!” Johnny said with a grin. “Two in the wagon, one in the seat with me. I brought a blankie so you won’t get cold back there.” We all stared, wide-eyed. Then I shrugged and climbed onto the back of the mower, my legs wrapped around Johnny’s hips. Grace and Ella both looked at me, then at each other, and reluctantly climbed into the wagon and wrapped up inside the blanket. We rode through the deserted streets of our neighborhood, going a thrilling fifteen miles an hour. After a few blocks, I realized I’d almost forgotten that my best friends were behind us, since all I could think about was Johnny. My hands were wrapped around his waist, holding on, even though I probably didn’t need to worry about falling off a mower that was moving only slightly faster than I would be if I were running down the street. But when we began to move, Johnny had told me to hold on tight, and so I did. I slipped my hands around his stomach and linked them together, pulling Johnny into a kind of casual embrace that I wanted to be more. I could feel the heat of his skin through his sweatshirt, and I could smell his hair when I leaned forward far enough. If I’d been a different kind of person, I could have laid my head in the space between his shoulder blades, letting my cheek rest against his back. If I’d had the courage, I would have put my hands in his hair and kissed the back of his neck, tasting his skin and breathing in his incredible smell. My mouth warmed at the thought, and I felt my fingers cinch tighter around his waist, as though my body was daring me to go there. I’d almost forgotten we weren’t alone, and startled a little when we arrived at the planetarium and heard Ella say, “My butt aches. Bad.” “You can take my seat on the way back,” I offered, jumping off the lawn mower as quickly as I could. I didn’t want to give up my seat. But I knew I needed to, since sitting that close to Johnny made it even harder for me to think about him as just a friend. I didn’t want to lose the thing that had developed between us, and I knew that if I didn’t stop thinking about the way his lips would feel on mine, I was going to ruin everything. “I’ll cuddle with Grace in the wagon on the way home.” Ella looked at me curiously. Then she said, “We’ll see. I don’t really mind the wagon.” She smiled, more kindly than she had all night, and I knew she knew exactly what I was thinking about.
“So what’s the plan, ladies?” Johnny asked, still sitting astride the mower. The full moon made it light enough that I could see the muscles of his thighs under his jeans when he was sitting the way he was. “Well,” Grace said, looking only slightly perky. “We just need to sneak in, right, Soph? Then we can tick this one off the list?” “List?” Johnny asked, running his fingers through his hair. He’d draped his hat over one of the mower’s handles, and his hair stuck out at odd angles. “What list?” “I thought you told him about Suzy’s list?” Grace said innocently. “It’s not a secret, is it?” She looked from me to Ella. “I mean, I told Ian. Weren’t we telling people?” I shook my head. “I haven’t told anyone about it, no.” I hadn’t wanted to tell Johnny about the list. I was embarrassed to admit to him that I hadn’t even been daring enough to come up with a list of dares for myself. I guess I’d subconsciously wanted him to think that I’d come up with all of the new things I’d been talking about doing on my own, and that it was just the thrill of doing something new that was driving me forward. The list was embarrassing, somehow, in the context of Johnny. Not that I was ashamed to be following in my aunt’s footsteps, but that I needed footsteps to follow in. I wanted to be the kind of person who made her own tracks. That was the point of finishing Suzy’s list, after all. “Well, now I need to know,” Johnny said, looking at me. “What kind of list?” “No kind of list,” I said. “Grace is drunk.” “I’m not drunk!” Grace said, her voice slipping up an octave. “Let’s just do this,” I said. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s just break in and enjoy ourselves, okay?” I blurted this out and stared them all down. Grace and Ella were both looking at me strangely, but I didn’t even care. The adrenaline was pumping through me, and I just wanted to go. Johnny shrugged, letting me off the hook. “Okay,” he said, stepping off the lawn mower. He dropped his hat back onto the top of his head. “Let’s do it.” I smiled at him gratefully, then rolled my face mask down and followed along as he led us toward the back of the big, brick building. I felt like a ninja, though I’m sure I looked more like a bank robber—or a snocross champion—in my black knit stealthwear. The planetarium was somehow affiliated with the local community college, and had been built using grant money in the late nineties. We usually went there once a year for school field trips, but that was my only experience with the place. According to Johnny, who had apparently done this many times before, there was a fire ladder that came down just a bit too far at the back of the building. If you jumped, you could grab it and pull it down onto the lawn, then scale the wall and make it up to the top—which was five stories high. We wandered casually through the grass that wrapped around the side of the building, trying as much as possible to stay out of the floodlights that shone down every fifteen feet or so. “There are security cameras,” Johnny said after a few minutes. “But no one monitors them unless there’s an incident. Sometimes not then either.”
then Ella. “We’re not going to get caught. When I reached the top.” I said. right?” I smiled. Johnny pointed to the fire escape.” I put my foot on the first rung.” When we reached the back of the building. and I willed myself to think of Suzy and how I knew that she probably didn’t have these fears. I thought about how she’d always done what she wanted to do and lived her life on her terms.” Ella agreed. Sophie. it felt like we were covered in a blanket of stars. The planetarium was up on a hill. it reminded me of the view of the water from the edge of Hanging Rock. on the others below me. Grace followed right behind me. The piercing dots of light made the sky look almost blurry. splat.” Johnny said finally. staring out into the expanse of sky that wrapped around us. “It counts. surrounded by parkland.” He swept his arm through the air in a grand gesture. but there was obviously no one around to hear us. How she could have done this. “Worth it. “Stop being such a worrywart. It clanked and rattled as it fell. and swayed backward. Johnny hopped up and over like it was nothing. I turned back and watched her hook her arm through Ella’s. “My body is not willingly getting back on that ladder. My head spun and it felt like my stomach might drop out of my body and land. “Ladies first. I reached out my hand to help Grace over the edge. still? “Do you guys think this is cheating?” I asked aloud. “But you guys? I really don’t know how I’m going to get back down again. “It’s pretty from up here. doing something like this. my subconscious reminded me. no problem. “Is it really sneaking in if they practically leave a door open for you?” Johnny laughed.” I peeked over the edge of the building. I wondered. My stomach clenched. and died anyway—died. then did the same for Ella.” . I was tall enough that I didn’t have to jump too terribly high before I could wrap my fingers around the rusting steel and pull the ladder down to the ground. I passed my leg over the short lip of brick that lined the edge of the building and stepped onto the rubber surface. a breaking-in incident?” She chewed on her thumb. and had to stop for a few seconds before I could continue to climb. and finally Johnny.” Grace mused. Luckily. Except here there was no water to fall into—just hard. Eventually I regained my composure and continued to climb.“Incident?” Grace asked. “Just climb the ladder. then the second. “Like. We all stood together at the edge of the building. unforgiving ground and four deathly stories. if Suzy would be disappointed in me. Looking down at the ground from way up here. probably more harshly than I should have. and from up here on the roof. Was it enough? Or was I taking the easy way out of everything. “It almost feels fake. I was three stories up. I made the mistake of looking down somewhere around the fourth floor. I was suddenly a little disappointed— it seemed like sneaking into something should be harder than this. but Ella and Grace didn’t. not for the first time. and before I could think it through properly.
“We’ll meet you back at the lawn mower in a few minutes.” He shrugged. “Thank you. “For coming with me.” Johnny offered.” Ella said simply.” Grace said. “How do we do that?” Johnny stuck his hat in his back pocket again.” I bit my lip. okay?” I shrugged back.” Johnny said.” I said. As we crept through the darkened halls inside the planetarium.” “We might not get caught.” “And that’s not freaking out. Soph. It’s a risk we’d need to take unless Sophie changes her mind about going back down the ladder. too. “Fine with me.” Ella said simply.” . “I can’t get back down. “I had a feeling you’d freak out at the top. There is absolutely no way I’m going to convince my legs to go back over that edge. I mean. and Johnny showed me how to jimmy open the door that led inside.” I said levelly.” “It’s my pleasure.” “I’m not freaking out.” I looked at him.” Ella shrugged. This is technically the outside of the planetarium. I’ll show you the way. then he said. then put his hands in his pockets. “I guess we separate. “So we separate?” I suggested. Easy.” “If I had to call my mom from the police station. shrugging. As if it was my fault I was scared of heights and didn’t want to cheat on my list of dares. I can’t jump off Hanging Rock—you think I’m going to dangle over the edge of a deadly cliff that has no water below to catch me?” Johnny chuckled.” she said bitterly. when we open the front door. the cops could get here in a minute. rubbed his hair so it was sticking up. “I’m just stating the facts. “So what is the deal with this list?” “It’s nothing. walk down the stairs. My body is not going down that ladder.” “Fine. Johnny laughed. I could tell she was pissed at me.” he said quietly. or it could be three or four. jutting her chin out. “The only challenge is.“You have to.” I said. the alarm goes off. “There is another way.” “Me too. how?” Ella asked. There was a pause.” Grace said.” he said. “We could go out the main entrance. “You can’t live here. “Fine.” “I might need to. “I’m going through the building.” We left my friends standing on the roof. she would literally kill me. “Let’s do that. all askew.” “No way. “Depending on where they are.” I said.” Grace added. “You promised we wouldn’t get caught. “And this is why it counts. I need to sneak in.” “Okay. “Jimmy the fire door to get in. “I think this is enough sneaking for me. I’m still convinced it doesn’t count otherwise. and pop out the front entrance. I was grateful to have Johnny next to me. “I’ll take the ladder.
” he said.” he said. “No judgment.” “Obviously I just like your company. his beautiful eyes fixed on my face. dark hall lined with offices and administration stuff. The planetarium building had been built in the shape of a comet. my aunt Suzy was my hero. and without a doubt the coolest person on earth. holding her against the ground when all she wanted was to fly. She even babysat me in the summer when school was out and my parents were working and Shane was off at camps and whatever. The thing I loved most about Suzy is that she was so different from my parents—she always had these crazy ideas. “So…” I began. he was making me feel like I was the only person on earth. and that’s a rule. Then his voice got serious again and he asked. His eyes met mine and I looked away. what? Five times? And you still won’t jump. or if you just like my company.” . Looking back. “I’m serious. But you have to promise not to make fun of me. with a large round atrium at one end and a hallway on each floor that protruded out from the center like a tail. But I also meant it. The corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled. but I could feel Johnny’s eyes focused on my face. waiting. I mean. and the sound echoed through the atrium. and I felt my stomach flip the way it always did when he looked right at me. “I guess the things I most admired about Suzy were the things everyone else saw as her faults. “We’ve tried. “Okay.” Johnny crossed his finger over his chest in an X. My grandma was always criticizing her and telling her she needed to grow up and figure out what she was actually good at—then just go after that instead of wasting her time wishing. The lower half of the atrium housed the auditorium and actual “planetarium” projection area. “Who doesn’t?” Johnny said grandly. My family is about as cautious as they come. Sophie. “But I understand if you don’t want to tell me.” I said. I stared up at the sky. I’m starting to wonder if you even want to jump. she was like my big sister. While I said nothing. Johnny just watched me. and looked over at Johnny.” I slowed my pace as we walked out of the fifth-floor hallway and into the giant atrium. The top of the atrium was constructed out of giant glass panels that made the full sky visible from the circular hallways that wrapped around the upper levels of the building. I’m sure I didn’t really understand what was going on at the time.” He glanced at me as we passed through a long. She was ten years older than me. Once again. it would have happened at Hanging Rock. I don’t make fun of people. and Suzy never quite fit the mold. “I’ll tell you about the list. if I were going to judge you. “When I was a little kid. but it seemed like Suzy had everything figured out—and my family was always pushing her back.” I took a breath. grinning.” I tried to figure out where to start.” I said finally.” I laughed. I looked up and noticed that the moon was directly overhead—it made the inside of the atrium glow with a diffused light. teasing. and she didn’t seem to care what anyone thought about her. “The list. “Cross my heart.“I have a hard time believing that. In a lot of ways. “So?” We were still leaning against the railing up on the top level of the atrium.
smiling.” I said quietly. “That’s what I’m trying to do.” Johnny gave me a crooked half smile. I didn’t . which I guess is how some people might see it. with a grin. “I mean. They would understand. I pretended the last thing wasn’t there. So they always felt like hollow words.” I told Johnny about how we’d found Suzy’s list. and I looked away. We stepped inside and Johnny walked into the projection room.” he agreed. I was glad he didn’t say he was sorry. I settled in next to him.After a few minutes of silence. Eventually. They hadn’t been waiting long…surely they wouldn’t mind that they had to wait just a couple extra minutes. “So…my aunt’s list. “We can just pretend this fake sky is all ours—it’s like our own private universe. Only then did I realize that while I’d talked. realizing my friends were probably off the roof by now and waiting for us outside. They acted like it was all her fault. He expertly pushed at the buttons on the large machine in the middle. and willing myself to forget that my friends were outside. and I guess she was climbing up to the top when it hit.” “That’s horrible. She fell off the water tower. My parents never wanted to dwell. She slipped. we do deserve a reward for our efforts. For some reason. It almost hurt how much I wanted him to want me. Suddenly. just for a minute? After all.” Johnny said. He shoved his hands in his pockets and sat down on the floor to look up at our make-believe sky.” I swallowed.” He looked at me and I felt something pass between us. I stopped talking about her altogether. “Sophie. Finally. we’d been walking down the stairs toward the big.” I said. “But don’t you think we should enjoy this. when she was a senior—I was eight—she died. “Probably. silently promising Grace and Ella that I’d get up in two minutes. that’s what people had said for months after they heard about Suzy. “What does her accident have to do with this fabled list?” “Right. “How did you know how to turn the projector thingy on?” He shrugged. the night sky came to life on the huge domed ceiling above us. wishing for a moment that we were the only two people in the world. Apologies didn’t bring her back. or tell me he understood how hard it would have been for me. he was the one who broke our gaze. and I willed myself to look straight back at him. I realized early on that it was just easier to stop talking about her. for tonight. sometimes you don’t need to ask so many questions or think through everything so much. And I’m sure it will take a while for them to climb back down that crumbling ladder.” “Exactly. and my grandparents went from grief to anger way too fast. Johnny prompted. The list. something unspoken and powerful. “None of the regular rules are true here. There was this big ice storm early in November. Johnny cleared his throat. “Do you think we should get going?” I asked.” “I guess.” I said. and gave him a quick rundown of a few of the things on it. waiting for us. As usual. pushing his hair back from his face. “So what happened?” “Well. they could have come with us. domed auditorium that filled the first and second level of the atrium space.” Johnny said. Just go with it. His eyes were focused on mine. since everyone but me had obviously moved on. and no one understood.
“We should go. “Living out her last wishes. “I bet you wish you had a face mask. yeah. how little I really knew about Suzy and how little I knew about what had been going on in her life when she’d written the list. “I know you think it’s because of your aunt that you’re doing all of this stuff…but I bet you would have done a lot of it anyway.” I teased.” I said. His breath was warm in my ear.” I pulled down my face mask.” “I guess so. again. eventually. It’s impossible to understand exactly how other people react to things. My whole body relaxed. following in her footsteps is going to help me find my own way.” “Get ready to run for it. I can see why you might think about it like that. “Thanks. Johnny’s comments also reminded me. I knew I’d never know exactly. I loved the way his fingertips just barely touched my lower back as he unwrapped his arms from me and stepped out of our hug. maybe so. That would be something for me to deal with.” he said. just as Johnny said.” He smiled at me. “I don’t know. instead of the sky. “Sophie?” “Yeah?” He repeated.” “Yeah. “Eventually. if you were…” “I don’t think that’s for me to say. “Yeah. Being the rebel she always wanted to be. we’ve gotta move. I thought about what he’d just said. “As soon as we get outside. “So you’re fulfilling her fantasies. “I’m not in your shoes. The way his hair tickled my cheek sent shivers down my neck.” he said.” I reached out to touch his shoulder. I’d feel like I’d achieved something.” he said. Instead of doing that. “Yeah.” . I guess I also just feel like…I don’t know. Stuff that seems so simple or straightforward or scary or stressful to one person can be monumentally different for someone else with a different chemical makeup. “If I could be even half the woman she was when she died. and his body felt solid against mine. and I let myself close my eyes and sink into the moment. He pulled his own hat out of his back pocket and pulled it over his hair.” “Well.” “How would you think about it?” I asked. His knees were curled into an L shape and I thought about how wonderful it would feel for me to roll over and tuck into the curve of his body.” He rolled onto his side and stretched out so his head was resting on his bicep. It made sense in a lot of ways. He stepped forward and pulled me into a hug. He turned his head so he was looking at me. “You can never put yourself in someone else’s situation without having all the facts. smiling.need to tell him about eating dessert on top of the water tower. so the best thing I could do was treat the list as my own and try to rekindle her spirit within me. “I bet not.” and started to get up. you know?” Johnny put his hands behind his head.” he muttered.” Johnny said. We both laughed. not for the first time. “We should go—” I said.” He clapped his hands. “I’m glad I know about the list.
We ran.He turned off the projector. Then. with only a tiny moment of hesitation. As soon as we pushed through the front door. I could see Ella and Grace standing beside the lawn mower—they were smart enough to jump into the wagon just as Johnny and I ran up. Then. at what felt like a snail’s pace. His hand was warm. we puttered off toward home. He hit the gas and I wrapped my arms around him. the alarm sounded. and having it wrapped around mine made me feel safe and protected. Johnny and I flew down the front steps and across the parking lot. . he took my hand and led me to the front door. to where our sad escape vehicle was waiting in the shadows.
” “First. When we were about halfway back to Grace’s house. “Stop the mower. go! I’d really like to get moving again soon—it would be nice if none of us got caught. Grace bit her lip. “If you don’t get out of that wagon. you’re going to get caught. floating around like a delinquent for the rest of the night.” As soon as I saw the lake up ahead. As it was.” “We’re not ditching you. Now. as we pulled the mower into his detached garage. They would never forgive me. They didn’t say anything else as they ran away from us and into the nearest backyard that would lead them toward home.CHAPTER SIXTEEN If we’d had my car. my parents thought I was sleeping there. “Seriously. “You should go. okay?” Grace and Ella glanced at each other for the tiniest moment. “We’re not going to get arrested. I don’t want to be the next Robbie Prescott with his Cadbury Egg. stop. reading my mind. I looked back and saw that Grace and Ella were both freaked out in the wagon. Second. “Now what?” Johnny asked. and I had no keys.” He did. and I grabbed his arm when I said. which is going to look even weirder when the cops show up. They were faint at first. “Run through backyards to get back to Grace’s. then bailed. and I would never forgive myself. You’ve got to stop for a second.” He gunned the mower and drove down the hill toward his—and my—house. refusing. Let me get you guys home. and I could tell she was tempted. I’m unhitching it and leaving it here in the middle of the street. Only then did I think through the logistics. who were total innocents in this whole scheme. too. My car was at Grace’s. “What’s next on our list?” “Are you serious?” . We’re pretty close now.” “We’re not going to make it. I’m not ditching you to take the fall. but grew louder as we got closer to our destination. “Time to take the mower home. attempting to escape a crime on a riding lawn mower that couldn’t be pushed to go faster than fifteen miles an hour wasn’t our best idea.” I told Johnny.” Ella said. I looked back at my best friends. I’ll call you later—leave my car keys on the front tire if you can.” I told Johnny. I knew we were safe. “Get out. we heard the sirens.” I said. I was stuck. “Please. He shook his head. I wasn’t going to let them get caught for something I’d forced them to do. “I don’t want you to get arrested. “There’s no reason for us all to get in trouble.” “If I stop.” I said. the getaway might have gone off without a hitch.” I said hurriedly.” Johnny said with a smirk. This is fun for me. I couldn’t go home.
then reached forward and tugged my hat off my head. Your friends are probably pretty pissed at you right now. there you go. “You have a motorcycle?” “Well.” “Right. He’s good at sharing. my dad has a hearing aid that he turns way down after dinner so he doesn’t have to listen to my mom’s nagging.” I shook my head. “Do you have a helmet?” I asked meekly. so you can’t wait out the night dozing on the front seat.” “Oh. “It’s the middle of the night.” Johnny teased. well. “Also.” I’d been warned away from motorcycles my whole life.” He cocked his head to the side and put one foot up on the seat of the lawn mower. the rules of the world say everyone should be asleep by now. “It’s easier to ignore me if they pretend they don’t know I’m getting into trouble. We’re on a winning streak. but this is my take on the situation we have on our hands.” I narrowed my eyes at him. You’re locked out of your car. And she wears earplugs to block out his snoring. especially when he doesn’t know he’s sharing. “How are we going to get around?” I asked.” He lifted his eyebrows.” he said. so can we ditch the circa-nineteen-seventies bank-robber look for the rest of the night?” I laughed.” Johnny said with a shrug.” he said with a silly smile.” “I most certainly didn’t promise not to tease. and think it’s fun to watch you get all sketched out when you’re doing things out of your comfort zone. And your parents are going to be mighty suspicious if you ring the doorbell at two in the morning. It’s a win-win for everyone. I use the term ‘mine’ loosely.“Sure. I’m not stupid. “Contrary to popular belief. I like what helmets do for my hair. How is it that your parents never hear this thing when you pull it out of the garage. Also. It’s my dad’s.” “They’ve learned to not listen. Let’s keep going.” “You promised me you wouldn’t tease.” I said. “I’m a little creeped out by the eyeholes in this hat. anyway? It’s louder than my car. “I’m over the lawn mower. “Clearly. so it’s maybe not the best idea to go back to Grace’s tonight and wake her dad up a second time to sneak you back in. though. since you’re you. I have nothing to get up for in the morning. “I promised not to judge you. “Want to borrow my motorcycle?” Johnny offered. enjoy a challenge. “I can handle that. “Here’s how I see it—you may see things differently. ” *** . But “borrowing” Johnny’s dad’s motorcycle would let me check off number twelve on the list.
“I remember that night. “I don’t think so. I dug up what I could remember from those foggy weeks after it happened. “Every once in a while. “I feel like I remember my mom talking about how they said the girl—Suzy— had been up there alone. in fact.” I suggested.” He dumped his third creamer into his coffee and went for a fourth. They should pay us to drink it.” he said.” “Yeah. “So what’s the deal with school?” “There is no deal. I asked. and I remember her clinging to them for days after the accident.” I said. I definitely don’t. Once again. I’d never asked anyone why she didn’t have anyone with her.” I swallowed.Twenty minutes later. It was comforting.” .” he explained. then ripped four sugars open all at once and dumped them into his now-beige coffee. Where were her friends on the night she’d died? Finally. The bottom line was that she’d died. thinking about this girl being alone in the moment before she died. “So when your aunt fell. It tasted like tar. to distract myself from wondering anything more. “God. My own mom had done the same thing. I wondered how much I really knew about my aunt’s life—and now I had more questions about her death.” Johnny sighed and took a sip of his coffee. It was strange hearing him talk about the accident. “Number thirteen on my list. it was even more depressing that she was alone.” I said. “No. he said.” He stared at the swirled glass panels that separated our booth from the one behind it. Johnny was right. The ones that really stick with her. and that sort of overshadowed everything else. we had settled into one of the back booths at Perkins—the only place open at that hour. Johnny stirred his coffee. “My mom’s an ER nurse. clinging to me and holding me back—trying to wrap her arms around me and keep me from climbing too far away from her lest I fall. she’ll bring home stories from work. and thought back to the conversations I’d had with my parents after Suzy had died. Johnny relaxed back into his side of the booth.” He shifted in his seat and grinned at me. this stuff is brutal. “Do you believe that?” “Not really. actually.” “We can always dine and dash. letting me slip quietly into my own thoughts for a few minutes.” Johnny said after we’d ordered coffee and pancakes. “I remember how sad it made me. not since it had happened. somehow. After a long pause. Not surprising. I’d never really thought through the logistics of that night—I hadn’t ever asked about the specifics. “Does anyone know how exactly it happened?” I shook my head. The motorcycle ride had been fast and fun. He was timidly stepping back into our conversation from earlier in the night. hearing Johnny talk about it and knowing there wouldn’t be a lesson or a disappointed shake of the head at the end of the conversation. but a lot less scary and dangerous seeming than I’d always been led to believe it would be. She was still doing it. I took a sip of my black coffee and understood why Johnny had doctored his up the way he had. No one had ever really discussed that night with me. My sisters were probably about twelve or thirteen at the time. too. or found out why that was.
” “Shit.” I grumbled.“Really?” Johnny looked intrigued. “Do you have it with you?” He held up his hand. “I bet you would have.” I said. “The last thing on the list is eating dessert on top of the water tower.” Johnny said. Eventually. Even still. “At least that one thing didn’t scare you away from the rest of the stuff on the list. breaking my gaze for the first time in more than a minute.” He watched me for a minute.” Johnny said. then said. You’re not a pushover—so why did you let them tell you your school choice wasn’t valid?” My hand was still sitting in the middle of the table. “It sucks. Especially when he put his feet up on the booth on either side of me. Johnny’s was just inches away. then said. Am I right?” He looked extremely smug. despite what happened.” I confessed. checking things off as you finish them. and I couldn’t keep myself from laughing. “Johnny. what’s going on with Mackenzie?” I asked finally. For me. You’re exactly the kind of person who would carry that list around with you. reaching across the table to get his attention. I…” I started. I have to. then looked up at me. the late night was making me a little more bold than usual. I was completely at ease.” I said quietly. wrapped around his cup. “Lemme see it. “Johnny.” I looked at him evenly.” “How good am I?” he bragged. then said. so this is what inspired the hair! I get it now. He studied it for a few minutes. without thinking. “I don’t get that. “But it’s tough. He looked at me expectantly.” he said. For a moment. “Dine and dash? That was one of Suzy’s goals?” “Yup. I wondered what . “Johnny. even in a completely awkward situation. All I can assume is she died trying to do that one. Unless I wasn’t.” “I would have done it anyway.” “My parents happened. looking at me.” Neither of us said anything for a beat. “Maybe. “Are you asking because you’re jealous?” I asked. “Always. What was this thing that was happening between us? He had a girlfriend—a college girlfriend—and I was clearly delusional. It says something that you’re moving forward.” “I’m trying not to let it get me down. “Are you serious?” “Completely. So was climbing to the top of the water tower. “So who’s the X you’re going to kiss?” It was impossible to not want to read into his question. I’ll finish the list for her. As always. “It’s in my back pocket. He blinked slowly. I just looked at him. Clearly. Johnny laughed. acting more laissez-faire than I felt. I rapped on the Formica surface to make him look at me. “Wait—I know you have it with you.” I pulled it out and laid it on the table.” “What else is on this list?” Johnny asked. “Ah.” I shrugged. “And we never did finish talking about what happened with school. He looked at the list.
you don’t seem like it to me. and mine just sat on the table. And that was the problem. “You can only make something of yourself in the Ivy League—did you know that? That’s something important I learned from my family. But they told me it was only worth their money if I went somewhere real.” He shrugged. We were fighting about school already. yeah. “My dad lost his job about a year ago.” I gaped at him. Johnny was always so self-assured and confident. “Show-off schools don’t interest me. I’m applying for every random scholarship I can find. His hand stayed where it was. they said. I’m not going to let them dictate my future. I knew. It surprised me to hear that his parents didn’t give him enough credit. “Money’s tight. I could have turned off the alarm.” He shrugged.” he said with a laugh. mooch off my parents and show them they’re way worse off with me hanging around as a fullfledged adult. with a shrug. I really admired that. I figured I could just live at home for a while. Are you?” “No. I can try to pay my own way. was probably no. Johnny didn’t look defeated. it was sort of hard for me to be a spoiled brat about it. “At first.might happen if I just reached a few inches further and put my hand inside his. I’d been expecting them to pay for everything.” “They said that?” I asked. “Once everyone left for school—and you and I started hanging out—I realized it would be stupid for me to act like a moron for the next four years and then get back on track. They told me I was a waste of their money at Madison. “Part of the reason I knew we weren’t going to get arrested tonight is that one of my jobs is at the planetarium. I’ll try to get some financial aid on my own. which made me like him even more. Would he pull away? Wouldn’t I want him to? The answer to both questions. Johnny’s feet wiggled nervously on either side of me as he spoke.” I didn’t expect this. then he returned it to the outside of his mug. but his eyes looked sad. longing for his. but only if I proved that I really wanted to make something of myself. I was depressed as hell. so we could have easily argued our way out of an arrest. So I decided that if I work hard this year. “So what are you going to do?” “Well…” He wrapped his hands around his coffee cup and took a sip. “You’re not really a sulk-and-do-nothing kind of guy. He cringed as he swallowed. “I’m sort of used to not measuring up at home. I actually have a set of keys. just because it doesn’t mesh up with their idea of success. “Basically.” he said eventually.” He nudged my hand with his. “Seeing your dedication to jumping off Hanging Rock made me realize I’d lost sight of my own goals. and I could see the hope in his eyes again. “Are you serious? Why didn’t we just turn off the alarm?” .” “That doesn’t sound like you…” I said. if I’d wanted to. disgusted. it turns out I’m not.” He shrugged. Yet he never complained or got beaten down about it. They were willing to take out loans. I also knew someone like you wouldn’t hang out with a total slacker. and then when Dad got laid off. I’m a shift supervisor.” He smiled. so they give me the codes for stuff. At least.
” I winked back. forcing our fingers far apart again.” When we finished our meal.” Johnny said. focusing every bit of my energy on the big ball of butter that was melting into a yellow puddle in the middle of my short stack. Not yet. I can’t screw someone else over in the process.” Suddenly. It was the perfect solution. just as the first brush of orange touched the black sky. and now it was too late. “Why don’t you leave. I sat on my borrowed motorcycle and waited. “Just walk out. “I’ll meet you outside in a few minutes. “Sophie…” Johnny said. and told him about the stupid fight my friends and I had and how it sometimes felt like our friendship was falling apart. but the way he held my gaze—strong and steady and sure—made me absolutely certain that I knew how he felt about me. I could only hope they’d forgive me for the night. After a few minutes. understanding the hint that he’d pay for both of us when I left. I stepped outside and waited. he slipped one of his hands . I just have to…do something. but I just don’t think I can do it.” Johnny smiled.” I said.” “Just leave. Sophie. and as much as I want to respect the list and do everything on it. and tiny patches of frost clung to the few cars that were in the parking lot. “Sometimes. I knew this time that he wasn’t just flirting with me the way he flirted with everyone—I knew the dynamic had changed. and wondered if they’d come back the next year. but they weren’t. We talked about our pumpkins. “I can’t. But then as soon as you start to get used to the suckers. Before I could think about it or do anything. Johnny’s hand was millimeters from mine on top of the table. I had forgotten to text them to check in. I heard the door open behind me. they’re gone.” “Dine and dash?” I asked.” “I did. when you learn to appreciate that they picked your yard to squat in. Johnny picked up the check and closed his fist over it. I looked up. We still had a lot of list to do.” I admitted reluctantly. then winked exaggeratedly. Then I felt Johnny next to me. Johnny didn’t say anything more.” He grinned. then disappear the next. our pancakes came. The air was brisk.“Would it have been exciting if we’d just walked calmly out of the front doors? I thought you might enjoy the thrill of possibly getting caught. There’s no rhyme or reason to why they appear where or when they do. Before I could turn toward him. “Okay. “A pumpkin vine will show up one season. It’s on the list. I know our poor waitress is going to get stuck footing the bill. His foot nudged the side of my leg under the table. “I know. wondering how my friends had fared. He told me what it felt like when you hit the water below Hanging Rock the first time.” he suggested. He was giving me the chance to do something on the list without the guilt of stealing. I could almost feel his fingers touching mine. even though we were still sitting across the table from one another. talking about everything and nothing. “The itty-bitty wannabe rebel in me liked the sirens. I admitted that I hated Ian. I looked down. We ate our pancakes slowly. The waitress dropped them on the table and scooted the trio of syrup into the middle of the table. After she walked away. I almost felt like I was wrapped up in his arms.
“You have a girlfriend.” I said. “But this is okay. He tipped my chin up to look at him again. We both turned. It had to be enough. was I just being me again—playing by the rules. He sighed. “Dessert at the water tower?” I shook my head. I wanted so badly to taste him. playing it safe? Did I need to ask so many questions. I closed my eyes when his hair brushed my ear. secretly.” he said hopefully. snapping out of it just long enough to finally break his gaze. the water tower dare. I leaned forward and gently. or could I just go with this…could I let myself forget about the rules and the safest path long enough to enjoy being with this guy I liked? I leaned in toward him. momentarily letting myself slip into something. Our lips were so close that I could almost taste the syrup from his pancakes.” he sighed after a long moment. “Not tonight. I could feel his breath on my cheek. Sophie. He pulled a bag out of his pocket and opened it up. wanting this to be okay. and that was enough to tell me that it might be complicated.” Then he touched my cheek with the softest of touches and turned away from me. . cutting him off.” I said. As he drove away from Perkins. “I bought us a frosted snowman cookie.” “We’ll make this work. Knowing it was real. I like you—” “I should go home.” he promised.” he said. “Eventually. but that I wanted so badly that it was worth it. “I know. My knees tucked between his legs and the bike. but understanding it was wrong. looking for permission. Wishing this was real. reaching up with the hand that wasn’t holding mine. I looked back at him. All of it. “I can’t pretend the rules don’t apply to us. I promise. you. and breathed in that incredible lake smell that seemed to follow him everywhere. Our fingers were intertwined. but she was still in the picture. Johnny’s eyes searched mine. our eyes meeting again. Our faces were inches apart. kissed the space between his shoulder blades. though.into mine and straddled the motorcycle so he was facing me. a moment I knew couldn’t end well. I wondered. to get swept up in him…to become the kind of person who could kiss someone else’s boyfriend just because it felt right.” “It’s complicated with Mackenzie. Me.
with a full report from Grace’s parents. In fact. and Grace was grounded—except for school activities—for a month. I could wait until he worked out whatever he had to work out with Mackenzie. and I’d been exhausted and eager to get home. as I’d requested. but I was also dreading what would happen later this week. Grace could probably get a lift from Ian. but comforted myself with the knowledge that I’d done what I could to make sure they weren’t arrested…and if they got in trouble despite my best efforts. but it still felt more cold and distant than usual. She’d made it clear that her mom was sitting right next to her while we talked. and knew he’d meant it when he said things would work between us. I hadn’t talked to my gorgeous neighbor since early the previous morning. And the trust issues between me and my friends were more than frayed. I did find out that they’d been busted breaking back into Grace’s house. the kind of flakes you could chew. I pulled out my phone to see if Grace or Ella had texted to ask for a ride to school. I woke up to see fat snowflakes tumbling from the sky. I knew they were both pissed at me for abandoning them for so long outside the planetarium. I was sure the trust issues between Sandy and Ella were shot to hell after she was busted for sneaking out. I hadn’t heard much from her or Grace at all since Saturday night. I had to. I felt guilty and ashamed. I was sure Mackenzie would come home. they couldn’t blame me. and I’m sure they were bitter that they’d been caught and I hadn’t. Would he forget all about me when she returned? I hoped not. I’d had only a brief conversation with Ella on Sunday—a short. and neither of their parents was ever willing or able to drop them off. I trusted him. They’d get .CHAPTER SEVENTEEN That Monday. I pulled on my fleece pants and stared out into near whiteout conditions. when he’d left me off at Grace’s to pick up my car after the pancakes and the almost kiss. next door. and Sandy was furious. I hadn’t seen either of them when I went to pick up my car—the keys were on the tire. especially since they’d covered for me and kept their parents from calling mine by saying I’d felt sick and gone home before they even sneaked out. but Ella should be texting me right about now. I couldn’t even see as far as the lake out the back window—or Johnny’s house. I wanted to see him again. Ella had been dropped off at home first thing in the morning. They were the size of sugar cubes. They both hated walking in the snow. terse call. There was nothing. when his girlfriend came home for winter break. Everyone came home for their first Christmas after being away at college.
taking a moment to focus on my face before she said anything. trying to make conversation. “What a nice idea. and I waved back. I wanted to understand more about the night she had died and the days leading up to it. “It’s a good excuse to get caught up on things around here. She looked at me. “You want some oatmeal? It’s a good morning for something hot.” “Only the best for our bodies. My dad waved to me from the back deck.” I added. timid bite.” My mom looked ecstatic.” I deadpanned. “I thought you’d be at work. but I had this sense that I didn’t know the whole story.” “Mom?” I walked toward the fridge. I knew it was my best hope for getting her to open up so I could uncover more about Suzy’s real life. If I was going to live out her last wishes. But my dad liked to keep on top of things. “Everything’s closed—schools. “Mom—can I ask you something?” “Sure. I put two steaming bowls of oatmeal on the table. Most people would just let it all fall.” she said with a shrug. He’d come in wet and panting in a few hours. then shoveled the sidewalk. “Catch up on some paperwork. I wanted to ask her about Suzy again. There had to be some disconnect between my family’s memory of her and the real girl she was. The roads are a mess.” I said to my mom. “Healthy. As we dug into our mushy breakfast. to be prepared for whatever life threw at him. then returned to the deck to start all over again. then would spend the afternoon gloating about how he was ahead of the game.” she said proudly. offices. “It is. “What’s that?” .” She smiled at me.” my mom said through a tiny. I went downstairs to the kitchen and found my mom sitting at the table.over it eventually—but I had a feeling I’d be on my own for most of the rest of the stuff on Suzy’s list. trying to stifle a yawn. I watched my dad trying desperately to keep up with the snow. I could hear him yell “hello” through our thick glass doors. her reading the news on her laptop and me reading a book.” I said with a smile. but had to butter her up with some casual chat first. “A little something sweet. “I don’t know. then pull out their shovel when the sky was done dumping. She pushed the sugar to the side of her bowl and dug into the plain oatmeal.” She beamed at me. While I made the oatmeal in a pot on the stove. Everyone got their kicks in different ways. He brushed off my car. “It’s organic.” We sat together at the table. smiling to myself. Then I dropped a pinch of brown sugar into the center of each pile of oatmeal. along with some skim milk. The plows haven’t made a dent. I felt closer to her than I had in a long time. maybe?” “Fun stuff. “What are you going to do with the day?” I asked. where he was shoveling. restaurants. I tried to figure out how to approach a Suzy conversation.
I understand how difficult this is to deal with. It looked like she was deciding how to deal with my outburst. radiating frozen bits into each of my limbs. For ten years. Maybe she was sorry. That everything I knew about her was probably a lie.” I said. “You all act like Suzy did this horrible thing to you by dying—like she died just to torture you. And she certainly won’t be the last. they’d lied to me.” I felt sick.” It felt like someone had kicked me in the chest—my lungs collapsed and all the air rushed out of me. “Haven’t you ever wondered about that?” I asked. but that didn’t make it any better. she had her share of issues. Sophie. “But she certainly wasn’t a hero. “She jumped—she didn’t fall.” my mom said levelly. Mom. stuck and stiff and shaking. “I’m sorry. Ten years. She looked at me for a long time before she took a deep breath. she said quietly.” “Stop villainizing her. But it wasn’t her fault. pushing her breakfast aside. but it was of her own doing. eager to defend my dead aunt’s honor. It was an accident. “Her fall wasn’t an accident. how to tell me I was wrong again. I know. staring at my bowl of gelatinous oatmeal. But your aunt…well. There was no silver lining. It was easier. . irritated. It was as though someone had put an ice cube into my core and it was melting. She didn’t understand. “That doesn’t make her a bad person. she didn’t try to find a silver lining. after a long pause. and I had the surprise factor working in my favor. “I don’t know. rather than ask around the issue. She folded her hands into her HR pose and looked at me seriously. Suzy killed herself. It was reported as an accident. her eyes filling with tears. It was the first time I’d seen her get emotional about Suzy since the week after she’d died.” My mom focused on me.” she said. I’d finally felt like I was getting to know my aunt again.” My body began to shake. this person whose dreams I’d been chasing had killed herself? It was impossible. My aunt. How I couldn’t possibly understand. and how you looked up to her—and we don’t want to ruin that memory for you. hearing my mother say those words. She shook her head. I just sat there.” my mom admitted. “Sophie. her expression unreadable.” my mom said. and it could have happened to anyone. “Where were her friends?” My mom stopped chewing. No emotions could bubble up to the surface. “They say she didn’t suffer. come out with the question that was really bothering me. just because she pushed boundaries and wanted to make something more of herself than the rest of you!” I spat this out. either.“Why was Suzy alone when she climbed the water tower?” I decided to just lay it all out there. She let us all down. She died instantly. She took her own life.” “You’re right. “I know how much you admired your aunt. my hero. horrifying shudder that started somewhere in my chest and radiated outward. It felt like I was being fired. Finally. an uncontrollable. She swallowed. She’s not the first person who ever climbed that water tower.” “She was rebellious. For once. through her list of goals…but now my mom was telling me that I didn’t know her at all.
I thought of the list. but it was just a misunderstanding. slow sigh. I didn’t have the truth. I remember her working on it at our house. realizing I was the only one who really knew the truth. “ ‘Borrowing’ a motorcycle is just the sort of thing Suzy would have tried to do that would have frustrated Mom—your grandmother—to no end. She studied the list more closely. “Where did you get this. but surely this must be the explanation. I reached into the pocket of my fleece pants and pulled it out. Mom put her in counseling. She’d attempted suicide several times before the night at the water tower. for making her write this in the first place. She must have been trying to climb up there and just slipped—it was part of the list. “It’s mine. It must have been. not with me.” The way my mom was talking made me feel like I was listening to an audiobook of someone’s psychobabble. It’s the therapist’s fault.” Mom shook her head. I’d pulled it out. But what did I know about anything? Obviously. Sophie?” “In my car. she said.” My mom released a long. if she fell off the water tower.” I knew I was acting like I was eight. Obviously. Suzy wasn’t disengaged. In her junior year and that summer before senior year. though.” My mother put her hand to her mouth and tried to stifle a laugh. It was an accident.” she said quietly. I was going to find my own silver lining. something I’d been cherishing as mine and mine alone. “Like I said. After a long pause. At least. She slipped doing a dare. too. Hidden away in the glove compartment.” My mom chewed at her lip. “It was an accident. so don’t even try to take it. “She was trying to eat dessert. My mom stared at the paper. She wasn’t talking about Suzy—this couldn’t be true. I didn’t want to hear about what Suzy would or wouldn’t have done from my mom. “She didn’t commit suicide. “I won’t take it.” I held out my hand and took the list from her.” I knew it sounded ridiculous. “Sweetie—” “Don’t sweetie me! I’m not eight. Look…” I showed my mom the paper. Suzy’s car. “She wrote it at the end of that last summer before senior year. and now my mom would find some way to ruin this for me. damn it. . “You’re trying to tell me she wrote this list for some sort of therapist?” My mom nodded.” Only then did I realize I’d just shown my mom this secret part of Suzy. she flip-flopped between sheer joy and total depression in the blink of an eye. She added a lot of this after the day I saw it. absorbing everything the way that I had when I’d first found it in the car. “I remember this list. an old nervous habit that she’d rid herself of during grad school. “Give it back.” I said simply. “There are some things on here that I haven’t seen before. but I hated everything my mom was saying.” “You’ve seen it before?” “Yes. My mom was accusing her sister of something horrible. it was just an accident. She had no right to get joy out of Suzy’s list. and they recommended that she work on a list of things that would interest her—things that might help her reengage with classmates and help her rediscover the joy in her life. she hadn’t known her the way I had.Suddenly. I wanted her to understand that they had all gotten it wrong. It was too late to take it back.” I narrowed my eyes.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” “Oh. ‘Please don’t tell Sophie what I did. I knew this was something she’d tucked away for a long time. “The last two lines were. God forbid Suzy shame the family in life and in death. stopped seeing her therapist. Surely.” My mom shook her head and reached across the table toward me. and I wanted her to remember. “She apologized for disappointing all of us—and for never being the person we wanted her to be.” “What do you mean?” I asked. They did want to forget about her. She had totally given up. then said. had a hard breakup with her boyfriend. I don’t want her to know that I failed. I could have done more—they’d trusted me to fix her. there were things I could have done if only I’d known. I didn’t want them to be right. “She left a note. none of us realized just how bad things were. In hindsight. I dropped my hand under the table and stuffed the list in my pocket. but it was also very clear.’ ” . We shouldn’t have relied on an eight-year-old girl to fix her. “We kept it from the police. I realized it was my fault. She’d abandoned all of her friends. I was certain it had been purged with everything else. and didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. If they were right. after she’d let it slip away for all these years. finally. “Her note was short.That they’d thought wrong all these years. It could have been my job to fix her. There was no reason they needed to know it was anything other than an accident.” She paused. and we hoped it would be enough to make things better. it wasn’t an accident. That’s why we had her spend as much time with you as we did—we could see sparks of the girl we all loved when she was with you. and I could tell it was hard for her to tell me this.” By saying that. if they’d explained that it was my job to make her happy again.” As soon as my mom said that. and I’d failed.” She studied me for a minute before saying. we all should have seen it coming. Sophie. maybe I could have helped her with the list then. wondering if there was something more I could have done that would have changed what happened. Now.” My mom chewed at her lip again.” I already knew the note was gone—there was no sense in asking to see it. I knew why my family had been so hasty to get rid of everything of Suzy’s so fast after she’d died. it confirmed what I’d just been thinking. it wasn’t your job to fix her. “She specifically asked you to keep the truth from me? Tell me exactly what it said. I’ve been beating myself up for years. “Sophie. and that it was probably difficult for her to pull it all up now. She wiped at her eyes and said. She asked that we not tell you what had happened to her. Obviously. it changed everything. The note was short. or we would have figured out some way to help more than we did. But I didn’t care—I was furious that they’d kept it from me all this time. She wasn’t happy. My mom played with her oatmeal. “The only time we ever saw her happy at the end was when she was with you. especially since they’d lied to the police about what had happened. I was the reason she’d died. They wanted to make themselves feel less guilty about what had happened and they hoped to erase the shame of a suicide. If only they’d told me. which had developed a thick shell over the gooey middle.
hadn’t turned her life around. I fell asleep sometime in the afternoon. and pissed at myself. probably sounding more gracious and pulled together than I felt. leaving my mom staring after me. pissed at my parents. I found that the list had slipped out my pocket and lay next to me on my couch. But no one was calling me and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say…that the dead girl’s dreams I’d been chasing had been nothing more than a therapy tool? That everything I thought I knew and loved about my aunt was a total farce? That I couldn’t help but wonder if I was wrong about everything I’d always believed to be true. and when I woke up. I wondered. . since there were obviously lies sprinkled all over everything? I was pissed at Suzy. and briefly thought about trying Johnny. At least we can use this as an opportunity to connect with each other.” Forget connecting and other HR crap. My mom came to my door several times during the afternoon. I wanted her to worry. We were at an impasse.” I said to my mom. “Talk to me. and wished the end of this story were different. But now the promise and hope I’d let myself imagine was in her list of dares felt a lot more like failure.” she called quietly. but I didn’t answer and wouldn’t let her in. or was the list just something she’d been forced to write…a desperate attempt to try to make herself happy? A list of unfinished things that had made her feel inadequate somehow? If these things hadn’t worked for her. I shoved the list under my bed and wondered what was supposed to happen next. Yet I was sure I’d failed her. How had I never known? It seemed that everything I’d believed about my aunt had been a lie. Suzy thought she’d failed.I didn’t say anything. Did that make her the automatic winner in this little battle of who’s-to-blame? “Thank you for finally telling me. and one of us was dead. why was I so sure they were going to work for me? I threw the list on the floor and stared out the window at the fat flakes that were still falling. I’d felt in control for the past few months. making me wonder and worry again. Let me in. It was taunting me. using my aunt’s list as a sort of steering wheel for my last year of high school. The rest of the day slipped by in a snowy haze. A few times I picked up my phone to call Grace or Ella. and I felt cheated out of the right kind of memories. “Sophie. I slipped away from the table and returned to my room. What was I supposed to do with this crap piece of paper now? Was fulfilling her final dreams even something Suzy would have wanted me to do. I left my bowl on the table—a tiny act of rebellion that made me feel somehow in charge of something. and worried.
carrying a plate of Christmas cookies that my mother would be relieved to get rid of. I’d been watching plenty. Maybe I’d read too much into our pancake date. Still. No calls. To make things even merrier. I had seen Mackenzie’s car in his driveway during the snowstorm. School was canceled both Monday and Tuesday. I still hadn’t heard a peep from Johnny. The reality was. My mind easily conjured up images of the happy couple’s reunion. I knocked. I didn’t really want to see or talk to anyone. so I’m not sure what I thought might have changed after our last maybe-meaningful night together. there was more than a foot and a half of snow on the ground—the thick kind that lay in damp mounds and piles over everything. By the time the storm ceased. and I still hadn’t seen either one of them since Saturday night. Not that I was expecting much. Was it even a date? No. It had been the first real snowfall of the season.and phone-heavy relationship before Saturday. but I knew I had to see someone outside my family or I was going to go batty. . I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d been totally wrong about him. I decided to take a chance and trek over to Johnny’s house. I hadn’t reached out to anyone since I found out the truth about Suzy. no e-mails. I didn’t want to see them yet. I knew they would both be leaving that weekend. Ella and Grace were both going away for Christmas with relatives. wondering what I might say. I just wanted to tuck myself up into a solitary cave in my room and wait for the holidays to be over. but hadn’t seen Johnny coming or going from his house since Saturday night. I hadn’t decided yet if I was going to tell him anything about Suzy. worrying that I wouldn’t have any words in me. so plows were slow to get out and the roads didn’t have a good layer of salt and sand yet. We hadn’t exactly had a text. no texts. It was slippery and hazardous and I was essentially snowbound. too. when Christmas Eve rolled around.CHAPTER EIGHTEEN The snow didn’t stop for a full twenty-four hours. I pulled my boots on and trudged across the lawn between our houses. We were dismissed for more than two weeks. which meant winter break was officially on. Shane wasn’t coming home this year—he’d decided to sample boobs in Barbados with his friends instead—so it was just going to be me and my parents and the unpleasant truth that was rattling around in my head.
But an even bigger piece of me knew that I was probably wrong about him. I didn’t know what I’d been thinking. and I suddenly had a pressing urge to get out of there as fast as I could. and that letting myself get any closer to him was just going to lead to more hurt and betrayal and disappointment. I’d never stepped lightly around Johnny before. too. “You dug out?” “Of what?” I asked. even though just seconds before that’s exactly what I’d wanted to happen. staring down so he wouldn’t be able to see that I was lying. . right?” Johnny laughed. Sophie?” He looked worried. “I had fun on Saturday. “Hey there.” “I’m glad you did. I realized I wasn’t really ready to talk to anyone yet. and my voice sounded deep and husky. “I did. That same piece of me was glad he could tell that something in me was broken. “Cookies?” “Yum. “Happy Christmas.” “Ah. A piece of me wanted to lay my head on his chest and confess everything. “Did you want to come in? My parents are gone.” “It’s really good to see you. but didn’t invite me in.” I turned my head so his hand fell away. But I knew that was asking too much. “How are you?” “I’m okay. “Oh. looking at me strangely. He plucked a cookie out from under the plastic wrap and stuffed the whole thing in his mouth. “Just bored.Johnny answered the door in boxers and a sweatshirt—the Madison sweatshirt that Mackenzie had been wearing the last time I’d seen her. hearing my voice catch as it got used to speaking aloud again.” he said. I shook my head. but somehow I felt uncomfortable now.” “I should go. “Are you sure you’re okay. “I shouldn’t have come. So I’m the closest boredom buster?” He tipped my chin up and grinned at me. I could smell him and felt that rush of whatever it was about him that made me want to wrap up inside his arms and float away. I’d been mostly silent for several days. He nodded.” he said.” Johnny took the plate and set it on the console table that ran along one wall.” I wanted him to realize that was a lie. that night on Johnny’s beach before she’d left for school. “You don’t look like you.” He paused.” “I’m fine. I was torn.” He held the door open. I decided to step inside anyway.” I shook my head. just showing up at his door like this. “Something like that.” I said. carefully keeping my boots on the entryway rug so I wouldn’t leave puddles of melting snow inside his pristine house.” he said. to tell him just how much I hurt and hope that he could fix it. like I shouldn’t have come.” I said meekly. I wanted him to know me well enough to know how much I was hurting. “I missed you. smiling. You meant the snow. As soon as he opened the door. obviously waiting for me to shout hallelujah! But I didn’t do that.” I said. Want to take your coat off and stay a while?” “No. “It’s okay.
” Mom said. I hadn’t figured out if I felt more betrayed by my parents or by Suzy. I told myself I’d made the right choice. You’re not worth it.“I really am glad you came.” “Can I stay?” I blurted out. “Do you want to have someone over? I can drive to pick someone up. I knew I still wasn’t ready to see anyone. “Did Shane know the truth about Suzy?” I asked in response. Sit down. There would be a time. But not like you might think. so that conversation would have to wait. I could wait. I had to push him away. reaching over to touch me again. saying nothing. It was almost like my mom really did still think I was eight. just hovering and melting on the rug. since everyone else had dealt with the reality of the situation years ago. or talk to anyone. but it was probably the only way I could make myself clear.” I said. I needed to know he’d made a choice before I’d let him flirt and fool me again. Even though I now knew it was more likely I’d lose him before anything had even begun. My mom looked at my dad. another day.” I felt tears prick at my eyes as I slipped back out into the snow. and the words had just come out. and I could tell my mom was starting to worry. “Or are things still complicated?” I’d made it pretty clear that I wasn’t interested in anything more happening between us if he was still seeing Mackenzie. But right now I didn’t have any space inside my body for any more disappointment.” Johnny said. frowning. After the way I’d acted at Johnny’s.” She asked me this as I opened a pair of ski gloves on Christmas morning. And I felt like I was totally alone in dealing with this. I felt completely empty.” “You don’t understand. “Yes. frustrated. I opened gifts and ate ham and puttered my way through Christmas in the same pair of fleece pants I’d had on since the snow had started. Dad shrugged and coughed loudly. “He was older.” “I’ve gotta go. then lazed around through the day after that. abandoned. It was as though we’d all been transported back ten years. The last bit hadn’t been necessary.” I said. “Things are still complicated. As I shuffled through the deep white drifts back to my house. You’re making me uncomfortable. “Come in. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to hear his explanation now. Every piece of me wished Johnny would appear on the . I walked through the cold hallways to my room and looked out at the blank whiteness below my window. suddenly annoyed and angry and ready to pick a fight. “What are you doing for New Year’s Eve? Think you’ll make it to midnight?” She winked.” he said. “I guess that answers that. “I wish you’d stay. The next day. Johnny sighed. and I didn’t have room inside to deal with someone else’s drama. to the horrible Christmas after Suzy had died.” “Ah. when I’d be better equipped to hear all about his adventures with Mackenzie and see if maybe there was a possibility for us. “Don’t bother calling me until things uncomplicate themselves. I stared back.” I got up and left the room.
Duty calls. Not yet. But I wasn’t going to reach out to him again. “Got a job at a ski resort in MI. as if by magic. To fail to ask.lawn below. Not when I was still so broken. Come visit?” I didn’t write back.” What the hell? “What duty?” I wrote back. . between naps. refusing to wonder. I got a text from him. Later that week. “Gotta take off for a while.
It was easy to do. I felt like everything had changed. Nothing around me had changed—same old jeans. I knew that forcing more distance between my old life and me would make it easier to leave when the time came to put high school behind me. If my friends noticed. Without the list. If we all continued to go our separate ways . “What’s with you lately?” Ella asked one day after school in January. It was also about our fight the week before that and the things that were said and not said. and the people I’d trusted. With that came the requisite questions about my friendships. Learning the truth about Suzy had made me question a lot about good-byes and moving on. I could have continued to forget about her. Something was broken between us. the ski season started at the end of winter break. And I didn’t have the energy to look for answers. It was unspoken. they didn’t say anything.CHAPTER NINETEEN When school started back up again after Christmas. I might have never found out the truth about her—the truth that had forced me to grieve and regret and wish all over again. year after year. The truth about Suzy had shocked and hurt and crushed me. Thinking about this made me wonder if it was just easier for me to drift away from my friends before it was time to officially say good-bye. and it was hard for me to think about life the way I had before. it was easy to hold my friends at a distance. the easier it was for me to forget that the year was passing. ugly old mole on Brennan Donnelly’s head—but I had. I never would have felt myself growing close to her again. but I could tell they were angry and annoyed about how that night went down. same old beige hallways. I don’t know why I let it happen. but it felt good to take a break from the world for a while. Fortunately. until eventually she would have been just a speck in the past that could be easily erased. But the weirdness between us wasn’t just about me pushing them to do things on the list that made them uncomfortable and them getting caught. In many ways. and the choices I’d made. If I hadn’t found Suzy’s list. giving me an excuse to withdraw even further. and made me fold into myself even more. The more I kept to myself. same fat. why I just let my life move on without me. The fact that it had taken her more than a month to say anything irritated me. Something in me had broken over break. I had begun to question everything I knew about the life I’d been living. but the distance between us was thick and impenetrable. too. Grace and Ella and I hadn’t talked—really talked—since the night of the planetarium.
You’ve been so freaking consumed with that damn list for the last few months that you’ve been super at paying attention . “I was just thinking that we haven’t seen much of each other since before Christmas.” “Oh. “What. and I’d watched their flirtation grow. Grace suggested we hang out after school. I made excuses about things I had to do during lunch so I could avoid our awkward and meaningless conversations. leaning toward Ella and trapping her into the space between his armpit and the wall. And about the night at the planetarium. I forced you?” I said with a bitter laugh. you know?” She narrowed her eyes at me. I caught her glancing at Andy Eisenberg.” Peter said. and moved along again.” Ella giggled. “Ian—and I—thought you should probably apologize. “I thought maybe we should talk about stuff. By the time her focus was back on me. maybe it would be easier to leave it all behind when the time came to go. “We were in it together. and I knew she had forgotten she’d ever asked about me. “You gonna come see the hockey game this weekend?” “Of course. Ella and Andy had play practice together almost every day after school. “Just busy. realizing she was probably expecting an apology that wouldn’t be forthcoming. Peter Martinson wandered up just as Andy opened his mouth to say something to Ella. “I’m fine. but it was obvious she was there for Andy and his stupid imaginary hamster.” “That’s not an apology.” Ella blushed. “Right. Ella had lost Andy’s attention entirely. “I’m waiting. Was this just another something I was wasting my time trying to succeed at. Skiing. exactly as I’d expected.” Grace said boldly. All of the promises I’d made to myself about making something of myself in this last year before we went out into the real world felt so hollow now. and I wanted to smack her. I shrugged at the same time that Ella snapped.” I said. who was hastily stuffing books in his locker beside me.” I said to Ella that day. Ian’s busy?” Grace gritted her teeth and attempted a smile. since none of us had practice or rehearsal or meetings of any kind. since I wasn’t the only one who’d become distant. “Excellent. “Remember to wear that pretty pink shirt. “I’m sorry you didn’t have the guts to stick up for yourself and say you didn’t want to go. “For forcing me to do something that got me grounded.” “I don’t owe anyone an apology.” “What about it?” I asked. At least some things didn’t change. when I ought to have just given up before I had a chance to see our friendships fail? It seemed like we were all thinking the same thing. and not at all to see me.” Ella snorted. Ambrose?” Peter said. Sophie—that would have gone over well. You could have easily bailed. with a vague smile. He put his hand on my locker in that cocky jock way. oblivious to everyone around him.” Grace said.before we graduated. Often. adjusting her camera on her hip.” She glanced at me as we walked out the front doors at school. On Friday that week. She continued to come by my locker between classes or at lunch. “What’s up. obviously still smitten.
And now we’d hardly even seen Grace since Christmas. how much time you spend with Ian. “You have no idea what I’m going through. He’d obviously gotten the upper hand with Grace—how could he still be bitter? “I can see how that might have been true back at the beginning of the school year. “He has nothing to do with anything. the mood had gone from awkward to downright hostile. Ella and I hadn’t exactly been warm and welcoming. but it was because he was always so arrogant and controlling.” “You’re lucky to have him?” Ella scoffed. “Grace. That’s why Ian gets so pissed when I talk about you. Their relationship just bugged me. none of us ready to get in—together—just yet. We like spending time together. But the last few months—have you done anything that hasn’t included Ian?” Grace shook her head.” Grace stared at her mutely. “That’s more than I can say about the two of you. but Ella jumped on her before she could say anything else. I took her phone and wrapped my hand around her arm. Maybe part of it was my fault. just a little.” I stared at her. “Screw you. We were huddled near the back of my car.” “By us?” I said. as though I’d squeezed tighter than I’d meant to and somehow hurt her.” I said.” she said with a laugh.” Grace muttered.” I spat out. “Maybe it was jealousy. By the time we got to my car. drifting further away from us every time Ella exploded. “I’m lucky to have him. “I know you guys don’t like him. with all of us snapping at each other. but she’d also gotten sucked into his activities. Even though I was pissed at her. “No. yeah. immediately angry again. “Ian said. Grace spoke up.” Her attitude made me want to scream.” “You’re just jealous. and start giving yourself some credit?” I could see Grace closing up. for withdrawing in the way I had. But that’s by choice. Just as I was searching for something even more hurtful to say. “If you weren’t so busy cooing at Peter Martinson and changing everything about yourself to make him like you—” Ella cut me off. “I don’t give a rat’s ass what Ian says. She rubbed at her arm. it’s not healthy. He feels like he’s being attacked when we’re all together. “At first. I loved her enough somewhere deep down that I had to say something.” she started.” she said. But it’s just because we were worried about you!” I looked to . When Grace pulled out her phone and started to text him. adjusting her backpack on her shoulder in a way that made me know she was getting ready to walk away. “He’s lucky to have you! When are you going to realize that. “Okay…” I thought back to the nights we’d spent together with Ian and Grace.” She looked at both Ella and me with her chin thrust forward.to everything else going on around you and listening to other people. They spent all their time together. feeling my anger melt. pulling away. shutting down. fuming mad.
It . And I’m not! I love Ian. seriously skeeved. It was all I could come up with. She lost all ability to believe in herself.” I said. He never trusted her. and you’re a bitch for suggesting he’s anything less than perfect for me. reaching for her.” “My God. I just bruise easily—it’s not a big deal. “Did Ian do that to you?” “It was my fault. porcelain Grace that everyone else at school always saw.” “It’s never your fault when someone hurts you.” “He’s not abusive. Grace was obviously having some serious issues with Ian and I was out of my league. It was my fault. and it was never good enough. It was bad. “I guess. He made her feel like she never measured up. and made her doubt herself with her friends and me and my sisters.” “It’s not like that with me and Ian. When she reached her hand up to push her hair back from her face.” Grace said.” Grace said levelly. For you two. She looked guilty and ashamed. She nodded weakly. without explanation. “I just told him I wanted some time for myself—and time to see you guys again. “He really cares about me. “This is stupid. I also didn’t know if I could deal with anything more than I already was. because she was stuck in it for so long.” I looked at Ella desperately. and was always talking big about himself. which was obviously not worth it since you’re just attacking me. I’m sure he’s worried about where I am.” Ella insisted. “I know you think Ian’s a great guy. Seriously. before they split up. “It’s not a big deal. “And I don’t think either one of you is in a position to criticize me for anything. But Grace. all I could see was the polished. I didn’t know how to deal with this sort of thing.” “Does he always know where you are?” I asked.” I said finally.” Grace said. He grabbed me when I tried to walk away from him.Ella to make sure we were on the same page.” “He’s never hurt me before yesterday. I shrugged at Ella. this sounds a lot like what was going on with my mom and dad. and she stared at us with a steely expression.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder and when I looked into her face. It sounds like I’m complaining. And now I’ve probably hurt him by ditching him today. staring at us with a scared expression on her face. Finally.” Grace said with a small laugh.” Grace said. I know he’s upset. the inky fingers of a fresh bruise trailing down her arm peeked out from under the cuff of her coat. “I know it was just because he was frustrated. It still is bad. And Grace didn’t seem like she was ready to hear anything negative about Ian. Grace.” Grace said shrilly. Ella held Grace’s shoulders tight and said.” “What kind of grab?” Ella demanded. “He’s an emotionally—and physically—abusive twat if he’s got you thinking that way. “I should call him. “You can’t be hurting him if you’re doing what you want to do. and he gets really bummed when I don’t call him for a while. laughing. Her jaw hardened. My mom did everything for him. “It sounds like your relationship has some issues. It was as though we’d caught her stealing or cheating on a test. It was just a tiny grab and I pulled away too fast. It was my own fault for pulling away from someone who loves me.
It fit. Things went along like this for so long that. since it was obviously so easy for us all to exist without each other. I let it go to voice mail and didn’t listen to the message. or my parents. “I guess there’s no sense in even trying anymore then. “Ella. as if in protest about what I was walking away from. and in those final moments. The tears streamed down my frozen cheeks. “Damn it!” I screamed. It squealed. and I let them drip off my skin and drizzle onto the icy ground below me as I thought about Ella and Grace and Johnny and me. as I turned out of the lot. I slipped into a solitary hole where I focused on skiing. since that’s what I’d felt like around everyone since Christmas anyway. In a furious haze. you’re so obsessed with your aunt’s list that you’re completely oblivious to what’s going on with your friends in the present. or even Johnny. and tried not to think about Johnny or my friends. and felt Suzy alongside me. And Sophie. slushy snow hanging off the mud flaps on my car. but now I was lonely. I wondered if. too?” I asked Ella. or my friends. Grace smiled at me a few times in the hall at school. I parked next to the looming metal structure and stared up into the blinding white sky. Lost. Maybe Ella and Grace and I been clinging too hard to something that should have been forgotten long ago. Ella kicked at the brown. not knowing where I was going until I got there. and you’re completely changing yourself for Peter Martinson. is there? What’s the point of pretending?” Grace chewed at her thumb.was like she’d closed herself to us completely—like we were strangers. or Suzy. The only time she called. I put my foot on the bottom rung of the lowest ladder. but I could see that the answer was yes. I began to wonder what my friendships had even meant to begin with. “Well. But even though there were days when I really believed that—days when Grace would wave absently from across the hall or I’d see Ella laughing as she ate her lunch in the theater or I’d think about Johnny flirting with some girl by the fire in a ski resort—it was just as frequently that I realized how much I’d begun to miss them. I drove. “Okay.” I nodded. started it up.” I said. you’re totally unable to stick up for yourself with your mom about school. . I didn’t know what was happening between the two of them. and what I’d lost. now that I knew the truth about her. Ella texted me a few days later. eventually. Maybe it was a little of each. she and I were more alike than I’d ever thought we could be…more alike than I wanted to be.” I said. I let myself linger on how Suzy must have felt in her final days. I’d enjoyed the solitude and self-centered moping. even though I knew I was totally alone. read books. but I was sure it wasn’t any sunnier. just to test it. Ella shrugged. Then I got into my car. “Is that what you think. Just as it began to get dark. when she wasn’t with Ian. but I turned away. not knowing if I was cursing myself. It was the first of many afternoons when I drove to the edge of town and spent hours alone at the water tower. and pulled away. sat in the shadow of the water tower. maybe. but I ignored it. My friends and I didn’t talk after that.
and finally in myself. And now I had nothing at all. . then in Johnny. It was just when I’d lost all hope for all of those things that I realized I’d abandoned my best friends.I’d gotten engrossed first in Suzy’s list.
Smiling at her felt good.” She grinned at me. “Why did you quit the list?” I sighed. “Get your coat. and I did. I gave him a funny look. who was still staring at me.” Grace said simply. I quit the list. ever since the musical. just the tiniest bit.” “Then that’s exactly where I want to go.” she instructed. How many times I hadn’t been there for her. she looked back at me. Ella came around the corner looking for Andy. The weather had been getting warmer. then we both grinned. then stuffed her books into my locker. “Where are you two going?” “To the Red Line. “Why not? Isn’t that about the last place you’d look for me?” I looked at Ella. How much had I missed. Grace snapped her fingers in my face. Sophie. and the ease of the gesture gave me pause. It was the kind of thing you only did with friends. then she smiled. Grace looked at me curiously. made me wonder how much time they’d been spending together. but I’d never thought about the fact that she probably told him things—that they were becoming friends. That day I’d even swapped out my winter jacket for something lighter. She looked at us strangely. the way he was looking at me.” Grace said defiantly. “No.” “You quit the list?” Grace twisted one of her curls. too. I shook my head and looked at Grace. I knew he and Ella had been spending a lot more time together. and I felt myself melting. we’ve got some work to do if we’re going to finish this list of yours before graduation. But now. “The Red Line is definitely the last place I’d look for you. As we walked toward the front doors. indeed? Grace Cutler was suggesting we skip out of school? “Okay…” I said reluctantly.” . “Suzy’s list. She studied both Ella and me. wondering what he knew about the list and what he knew about my life.CHAPTER TWENTY “Are you still doing your aunt’s list?” Grace appeared at my locker one day before spring break. I’ve got time. when he had. “Long story. then lifted his eyebrows.” I agreed. It felt totally normal. “Anyway. “Great. “Yes. Let’s get out of here. as though this was just another autumn day. Grace shrugged. and the snow was gone from the fields and front lawn at school. and just how much I’d missed. before everything between us had changed. okay?” I just stared at her. pushing my books in beside hers. “To the Red Line?” I blurted this out. Have you finished yet?” Andy glanced at me as he pulled his books out of his locker.
perky. You’re missing class. “You promised Trever German would be here.” “There’s only an hour left of school.” “Well. “So things need to change. and disturbingly upbeat. “Does it have anything to do with Ian?” I was a little afraid to ask. “And I’m miserable. in fact. As I recall. Or maybe I’d just never noticed before. “Ian and I are over. More than upset—furious. “In fact. despite the girlpower pose.” “You’ve wasted time?” Ella said. a touch of disappointment ringing in her voice. “And now I’d like to make up for that.” . “This change.” “Exactly. putting her hands on her hips. Her voice was far too chipper. “You’re the most involved person in the entire world! You have no time to spare.” “Right.” I said.” Grace said. I think I’d like to become friends with Trever German.” “Oh. snorting. “Grace. “You need to go back to class.” Grace said. She held her head high and marched with total confidence. then we followed Grace as she walked out the front doors and around to the side of the building.” he said.” Ella and I peeked at each other quickly. He sounded like a forty-year-old man scolding his child. when he’d finally gotten close enough to us that we could hear him.” Ian said angrily.” I said with a laugh. “I think people can wait to smoke at this point. The Red Line was empty when we got there. he doesn’t scare me now.” She smiled serenely.Ella ran back to her locker and got her coat. Her voice was even and sure. you were petrified of Trever German. since the last time we’d talked about Ian had led to the end of everything.” Grace announced. “Isn’t this place supposed to be packed?” Grace said. One of the first laughs I’d had in quite some time.” I said. He stopped before he crossed over the official school property line. “I’d like you to come back to school now. “What is going on?” “I’m fairly sure I’ve totally wasted the last nine months. but I stared down at my feet when I caught Ian glaring at me. I figured you and your list would get me back on track again.” She pointed toward the side door. I mean it. But maybe it was something to do with the time we’d spent apart…maybe I’d just forgotten. Her voice was shaking. always-in-control-of-her-life Grace sound quite this robotic before.” Grace said.” Grace said without a touch of drama. “Does he know that?” Ella asked. And he looked upset. Ian and his eyebrows were. And I never promised Trever German. “Am I? Thanks so much for letting me know. on their way toward us. “Because he’s on his way over here right now. “Grace.” There was something disconcerting about the tone of her voice and the things she was saying—I’d never heard perfect.
but now it felt more like a parent-child relationship than something romantic. Trever took a drag of his cigarette. it was too late now. They were watching the drama unfold with great interest. “How about you head back inside and report me.“No. “Sure.” I said. At least I hoped that was what was happening. Ian. “Grace made it perfectly clear that she wants you to leave. His hair is too fluffy to take himself so seriously. and we could help pull her away. but I wasn’t the only one who had retreated from our friendship. . In the time we’d been talking. “You do that.” she said after a second. then smiled at Trever. I realized Grace had come back to us for a reason. which made me laugh. “I appreciate the help. “I’m reporting you.” She smiled sweetly. Suddenly. I could almost feel Ian shaking with anger. so I’d been self-centered for the last few months.” “He just gets a little overprotective. I could be there for her. She needed help escaping her horrible.” I said. We’d drifted apart—I’d torn us apart.” “You’ll come inside. Trever German and a few of his friends—guys I vaguely knew from beach parties I’d been to and classes we’d had together over the years—strolled up to the Red Line. Trever lit a cigarette on the wrong side of the school property line and Ian said. “Actually.” “No worries.” Trever said. Okay. “I’m staying here. But he didn’t look the least bit cuddly—in fact. maybe—but even after all this time away from each other.” He draped his arm over Grace’s shoulder. Grace slumped down onto a stump. “Smoke?” He held out his soft pack. “You’re good at that. As soon as he left. he looked like an evil dictator on hair-growth hormones. And it didn’t matter now. and coughed as soon as the first puff of smoke entered her mouth. Grace shook her head.” He poked his finger in the air to punctuate his comment. slipping into defensive mode again. she knew she could trust us.” I decided to ignore the jab. because that’s what I was about to do. Now all that mattered was that we get Grace away from this freak. Trever laughed.” I said.” She looked at me and Ella. “Mind your own business. He sat down on the stump next to Grace’s. toeing the line between school and the smoker’s corner. Ian.” Ian warned.” “You don’t smoke. but then she relaxed and leaned into him.” Ian’s eyebrows pulled together like furry little pillows. “Thanks. and leave us alone. I saw her flinch. Their relationship had always struck me as odd.” Grace said. then stepped so one foot was off school grounds and the other was on. And we can talk about this further tonight.” She sucked awkwardly at the cigarette as Trever lit it for her. Sophie. “I don’t care. “Get the hell out of here. “Bye. If Grace didn’t want us intervening. “I don’t like the way that guy talks to you.” Grace looked at her boyfriend—ex-boyfriend?—sullenly. I guess the waxing hadn’t become a habit. more firmly. hairy boyfriend.” he said. Ella waved.
“Me. I smiled. “Poor me. pulling Grace up to standing.” “Truth. Did your fight have absolutely everything to do with his eyebrows?” .” Ella nodded. right?” Ella nodded reluctantly. Gracie.” Ella said. “That’s gonna be a keeper. “Do you know. Is it too late to get us back?” They both shook their heads. “I definitely am. I’ve never made it into one of the candid shots in the yearbook? I don’t think I’m involved enough to warrant a slot.” Ella agreed. even after she was up.” “I’m on every fourth page. “Well. “You do the yearbook pictures. Grace nodded. realizing just how much I needed them. Ella snapped her lens cap back on. leaving Grace.” I said. too. “I’ll try to sneak this one in. Ella. “What happened the last few months?” I shrugged. “It’s only fair to represent all sides of this school.… A lot?” “A lot. Trever and his friends packed up and left. mugging for the camera with his arms open wide.” Trever decided. “I’ve missed you guys. The minute they were gone. “I don’t know. let’s. “Don’t you need a picture of me?” He grinned hugely.” Ella and I both nodded. Grace stamped her foot on the cigarette and looked up at us. and how much I needed them to need me back.” I said. every year.” After a few more minutes. “Be honest. I held her hand. and me alone at the Red Line. “Thanks again for helping with Ian. Not going down in history. Finally.” Grace mused quietly. Ella broke the silence by saying. We all looked at each other uncomfortably.” He gestured for his friends to surround him. “A lot. All three hid their cigarettes behind their backs. “Yes.” I suggested. I wasn’t letting go again. Can we catch up?” “Let’s start with Ian.” He pushed out his lip in a fake pout. but blew smoke out of their mouths just as Ella snapped her shot. Anyone who can make it at East Central for as many years as you have deserves to be in at least one yearbook photo that wasn’t taken by a professional. I have put in my time.” Grace agreed.Trever looked at Ella and pointed to her camera. in all my years at East Central. “I’m sorry.
“A lot of our problems really were my fault,” Grace said, starting to explain what had happened between her and Ian that had made her storm off. We’d left school and grabbed a pizza, then returned to my house. My parents wouldn’t be home for hours, and it felt right for us all to be together in my room again. “We’re always texting, which isn’t really a big deal. And it’s usually nice to spend time with him—just maybe not all the time.” She chewed at her thumb, but I reached over and pulled it out of her mouth. “Maybe it’s stupid that I’m mad at him.” “Did something else happen today that made you bail?” I asked. “No,” Grace insisted. “Nothing important anyway. I guess I’m just a little tense. PMS, maybe? I sort of freaked out today, and Ian kind of startled me.” Ella sat straight up from the couch. “He what? Did he grab you again?” “I was being really crabby, and I guess I told him I needed some time by myself…and I don’t know…he squeezed my face. It sounds stupid, but it freaked me out. That’s why I was so weird this afternoon.” “Deservedly so,” Ella spat. “You can’t be alone with him again. Promise?” Grace shrugged. “He’s really not that bad,” she said. “It’s just—well, I’ve sort of been feeling trapped. Maybe I’ve been a little overwhelmed lately, is all. He and I are always together, and I miss you guys, and I miss hanging out in the student council room before school sometimes. And sometimes I just wish I knew how to be by myself with nothing to do. I feel like it’s too much. You know?” Ella nodded. “Is it just Ian?” she asked. “Why do you feel so overwhelmed?” Grace stared at Ella through watery eyes. “It’s not just Ian,” she said. “I’m exhausted lately—and now that there are only a few months left before we have to move on, I’m just starting to get really freaked out. You guys, I’ve been so busy staying busy for the last four years that I never bothered to figure out what’s next. I’m like a model student at East Central, but that doesn’t make any difference at all after we graduate. Everyone at Brown was important in high school—we can’t all be the best in college.” “As far as I’m concerned, you’re going to be the best person at Brown. By far.” I smiled, feeling, for the first time in weeks, like I’d stepped back into my life. “And you are going to figure it out when you get there. You always do.” “I always have figured stuff out before,” Grace insisted. “But what if I can’t anymore? What if these were my golden years, and I’m one of those people that just can’t move on? What if it all
goes downhill from here? What if Brown is terrible, and I’m one of the losers that fails out of freshman year?” “You won’t,” I promised. Then I laughed and said, “I remember a few months ago, when I was complaining about the same thing. You told me the world is my oyster, right?” After a beat, I added, “And you know we’re always here to help you, if you get stuck.” “Maybe I do need some time away from Ian,” she finally said. “Just take some time for myself before the end of the year?” “Definitely,” Ella agreed. Grace nodded. “Yeah.” She looked at Ella and nodded. I wasn’t totally convinced that she was in a great place, but she pasted on a big smile and said, “Thanks. I guess I just need some time to figure stuff out. What about you, El? Have you and your mom come to terms with next year yet?” Grace pushed her curls away from her face and tucked her feet up under her body. Little sprinkles of the old Grace were visible, but there was something disarming about her sudden mood shift. I made a vow that I wouldn’t let her slip away again—I couldn’t let her fall back to Ian when she obviously needed someone to pull her to safety. “Not exactly,” Ella admitted. “I kind of faked an acceptance from Cornell. Andy Eisenberg’s going there next year, and he let me borrow his admissions e-mail so I could doctor something up to show my mom.” She grinned. “Is that bad?” Grace and I both nodded. “Ella, you can’t lie forever. You have to come clean,” I said. “I know,” she whined. “I will.” “The longer you let her think you’re living out her wishes, the harder it’s going to be for her to see them all come crashing down. You have to tell her.” I stared at Ella and she covered her head with a pillow. “Stop looking at me like that.” “You deserve it,” I said, laughing. “I wish you were going to Cornell,” Grace said. “Then we’d be state neighbors!” “Except for the small matter of Connecticut,” Ella said. “But yeah, it would be fun to be so close.” She shrugged. “Maybe I’ll be out that way anyway. I’m sort of thinking about moving to New York or something. Waitressing.” “You want to move to New York and become a waitress?” I asked. “Since when?” “Since it sounded like a fun thing to do.” Ella lay back on the couch again. “I’m taking suggestions, so if you have any, let me know. The other option I’ve been thinking about is trying to get a job on a cruise ship. I just want an excuse to travel and explore, and give myself some time to figure out what’s next.” She bit her lip, then said slowly, “Also, I applied for one of those overseas au pair programs. That could be fun. Right?” She looked at us, obviously nervous. “You did?” I asked. I hadn’t realized how organized Ella was about this whole head-outinto-the-world-and-explore thing. “You actually applied?”
“I did.” She grinned. “I don’t want to get my hopes up, but they have placements that start at the end of the summer—I requested Austria, France, or Spain. But I’d go anywhere. I’m sure I won’t get picked.” “Geez,” I said, feeling the tiniest bit jealous. “You’ve been busy the last few months.” “So have you!” Ella said. “You must be almost done with Suzy’s list by now. You haven’t been arrested yet, have you?” “No,” I said. “Not yet.” “Listen, Soph,” Grace interrupted. “I’m sorry we bailed on you.” Ella nodded. “Yeah, me too. It’s just—after that night at the planetarium, when you left us outside while you snuck in, Grace and I sort of felt like the list was more your thing than our thing. You ditched us for Johnny that night—even after we’d talked about how we needed a night for us, the three of us—and it was obvious you didn’t really care if we were doing the stuff on the list with you or not. You got a little carried away with everything. You have to admit, you got a little obsessed. And then you closed up completely. Like you didn’t need or want us with you anymore.” I sighed. She was absolutely right. “I know. I really am sorry I left you outside the planetarium for as long as I did. I would have been horrified if you’d gotten caught because I took so long.” “How is Johnny Rush, anyway?” Grace asked, wiggling her eyebrows. “Anything exciting we need to know about?” Ella knew Johnny had left town for a while, but Grace and I had grown so far apart that she didn’t even realize there was nothing happening between us anymore. “Johnny’s gone.” I told them how he’d left with a lame, vague explanation—and I briefly filled them in on our last night together and that final conversation. “So that’s over.” I shrugged, like it didn’t really matter. But it still hurt when I thought about him. I missed him every day, and I sometimes wished I’d just kissed him, even though it wouldn’t have changed any of the facts. It wouldn’t have prevented him from picking Mackenzie. It wouldn’t have kept him from leaving. It would have just made his leaving hurt more. “What about the list?” Ella asked timidly. “I haven’t finished,” I said, then finally told them what I’d learned about Suzy’s death, and the secrets my family had kept from me in the years since. I still hadn’t talked to anyone about it, and it felt good to have the release. It had been stifling, coming to terms with everything on my own. “She wrote the list as a therapy exercise,” I finished with a shrug. “According to my mom, it was her last-ditch effort to make herself feel like she belonged or something. In HR-speak, the list was just Suzy’s way of ‘trying to thread herself into the tapestry of her life and society’ again. Or something equally cheesy and disturbing.” I made air quotes and tried to smile, but it didn’t lighten my mood. “That she killed herself doesn’t change anything, you know,” Ella said suddenly, looking at me seriously. “You can still try to fulfill her last wishes. To connect with her through the list.”
“And you can’t tell me that you weren’t happier after you found that list—it changed you.” I shrugged. Grace grabbed my hand. “Your ending will be different. it’s a little hard to look up to her anymore. If I gave up on the list of dares completely.” I said bitterly. Because you’re you—not Suzy—and you’re not alone. I’d even wondered if anyone would even really notice if one day I was just gone. none of us does all that well when we’re fighting and running off on our own to royally screw up. and because I really did believe in me. “But I wonder if maybe we should . We’re standing behind you. thinking about the things left on the list. I couldn’t have fixed Suzy. It’s made you take some chances this year. or that it was sometimes easier knowing no one was relying on me. You’ve always been upset that your whole family pushed Suzy aside after she died—and now you’re doing the same thing. what I’ve been doing. so to speak.” Hearing my friends say these things.” “But what if it doesn’t turn out well?” I asked quietly. things I’d considered myself. anyway. She understood what the list and its hidden truth represented for me. “Obviously.” “Why does it change anything?” Grace demanded. I wasn’t just giving up on Suzy—I was giving up on myself. and I was sure she knew exactly what I was most scared of.“Look where that list got Suzy. And the truth about Suzy and what the list represented for her dragged me into this other. It doesn’t change anything about your history together. From now on. you know?” I didn’t tell my friends how easy it had been for me to slip away from everything. couldn’t change her past or what had happened. lonely dimension that I’ve been stuck in since Christmas.” She smiled sheepishly. now that I know the truth. “Don’t you worry that giving up on the list presents more problems than optimistically carrying on? Isn’t giving up exactly what Suzy did? You’ve got to think she would be happy if she knew you had found it and it turned into something good. But I could use the future she’d envisioned for herself to create a different life for me—and I could be there for my friends. Soph. and they for me. “I think the list came at just the right time.” “It was good at first. but it still seemed like it had the potential to be a good thing. “I’m not so sure that trying to live out a presuicidal fantasy is the best bet. So now it doesn’t feel like it’s all hopeful optimism anymore. With you. But they were right. I could unthread myself from the tapestry. “Because it’s obviously easier to take chances when you’re living out someone else’s life…which is. Ella seemed to understand this without me saying anything.” I admitted. A few times in the past few weeks. The list would lead me to a different place than it had led Suzy…because I had my friends. in a way no one had been there for my aunt in the end. and there probably wouldn’t even be much of a hole. So maybe you went a little overboard with it. “This new information shouldn’t affect any of your memories about her. essentially. Besides.” I agreed.” She thrust her chin in the air and dared me to challenge her. “But it also sort of sucked me out of the real world. was difficult.
our dreams. so it seems like a party of our own is the best way to end this thing.spend the rest of the year doing some of the things that we want to do. For real.” “And we are going to pick up the reins where Johnny left off. if Suzy really had distanced herself from her friends. glossing over the water-tower conversation. finally. for once. it will also let us knock off the weird one—make them envy me. even with support from my friends. “Really.” “Nice.” Ella squeaked. “That one will happen. It was depressing. When it’s warm. our rules. “Of course. With our help. But…if you’re so close to finishing. But from now on. eventually. she would have struggled to do any of the things on the list at all. A real smile.” “Let’s start with the party and see how many we can knock off in one night. So what else is left on the original list?” Ella asked.” I glanced up and caught Grace nodding.” We all looked at each other. “I think. If we do that. I’m going to quit track so I can buy myself some time to just be. why not at least try to wrap it up? No pressure—this time you do it on your terms. And I’ll tell Ian to take his hairy. “Confess a crush and kiss X.” I promised. “Right. And in the spirit of doing what we want to do. Right? Who doesn’t envy a party-thrower with fabulous best friends?” My friends nodded. and throw a kick-ass party that will rival every party Johnny Rush ever threw on his beach. I still didn’t know how.” Ella said certainly.” Ella said. I could finish this one. “Get a tattoo or a nose ring. Our wishes.” Ella whooped. grabby hands elsewhere. We don’t need to use Suzy’s list to force us to start breaking some of our own rules—right?” Ella grinned. “I like that.” She straightened her shoulders and grinned. “Eat dessert on top of the water tower. “Throw a party. “Jump off Hanging Rock. I pulled the paper out from under my bed. Grace nodded.” “You’re sure?” I asked hopefully.” . Part of the reason I’d given up on the rest of the list was that I didn’t want to do any of the things that were left on it by myself. I could understand why. it’s our list instead of Suzy’s. “And I am going to finally tell Peter how I feel. this year started with one of Johnny’s parties. I swallowed before I read the last one. thinking of throwing a party by myself or jumping off Hanging Rock alone. Part of the fun of most of these things was doing them with someone else.
If we were going to do this right. The day of the party was warm and perfect. Ella found us the ugliest. as though it was a pet. so the promise of summer was everywhere. we had to have the drunk-girl limo. I sneaked over to Johnny’s detached garage. Johnny stepped to the side and gestured for me to drive it past him.” .” I patted the lawn mower fondly. Around seven. But I respect the effort—no judging. I pressed the button to open the big door so I could drive out onto the grass. “It’s all yours. out onto the lawn. “Thief. “You’re back. teasing me as if no time had passed since he’d left. Grace was in charge of making sure people knew about the party. but I’m going to need to commandeer this lawn mower. Once I figured out how to turn the mower on.” I shrugged. A lawn-mower kegger really wasn’t the same without a lawn mower. hoping his dad’s hearing aid was off. wondering for a moment if I was just imagining him standing there. I started the mower. “You are really. “So you’re back. It was perfect payback for my Christmas alone with Mom and Dad and Mom’s rambling and obsessive comments about the fatty ham. As we worked to tie the Radio Flyer on with twine. I dug around under the fake rock for a spare key that I’d seen Johnny use the night of the planetarium break-in. truly bad at this rebel business. “I’m sorry.” He held his hands up in surrender. And I suggested my parents plan a trip to visit my brother. In fact. He slipped his hands into his back pockets and his body was slouched in that impossibly sexy. then prepared to rev forward—but stopped short when I realized someone was standing in front of the open garage door. I could feel Johnny watching me. we’d had enough rain and sunshine that lawn-obsessed people had already been out with mowers already…which gave me an idea.” I said.CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO Trever German got us a keg. which I knew he would very much appreciate. Want some help tying up the wagon?” “Sure.” I said plainly. I stared at him. when Trever pulled into my circular driveway in his beat-up old Bronco with the keg. but tiny buds had begun to creep back to their places on the trees. It wasn’t yet full spring. most garish fake tattoos imaginable. his lips curled into a flirty smile.” Johnny Rush stood in front of me with his hands on his perfect hips. lazy way that he must have practiced so it could be a permanent part of his image. “And I’m busted.
” I felt the rejection deep in my belly. Johnny had said that himself. “A lot—and you just left. waiting for him to respond. “I liked you. I said. “Or I’m wanted?” When he looked at me. It nearly killed me. and I was going to kiss him. He shrugged and looked away. Johnny?” I’m not sure what I wanted him to say. I left for me.” “I’m afraid you lost your title as lawn-mower kegger captain. or is it a private affair?” “You’re welcome to join. But he still hadn’t exactly answered my question.” I felt his fingers slip into mine. are you going to invite me to this soiree.” he said finally. “Oops. This one is all mine. It was obvious now that what I’d suspected all along had been true: I’d been mistaken. in the space between our backyards.” She poked her head around the edge of the garage and gasped. “The snow isn’t the only thing that drove me back here. could put it out there and risk rejection and failure and whatever I might have with this guy. “So that’s it. Sorry. Sophie.” I said plainly. My eyes fluttered closed and I sucked in my breath. I realized I’d forgotten just how arresting his eyes were. I was just another person to flirt with. “So?” I said. a kick to the gut. “So. There was no connection for him. someone to play with and tease and tempt…and that was it. One of his hands slipped out of mine. I’d missed him so much it hurt. He has to drop the keg in the wagon and go back to the liquor store. I still felt a little bubble of something deep inside that made me wonder if maybe I had been right. someone to fill his time when he was bored. “Ski season was over. and there it was again: that something that made me feel at home. I came back because of you. Then I looked at the lawn mower and added. I wondered just enough that maybe I could risk everything. and I knew I was probably going to be disappointed with whatever he would say. but I came back for you. was torture.” “It’s a nice touch.” .” He looked at me. Finally. and totally comfortable in my own skin when he was with me. “Sophie!” Grace called to me from somewhere. They stopped me from saying anything. Nothing special between us. That’s still yours. I was going to confess my crush. I wanted to taste him and wrap up inside his arms. “Why did you come back.“I’m back.” He met my gaze.” “I’m welcome?” Johnny asked. “Did you?” He smiled. “Trever forgot the tap. “You wanted me to uncomplicate. The regular rules didn’t apply to us. There was no reason to stay. anyway. Screw convention. saying nothing. and he reached up to press his thumb against my lower lip. and at peace. isn’t it?” Johnny tied one last knot in the twine and patted the seat of the mower. damn it.” Johnny said.” I said. “I see you missed me so much you decided to host one of my parties. “Except the lawn mower. neither of us saying anything. He was close enough that I could smell him. huh?” “That’s why I left Michigan. As we stared at each other. I’m just borrowing the concept. but they also kept me from driving away. and seeing him here again.
as much as I do. And just so you know. Because he was obviously consumed with powerful jealousy.” Grace said. Expected. Ella and I watched as Grace pulled herself away from the crowd surrounding her and drifted toward him. horrible fingers around Grace’s arm and pulled her away from the party. my heart hammering in my chest with the promise that maybe. And that’s when we flew. I might not have seen him. “Get on!” We both piled onto the riding mower. They slipped away from the beach. Ella muttered “no” as Ian wrapped his scrawny. The guy who’d made her feel like less of a person and who—I recognized it now—had made her doubt and hate herself. but Ian didn’t stop to hold her in his arms and tell her it was okay or that he loved her or explain why he was acting like a possessive psychopath. without moving. later. “Ella. the waves wild and frothy. You need to let me go. which I’d parked at the edge of the lawn earlier that night. We watched. The mower puttered and sputtered and zipped across the lawn. The guy who was controlling her past. probably. you are wanted at the party. Take some time. if Ella hadn’t grabbed my arm and swung me around to stare. He was pulling her along and she was stumbling behind him like a rag doll.Johnny and I pulled apart. we did.” Ian smiled cruelly. as Grace climbed up the hill. present. Grace and Ian were already most of the way across my wide lawn. It was like an out-of-body experience. So if we hadn’t been watching. and people were having a great time—a noisy time. then revved the engine on the mower and zoomed off to pick up my keg. Within moments we were up the hill. panting. Ian. We can go away this weekend. really. They were almost at his car when Grace finally dug her heels into the grass and fought back. “Completely over. The lake was loud. “Stop. His eyebrows shot up when he saw us chasing after them on our noble steed. And comforted with the knowledge that Johnny was back and we would have time. Grace. “Well. “I don’t think you want to do this. and future. we might not have heard her scream. still dizzy from his touch.” I smiled seductively. The crowd was huge. standing at the top of the craggy hill above the beach. and his shoulders sank in defeat. We were gaining on Ian and Grace with our funny little rescue vehicle. watching my best friend float through time and space and into the arms of the guy who had made her so miserable. “Stop. “We’re done. I could hear her apologizing. but I didn’t know if we’d get to her before it was too late.” .” I said. “I’m glad you’re back. I know you need that. in a kind of trance.” I cried. then turned and looked over his shoulder. but the wind whipped my voice over the hill and into the lake. *** The party was in full swing when Ian showed up. I’d been right. to continue this. and out of our view.” I cried. But as it was. just the two of us. and he’d lost the ability to care about Grace in a normal way. Ian! Let me go!” Ian paused. gesturing wildly toward the lawn mower. waiting.
” Grace said. Ella. “It has everything to do with me finding my happiness. Trever and a few of his friends hid the keg in the raspberry bushes. then do that. the quality of my choices isn’t your business anymore.“I don’t need any more time with you. we decided it was probably a good idea to move the party elsewhere. trying a different approach. Grace piled into a car with Taryn and the other intellectual cheerleaders while Ella stayed behind to help me usher everyone off my lawn. Andy Eisenberg and some of the theater crew showed up. Sophie.” Andy said. too. then we all dissolved into a fit of giggles. Some people were going to walk. Ian. and many more were excited to ride in the open bed of Trever’s truck. others had a sober cab.” Grace shrugged. and that’s when I knew—without a doubt—that we had our real Grace back. “Hello. sober—in charge of rallying the troops and carting people a few miles down the road to the public beach. *** As soon as we got back to the beach. “And my friends are a part of who I am.” “I think it is. but covered my mouth when I saw Ian steaming. We put Trever German— who was. I’ve been trying to tell you that for weeks.” Ella and I watched as Grace fought back with the confidence she’d always had in arguments with Ella. “This has nothing to do with the list you’re thinking of.” “I quit track. “Giddyup!” She squealed as I revved the engine. “I already told you.” he corrected. not unkindly.” She finally sounded just like a guidance-office poster again. He bowed to me. I hope someday you’ll find that. But it’s not going to change things between us.” . “So you’re picking them over me?” “I’m picking me over you. surprisingly. but you refuse to get it.” Grace said with a smile. “If that’s going to make you happy. I saw her resolve falter. “Is this about that list?” He scoffed.” Ian looked from me to Ella to Grace. “Hey. Before they left. promising to pick it up in the morning. and living for me. I didn’t offer up the lawn mower. “You know you’d be kicked off track if you were caught at a party with alcohol. Just as the last people headed toward their cars. “Anyway. You’re not making smart choices. so that’s not much of a threat. I need some time with me. Ian. Ella had spent the whole night mustering up her courage to finally say something to Peter about her years-long crush—but when Andy turned up.” She walked toward us and climbed into the wagon.” Grace said. I’m calling the cops. or something?” I laughed.” “Grace. just in case Ian carried out his threat to call the cops. “If I leave here without you.” Ian warned. “Is breaking up with a perfect boyfriend one of the dares. Ian walked around to stand in front of the driver’s side door of his car.
Ella looked at Andy.” he said. “Change in location. “Party’s over?” he asked. “Who do you want to kiss?” “I think I’d rather kiss Andy. I’m sort of into Andy Eisenberg. “I already knocked that one off the list anyway. Giggling. her eyes wide.“Ambrose!” Peter called to Ella drunkenly from the backseat of one of his hockey buddies’ cars. Andy—wait up. “Want to ride with us? We can swap shirts—tonight I’ll be the hippie chick! Where’s my camera?” He cracked himself up. okay?” Andy smiled.” I mused. huh?” Johnny asked. There was a mattress back there—it actually looked sort of comfy.” Andy said. “Hey. I’m gonna come with you guys. then back at Peter—who had rolled down the window in the backseat to yell. “I think Trever was already a senior when I was a sophomore. minus the beer.” “Fine by me. Andy and the others began to walk back toward his car. “Sophie. as soon as Andy was out of earshot.” He nodded toward the car full of drunk jocks. “Maybe I have a different crush to confess—in fact. “Really?” I asked sarcastically.” I grinned. Johnny appeared beside me on the lawn.” *** Just as the last car pulled out of my driveway. You’re off the hook.” She beamed and looked over at Andy.” She shrugged.” “What if I still want to do number nine?” Ella asked with a coy smile.” I said. Number nine is all mine now.” I shrugged. “I think people just wanted a chance to ride in the back of Trever German’s truck. “You’ve got to think he’s trying not to graduate at this point. glancing at his wrist.” I explained. “Let’s move. “We’ll meet you there?” He looked at Ella hopefully. Ambrose!” Andy cringed.” “That guy still hasn’t graduated. I think I’ve just been wasting time waiting for the wrong guy. “Not exactly my scene. “Everyone’s moving to Hidden Beach.” I shrugged.” . Andy lifted his eyebrows.” “People pick different things to hold onto. Because even if he is a weirdo who keeps a fake hamster in his locker. “Must have been a fun party. “Johnny?” “I haven’t gotten to the kiss part yet. “Hop in.” “Confess a crush and kiss X?” Ella asked. “Will you hate me if I don’t confess my crush and kiss Peter?” “Not at all. “Or maybe not. babe. He didn’t wear a watch. Ella turned to me desperately. but I will. “It’s what…ten o’clock?” “Change in venue. he closed the door before Ella had a chance to get in. I don’t think I want to kiss Peter anymore.
“That’s the story. It wouldn’t have been fair to you. “But you said it was complicated. “I am now. “Sophie.” He tilted his head and looked at me with those piercing eyes that now looked black in the moonlight.” “You are now?” I asked hopefully. I knew there was a chance I could lose you if I left.” Johnny said. As we did. was yet another. I wasn’t in a good place with much of anything when you and I started hanging out. what would have happened? And would he still have left? “It was complicated. “My parents want to control my future. Johnny stopped before we climbed down the steep embankment to get to the beach. and together. Just that afternoon.” He chewed at his lip. Honestly. we have our beach to ourselves. but knew that I did. and we’d been together long enough that I was the easiest person for her to turn to.“Well. “This way. “I hope you don’t think I’m a huge jerk for taking off the way I did. “We officially broke up the night before she left for school. Then you came by on Christmas Eve. which was what I wanted so badly to come next. remembering the night we’d sat on his motorcycle and I’d wanted to kiss him more than anything. I think we both knew our relationship wasn’t strong enough that it could withstand the time apart. we walked back toward the beach. “The night of my last party.” he said certainly. My hand in his was one thing—my lips on his. My squatters had come back. “After we broke things off. so we ended things.” Johnny said.” We’d reached the edge of the lawn. we decided it made the most sense for both of us to start fresh this year. what is going on with Mackenzie?” I wished I didn’t need to know. and I was a mess. it just seemed like everyone was trying to take over my life again. and I realized it was the first time I’d seen him nervous about anything. “So. but I had to unplug for a while. and it wouldn’t have been fair to her. it sort of hit me. Kenzie held on.” Johnny said. “Say something?” . near the pumpkin patch. I knew I was going to screw things up with you if I didn’t figure out how to live on my own terms.” I smiled and he continued. whatever happened with the party. it would have been wrong for me to get involved with you when things were still so unfinished with her. If I’d known Mackenzie was out of the picture then. I’d noticed little bits of green peeking up out of the soil. and between her and my parents. She had a hard time getting settled in at Madison.” He shrugged. and so had Johnny. or I was going to destroy something good. She wanted me to come visit her. He looked at me and rested his hands lightly on my shoulders. Mackenzie came home at Christmas. taking a breath. and when you told me I wasn’t worth it…well. my ex-girlfriend was trying to control my present. I’m glad everyone’s gone. “You. glancing at me. I forced myself to ask. This…” he said. But I guess a part of me knew—or at least hoped—that what was happening between us wouldn’t go away while I was gone. to call every day—it wasn’t a clean break. this fall. I knew I had to get a grip on myself and Kenzie and my messed-up relationship with my parents.” He grabbed my hand.” I said.
trying to make me feel comfortable and secure. with a wave of his hand. “We will get you to jump. here. eventually. huge rocks that jutted up and out over the lake. tilting pile of pumpkins. But I still felt betrayed. “There you go. On the blanket. When I didn’t speak. “Well. “Pumpkins?” I asked. not sure how to process everything he was unloading on me.” He pulled me down the embankment toward the beach. “Ta da! See. “I wanted to kiss you that night after the planetarium. unsure of where this was going. and it’s definitely over over now. I wasn’t sure why I was still feeling tentative. And that’s what had happened. the way it had felt like he’d just abandoned me. And the good news is. A ladder made out of toothpicks climbed up one side. anyway.” Johnny said. And I’ve been trying to figure one thing out ever since that night after the planetarium. “I took a little creative license. But those were my issues…he didn’t know his text came just as every other rug had been pulled out from under me.” Johnny looked at me. it’s sort of bigger…” He spun the pumpkin water tower around and showed me that he’d carved the name of our town into the orange flesh. What it was that was keeping me from letting myself fall into him. even when I didn’t say anything. I believe. truly happy for him. Slightly better.” he said. Then I saw that he’d laid a blanket in the center of one of the beautiful. “Something?” I said finally. when you were in my house…” He trailed off. right?” “Okay…” I said tentatively.” I said. To believe that we could still be something… “And hey. “I know how you really wanted to finish everything on your aunt’s list of dares. I’d told myself that I was willing to wait for him—that I had to wait until I knew he wasn’t in a relationship to act on anything. To trust that the time away had been a good thing. It was a giant boulder streaked with colors and crystals that shone in the moonlight. It’s a stroke of brilliance. I remembered the hollow feeling the day I’d gotten his text. and just started talking again. curious.Before he left.” he whispered. “I have a surprise for you.” “You do?” “I do. . somehow. Something. “If it makes you feel better. these two little pumpkins are the bottom of the water tower. pulling me toward the blanket.” Johnny said excitedly. He kept talking. I made a water tower out of pumpkins. thinking that pumpkins were a better thing than some cheesy love song. so bad. there was a short.” I swallowed. he kept talking. trailing his hand down to squeeze my fingers again. Kenzie’s in a good place. I got a couple of scholarships and made enough money this winter to pay my way at Madison next year. “I’ve been thinking about you and your list all winter.” “That’s great. Pumpkins are sort of our thing. and we clambered over the rocks that separated my side of the beach from his. after I’d told him so much about myself. “Then at Christmas. “Go with me here. and then this other pumpkin stacked on top. really. that’s what the last few months had been about.” He nodded at me. I figured you wouldn’t have much trouble with most of the stuff—including Hanging Rock.
“I am enviable.” I shrugged. “Thank you.” I ticked off things on the list.” “And that is…?” “Kiss X. So? What do we have to do next?” “Well—these tattoos fulfill the tattooing or piercing one. then my wrist. might make people envy me. There are a few more things. But knowing about how Suzy died. staring at me over his pumpkin water tower. “Presenting…” He drummed his hands on his knees. “And we did host the party. Then I’ve still got to do Hanging Rock. picking off a corner of the cheesecake to take a taste. It’s perfect. I knew there was no way we were ever going to get you to climb up to the top of the actual water tower.” Johnny reached between two rocks near the waterline and pulled out a bag. nuzzling against his fingers as they wound up into my hair. then let his hand trail up my arm until it wrapped around the back of my neck.It’s really not that scary. and check it off that list. even if it wasn’t exactly perfect—but not a bad first try. There are rules. there’s just one thing left. I leaned into it.” He clapped happily. Inside the bag was a giant piece of pumpkin cheesecake. I also knew now that he’d been thinking about me while he was away. “Kiss X. but not quite. like he didn’t quite believe it. licking a bit of cheesecake off my finger. I’m glad you’re back.” I said.” I said. that one will happen. “So…is this it? The last thing on the list?” I shook my head. what he’d done.” “Obviously. It was an engineering feat. you know?” . “No. “I wonder if maybe there’s some way I can help you with that one?” He kissed each of my fingers.” “Say it’s brilliant. He put the cheesecake on a Christmas-themed paper plate that he stacked on top of the larger pumpkin.” “Are you?” He looked at me expectantly.” Johnny nodded seriously. “I’m glad I didn’t miss the rest.” “So what do you think? Does this count?” He was so hopeful. “Kissing seems pretty cutand-dry. someday…but you’re right. “I am.” I whispered.” I held out my arm and flexed to show off the ridiculous and garish parrot tattoo Ella had affixed to the inside of my bicep before the party. I nodded again. then pulled my finger to his own mouth and kissed it.” “I don’t know what to say. eh?” Johnny swept my hand up in his. with you. right? Take a bite. “Almost. “I’m not sure finger-kissing counts. “I’m sorry it’s so overwhelmingly pumpkin-y.” He smiled. Too much?” He laughed. He’d made me a water tower carved out of pumpkins. “Dessert on top of the water tower!” I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry. “So if you don’t count Hanging Rock. “I think being here. “And maybe you could say you’re glad I’m back?” I grinned.” he suggested. “That is probably true. So…I brought the water tower to you. just so I could knock the most intimidating dare off my list. That meant more than I thought it would. “I happen to love pumpkin cheesecake.
he pulled away just a fraction of an inch and muttered. until we were breathing the same air and I almost couldn’t tell where he ended and I began. and then he pulled back. his hands wrapped up into my hair and he pulled me in even closer. pulling me closer. as his mouth explored mine.” I muttered.“Cut and dry?” Johnny said. But maybe we should doublecheck?” I nodded. “Rules? Like. maybe we should try a few more? See if we can break a few rules?” . the way they melted into mine. “Hmm. Sophie. “There’s this…” He touched his lips gently to mine. This time. or it doesn’t count?” I shrugged. “Do you think one of those counts? Can we cross it off?” I shook my head slowly and leaned into him again. I closed my eyes and relished in the taste of his lips. rolling into the waves. and then it was just us and the lake and the blanketed rock beneath us. until I was breathless and a little dizzy. “Or this…” He whispered. We fit together perfectly. and they held on. “And this…” His lips met mine again. winding my fingers up into his mess of perfect hair. “Let’s see. His face was just a few inches from mine. It was just a tiny flutter-touch of a kiss. “Oh. I could smell him and the lake and the sugary pumpkin sweetness that clung to both of our mouths. The pumpkin water tower fell away.” Johnny said. now I think we both know that’s not true. “Just to be safe. Finally. stretching his body over the pumpkin water tower. you think there are rules about kissing? Only a certain way it can be done.
wings of your graduation robe flapping in the wind.” and listening to your best friend give a speech about the beauty of the past—a past you’ve grown into and lived through with her—and the promise of everyone’s futures. I promise. frankly. but really. that I was frustrated that they’d kept me sheltered from the truth about Suzy. She and I had talked a lot in the weeks after I’d reunited with my friends. From now on. “We’re just going swimming. Now I was on my own to screw up. I knew she meant it.” I pulled away from her and hugged my dad. There was something magical about graduation day. One minute you’re looking at Brennan Donnelly’s head mole for the last time.” I said. I was just going to have to figure out how to live my life without letting someone else’s shadow slip over everything. laughing. I’d made it clear to my parents that I’d felt stifled by their overprotectiveness and frustrated that I’d never been given the freedom to fail. “Really proud of the woman you’ve become. rejoicing that Trever German finally made it to “the end. enough so that I could tell he was a little choked up. I’d also told them. to celebrate graduation.” “Thanks. A little party up at Hanging Rock. “I’m good. He’d been strangely silent all day. waiting for you to take off and fly. But in the months since we’d started talking about it. her eyes glistening. after the party. I reminded them that I would need room to mess up. she just wanted one more chance to issue advice before I went off on my own. “I’m proud of you. My mom had said she understood. I had also come to realize that I wasn’t going to change her—or erase her instincts to try to protect me. But I was ready for the challenge.” I said. squeezing me close enough that I could smell the last traces of morning coffee on her breath—that she’d spilled a bit on the shoulder of her dress didn’t help. Just fun. Sophie. . to fall.CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE “Are you wearing sunblock?” My mom whispered this in my ear as she tucked back a piece of wayward hair that peeked out from under my graduation cap. His voice usually boomed and echoed in settings like this. I’d decided. or I’d never find my true potential. The next minute. you’re kissing your parents good-bye and walking away. “Do you need to bring a life jacket?” “Mom. Nothing crazy. She’d been pretending to sneak in one more postcommencement kiss.” She nodded. eager to try to find my way. Through the sap.” She hugged me one more time. My mom lowered her voice to say.
If you need us.” “I know. Mom. If I’d known the truth about how she’d died all along. and my car screamed along with us as we turned right to head out toward Hanging Rock. I wouldn’t have gotten to know myself—or my friends—the way I had this year. your speech rocked. boxy hat off my head and tousled my hair. I peeled the stiff.” I patted her knee. as I turned out of the school parking lot for the last time. I was just sorry she’d given up on herself. “Ready. And I don’t expect that you’ll always succeed… but I promise that we’ll always be here for you to fall back on. both when she was alive and now—when a piece of her spirit lived on in me. “It wasn’t much of a stretch with me.” I mused. “I just want you to know that—” I looked at her. She continued. “I love you. “It’s something I’ve always thought might be fun. rolling down the windows to let the warm summer breeze wash over us. “Sophie?” my mom croaked as I turned to join Ella and Grace. I was the only person who’d been allowed to hold tight to the memories I had of my aunt and not have them sullied by her final act. I would be forever grateful to my aunt for changing my life in so many ways.” . By keeping the truth about Suzy’s last days from me. Mom. “I had to do that thing where I pictured you all naked under your robes. “Maybe…” I said. After all. holding her close again for one final hug. none of the memories I had of her were any different now that I knew. “Ready as I’ll ever be.” I said. wondering what more there was to say.” she said.” I nodded and smiled.” I said. Now I’d made a promise to myself that I would focus on changing my family’s perception of Suzy. I still didn’t know if she totally got where I was coming from all the time. It was just the ending that had changed. One more silver lining. “Are you nudie?” she gasped. I wouldn’t have gotten to know Johnny. giggling. my family had—in their own. but I’d come to terms with that. “Thanks.As angry as I’d been with my parents for hiding Suzy’s suicide from me as long as they had. Grace popped into the front seat and reached over to unlock my door for me. Most importantly. who were waiting for me at the edge of the parking lot. so I did it.” she said. “I know you’re not always going to be the person you might think I want you to be. I was also a little bit grateful. “Graduates.” Ella peered through the space between the two front seats. “Grace. without the festering disappointment the rest of them had been clinging to for all those years. so we could all move on with her back in our lives. “We are freaking graduates!” We all whooped and cheered. Freddy?” Ella asked.” With a final glance back at my parents. I never would have pursued the things on her list of dares. “It helped with the nerves. The reality was. “Thanks. snapping a picture of me as I jimmied the lock on the passenger-side door of my car. blushing. I ran across the lawn to join my friends. I would never have realized all that I was missing. They’d allowed my memory of her to live on. messed-up way—saved me.” I pulled the bottom of my robe up and revealed a bare thigh.
If all my skin peels off and I perish. Soph. If I’m still in the US of A. We need to finish it up. Grace and I were smothering her. “That’s unexpected. stealing every minute that we could. The only thing I hadn’t yet done was jump off Hanging Rock. I’ll let them know what happened. is a wrap. “I got all my stuff on there. without regret. that I spent much of Mr. reaching over the seat to pull the paper out of Grace’s hands.” Grace said. once Ella finally told her what she wanted and showed her that she had taken steps to get it. obviously grossed out. “But yes. Soph. too. and now the new one my best friends and I had written together—and I had every intention of making sure I finished everything on both.” “Wise choice. as she always did when she talked about leaving. so to speak—for the past few months. pulling a piece of paper and a pink pen out of her bag. And we’d spent the last weeks before graduation making sure we did everything on our high school bucket lists ourselves.” I said with a shrug. “The list. I pulled my car into an open space in the lot at Hanging Rock and turned off the ignition.” “Pass it back. Some of the things on our list we’d copied over from Suzy’s list. too. Sandy had surprised us all with her support and enthusiasm. That was one of the dares that had made it onto both lists—Suzy’s original list. Her mom and sisters were so excited about her adventure that they’d already planned a trip to visit her in Europe at Christmas. “Can you jot down ‘Go naked under your graduation robe’ for me? Then I’m all set. I didn’t take Andy’s suggestion to include any dares that involve keeping a fake pet or a months-old salami sandwich in your locker.” Grace said. of course.” Grace said happily. “Why not go for it? I have to admit. “Mine are all on there.” She beamed. “And that.” Ella laughed. tucked it inside a reusable stainless-steel water bottle.” “I can’t say it’s been a lifelong goal. I was so close. since we knew it would be at least a year before she’d be home again. I’ll have you know. Living. “I think you’ll be okay. and screwed on the cap.” Ella instructed. then tossed it back to Grace. don’t they?” Grace asked. though. She added it to the bottom of our list. Then she rolled the paper. as they say. Friedman’s motivational speech considering exactly how many people have probably sweat inside this robe before me. can you tell the doctors I died because of skinon-robe contact?” “They wash the robes before we wear them. but it’s something I always sort of wanted to do. if it comes to that.” “You got it. Ella would only be around for the next few weeks. She scanned it quickly. “Before we hit the beach.“You’ve had a lifelong goal to go butt-nekkid under your commencement robe?” Ella asked. anything else you want to add before we pack it up and send it off?” We’d been working on a list of our own—a collection of dares. then she was shipping off to Austria to start as an au pair for a family with two young girls.” . but we’d each added a few of our own.
and I heard Johnny whoop when a gust pulled the wings of my robe up to reveal my bare upper thighs. Because sometimes. I’d discovered. Below. Our robes fluttered around us as we leaped off solid ground. then glanced at Ella and Grace.” and we all jumped. I took a deep breath. Maybe. Perhaps it would make a difference to another girl or a group of friends. my friends and classmates splashed and swam and celebrated. somewhere. I squeezed their hands. two. it would mean something to someone. because we had each other. Now my best friends and I held hands. Then I whispered. He didn’t yet know what I was wearing under my graduation robe. too. staring out into the open air in front of us. and none of us was letting go. . hands linked. We’d released the list-in-a-bottle at the edge of the Hanging Rock swimming hole. and I was looking forward to the moment when he figured it out. Grace and Ella flanked me at the top of the rock. I stood on top of the precipice overlooking the swimming hole at Hanging Rock.*** Ten minutes later. Johnny was there. and they both squeezed back. one. into the unknown. We were fearless. In time. “Three. a few dares can change lives. The wind whipped at our robes. all of us still in our robes. smiling. and watched as it bobbed through the current heading downstream toward the lake. someday. ready to wrap me up in his arms after I jumped. I thought. letting it roll down the rocky falls at the edge of the pond. someone would find it.
Cheers to my critique partners—Jennifer Echols and Robin Wasserman—who ripped this book apart and made me re-do it. I am grateful to many good friends who helped me craft Suzy’s list by sharing some of the things on their own high school bucket lists: Carey Lyle. Finally. Josef Skoldeberg. who helped me through the e-book maze. Love to Greg. I’d give a cupboard full of cutesy sweater mugs to Catherine Clark for keeping me company (and keeping me entertained) while I write. If you enjoyed it. First. parents-in-law—who give me the time and beautiful spaces in which to write. who reads everything a dozen times. I know there are many books to choose from (I will never make it through my own TBR pile—I have an e-reader full to bursting and a teetering pile of books beside my bed). Michael Bourret. Writing books is a solitary business. thanks to my agent. . If I could. amazing kids. Angela Challey. thanks to Trip Shakespeare. Most importantly. I would be grateful if you would take a moment to write a short review to share your thoughts with others. my family—charming husband. who handles my career with patience and smarts. whose song—None of the Regular Rules Were True (from the album Lulu)—inspired the title for this story. Carin Skoog. thanks to Yassine Belkacemi and Eileen Cook. Charlie Brackney. so I thank you for spending your time reading mine! I owe thanks to many people for helping me bring this book to life.A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR Thank you for reading None of the Regular Rules. too (and thanks for the ideas). I know there are other people I’m forgetting…I love you. Sarah Dockter. whose photo graces the cover of this book and absolutely blows me away. and to Vania Stoyanova (VLC Productions). Katharine Kelly. parents. Jennifer Gels. and I love to hear what people think about my stories. Second. To Sarah Mlynowski. who offered to read it (but then a beautiful baby got in the way). Janna Fraboni. Maria Barbo. Carrie Downing. Christy Lukasewycz. Dave Gels.
Before turning to writing full time. and cupcakes. Erin worked as a book editor.com/ErinDowningBooks. .ABOUT ERIN DOWNING Erin Downing has written more than a dozen novels for young adults and kids. You’ll find Erin’s Goodreads page here: www.erindowning. and now resides in Minneapolis with her husband and three young children. She has lived in England. Other Young Adult Novels by Erin Downing: Kiss It Drive Me Crazy Prom Crashers Dancing Queen A Funny Thing About Love (Three Book Collection). and also worked for Nickelodeon.facebook. Her guilty pleasures include an unhealthy obsession with reality TV and cheesy romantic dramas. Sweden.com/ErinDowning. Or follow her on Twitter @erindowning and at www. an addiction to US Weekly magazine. More information about Erin and her books can be found at: www.com. and New York City. spent a few months as a cookie inventor.goodreads.
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