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