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