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