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  “If you like the umbrella so much, you can have it,” she says. She closes it up and I stand there shocked for a few long seconds until I realize it’s stopped raining.

  “Summer storm,” she says, “comes and goes. Now, who did you think you were stalking and why did you think I’d get hurt?”

  I lean closer. I can tell that Jackson is trying his best to eavesdrop from over in the gazebo. He’s not watching us, but his head is inclined our way, ears peeled, listening.

  “Some girl,” I say as quietly as I can. “And because.”

  She doesn’t get it. “I can barely hear you,” she says.

  “A girl,” I say, eyes wide. “A girl.”

  “What are you talking about?” she says far louder than she should.

  “I saw Jackson with another girl,” I blurt out.

  “I don’t believe you.”

  “I swear. And I have proof.” She eyes me warily as I pull out my phone.

  “What are you doing, who are you calling?” she says. She has the strangest look on her face, full of panic and on high alert, like not only does she know something’s about to happen, she knows exactly what.

  I flip open my phone and start looking for the picture. Yes, the picture. The one I took in the playground, the one with Jackson and Bella on the seesaws, the one Elissa desperately needs to see.

  “Elissa!” Jackson calls. “Are you coming or what?”

  “Elissa, just wait a second, it’s here,” I say.

  Her face has turned to cold, gray stone. “This isn’t funny, Dani,” she says. “I’ll see you later, okay?” And then she’s running over to the gazebo—she’s left me her polka-dot umbrella even though it could start raining again any second, and she’s gone to him, to Jackson. She’s picked him over me.

  I see him standing there, watching me. But when she reaches him, he looks away, like he couldn’t care less what I know.

  Elissa grabs his hand and they sit down on the bench inside the gazebo, in the shade, where they know I can’t see.

  16

  Don’t Trust the Tomato Soup

  Taylor was supposed to keep my mom from knowing where I was. Tell her anything you want, I instructed Taylor, just cover for me, and I’ll be in later.

  Of course, waiting for Jackson to roll out of bed took way longer than expected, not to mention my detour to the gazebo. I was supposed to be in an hour late, but it’s been at least three hours.

  I sneak up the stairs to the newspaper office, lugging two more umbrellas than I had this morning, and walk smack into Taylor, who’s pacing by the entrance.

  “Where have you been!” she says.

  “You know, out,” I tell her. “I got a lead. I had to follow it.”

  “A lead on what?”

  “On Jackson and that girl, Bella—only it turned out not to be Bella, it was Elissa.” I fill her in on the details. “But Elissa doesn’t believe me. And Jackson…”

  “Wow,” Taylor says. “Jackson acts like he’ll never be caught.”

  “I know.”

  “Like he’s invincible.”

  “I know.”

  “And by the time he moves back home at the end of the summer it’ll be too late and no one will ever know what he did.”

  “I know.”

  She shrugs, this helpless gesture like, Oh, well, that’s life.

  I don’t know what life she spends her time living in, but the one I’m in doesn’t sit back and let things like that happen. Not anymore.

  “I’m going to do something about it,” I say. I have a whole speech planned out.

  Only, before I get a word into the speech, Taylor’s like, “But why? Why does it have to be you who does something? What about Elissa’s friends, what about—”

  “Because I should have told my mom,” I say. “About the tomato soup.”

  Taylor looks beyond baffled, but I stop all talk about it when I see my mom. “You just got here and you’re already getting lunch?” Mom says.

  “Lunch?” I say. “I, uh…” I grind to a halt and glance at Taylor.

  “It was rainy out,” she finishes for me. “Dani was saying it’s the perfect day for soup.”

  My mom looks from one of us to the other, like she doesn’t believe it. “It’s hot out,” she says. “Are you sure you want soup?”

  “Yeah, you’re right,” I say. “It’s way too hot. Ice cream would be better.”

  “You can’t have ice cream for lunch,” my mom says, being a mom. Then she remembers I’m also her intern and turns all business. “Danielle, you know we’re on deadline here. So I take it you got it while you were out for so long?”

  Taylor must have told my mom I was so late because I was looking for something for the paper. But what? “Did I get it…” I pat the side pocket of my jeans. “I did. It’s in here!” I announce.

  My mom looks curiously at my pocket. “Really?” she says.

  Taylor jumps in—she keeps doing that. “The picture, yeah. She downloaded it first and then e-mailed and printed it out. Just in case.”

  A picture? Of what?

  My mom shakes her head as if she’s used to me doing stranger things, then asks, “How’s the ad page coming, Taylor?”

  “Great!” she says.

  “Good. We just got one more ad—can you fit this in?” She hands Taylor a piece of paper that says MIDNIGHT MOVIE in giant letters like a big marquee. I grab it from her and take a closer look. The Little Art is starting a new event every Saturday night through the end of August, a Midnight Movie, and for the first week they’re showing The Lady from Shanghai, starring none other than Rita Hayworth.

  “Jackson’s been wanting to have a Midnight Movie for forever,” I say, because I know about these things. “But Ms. Greenway kept saying no.” I don’t tell them this, but I wonder if he made the first one a Rita Hayworth movie because of me. Like it’s his way of communicating something to me, something between just the two of us, and I’m confused all over again, forgetting I’m supposed to hate him now.

  My mom waves at the Midnight Movie ad. “I had to call the theater to be sure there wasn’t a typo.” She points to the spot on the ad that says MIDNIGHT MOVIE, EVERY SATURDAY 10:15 P.M.

  “Why would they have a Midnight Movie at ten fifteen?” Taylor asks.

  “That’s what I asked,” my mom says, “but they assured me it’s correct. I guess ‘Midnight Movie’ sounds better than ‘Ten-fifteen Movie.’” She smiles at me.

  “I’m so there,” I say. I glance at Taylor. “We should do a movie review.”

  “We?” Taylor says.

  “Yeah,” I say. “I can go this Saturday, right, Mom?”

  “I don’t know. It’s pretty late….” she says.

  “It’s for the paper,” I say. “It’s important.”

  “We’ll see,” she says cryptically. Then she goes back to her desk across the room, leaving Taylor and me alone to deal with the ad page.

  “What picture was I supposed to get?” I ask quickly.

  “Of the library,” she says. “For the bake-sale story. I already took the picture this morning on my way here, but that’s what I said you were doing.”

  “Good one,” I say.

  “I can’t believe I lied for you,” Taylor says. Then she peers across the room to be sure my mom’s not listening. Some other guy who works at the paper—the designer or the art director or something—doesn’t seem to be eavesdropping either. “What were you talking about before? What about tomato soup?”

  “Let’s go somewhere,” I say. “You know… to talk. Privately.”

  “What for?”

  She doesn’t get it. I’m about to tell her something I’ve never told anyone. Not Maya, who was supposed to be my best friend. Not Casey, my own flesh-and-blood brother. And especially not my mom.

  “C’mon,” I say, and pull her out of the main office down the hallway, where things are quieter. I’ve been coming to the Shanosha Scoop offices since I was a kid—I know every place
to hide out, every out-of-the-way corner.

  “But I have the ad page to finish!” Taylor protests.

  I also know that, here, deadlines are relative. The ad page isn’t life or death. But what I’m about to say feels like it is.

  Taylor backs away, though, when she sees where I’m taking her.

  “That’s a closet,” she says.

  “It’s the old photography darkroom, back from before the paper used digital cameras. It’s not a closet.” I pull her in and close the door behind us.

  “It sort of smells in here,” she says. “And also—where’s the light?”

  I guess the room does sort of smell—thanks to all the chemicals they needed to print the photos, there’s a faint, lingering stink like rotten eggs. Also, since the paper stopped using the darkroom they took out the orange safety lights, so the room really is dark. Even the windows are covered up by black shades. Taylor’s probably thinking I’m some kind of freak for forcing her in here. So I push aside one of the shades to let a little light in.

  With some light shining, I see the room is smaller than I remembered. There’s just a counter and an old sink, nowhere to sit. Taylor hops from one foot to the other, impatient.

  “I really, really, really have to do the ad page… ,” she says. “Your mom asked me to. What’s so important you had to tell me right this second?”

  But I can’t just jump into it. I need to make sure she understands first. “Ever seen Double Indemnity?”

  She narrows her eyes. “Is that another noir movie?”

  “Yeah, it’s, like, one of the most famous noir movies.”

  “And… ?”

  Double Indemnity—I never did get what an indemnity was, double or otherwise, so I just watched it for the femme fatale. I try to bring it to life for Taylor.

  “Okay, so there’s this whole scene with the femme fatale and the guy she wants to run off with. And they’re, like, plotting to get rid of her husband, and did I tell you the femme fatale is Barbara Stanwyck? You know who she is, right?”

  “I have no idea,” Taylor says. “Just tell me what this has to do with your mom.”

  “Fine.” So I tell her. I tell her everything.

  First, of course, I describe the movie in great detail. Barbara Stanwyck has to meet the guy so they can talk, but she has to keep it secret, right? He can’t come to her house, or her husband will suspect, so they have to meet in public, somewhere no one would look twice. They choose a grocery store. There’s a scene where they stand whispering in the aisle, pretending to shop, and all the while plotting a murder.

  Taylor’s eyes go wide at this, but I set her straight.

  “I saw my dad’s girlfriend before she was his girlfriend,” I say. And I lean in. “In a grocery store.”

  “Yeah?” she says, like it’s no big deal.

  “I mean, I saw them. Together. I think they met there on purpose—and they didn’t think I’d figure it out.”

  She looks uncomfortable. “Your mom doesn’t know about this?” she says.

  I shake my head no.

  Now I set the scene from real life—another grocery store, and this one way bigger than the one in Double Indemnity. The one in real life was a monster grocery store, the kind where you can buy anything you’ve ever needed, every fruit or vegetable or type of cracker to put your cheese on, rubbery upstate sushi, even socks. My dad wanted to go there for some reason, even though it’s about forty minutes away off the thruway. He said he wanted to “stock up” on stuff, and then, maybe to look less guilty, he let me tag along.

  So there we were, in the mother of all grocery stores, Dad and me together, food shopping. We were pushing the big cart around the aisles when I galloped off to grab some cereal. I was betting on the fact that he’d let me get Cocoa Pebbles, which Mom never would, when I came back to find him in Aisle 9, near the soup cans, talking to some woman.

  I didn’t know who she was. She was pretty, and blond, and she was standing real close to my dad, having what seemed to be a serious conversation. I noticed my dad was holding a Campbell’s soup can: tomato. She had some other, chunkier, option—chicken, I think, with rice.

  I wouldn’t have thought it was too strange if my dad didn’t do what he did next. He saw me coming and froze. He glanced at the can of tomato soup in his hand, and I swear he tried to hide it behind his back. “Hey there, Dani,” he practically shouted.

  The woman next to him jumped into motion. She bolted over to the shelf, putting the chicken-and-rice back and grabbing a pork-and-beans instead. And then my dad raced the cart out of the soup aisle and waved at me to follow.

  That’s it.

  Taylor waits for me to reveal something else. Something more sinister than a grocery aisle, probably. But to me that’s the worst of it—the ordinary place where it happened. The unsuspecting victim (me) happily wandering around with the box of Cocoa Pebbles, all while the bad guy (Dad) made plans to run off to the other side of the river with a stranger. Hey, maybe I’m not the only one who’s seen Double Indemnity.

  I’ve spilled all this to Taylor, there in the tiny darkroom, and then I add, “And he’s marrying her now. Cheryl. My dad gave her a ring.”

  “Oh,” Taylor says. “Oh.”

  And for some reason she doesn’t have to say anything else. I know she gets it, she really gets it. I can tell by the look on her face.

  Suddenly there’s a knock on the door. We open it and bright light steals in.

  “What are you two doing in here?” my mom says.

  “We were talking,” I say. “Sorry.”

  “Taylor,” my mom says. She does not look happy. “The ad page?”

  “I’m on it,” Taylor says guiltily. She rushes out, leaving me alone with my mom.

  “You’re not taking this seriously, are you?” my mom says.

  “We are,” I insist. Then I add a spot of truth, “Taylor is.”

  “It doesn’t look like it,” she says. And then she leaves me in the darkroom.

  I hang back a minute longer, even though it really does stink in here. I’m thinking how there are some things you need to know—and some things you don’t. And all at once I’m relieved, like really and truly relieved, that I did the right thing and never told my mom. Only, it makes me wonder… is there anything someone’s not telling me?

  17

  Master Detective

  Taylor’s hard at work on the ad page when I say, “Listen, I have to do something on the other computer, okay? I’ll be right back.”

  She doesn’t protest, so I take all the time I need. I’ve decided to do a bit of detective work. Things are far easier for the private eye nowadays. We’ve got access to a handy little thing noir detectives never had back in the day: the Internet.

  I realize there’s an easy way to get the dirt on this Bella girl, to find out who she is, not to mention exactly what she is to Jackson. Nichole said she was friends with Bella, so, logically, they’re probably friends online, too. It’s worth checking out.

  While I’m online, my mom gets a phone call. I see her eyeing me from across the room as she talks. I ignore her, though—because I just found Nichole’s page. There she is, for anyone to find, first-name last-name, her blond, pointy face warping my screen.

  I found Nichole, but I can’t see her page or her list of friends until she’s my friend. So here’s the question: How badly do I want this? Will I—can I—add her as a “friend”?

  My mouse hovers over the add-friend button, unable to click.

  “Danielle, what are you doing over there?” my mom calls.

  “Research,” I call back—and this is no lie.

  “Researching what?”

  “Bake sales.” That is most definitely a lie.

  “Fine. Just come over here when you’re done.”

  It’s now or never. So I close my eyes and I grip the mouse in my shaking hand and I give it one quick click.

  Friend Request Sent, I read, and with that, I have died a little inside.


  When I go over to my mom’s desk, she’s sitting there all serious, a drawn look on her face. I hop to attention, wondering who was on the phone… my dad?

  “Are you okay?” I ask worriedly.

  “I’m okay,” she says. “Why, do I not look okay?”

  “You never look okay,” I say, then regret it.

  She looks down at her hands. “Take a seat, Danielle.”

  I pull up a chair.

  “I need you to be honest with me, Dani.”

  “Of course.”

  “Very, very honest.”

  “I will be,” I assure her.

  “You don’t want to be here, do you?”

  I assume she means Shanosha. And while I do wish I lived somewhere else, what’s the alternative, outer space? “Yeah, sure I want to be here,” I say.

  “That doesn’t sound too convincing. What about your friend Taylor?” Across the room, Taylor’s so engrossed in the ad page I doubt she’s even trying to listen in.

  “What about her?”

  “She said she wanted to be here—she asked me to do this—but I see the two of you goofing off and I don’t know….”

  Oh. Mom means do I want to be here at the newspaper, and the answer to that is a definite no. But Taylor wouldn’t say the same thing.

  “She’s not goofing off,” I tell my mom. “Really. It’s my fault, not Taylor’s.”

  “I know you weren’t out working earlier. And Taylor said you were.”

  “Taylor’s just being a good friend, Mom. She’s, like… really loyal or whatever.”

  “She always was.” Mom is looking hard at me now—she wants this to sink in and make me a better person, I bet, someone who never makes even one tiny mistake or gets bored with her friends and thinks maybe there’s something better around the next corner. Like I can take back how I dissed Taylor all those months ago. Like she’d forgive something like that. Like I should even hope it’s possible.

  Only, Mom doesn’t say any of this. She takes a big breath and tells me, “As I said, Danielle, I know you weren’t working before, no matter what your friend said on your behalf. I know you were out spying on Elissa.”

 
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