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  “Wait, what?”

  “Elissa called to tell me. She said you’re trying to break her up with her boyfriend. Isn’t that the boy who works at the theater? Jackson?”

  She says his name with emphasis, and this is when I realize that she knows. How I feel about him. Felt. Never to ever feel again. My mom’s always known.

  I stare into my hands as my face turns colors and reveals all. Nothing more needs to be said.

  My mom continues. “Please, Dani, don’t tell me that’s why you’re trying to break them up.”

  “No!” I shriek. “It’s because he’s cheating,” I confess before I can stop myself. “Elissa doesn’t know.” I’m shocked Elissa would rat on me to my mom, but in a way I guess now I’m ratting on her.

  “You think her boyfriend’s cheating on her so you’re trying to break them up?”

  “I don’t think he’s cheating, I know he’s cheating.”

  “Dani, I know why you’re really doing this and it has to stop.”


  “I told you it has to stop. Your father is marrying Cheryl. Face it. I know it’s happening, you know it’s happening, and there’s nothing either of us can do about it, okay?” She stops short and I expect her to make a dive for the tissues, but she doesn’t move. She doesn’t even sniffle. “I know this summer’s been hard on you…. And this internship certainly isn’t helping.” She pauses. I think she’s done. I figure we’re about to hug now. Then she surprises me by saying this: “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but you’re fired.”

  Talk about shocking.

  “You’re my mom,” I say. “You can’t fire me.”

  She raises an eyebrow, a challenge.

  “It’s mean,” I say, trying again. “You can’t fire me because it’s mean.”

  “You should have thought of that before you behaved the way you did.”

  “And… Taylor?” I say. Taylor wouldn’t have done any of this if I hadn’t roped her into it. “Please don’t fire her, too.”

  Mom glances over at Taylor, who’s still, like, hard at work while this is going on. “Taylor has nothing to worry about,” she says. “You, though. You should get home.”

  “Okay,” I pout. She is really not changing her mind. “I’ll get my stuff.”

  “And Dani,” she says as I have my back turned, “you’re grounded, too.”

  “No!” I say-shout. “You can’t ground me—this weekend is the Midnight Movie.”

  “You can’t go to the movie. That’s what grounding means.”

  “You’ve never grounded me before….”

  She thinks for a moment. “That’s true. I never needed to.”

  “So?” I say.

  “So… welcome to your first grounding.”

  I don’t put up a fight after that. I just head out, and not even Taylor makes a move to stop me. This is what you get when you say you’re only trying to help: You get fired, you get grounded, you get told you’re selfish, told you’re creepy, told to go away.

  And then there are the big, fat liars of the world like Jackson, walking free.

  I’m home, on my computer in my bedroom (because I may be grounded, but my mom’s still at work and hasn’t taken away the Internet yet) when I get my chance.

  Nichole accepted my friend request. She also sent me a message:

  Don’t think this means anything.

  And btw you still can’t use my bathtub when you stay here.

  Nichole and that stupid tub. That’s the first thing I’m going to do next time I’m at my dad’s house: take a long, hot, lavender-scented bubble bath. I’m going to soak in that tub until all the bubbles go flat and I turn into a lavender-smelling prune.

  But I try to forget all about the bath because I made Nichole my friend online for a reason. Bella is easy to find—Nichole has one friend named Bella, a girl called Bella B. Her photo is a picture of two feet in polka-dot socks. This time, the spots are turquoise. I can’t see Bella B.’s page unless I add her as a friend and I’m not that reckless, but I can see the comments she’s left for Nichole.

  can’t come over 2nite i’m seeing my bf! ;) she says the night I spotted her at the playground.

  jackson’s coming by 2day :D… c u 2morrow? 8) she says a day I didn’t even know Jackson skipped town.

  Just yesterday, Bella B. says: i’m sad, n. come cheer me up. j too busy 2 come over this saturday. he works all the time :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(

  I can’t find Jackson online, but no matter. From my sleuthing I’ve discovered a few things about the mysterious Bella B. For one, she’s obviously in love with polka dots. She’s also very partial to emoticons.

  But most troubling is what she called Jackson: her bf. This girl actually thinks Jackson is her boyfriend. And, at the same time, Elissa thinks he’s her boyfriend. So who’s the Other Woman in this situation? Which one is the femme fatale?

  I decide to write Nichole back. What comes out is this:

  I don’t even want to use that ugly tub. You’re just as evil as your mom, imho. I wish my dad never gave her that ring.

  Tell your friend Bella if she wants to know why Jackson can’t see her Saturday, she should check the Shanosha paper for the Midnight Movie, Sat. night. His REAL GF will be there.

  Then, before I even read it back, I hit send.

  I may not be there on Saturday, but this is not about me—no matter what Taylor or Austin or Mom may think. Whatever stupid movie fantasies I had flickering in my head about Jackson and me (untold, unspoken things like a propeller plane rising into a black-and-white starry night with us on it, like him waiting till I’m in high school to say he forgot one thing, and I say What, and he says, You) are cutting to black now. Fade out on all that. I’m done. This is about Jackson getting what he deserves before it’s too late. This is justice, or revenge, or something I just made up that’s way better. This is the real movie. The rest was only the previews.

  It’s only after dinner, late at night when I’m in bed, unable to sleep because I’m wallowing in my grounding, that I think about what I just did.

  Maybe Elissa won’t want to find out this way.

  Maybe Bella is just as nice as Elissa even though she’s friends with awful tub-hogging Nichole. Maybe Bella works at the ice-cream shop on the other side of the river and babysits kids the way Elissa babysat for me.

  But you can’t stop a message once you’ve sent it.

  And, still, there’s this small part of me that’s hoping nothing will come of it. That hopes Nichole will delete the message before even reading it because she made it clear she has no interest in knowing me anyway. There’s a part of me that wonders if I did the right thing and wishes, you know, just for a second before I fall asleep, if there’s some way I could maybe take it back.


  You Call This a Midnight Movie?

  The first frame is pitch-black. It’s the kind of black that’s so black it’s probably made out of every single color you can think of. It’s a black that has nothing and everything in it at the same time. Like a room crammed too full of rainbow jimmies.

  You blink. You wonder if the movie’s even started yet. But it has. You can hear the sound, crackling, the dinosaur soundtrack spitting and hissing as it spools forward inch by agonizing inch. Until, at last, you hear something you understand. It’s a word, coming up through the static. It’s—It’s—It happens to sound a lot like your name.

  My name, actually.

  What movie did I just walk into, and who’s saying my name?


  That’s when I open my eyes and realize I’m not in a movie theater after all. I’m at home, in my room, lights off, a sheet pulled over my head.


  Someone is outside my window, calling up to me from the lawn below. I kick off the sheet and peek at the clock: It’s Saturday, way past nine o’clock at night. Which means the Midnight Movie—you know, the one my mom won’t let me go to?—starts soon. I stomp over to the
window, dragging the sheet like a slack, useless cape, and look out to find Austin and Taylor. They’re outside, waving at me with abandon.

  “What are you guys doing here?” I hiss down at them. This is my first time being grounded, so my mom may not be too familiar with the rules, but I don’t think entertaining guests on the lawn below your bedroom window would count as punishment.

  Austin mumbles something from behind his hand. It sounds like “Shhh-mu-bup.”

  “What?” I whisper.

  “Shhh-mu-bup,” he repeats.

  I never thought I’d say this, but I almost wish he had the walkie-talkies. Taylor tries to sign out the meaning with her hands. It’s a good thing she’s never gone out for cheerleading because her arms are all over the place, and I can’t tell if she’s motioning that they just dug up a grave or that it’s okay to make a left turn.

  It’s so fitting that I’m grounded from my cell phone and can’t call them—not that my phone works in here anyway. It’s like I’m trapped in the Stone Age, or in 1992—it doesn’t matter when, just before cell phones were invented. How did people communicate way back a long time ago before they could even text?

  Letters. They wrote each other letters. Like, on paper.

  I get out a notebook from last year’s math class, find a blank page, and write: I DON’T UNDERSTAND A WORD YOU’RE SAYING!

  I’ve been told I have perfect handwriting—when I write in all capital letters, it looks like a movie marquee.

  Down below, Taylor rummages in her bag and pulls out—no joke—a notebook. Does she carry pen and paper with her everywhere she goes now? Guess so.


  WHO, BELLA??????????? I scribble, my handwriting not so cinematic now.

  Taylor and Austin nod wildly.

  And that’s how I know my plan to catch Jackson has gone on without me. Nichole got my message and told Bella. And Bella’s at the Little Art right now, where everyone in town—Elissa included—will see her.

  I make what’s known as a split-second decision. It’s like this: I can (1) stay in bed and practice wallowing or (2) risk double-grounding and go see what happens.

  “I’m coming down!” I hiss. Now zoom out the camera and give me some room here, because my mom will catch me for sure if I use the stairs.

  I get dressed, fast. I shove a few stuffed animals in my bed—yes, I have a few stuffed animals somewhere I’m not going to say, don’t judge. I know what I’m doing because I’ve seen the stuffed-animal method in movies. Or was it TV?

  Maybe it’s something hormonal that blooms in you when you become a teenager (even when nobody treats you like one). Escaping from being grounded becomes a survival skill. Because, to me, it comes naturally.

  I climb out my window to the roof. This might sound dangerous, like I’ve gone off the rails and leaped into a spy movie. But once I admit that this part of the roof connects to a low overhang on top of the garden shed, no taller than the rakes we keep in it, I might seem a smidge less brave than I’m making myself out to be. Also, there’s a wall of wooden lattice to climb down, like a ladder made just for me, so escaping off the rooftop isn’t as hard as it may sound.

  I guess someone forgot to tell Austin.

  He has one leg up on the lattice. He’s reaching for me like I’m some helpless girl who needs a hand getting down.

  “Get out of the way,” I tell him.

  “I’m helping,” he whispers.

  “You’re not,” I say. I kick out with my leg, seeking the next foothold, but Austin’s hand is in the way.

  “Ow!” he says while at the same time I say, “Move!” while at the same time I hear Taylor say, “Guys, watch out!” And then there’s this sickening little crunch.

  “Ow ow ow ow ow ow,” Austin whimpers, and falls, and since it’s nighttime it seems like he falls way farther than the two feet between here and the lawn. It sounds like he drops off the top of a very tall building and lands, with a horrible crack, far down below where I can’t even see.

  I scramble to the ground just as Taylor rushes over to him. He’s sprawled on his back, holding his left arm. I have visions—blood and gore. Snapped bones. Phone calls to each of our moms.

  “Are you okay?” I ask him. “Did you get hurt? Austin, say something!”

  “I’m fine,” he says at last. “I think I just landed on a twig.”

  Sure enough, when he rolls over there’s a broken stick beneath him.

  “You shouldn’t have tried to climb up. I was fine without you,” I tell him.

  “I was trying to help!”

  “You were making it worse!”

  “Shhhh!” Taylor says. She points at the house. A light has come on in the kitchen on the first floor. We huddle together on the grass, keeping as quiet and still as we can. My mom can be seen crossing the room. She steps closer until she’s right in front of the window facing the lawn. She stands there, and I’m positive she can see us out here, a makeshift pyramid of fear near her geraniums, but then she just looks down. She keeps her eyes lowered, her arms and shoulders moving, in the midst of doing something.

  “She doesn’t see us, does she see us?” Taylor says.

  In the window, my mom reaches up and puts something aside: a blue mug.

  “She’s just doing dishes,” I say, sighing with relief. And with that, we step out of our pyramid and head for the driveway and the road into town. We begin to run as fast as we can. The only problem is Austin, who’s lagging.

  I stop, waiting for him to catch up. “What’s wrong? Did you break your legs or something?”

  But when he runs up, his legs seem perfectly fine. Then I see, under a streetlight, how he’s still cradling his left arm.

  “My wrist sort of hurts,” he admits.

  Taylor takes a moment, inspecting it with her flashlight. “It’s swollen,” she says. “What should we do?” she asks, looking straight at me.

  We’re about four blocks from the Little Art—and the Midnight Movie, the one starring Rita Hayworth, is about to begin. Inside that theater we will find Jackson and his girlfriend, Elissa, not to mention his other girlfriend, Bella. Worlds are already colliding in the darkness just blocks from where we’re standing and here we are hesitating on the sidewalk. Well, girlfriends are colliding, anyway, and we’re so close.

  I guess I took too long to answer because Austin answers for me. “Let’s just go,” he says, with a glance at me. “The movie’s starting.”

  So that’s how I find myself stepping into Theater 1 at close to 10:15 on a Saturday night when I’m supposed to be home grounded. I slip into the back row and cast my eyes out over the darkened theater, searching for Elissa and then for Bella, but not finding either in the rows and rows of seats.

  Jackson was hoping his Midnight Movies would draw a crowd—he planned on getting a take from the box office for his car fund. And, actually, there are dozens of people here, dozens and dozens. I can imagine Jackson sitting up there on his throne in the projection booth, looking out over the crowd and feeling like a rock star. He made this happen. He’ll have his car in no time.

  It’s like whatever Jackson wants, Jackson gets. Everything—and anyone.

  The picture comes up and a hush falls over the audience. No one here has any idea what’s about to happen—and I don’t just mean the movie.

  In The Lady from Shanghai, Rita Hayworth has gone blond. I almost don’t recognize her. Then I remember how it happened. Supposedly the guy making the movie—Orson Welles, her husband at the time—talked her into changing her hair for the character, bleaching it platinum blond and cutting it short. When she did, people freaked. The Rita Hayworth they knew and loved had changed—and she hadn’t asked permission.

  They thought she was one thing, and how dare she go and become something else.

  It makes me wonder how people see me. Maybe they think I’m the mean one, the selfish one. The one who told Bella to come here. The one who wants to hurt Elissa by forcin
g her to face the truth. The one who can’t be with Jackson so she wants no one to have him—but that’s wrong, and not who I am, not at all. I just don’t know how to prove otherwise.

  Taylor elbows me as if she can hear my thoughts and wants to get her vote in. On-screen, Rita Hayworth is gazing out at the audience, making it so no one can look away, not the guy she wants to like her in the movie, and not me.

  “What?” I whisper.

  “Look,” says Taylor.

  “I know,” I breathe. “She’s perfect, no matter what color her hair is.”

  “Huh?” Taylor says. She’s not pointing at the glamorous movie star, she’s pointing at the left-hand side of the theater. With the reflection of light casting off Rita Hayworth’s bright blond hair, we can see a little better. And it looks like Taylor’s found Elissa. She’s right there, sitting in a row with a group of friends.

  But Taylor’s not done yet. “Look,” she insists. Now she’s pointing at the other side of the theater, the right-hand side, opposite of where Elissa is sitting.

  In those seats, a few girls can be made out in the darkness. I recognize one as Nichole. And the other, the one sitting in the aisle? It’s Bella. I see her only in profile, the flip of her hair, the line of her nose and lips.

  She’s here.


  The Femme Fatale, Take Two

  Call it detective smarts, call it plain old intuition, but I have a bad feeling.

  I can picture the final scene and it sends shivers all up and down my spine: Bella will be with Jackson in one part of the theater, and Elissa will be with Jackson in another part of the theater. He’ll be running back and forth, lying to them both. The girls won’t ever be in the same place at the same time, so they’ll never know the truth. Jackson will get away with this the way people in movies can get away with murder.

  Or—what’s worse?—Jackson will be with Bella in the lobby. They won’t be getting popcorn. And, right then, Elissa will come out and see them together, and her heart will break in pieces all over the black-painted floor, and it won’t look like a universe of stars in the night sky but like a heart that got broken, which I don’t think even looks like anything, and I’ll never be able to eat popcorn again.

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