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  “Jackson,” she says, “obviously.”

  I can’t figure out how he got a hold of it.

  I thought about erasing the picture, deleting it from memory like it never existed. But I had to see it first. I remember pointing my phone at the seesaws, snapping the photo, then running for my life. What I don’t remember is taking a look at what I shot.

  And now that I have, I know you wouldn’t necessarily get that it’s a picture of Jackson and Bella. You wouldn’t see seesaws, or two people on them, or anything recognizable as a physical object taking up space in the actual world. The picture looks like two snowmen doing the hula during an earthquake. If you squint.

  “You look so upset!” Elissa says. “I’ll tell you the end if you want. Rita Hayworth turns out to be the bad guy. Then she dies. Spoiler. Sorry.”

  “What?”

  “The Lady from Shanghai,” she says. “What did you think I was talking about?”

  “The picture,” I say. “The picture I took. Of Jackson?”

  I see my cell phone, propped up on the rooftop between two shingles in the one micrometer of a spot where it gets decent reception. I want to throw it off the roof, see how far it’ll fly—maybe I can aim it at the farthest peak of the farthest mountain.

  “Oh no,” Elissa says. “I actually really don’t want to see the picture. Like, ever.”

  “I’m sorry,” I say. I should probably say it a thousand times more. I’m thinking I may need to walk around town wearing a sign that says it. SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY until people think I’m pitiful enough to forgive me.

  “It’s okay,” Elissa says. “You were just looking out for me.” She pauses. “Right?”

  “Right. That’s what I was trying to do….”

  “It’s not that you were jealous,” she says, watching me carefully.

  “No,” I say. “It’s not.”

  She makes a face at the phone. “Just don’t ever show me that picture.”

  “Never,” I say. “’Cause I’m going to delete it.” I grab the phone and open the image. It doesn’t matter that you can’t decipher anything from it, that’s not the point. The point is that it exists. And once I hit erase it doesn’t exist anymore. Easy as that. Like it never happened. Done.

  Seeing Elissa’s face, I wish it was like it never happened. I guess you can’t erase that it did.

  “So,” I say, “The Lady from Shanghai. How’d you know I haven’t seen the end?”

  “Your mom said you can’t stop talking about it.” She smiles. “And I told her you wouldn’t like the end, so maybe it’s better that you didn’t see it.”

  “Rita Hayworth, the bad guy? I don’t believe it.”

  “Believe it!”

  I shake my head to make it go away. I mean, if Rita Hayworth isn’t perfect, then, tell me, who is?

  Speaking of what’s not perfect, Elissa’s talking about something else. Something I could spend eternity not thinking about, or talking about, even if it meant imprisonment on this rooftop with only the mountains for company for the rest of my life.

  “Things happen, things you can’t change. It’s hard at first, but then you get used to them, you know,” Elissa’s saying.

  She’s trying so hard, but all I’ll give her is a shrug. Just the one.

  “Like with me and Jackson,” she says. “Maybe it won’t hurt so much by… October.”

  She said the word “October.” My mom must have told her about the wedding.

  “Like, maybe by then I’ll be used to it.” My mom totally told her.

  So I up and say it. “What, like Cheryl marrying my dad? I’ll get used to it?”

  “Eventually,” Elissa says, “probably.”

  I’ll believe that when I see it.

  “Yeah, who knows,” Elissa says. “Maybe by October you’ll be really close with Nichole and you two’ll be bridesmaids at your dad’s wedding or whatever.”

  I clutch my throat, doing a dramatic rendition of a gag.

  “Maybe by then your mom’ll be all totally okay again, and the divorce will be the best thing that could have happened.”

  “Yeah,” I say, scoffing. “And maybe I’ll grow up to be a movie star like Rita Hayworth.”

  “Maybe by then I’ll have a new boyfriend, too,” Elissa continues. And this stops me, and I don’t even pretend to gag.

  “Maybe before that,” she continues. And she actually smiles. Because it turns out—it’s a good thing I’m sitting down—that she already likes someone new.

  “But you and Jackson—” I say. “You just—I mean, you just broke up.”

  She shrugs. “Like I said, things happen.”

  Of course I have to ask. “Who is it?”

  “Ryan?” she says. “You know Ryan… he works at the tuberental place.”

  I wrinkle my nose. “I hate tubing. I have no idea who Ryan is.”

  “You’ll like Ryan.”

  And I guess I’ll have to. Because any boyfriend of Elissa’s is a friend of mine, right? But if I lose my tube and get shot down the rapids tubeless and contract river poisoning and practically almost drown, I might not like him for long.

  “Hey.” Elissa kicks my foot. “Jackson’s leaving town at the end of the month, so, yeah, I’m steaming mad at the jerk for not telling me he had that girlfriend back home, and it really hurt, it really did. But—” She pauses and looks like she’s about to say something very deep but just says, “But oh well, right?”

  “I guess,” I say. Though two words I would not use to describe the drama this summer are “oh” and “well.” If I’d been the one with Jackson, I don’t know if I’d let it go so easily. I don’t even want to let it go right now.

  “You have to come tubing with me,” she says, “so you can meet Ryan.”

  “Elissa, I seriously despise tubing.”

  “So do I,” she says, “but you know how it is… to think you like someone, but all along you liked someone else. Or you should’ve….” And here, if you can believe it, she grins. “Admit it,” she says.

  “Admit what?”

  “You know what!”

  Here I am wondering if we’ve been sitting in the theater watching two different movies when she tackles me. She lunges at me across the rooftop, claws out to tickle me into a confession, and I roll away from her, and one false move and we’ll both tip off the roof and flatten what’s left of my mom’s geraniums.

  “Careful!” I shriek. “Or we’ll fall off like Austin!”

  Elissa stops at the roof’s edge and laughs. “So that’s how he messed up his wrist. I knew you had something to do with it, even though he swore up and down you didn’t.”

  I roll my eyes involuntarily. Austin. Though I admit I’m surprised he hasn’t told on me and made me pay his medical bills yet.

  “Speaking of Austin…” Elissa says.

  “Speaking of Austin what?”

  “Wow, you can really play dumb,” she says, and lets out a long sigh. “You do know he has the hugest crush on you, right? Jackson was going to tell you, but I said it was old news because you knew already. You did know, didn’t you?”

  “Sure,” I say, I’m not sure how convincingly. “I mean, I figured.” So that’s what Jackson was blackmailing Austin with that time I overheard them.

  A faint reaction bubbles up inside my chest. Some weird cagey feeling like I caught some living thing in there, and now it’s knocking around to get out. I push it back down. I’m not in any way excited about this. No. That can’t be it. The last time I liked someone—even if I never, ever admitted it out loud to anyone—he turned out to be a sinister con artist bent on crushing hearts and making off with a new car the first chance he got.

  Just then, mercifully, before I can put the feeling to words, we’re interrupted. Saved, by a ringing phone.

  My cell phone is perched between the shingles, picking up all five bars. That’s the good news. The bad news is who’s calling. The Caller ID glows with a single word: DAD.


  “You should get that,” Elissa says. She climbs through my bedroom window into the house, leaving me alone with the phone and no dead zone to make it stop ringing.

  I pick up before it goes to voice mail. “Hi, Dad,” I mutter.

  “Hello, Danielle. Listen, your mother told me you’re grounded. And I heard about what happened at the movie theater from your sister.”

  “Dad, that girl is not my sister. I’ve only met her twice in my life.”

  “That’s true,” he says. “She’s not your sister—yet. But she will be.” Then he pauses for so long that I check my phone to be sure the signal hasn’t cut out. If he’s waiting for me to say something about how excited I am to snag myself a whole new family with this marriage he may as well wait up for the Tooth Fairy. Because he’ll get a quarter under his pillow before he gets any lovey-dovey stuff about Nichole from me.

  He starts talking again and won’t stop. He says he heard what I said about Cheryl. And she’s the woman who’s going to become his wife, and I have to show some respect.

  He says I can’t keep giving my mom such a hard time. I can’t lie to her; I can’t sneak out. Then he says he heard I deleted Nichole, and we’re going to be family soon and I should never delete family. I think he just called to yell at me about the Internet. Can you believe this?

  “Danielle, what do you have to say for yourself?” Dad says.

  What I have to say, he won’t want to hear. Sometimes the bad guy is a person you love. A person you can’t just kick out of your life. And when the picture fades out and the movie ends, and the curtain goes down, and the audience leaves the theater, you’re stuck in what’s known as real life. That’s where all the lights are on and the flawed people you’re related to are saying lines you don’t want to hear and there’s no one to yell “Cut!” to make it stop.

  So what I say is: “I can’t believe Nichole told on me about that, it’s so stupid.”

  “Maybe so,” he says. “I’m far more concerned about you and your mom. It sounds like things are out of hand.”

  This catches my attention. I shoot up straight, all blood rising to my head.

  “I’m beginning to wonder if you should move in with me.”

  There. He’s said it.

  “No,” I say.

  “Danielle, if your mother can’t control—”

  “Please,” I say, stopping him. “I want to keep living with Mom.”

  “That’s not the way you’ve been acting. Sneaking out. Lying. Running away…”

  “I never ran away, I was faking. Besides, I can’t leave Mom. Not after you did.”

  This shuts him up.

  “I’m staying here,” I insist. “I’m not moving anywhere.”

  It’s funny. When those words come out, I mean them more than I’ve ever meant anything. Shanosha, the little nowhere place I’ve wanted to scribble off the map and you’d never know the difference—it’s where I want to be.

  “Besides, I can’t live with you,” I tell him. “How can I ever trust you again, after what you did?” It’s like I’m the parent now, talking to the kid.

  “That’s a good question, Danielle,” Dad says at last. “A good question.”

  And? And no answer. So what about this one: “And why?” I ask. “Why’d you have to go be with someone else and leave Mom? Why?”

  That one gets even less of an answer. It gets a silence on the other end of the phone so deep and so long I think he may have up and left me, too.

  Because you can’t help who you like, can you? But you sure can help how you go about it. You can try with all that’s in you not to lie.

  Finally he speaks. “We have a lot to work through, you and I,” he says. “And you’re right. Moving in with me isn’t going to solve it. So, will you start behaving?”

  “Yes,” I say. For my mom’s sake. And, yes, I mean it.

  “All right,” he says. “And I hope you’ve changed your mind about attending the wedding….”

  “Maybe,” I say. “Maybe not.”

  He sighs. “We’ll talk about it another time. In the meantime, could you please apologize to Nichole for deleting her? She won’t want me to say it, but she’s pretty upset.”

  “Okay,” I tell him. I’m doing it again: lying. There is no way I’m apologizing to Nichole, not for anything. I can’t be completely rehabilitated, not this fast.

  Once my dad and I are done, I head downstairs to find Elissa doing a search-and-rescue mission through our freezer to see what we can possibly scavenge to make for dinner. Talking to her and my dad brings up all these questions.

  Like, How do you know what’s real and what’s a lie?

  Like, What’s love, and what makes it start and what makes it fall flat?

  Like, What happens when someone you thought was wonderful turns out to be not-so-great?

  Like, What do I want for dinner? Because Elissa’s here right now, asking.

  There are no answers.

  I do know the answer to this one, though: Do I want to stay here with my mom, even if that means I have to stay in Shanosha? Yes. Totally, unanimously yes.

  Call me crazy, but here I am with absolutely no cell-phone reception, and I’m grounded for who knows how many more weeks, and there’s nothing good in the fridge to eat, and yet this is the only place in the whole world where I want to be.

  Picture that.

  21

  Why, Hello, Lana Turner

  I see his bike in the driveway before I see him. The bike’s propped up by the kickstand, but no one’s nearby. I wonder how long it’s been out there.

  Then, as I watch from the living room, I see him step off the porch and return to his bike without even saying hi. What was the point of riding over here anyway?

  “Austin!” I call out the window.

  He whips around at the sound of his name. “Hey,” he says, looking guilty. “I left you something. It’s on the porch.”

  This is when I notice the cast on his left arm—it covers his hand and reaches up to his elbow. He sees me looking and says, “It doesn’t hurt. Not too bad.”

  I head out for the porch to see what he left for me. On the doormat is a DVD, The Postman Always Rings Twice. The femme fatale is a blonde in a bright gold dress. She looks off into the distance, up and away, like she has a secret.

  Slowly, Austin takes just one step toward me—like I might bite him. “That’s Lana Turner,” he says. “She was discovered at a soda fountain. She was cutting school and went out for a milkshake and someone from Hollywood saw her. The rest is history.”

  “Huh,” I say, taking a closer look. “Rita Hayworth was a flamenco dancer. She started dancing when she was like six years old.”

  “Yeah,” he says. “I heard about that.”

  “So why this movie? You don’t think I’ll like Lana Turner better than Rita Hayworth, do you? Because that would be impossible.”

  “Oh, I know. I just thought you’d want to see this week’s Midnight Movie…. I figured you wouldn’t be allowed to go.”

  I leave that without comment. He’s right, you know: There’s no way my mom will let me go, and I’m not sneaking out, not again. So the fact that he rode all the way out here to give me my very own advanced screening is… let’s just say it’s not the usual Austin Greenway brand of annoying I’ve gotten so used to.

  It’s even sort of nice.

  “You want to watch it now?” he asks.

  Maybe I’m not myself today. Maybe the long period of grounding has messed with my senses and now I can’t tell right from wrong from plain stupid. Because I’m standing here on my front porch with Austin and I’m not in any hurry to leave. I’m almost considering letting him come in and watch the movie with me.

  Then he ruins it by going, “Or not.”

  So I say, “I have to mow the lawn anyway.”

  “Right,” he says. He mumbles bye and starts down the steps. Then he turns back. There’s a curious look on his face when he does, all clear-eyed and blinking li
ke he held his head underwater for longer than he thought he could stand and came up at last. “What did I ever do to you anyway?” he says, more forcefully than I expected.

  It’s not like he’s picking a fight. It’s more like he just really wants an answer.

  “Nothing,” I say. “You didn’t do anything.”

  “So?”

  My head is empty of comebacks. So… you annoy me? That’s all I’ve got.

  He’s still waiting for an answer.

  “I can’t talk… the lawn,” I say. Then I add—because it’s the truth and if I want everyone else to tell me the truth I should make a go at telling some too, “Okay, maybe not today. But my mom said I have to mow the lawn sometime this week.”

  He’s walking away now. He’s down the steps. He’s halfway to his bike before I get the courage to say it.

  “Can I ask you something?” I blurt out. He turns around but doesn’t say yes or no. Still, I take it as a yes. “Is it true? That you have like a crush on me or whatever?”

  I can’t believe I put that thought into words. He looks about as shocked as I feel. He walks back so he’s standing at the bottom of the stairs and I’m standing at the top. There are only four steps between the porch and the ground and I can’t decide if he’s too close, with just the four steps between us, or too far.

  Is there something wrong with me?

  “I guess Jackson told you,” he says.

  “No. I don’t think Jackson’s talking to me. Elissa told me. I think she thought I already knew.”

  “So you didn’t?”

  I shake my head, but that’s not really true, is it? So I stop shaking my head and let it hang there, like maybe. Like maybe I knew and didn’t want to say. Maybe, okay?

  “For how long?” I ask. I need some clarity. “Since when?”

  “Since the fourth grade,” Austin says. “Since when you broke your violin string during the recital and that girl got mad because you almost poked her in the eye and you went off into the wings and we had to finish the song without you.”

  “No,” I say in disbelief.

  “Since that time you spilled your milk on me in the caf and I had to wear a wet shirt to the pep rally.”

 
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