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Fade out, p.17

Fade Out, page 17

 

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  “No way.”

  “Since you tripped outside the library and you freaked that everyone saw, but hardly anyone was there, and no one would’ve known, if you’d just stopped talking about it.”

  “That’s a long time,” I say. “And also? I sound like a total idiot.” I brave a smile.

  He returns the smile, but he doesn’t say if I am or I’m not. An idiot.

  “You used to be nicer,” he says.

  I don’t say if I was or I wasn’t.

  “So,” he says, “are you going to stop talking to me, now that you know?”

  “No.” I deny it.

  “Are you going to be even meaner?”

  “No.” I deny it some more.

  “Because I’m not like him, okay?”

  “Him?” I say.

  “Him,” he says. I wait for him to say Jackson’s name, to call me on my mortifying crush and how he’s way too old for me and a loser besides, and I got played. How every girl who likes Jackson gets played. But instead he goes, “Like Bogie.”

  I crack a smile. He doesn’t though. He’s not finished.

  “So?”

  “So… what?”

  He’s waiting for something, I don’t know what. Then I know. He wants, like, an actual answer. I can’t just stand here on the porch being an enigma. Maybe in the movies when a guy tells a femme fatale he’s madly in love with her, she can get away with batting her eyelashes a few times and smiling the faintest whisper of a smile that means whatever he wants it to mean, depending on how closely he’s looking. A femme fatale can be an enigma all she wants. She can walk off into the sunset as one, dragging his heart along with her.

  Me? If I bat my eyes it’s only because I think I got an eyelash stuck inside. I’m standing on my porch, in the bright-hot sunlight with nowhere to hide, and if I look anything it’s probably just really confused. Because I am.

  “I never had a girlfriend before,” Austin says. “I know my cousin sucked at it, but I’ll be way better.”

  Whoa. I step back, away from the stairs. “I didn’t say I was your girlfriend.”

  “Yeah, okay.”

  “I never said that.”

  “I said I know.”

  “Good. Just so we’re clear.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  All the while we’re having this exchange he’s got a goofy smile on his face, one that gets bigger with each word I utter.

  “Thanks for the movie,” I say. I’m holding the DVD out before me like a shield.

  “No problem. I’ll see you around?”

  I nod. “If my mom keeps me grounded, it might not be till September. In school.”

  “Okay,” he says. He says it like he doesn’t mind. Like he could wait that long if that’s how long it takes—that he’ll be back, in September, ready to continue this conversation.

  And he leaves me standing here, walking off to retrieve his bike. He rides away toward town, steering with his good arm. I watch. There’s his dark hair catching in the wind as he takes the turn, his shirt flapping out behind him, his legs pumping. That’s all I do: I stand here on the porch and watch. And what about that small smile on my face, my private attempt at being an enigma? It’s better I keep it to myself for now. You know, spend more time practicing in front of a mirror first.

  Because the little smile’s not so little. For once, I’m sure glad this isn’t a movie. I wouldn’t want any cameras trained on me to catch sight of this.

  I’ve invited Taylor over Saturday night—we’ll have our own Midnight Movie, right here in my living room, I tell her. Only if she’s interested, I say. Only if she wants to. I figure she doesn’t owe me anything after how I treated her, but she surprises me by actually showing up.

  “How’s the internship?” I ask. I don’t even think I sound sarcastic.

  “Good,” she says. “How’s the grounding?”

  “Good.”

  “Austin told me what happened.”

  I turn five shades of purple.

  “We don’t have to talk about it if…” she starts, leaving it dangling.

  “Yeah,” I say, relieved. “How about let’s not?”

  We steer the conversation away from Austin and boys in general. I don’t know what I’m doing with Taylor, if this means we’re officially friends again, if we’re trying to go back in time to how it used to be. Because you can’t do that, you know, you can’t go back in time and pretend like a whole year never happened. People change, more than just their hairstyles, like Taylor wears hers up now and I’ve got bangs. People grow up.

  I always figured Taylor was at a standstill while I was the one moving up in the world. But Taylor’s different now too. Maybe we moved up a ways together, and we didn’t even know it.

  So we’re here in my living room and my mom’s here too. She’s here because it’s a Saturday night and she has nothing else to do, but I don’t mind.

  I’ve noticed some things about her: No sobs behind walls, no dead stares at inanimate objects and forgetting about dinner. Sure, it’s been only a week or so and anything could happen between now and tomorrow, but I have a feeling she’s getting better. She has no idea Dad wanted me to go live with him, and I’m not going to tell her. It’s enough that I said I wouldn’t go. What I’ll do is stick around, you know—keep an eye on her like she’s keeping an eye on me.

  The Postman Always Rings Twice begins with the usual thunder of horns, practically vibrating the TV off its stand. Lana Turner is the star, the head credits tell us, plus some guy we don’t care about named John Garfield. We munch on a bowl of popcorn that my mom made on the stove as the rest of the names scroll. Then the picture comes up.

  A drifter stops at a coffee shop, looking for a job to tide him over until he moves on to the next town. The owner gets excited someone’s interested, but when another customer is outside waiting at the gas pump he has to leave the drifter alone for a minute.

  That’s when she comes in.

  First, we see her tube of lipstick. It rolls into the room ahead of her—she must’ve dropped it, maybe on purpose. The drifter sees it there on the floor and goes to pick it up. Then his eyes travel to the doorway, to where she stands, the owner’s wife: the most beautiful woman you know he’s ever seen in his whole measly existence.

  Here’s Taylor: “Wow, is that Lana Turner?”

  Here’s Mom: “That’s her.”

  And here’s Lana Turner, turning her gaze to the drifter, and to us, her audience—and as soon as she does you know why she was grabbed from the soda fountain and made into a big star. You know why she’s the femme fatale. She’s magnetic.

  As we watch I can’t help stealing glances at my mom. The light from the movie shines over the room, illuminating her for me. She has an odd look on her face, one I don’t recognize at first. Her eyes are open wide and sparkling. Her mouth is turned up at the corners, effortlessly. No stress crinkles on her forehead. No tight jaw. Wait, now I remember. This is what she looks like when she’s happy.

  Movies can do that: make people forget everything that’s bad about their lives, and bad about the world, even make them ignore the fact that they’ve already run out of popcorn. All that matters is what’s on-screen, that world in black-and-white or bright color, the story that’s got its hold on you. Movies really can make it better.

  If this were a movie and the sun was going down on Shanosha, the femme fatale would have the last laugh, of course, walking off into the sunset with all her secrets.

  Maybe there’d be two femmes fatales, a mom fatale and a girl fatale, and they’d wear matching hats and keep each other’s secrets. Maybe they’d walk off hanging on to their mystery, never turning into the bad guy or the good guy or anyone other than themselves. No one would break their hearts. Maybe the mom fatale would tell the girl fatale that she’s not grounded anymore and she doesn’t have to keep mowing the lawn.

  Or not.

  Mom catches me staring and casts her eyes down at the empty bowl. “I’ll make y
ou girls more popcorn,” she says, getting up off the couch.

  “No, really, Mom, we’re okay,” I tell her.

  “Shhh,” she says with a smile. “Watch your movie. I’ll be back.”

  “This is really good,” Taylor whispers. “I like her.”

  “Who, Lana Turner?”

  “Yeah. I don’t know, maybe she’ll be my favorite movie star. We’ll see….”

  “She’s no Rita Hayworth.”

  “But she’s great. Like seriously great. Admit it.”

  I’m staying loyal to Rita Hayworth, but I can’t deny the truth: “Yeah,” I say. “She’s amazing.”

  We turn back to the movie. That’s when my phone begins to ring. There’s my cell, perched on the arm of the love seat across the room, somehow snagging a signal out of the scattered few that exist on this mountain.

  My cell rings, and rings. It could be Casey calling from soccer camp, but I already talked to him this week. It could be my dad—but I doubt he’d call me this late on a Saturday night. I don’t know who else could be calling. Then it hits me.

  It’s Maya, it has to be, finally getting around to calling me back from Poughkeepsie. I’ve been waiting for her call for weeks.

  “Aren’t you going to see who it is?” Taylor asks.

  “Nah,” I say. I know it’s going to stop ringing soon, and Maya might never call back, but Taylor and me, we’re in the middle of a movie. The femme fatale is drawing us closer and the cameras are sweeping in and the shadows are dark and deep and I can’t tear my eyes away. This is what’s happening in my real life, right now, the one I’m living.

  I don’t want to miss a thing, so I don’t answer the phone—I don’t even blink.

  Acknowledgments

  I need to thank Simon Pulse for giving my first published novel, Dani Noir, a second chance at life in this newly updated version of the story as Fade Out. Thank you to Anica Mrose Rissi, who found the book and believed in it enough to make this happen, and Jennifer Klonsky, Michael Strother, Craig Adams, Jessica Handelman, and everyone else at Pulse. And thank you to my agent, Michael Bourret, for making all things possible, always.

  Thank you to those who were there at the beginning with Dani Noir, including Kate Angelella, Paul Crichton, Bernadette Cruz, Molly McLeod, Lisa Vega and the rest of the Aladdin team, Marc Breslav, Molly O’Neill, Micol Ostow, Mark Rifkin, Courtney Summers, and Christine Lee Zilka. And to the Writers Room, where this book was written.

  Special thanks to Erik Ryerson, Laurel Rose Purdy, and Joshua Suma. And to Arlene Seymour, the most supportive mother a writer could ever ask for.

 


 

  Nova Ren Suma, Fade Out

 


 

 
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