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  You’ve got a little time to dwell, in a movie. Right now, not so much. Here I am walking into Theater 1, and yeah, it’s dark, but I’m definitely not getting any flashbacks.

  What I see is that the film’s rolling, which means Jackson’s up in the projection booth, as usual. The theater’s practically empty. I take a few steps down the aisle. When I look back up at the booth I can see Jackson’s shadow through the tiny window, just his head, the film reel spinning slowly beside him. From that window, a bright tunnel of light shoots out at the screen. It’s near impossible to look at, like staring straight up at the sun.

  I take an aisle seat. The movie’s nearing its end—we just found out that Ingrid Bergman is being poisoned by her evil husband and his more evil mother. Cary Grant is there to save her. All this time he wouldn’t admit he loved her, but now, just before it’s too late, when she’s weak and can’t stay awake and could die practically any second, he says he does.

  “I was a fatheaded guy full of pain,” he tells her. Then he takes her away. It’s never too late, I guess is what the movie’s saying, to say you’re sorry you had a fat head.

  When the gray title card appears, announcing THE END, I stay put. There are only two other people watching the movie. They sit halfway across the theater from each other—but before the house lights even come on they get up and head for the exit.

  While the credits roll, I think about Mom. And Dad. I think about how this is the worst summer, like, ever, and I think about the three mosquito bites I’ve got—no, wait, four—and I think about Maya, and Jackson, and then Austin, which has me thinking about aliens, but that just makes me think about Mom and Dad all over again.

  I’m still thinking when the credits end and the lights go on, which is only making things worse, so I stalk up the left-hand aisle to the projection booth and knock on the door on that side. If Jackson lets me hide in there, he can talk about cars all he wants—maybe by the time he’s done Dad will have left town without me.

  Jackson opens the door a crack. I see one eye—but he won’t open the door any farther. He’s got sandy-colored hair that’s always falling in his face, and he wears these suit jackets with T-shirts, like he’s going somewhere important at the last minute but forgot the whole rest of his suit at home.

  “It’s not my fault,” Jackson says. “The reel got jammed.”

  “What reel?” I say, confused. “It’s me, Dani.”

  He opens the door a little wider. “Oh hey, D, didn’t know it was you.”

  Jackson’s the only one who ever calls me D—I kind of don’t mind it. He’s the only person alive who could get away with giving me a nickname.

  He glances around to make sure the theater’s empty. “The reel didn’t get stuck,” he admits, pushing hair out of his eyes. “I just got distracted and forgot to change it in time. So they had a little intermission, no big. My aunt didn’t see, did she?”

  “I have no idea…. Distracted by what?” The way he’s keeping the door open only a minuscule crack of a crack makes it so I can’t see for myself.

  “Nothin’,” he says. “So what’s up? You want something?”

  “Why do you say that?”

  “You knocked.”

  Oh, right—guess I did.

  I shrug, trying to look all casual. But the truth is, I really want inside that projection booth. My mom would never think to look for me in there, never. And maybe Jackson would let me in if I just explained what’s going on, but I don’t know him that well, not like I know his girlfriend, Elissa.

  I can tell Elissa anything. She knows all about how my dad left, for example. She knows that my dad was cheating for months before we found out about it. She knows everything, really, and now that Maya’s gone I guess she’s the only one who does.

  I don’t know how much Elissa’s told Jackson. They haven’t been together long—like a month and a half, ever since he moved to town to stay the summer with his aunt. But still, six weeks is a long enough time to spill all my secrets. I’m almost afraid to ask.

  Maybe he sees this on my face, because he suddenly steps out of the projection booth, closes the door, and leads me down the aisle toward a seat up front. “Looks like you need to talk,” he’s saying. “We’ve got the whole place to ourselves between shows, so you go ahead and talk, I’ll listen.”

  But I don’t really want to talk—I want to hide. What, does he think I’ll knock over the projector and get shoeprints all up and down Casablanca or something?

  We sit in the second row, my and Maya’s row. Up close and personal to the screen but still with somewhere to prop our feet. The screen is blank, and the lights are up so we can see the grease stains on the seats. He’s right next to me. That’s his elbow touching my elbow.

  “So?” he says. “This isn’t about Rita Hayworth again, is it?”

  When I don’t answer—and you know you’re in a bad mood when you don’t want to talk about Rita Hayworth—he shrugs and shifts in his seat so his elbow isn’t anywhere near mine, and starts updating me on how much he’s saved for his car. He wants the kind of car you’d find in an old movie, the kind with fins and tails, what he calls a classic. If he works at the Little Art all summer, he might be able to save enough so he won’t have to keep riding his bike around like a kid. (“No offense,” he says, so of course I take offense now.) He’s staying at his aunt’s for free so he can work all the hours he can get, but the Little Art needs to show more movies. He’s got this idea, only Ms. Greenway hasn’t said yes yet. “The Midnight Movie,” he’s saying. “Half-price, Saturday nights. Everyone in town’ll be there. What do you think, should my car be blue, black, or, I dunno, red?”

  I can’t listen to this stuff about the car anymore. I don’t know how Elissa stands it. Without warning, I explode: “If you want to know what happened, I’ll tell you. I ran away!”

  He pauses, then says, “You ran away, huh?… That’s heavy. But you didn’t think to wait till after dinner?”

  I have to assume he’s teasing. Obviously I plan to be home in time for dinner.

  But, you know, now that I think about it, if this were a movie I would’ve run away. Like, with a hobo bag on a stick and everything. And if the cops picked me up—say while I was about to hop the freight train—I’d be in handcuffs on my way to juvie. But in real life I guess you could say I just took a walk.

  Jackson leans back in his seat. “You didn’t really run away, did you?” he says.

  “Not exactly.”

  “But your mom doesn’t know you’re here right now, does she?”

  “No. But if she asks, I’m like Orson Welles in The Third Man, okay?”

  “Got it. I didn’t see you. You’re not here.”

  I nod. Sometimes there are people who just get it. Sometimes these people are going out with your old babysitter because they think you’re a kid who rides around on a tricycle, but still.

  “So how long have you been missing?” he says with a straight face.

  I check the clock on my cell phone—paid for by my dad; I should pitch it in the garbage—but it’s searching for service again. When it gets no signal, it can’t even tell the time right. “Maybe a half hour,” I say. “I don’t know, the stupid thing’s broken.”

  I let the phone drain its battery on the seat next to me. I can’t even look at it, this dumb phone my dad got me when he moved out. It’s so I can always call him to talk, but the phone barely works unless I’m up on the roof, so what’s the point? It’s like he got me a phone I can’t use on purpose—so he’d never get the call where I up and ask him why he did what he did.

  Besides, the phone is pink. Pink. A femme fatale would have a sleek black phone with tiny buttons, a thin sliver kept in her hip pocket. She’d set the ringer to silent. And she’d get calls all the time, but she’d rarely answer. What femme fatale would?

  “That is one seriously ugly phone,” Jackson says, and I cringe—it’s not like I picked it. “So why’d you ‘run away’?” he says. “Wha
t happened?”

  “They’re making me go to my dad’s new place for the weekend.”

  “Where is his new place?”

  “Somewhere all the way on the other side of the river.”

  “What town? You know I’m from—”

  “Who cares what town? I have to go for the whole entire weekend. I won’t go. They can’t make me. I’ll stay here. I’ll move in to the Little Art if I have to.”

  Jackson lets this sit between us, this threat I made that we both know I’ll never follow through with—I don’t have it in me. He stares out at the blank movie screen for the longest time, trying to find the words, or the right moment, or… something.

  Finally he says, “That’s heavy. But you know what, D? Elissa told me what’s been going on. Maybe you should give your dad a chance here.”

  I bolt upright in my seat. “What for? He cheated. He’s a cheater. He ruined my mom’s life. He ruined my life. A chance to do what?!”

  “To still be in your life, maybe,” Jackson says.

  I roll my eyes. I should’ve figured he knew. I just didn’t expect him to say this.

  “To be your dad,” he continues. “Even though he… you know… he’s still your dad.”

  “He’s a cheater!” I burst out again.

  “Hey, hey,” he says. “Chill. You know how in Notorious Ingrid Bergman has to marry that slimeball because she’s a spy but really she’s in love with Cary Grant?”

  “Yeah…”

  “Life’s complicated,” he says. It seems like he’s going to say something else, but he leaves it at that. He’s seventeen, a whole four years wiser than me, and all he can tell me is life is complicated? Yeah, and?

  Besides, it feels even worse coming from him. Maybe there are some people who don’t get you at all. Who never will. Because he was never supposed to. Because he’s just some guy who changes reels at a movie theater and that’s it.

  I feel sick to my stomach. I shouldn’t have eaten that grungy M&M.

  When Mom found out about Dad, there was this huge fight. Lots of screaming. Dad told Mom he was leaving. He told her he wanted to be with that other woman—he kept saying her name so I couldn’t help but hear it. Cheryl.

  The end between my dad and my mom was obvious. But the end between me and Dad—it’s like it never happened. I didn’t get to scream at him. He didn’t try to explain. After he had that big fight with Mom, he was just gone, out of the house. Like he’d broken up with both of us.

  And now he expects me to go stay in this house where he lives with his girlfriend, Cheryl, and her daughter, some girl I’ve never met. Like he’s saying this kind of thing happens all the time and life goes on and wah-wah-wah and, here, try some of Cheryl’s lasagna on our brand-new dishes.

  “So you’re not speaking to me now?” Jackson says.

  “I’m speaking to you,” I say stonily.

  “And?”

  “Jackson,” I say at last, trying so very hard to keep my voice in check, “how is this thing with my mom anything like Notorious? My mom isn’t Ingrid Bergman. I mean, sure, she’s acting weird right now. But she hasn’t gone over to the dark side—she’s just depressed.”

  I catch him stealing a glance at the projection booth like he’s lost complete and total interest in our conversation. “Hey, speaking of Orson Welles,” he says, “there’s something you have to see. It’s this reel we just got, Touch of Evil. It’s classic. The opening shot is genius. It was done in only one take, so don’t blink or you’ll miss something.”

  “Uh, okay…” Then he races back to the projection booth. Of course he doesn’t care. Why’d I think he would?

  The light of the projector comes up—showing only a bright patch of white with specks of dust flying through it. A reverse snowstorm.

  I hear a few ominous notes of music. Then I see a close-up of two hands hiding a bomb in the trunk of a car. The person who planted the bomb runs off into the night, and a clueless girl and her clueless boyfriend get in the car like nothing happened.

  I watch the car pull away. I watch, and the camera follows. The car pulls onto another dark street, and the camera turns its eye to a new girl and her boyfriend, and when it does, the car cuts the corner and is gone.

  Jackson said don’t blink, so I don’t take my eyes off the screen. I can’t help but do what he says, even when I’m steaming mad at him.

  I watch the new couple walk down the street, past crowded doorways, past parked cars, past—what’s that, a goat? They come to a stop at the border of Mexico and then the car from the beginning pulls up behind them. There’s the sound of something ticking, and the car speeds off, and just when the guy on the street leans in to kiss his girl, a loud blast shatters everything. A bomb just went off.

  They pull apart, turn to look, and for the first time since the movie started the camera cuts away to—

  To… ?

  To a fuzzy something. A big blur.

  “Hey!” I yell over my shoulder. “I can’t see what happened!”

  Jackson’s not answering. I turn around in my seat and look for him in the projection booth. I can see him in there, his head at first, only his head.

  Until there’s a second head. A second head very close to his head. Intimately close, in a way that makes me think I must be seeing things.

  He’s not kissing someone, no. He’s only in there talking, whispering to someone, that’s all—but who?

  Then I get it. It’s Austin, it has to be. That little worm is getting me in trouble.

  You know what? I’ll be gone before he does. I pop up out of my seat and book it to the exit. I’m out the door and past the red velvet rope in the black-box lobby, where I take a moment to stop and catch my breath. I am so going to get Austin.

  Only, Austin’s standing right here.

  “You can’t have your money back,” he says. “Even if you hate the movie—it’s company policy. Besides, you didn’t pay so I don’t even know why I’m telling you.”

  “You were just in there spying on me, weren’t you?”

  “I was not. For your information, I didn’t leave my post.”

  “Okay, okay, but you were in the projection booth, right? Talking to Jackson?”

  “Negative.”

  Not kissing, I tell myself. Not kissing. “Austin, just tell the truth.”

  “Dani,” he says, looking utterly lost, “I’ve been out here the whole time.”

  I hate to say it, but I believe him. “I guess it was someone else,” I say, glancing at the closed theater door.

  “Yeah, a girl,” Austin says.

  I stand stock-still. “What girl?”

  He shrugs. “Didn’t see who it was. She snuck in when I was, um… okay, I left for just a few seconds and I saw her when I was coming out of the bathroom. She didn’t pay for her ticket either.” He says this last bit with a sharp glare at me, but I ignore it.

  “Elissa? Why didn’t you say so!”

  “Not Elissa. A girl. If it was Elissa, I would have just said Elissa.”

  “Of course it’s Elissa,” I say. It’s the only possibility that makes sense. Jackson wouldn’t have been in there whispering—or doing something more than whispering—with anyone else.

  “I’m going to go say hi,” I say. But before I can, a high-pitched shriek escapes out Austin’s pocket. I jump. He jumps. Then he looks down at his shorts pocket and says, “It’s just the walkie.”

  It’s his mom, Ms. Greenway: “Austin, go find Danielle and tell her that her mother’s here.”

  “Ten-four,” Austin says with this huge, obnoxious smile. Then he shoves the walkie-talkie back in his pocket. He looks me straight in the eye and says with what I can tell is great satisfaction: “Hey, Dani, your mom’s here.”

  I could kick him.

  My mom storms in, her face hot pink and filled to bursting with helium, but this time it’s because she’s mad at me. “Danielle! Your father will be at the house any minute! We’re leaving. Now.”

 
; I’m afraid she’ll go all Niagara in front of Austin, so I don’t protest.

  In a flash I’m at the car while she searches for her keys. She’s parked in the no-parking emergency space out in front of Taco Juan’s—that’s how not-herself she is. Also, she somehow seems to have lost her keys between parking and walking across the street.

  “Do you see them?” she mutters. “Did I drop them?” She searches the asphalt all the way out to the yellow line in the middle of the road. The shiny thing she thinks could be her keys turns out to be a crushed soda can—Mountain Dew, I think.

  That’s when I see someone waving at me from inside Taco Juan’s. A head pokes out the take-out window, and that head belongs to Elissa.

  My mind buzzes with nothingness as she calls out to me. Something dead-center in my chest tightens into a ball of hurt. For her, I tell myself. Mostly for her. “Hey, Dani! So do you want that sundae or not? Told you, it’s on the house.”

  Slowly, I shake my head. “No, thanks,” I hear myself say. I’m still trying to find a way to explain how she made it out of the theater and into the lobby—where I’d been standing—and across the street—where I am now—onto the sidewalk and back inside Taco Juan’s without me seeing a thing.

  “Dani, you never turn down a free sundae,” Elissa says. “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah, I’m fine.” At least I think I am.

  Her eyes widen at the sight of something in the street. “Um, you might want to get your mom out of the road before she’s hit by that bus.”

 
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