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  And across town the suspect would be crossing a street, but he’d get all paranoid. He’d run and hide in an alley. He’d be concealing his left hand in his pocket. The knuckles would be bandaged up, like he just punched a hole through a wall.

  Only, in the movie the suspect wouldn’t be, couldn’t be, someone like Jackson. He wouldn’t be the guy with cool taste in movies. The guy who rides the red bike around town. The guy who listens when you talk. Who looks at you like you matter. The guy who’s dating your babysitter, so you probably shouldn’t be thinking such things. No movie would do a thing like that.

  “What are you thinking?” Austin says.

  “I’m thinking when are you going to stop touching my stuff and leave my room?”

  “Okay,” Austin says, dropping one of my pens. “I thought you’d like to know, that’s all. If you want me to leave, I’ll leave.” He says this and stands up, waiting for me to give the definitive answer.

  “Austin,” I say. “Leave.”

  I have my back turned when he finally goes. I wait a good minute before heading downstairs to make sure he’s gone. There’s no sign of him out the windows. I don’t see his bike on the road.

  “Was Austin going to stay for dinner?” my mom asks. She appears behind me, standing by the banister, looking distracted.

  “Of course not,” I say, horrified. Then I see my mom’s face. I see it, like, really see it, for the first time since she picked me up at Dad’s. She’s not okay.

  Gently, I lead her away from the stairs and into the living room. We sit on the couch. It’s getting dark, and I have to turn the lamp on. We have the whole house to ourselves for another night. Outside, the chirps of crickets have begun, and a car drives by every once in a while, but beneath that? It’s called quiet. It’s what happens when you live in Shanosha where no one wants to be. All of a sudden it feels so lonely. Almost like it would have been nice to have someone over for dinner.

  “What’s for dinner?” I ask my mom.

  At first I don’t know if she heard me. She’s staring into space. Then I realize she’s not staring at nothing. She’s looking at a water bottle that somehow found its way onto the mantel over the fireplace. The bottle’s hidden behind a vase. Someone must have set the bottle there temporarily and forgotten about it.

  “That’s your father’s,” she says.

  “It’s a bottle of water,” I say. It could be anybody’s.

  “It’s his,” she insists. “From when he lived here. From when he used to go mountain-biking.” She takes a breath. “On Saturdays.”

  Now we’re both staring at it. It’s half-full. I realize that the spit mixed up inside the bottle could very well be my dad’s. He did bring water bottles with him when he went riding on weekends. The bike hasn’t been in the garage for months, but the bottle could have been here the whole time. Who knows how long we’d been in and out of this room, sitting on this couch, watching that TV, with that soggy old water up there collecting algae.

  Maybe. Or someone else—who knows, even me—left the bottle up there last week and my mom’s making a huge big deal out of nothing.

  “I’m going to put it in the recycling,” I tell her, getting to my feet.

  “No,” she says. “I’ll clean it up.” But she makes no move to clean it up. She just sits there, staring at it, like she’s practicing her telekinesis and wants to make it do a few loop-the-loops through the room first.

  I don’t have the heart to argue, so I sit back down.

  “He told you, I take it,” she says. “He told you he’s marrying Cheryl.”

  “Uh-huh,” I say. And I wait. I wait for her to say how awful that is. How if I don’t want to go to the wedding I totally don’t have to go to the wedding.

  Only, she doesn’t say anything like that. She says nothing. Nothing at all.

  It’s Sunday night. I’m afraid my mom could stay here on the couch till morning, staring at the mantel. Maybe the weekend was just as hard on her as it was on me.

  Still, she’ll have to pull herself together. She has work tomorrow. Also, I’m hungry and it’s time for dinner.

  “Mom,” I say. “Dinner, remember? What’re we having?”

  “I don’t know, Dani. I’m sorry, I forgot about it. Did you say Austin’s staying?”

  “He went home,” I say softly.

  “That’s right,” she says.

  I’m not sure what to do. Should I throw the water bottle out the window? Dump it over her head and hope it shocks her off the couch and into the kitchen? Is that cruel?

  No, wait… what I should do is be the one to make dinner. Running through my mind are the things I can cook by myself: scrambled eggs on toast, instant oatmeal, macaroni and cheese from a box. Not too much else.

  “Mom?” I say.

  “Yeah?”

  “Wait here.” In the kitchen I discover there’s no mac ’n’ cheese and only one egg, and the idea of feeding my mom strawberries-and-cream instant oatmeal by the spoonful seems too pitiful to face.

  I return to the living room and tell her, “I think we should get pizza.”

  “Good idea,” she says. “There’s money in my purse.”

  The only restaurant in all of Shanosha that delivers is Pie-in-the-Sky, the one pizza joint in town. You could say I’m being a good daughter, making sure my mom gets off the couch and has something to eat. Sure, go ahead, say that. But you and I both know it’s really selfish. I’m calling Pie-in-the-Sky for two reasons:

  (1) Hello, I am starving.

  And (2) I want to know if they have a delivery girl working there. A girl who’s been known to wear polka-dot tights.

  “Pie-in-the-Sky,” a high-pitched but utterly bored voice answers. “If you want delivery it’ll be at least forty-five minutes. If that’s too long, just hang up now.”

  It’s a girl’s voice. My heart jumps in my throat. Or else my throat swallows up my heart. Either way, I have a spaz moment and there’s some trouble getting my order out.

  “Hello?” the bored voice says. Then, “Whatever. I’m hanging up.”

  I panic so I just blurt out that I want a delivery and I don’t care how long it takes and oh, by the way, what are you wearing?

  “What did you just say?” says the voice.

  “Sorry. Do we know each other, like, have we met before?”

  “Duh, I can’t see who you are, so how would I know that?”

  I tell her who I am, plus my address and phone number, seeing as she’ll need that for the delivery, and then I ask: “Are you the girl who delivers the pizzas?”

  The voice on the phone sounds offended. “I am not a girl. Why does everyone keep thinking that, jeez!”

  Then it dawns on me. “Who is this?”

  “It’s Tommy, jeez. What kind of pizza do you want or what?”

  Tommy. That’s the little kid behind the counter. He’s maybe eight or nine. Either this town’s got a major problem with child-labor laws or his parents own the place and they let him answer the phone. Well, it’s not my fault he sounds like a girl.

  I give him my order (pepperoni and peppers, I’m curious) and before he can hang up I ask if there’s a girl who delivers the pizzas for Pie-in-the-Sky.

  And he says, “What girl? Joe will be there in forty-five minutes or less with your pizza,” and that’s that.

  So here I am. No closer to explaining away the girl in the polka-dot tights and just now remembering I don’t really even like peppers.

  “You didn’t just order peppers, did you?” my mom says from the doorway. “I thought you hated peppers.”

  “‘Hate’ is a strong word, Mom,” I tell her. “I’m trying to give peppers a chance. I’m trying to be mature.”

  “Really?” my mom says, raising an eyebrow. She’s got the start of a smile on her face—which is reason alone to suck down a few peppers, people. “You’re trying to be mature now?”

  (Is she thinking of the time I “ran away” in protest so I wouldn’t have to go to m
y dad’s? Is she thinking of the time she asked me to stay put in the car and I took off after the imaginary kitten?)

  “Yes,” I say. I grab two plates from the cabinet even though it’ll be almost an hour before we can even use them. “So how do you think I’m doing?”

  “I think you have a ways to go,” she says, then sighs. “But don’t we all.”

  8

  Some Things You Might Not Know

  Here are some things you might not know about Rita Hayworth. Sure, a lot of people know she started off as a dancer, and that Rita Hayworth wasn’t even her real name (it was Margarita Cansino before the movie people made her change it), but there’s more.

  She was shy. Like, really shy. You wouldn’t expect a movie star famous all over the globe to want to stay home instead of go out to parties, but Rita did. She was glamorous on the outside, but inside she was maybe just like you. Or me.

  She had trouble with love. She got married and divorced, married and divorced, like five times. One time she married a prince, but even that didn’t work out.

  When she died, of Alzheimer’s, she didn’t know who she was. That’s the disease where you forget the people you know and the things you once did. That makes me sad, to think Rita didn’t know how incredible she was.

  Here are some things you might not know about my mom. Right now, all you know is that she cries a lot, and her face looks like a hot-pink balloon when she does, and she’s so sensitive, bottles of water can turn her to stone. But she’s also funny. She makes me laugh when she’s not blowing her nose into a wad of tissues. And she’s smart—she wouldn’t be managing editor of the town paper if she wasn’t.

  Her favorite color is blue, that pale turquoise-y blue you can notice in the sky sometimes on a real nice day if you live in the middle of nowhere. I’m not sure what the name of it is. Anyway, a lot of stuff around our house is that color blue. Our mailbox is that color blue. The kitchen cabinets are that color blue. The plates we eat our pizza on are that color blue.

  So when my mom is doing okay—picking the peppers off her pepperoni pizza and sticking them on the edge of her blue plate—I tell her that her house is so much prettier than Cheryl’s house. I tell her I love her blue curtains and I love her blue candlesticks and I love the blue rug by the door where we wipe off the mud from our shoes. It’s the perfect color, I tell her, that muddy rug.

  I’m on a roll, but she stops me.

  “Dani, you don’t have to say all that.”

  So maybe I’m being too nice. But she needs that right now, don’t you think? If you look at her a certain way—like sideways, and while squinting, and if the kitchen lights were a touch dimmer, and if she had her hair up, and lipstick on even though she hardly ever wears lipstick—she might look almost exactly like Rita Hayworth. Almost exactly.

  The phone rings and it’s my brother, Casey. He tells Mom about soccer camp and I listen to her end of the conversation, picking at my peppers instead of eating them.

  “He wants to talk to you,” Mom says at last.

  I take the cordless and step out of the room for some privacy.

  “How’s she doing?” he asks. That’s the first thing he’s said to me in weeks.

  “Fine,” I say, “I guess.”

  “Are you taking good care of her? Are you trying not to be a brat?”

  “I’m not a brat!”

  “Dani. You’re forgetting I know you.”

  “Oh and I’m fine too, by the way,” I tell him. “I’m doing just great. In case you weren’t too busy bouncing balls off your head to wonder about your little sister. I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. I’m not dead.”

  He’s silent for a second. “I heard you went to Dad’s,” he says. “Dad told me about the wedding.”

  Now I’m the one who gets silent.

  “How bad was it?” he asks. “At his house?”

  “Bad,” I say.

  “Sucks,” he says.

  “Yup,” I say.

  And that’s all we have to say about that.

  We say our good-byes. He tells me to stay out of his room, and I say why would I want to go in there anyway (though I have, to borrow his CDs and to see if he left any money in his dresser), and I shove back into the kitchen and hang up.

  “You must miss your brother,” Mom says. “And with me, going through”—she waves a hand in the air at absolutely nothing—“all this. And with Maya moving away… This must be a really tough summer for you.”

  Um, hello. Was she walking around all summer with her head in a paper bag?

  But I don’t say anything mean. Not one thing. I know I’m in a difficult situation and I’m allowed to be difficult, but I kinda don’t want to be right now. Casey called me a brat. I’d like to prove that I’m not.

  I say, “I guess.” Then, “But I’m okay, really.”

  And she says, “I’ll think of something fun for you to do. You can’t spend your whole summer sitting in a dark movie theater. It’s just not healthy.”

  That’s when I remember Jackson. And the girl, whoever she is. And Elissa. And the phone calls. And the hole punched in the wall. And I get this new determination. This fire inside me. I decide that this will be my mission for the rest of the summer: to find out what’s up. And if something awful’s going on, to stop it.

  There are some things you might not know about me, too. I may daydream more than normal, and make up stuff in my head, and go on and on about movies, but I do know when it’s time to stand up and do something real for once.

  I take a big bite of my pizza. It’s cold by now. And it’s covered in green slimy things and all I want to do is spit them out. So now you know I officially really, really don’t like peppers. But you should also know that no one’s going to lie to me again and get away with it. I won’t let it happen. That’s a fact.

  9

  Holes in the Wall

  The next day, I head inside the theater without a ticket. I’ve come before the first show—The Big Sleep hasn’t started yet, so there’s no one (and by that I mean Austin) to tell me to pay or go away.

  The house phone is in a hallway off the lobby, a narrow passage just before the stairs up to Ms. Greenway’s office. That’s where I find Jackson. He’s on his knees on the floor, patching up a hole in the wall. He’s done enough patching with the spackle that there really isn’t a hole anymore. With his back to me, he keeps at it, smoothing the spot. Either his aunt told him to make it neat or he hopes to leave no trace of what he did.

  “Hey,” I shoot out, startling him.

  He jumps, splashing spackle at me. It’s stickier than I expected, like egg whites mixed up with gobs of paste.

  “Oh, hey, D,” he says. “Sorry about that.”

  I wipe some goop off my arm. “What happened?” I point at the wall.

  “Nothing,” he says. “I knocked my elbow into it, no big.”

  Then quickly he adds, “Why, did Austin tell you something else?”

  “I don’t know, what else would he have told me?”

  “I don’t know, why don’t you say what he told you, and I’ll tell you if that’s what happened?”

  It’s one of those nonconversations that get me all tripped up.

  His eyes narrow. He is standing up to his full height now, making me feel smaller than I even am. There are a few seconds when I wonder if I should be scared. When I think that maybe something bad’s going to happen.

  Then it passes. He’s grinning. “Dude, I’m such a klutz,” he says. He points at my chin. “You’ve got some glop there. Looks like a white beard.”

  We laugh. Ha-ha-ha. But I don’t know why I’m laughing. I don’t know why it’s so funny that he punched a hole in the wall and I’ve got glop on my chin because he threw at it me.

  I wipe off my chin. Whatever went on with that wall, it’s pretty much all patched up now. You know: like it never even happened.

  Jackson puts the lid back on the spackle. “So,” he says.

  He could a
dmit to anything right now. He could come clean and tell me that he never ordered pizza and he was with some girl named Bella and what would I do then?

  But what he says is, “So, how was it at your dad’s?”

  I give him the same answer I gave my brother: “Bad.” I figure he’ll say, That sucks, and I’ll say, Yeah, that sucks, and that’ll be the end to the conversation. But Jackson sits down on the steps and looks me over.

  “What happened?” he asks.

  I want to tell him, but first I try not to. “I just didn’t want to be there.”

  “What was it like? Weird, huh?” And somehow, with these questions and more that come after, he gets me talking. It’s like he really wants to know how it felt then, what it feels like now. Casey barely asked, and he’s my big brother. It’s hard to hate Jackson when it seems like he actually cares what I have to say.

  He tells me he gets it, that the weekend must have been rough, and I can’t explain it…. I begin to doubt myself again. Jackson’s a good guy. He wouldn’t—he couldn’t—do what I thought he did. Could he?

  “How long have you and Elissa been together?” I find myself asking. I never used to want to talk about Elissa, but everything’s changed now.

  “It’ll be six weeks this weekend,” he says with a smile.

  “That’s forever,” I say. In school last year when girls would get boyfriends, it lasted a week, two weeks. That was the longest anyone my age has ever been together.

  “You think so?” he says.

  “Yeah,” I say. “I like Elissa.”

  “Me too.”

  “I mean I really like Elissa.”

  “Me too.”

  I’m trying to say something, but I don’t know if he’s hearing it. Elissa’s the one, I’m saying. I know she’s right for him now. I realize he’s here for only the summer, but the summer is all that exists right now. And in it, Elissa is the one for him. Which means there can be no one else.

 
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