Finally Read online

  “That’s okay. Remember the auditions are today, so I’ll be home late.”

  “Break a leg,” Dad says, holding the door open for me.

  “Now why would you say a thing like that?” I hear Mom scold Dad as I hurry outside.

  I’ve started to enjoy the solitary walk to school. One time last week I tried reading while I walked, but fell off the curb and almost twisted my ankle. Now I just go over things in my head, like the fact that I didn’t get any homework done over the weekend. And that Jake Harrison is going to be in school today. Darn my sensitive skin!

  As I climb the stairs up to the school, a girl calls my name. I stop and look around. The voice is coming from a tall, brown-haired girl in a plain brown T-shirt, jeans, and Keds. She looks sort of familiar. I take off my sunglasses. “Annabelle? Is that you?”

  “It’s me!” she says, throwing back her shoulders.

  “Wow! You look totally different!”

  Annabelle whirls around so I can see all sides of her. “Average? Blend-in-able?”

  I nod. “Definitely!”

  “Thanks! My mom totally freaked when she saw my hair. But it’ll rinse out in a few weeks. Your face looks really good. You almost can’t tell.”

  I let the almost slide. As we walk to our lockers, I can’t help but notice that nearly all the girls in the school are dressed up today. Makeup, hair down, skirts even! I also can’t help noticing how a lot of them have shaved their legs. It makes me wish I’d bumped that up on my list. Annabelle says she tried to sneak over to the trailers, but security had been stepped up and she couldn’t get close.

  “Do you think he’s really here?” I ask. “Like, breathing the same air we are?”

  She nods. “I can feel it, can’t you?”

  I nod.

  After being admonished in my first two classes for not having my homework, I ask for a bathroom pass to check my face. My mom had packed me some medicine to take if I needed it, but I don’t want to get groggy and fall asleep in class. That wouldn’t go over too well. The lighting in the bathroom leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t hide any flaws. Sallow skin is on full display. To someone who didn’t know me, I might almost look normal. To everyone else, though, I’m still a little swollen. Not like a boxer anymore, but not like regular Rory, either. I’m about to enter one of the stalls when I hear a girl’s voice out in the hallway.

  “I can go to the bathroom by myself! I’m not five years old!”

  I hurry into the stall so I don’t have to deal with whoever it is. I twist the lock just as the bathroom door bangs open (which isn’t easy to do because it’s one of those heavy doors). Whoever it is must be wearing heels because I can hear them click-clacking on the floor. I peek through the slat in the stall door and almost fall back into the toilet. It’s Madison Waters! In my school bathroom! She’s even more beautiful in person, which is annoying. Shiny black hair, perfect Hollywood tan, brown lace-up sandals with tall heels, and a skirt way too short to pass the school’s dress code. I try not to breathe as she starts punching numbers into her cell phone.

  “It’s me,” Madison says. “I’m here in Podunk, U.S.A.”

  I want to correct her and say, Actually, it’s Willow Falls, but restrain myself.

  “Yeah, he’s here, too. We just had breakfast in my trailer. Woulda been more fun if the stupid PA wasn’t there, too. They don’t leave us alone together for a minute.”

  My heart pounds harder. She’s talking about Jake! He is here!

  “What? No way.” She laughs. “The ring is just for publicity. Yeah, he’s totally gorgy, but he wants to be an actor.”

  She says actor like it’s a bad word.

  “Me? I want to be a movie star, and he’s just gonna drag me down. He wants to do plays!” She laughs again. The bathroom door swings open, and someone else comes in. “I better go,” she says hurriedly. Then there’s some kind of crash and things go skittering across the floor. I peek out again.

  “Watch it,” Madison says, rescuing her cell phone from under the row of sinks.

  “I’m so sorry!” a girl’s voice says, breathless. I can’t see her from this angle.

  “What’s this?” Madison asks, pointing to a book that had fallen open on the floor. “Hey! Is that my boyfriend in your photo album?”

  “It’s nothing,” the girl insists, an edge of panic in her voice. I gasp as I realize it must be Kira, the girl from the babysitting class. Without thinking, I fumble to flush the toilet and leave the stall as nonchalantly as possible. Madison turns and stares at me with instant suspicion. Kira’s eyes are pleading.

  I stroll right up to where the book is lying on the floor, and before Madison can reach for it again, I bend down and grab it. I close it quickly and give it to Kira, who clutches it tight and runs out of the bathroom.

  “That girl is always dropping things,” I say, turning on the faucet to wash my hands. My heart is pounding out of my chest. I can see Madison staring at me in the mirror, but I pretend not to notice. “Have a great day,” I say, breezing out of the bathroom. Good thing my chair is attached to my desk, because I almost collapse when I get back to class. I don’t hear a single thing my bio teacher says all period.

  At lunch, Annabelle and Sari make me tell and retell the story five times to make sure I haven’t left out a single detail.

  “Was she wearing the ring?” Sari asks.

  “I didn’t look. I was too busy trying not to pass out.”

  “I wonder what a PA is,” she says. “Personal Assistant maybe?”

  “Do you think she knows you heard everything?” Annabelle asks, wide-eyed.

  “Probably.” For once, I think my inability to stand out will work in my favor. “Hopefully she won’t recognize me if she sees me again.”

  Natalie Karp, Mena, and Alexa walk by. They’re dressed up like they’re going to a party. Or at least what I imagine people would wear to a party. Mena and Alexa ignore us as usual, but Natalie stops and points to Annabelle. “What happened to your hair?”

  I know Annabelle can’t tell them the real reason, or else Natalie would ask why she didn’t let her in on what the lady at the mall said. “I just wanted a change,” she says with a shrug.

  Mena and Alexa laugh as the three of them move along. “Good day for it!” Alexa says. “More chance for us to get picked at the audition!”

  Annabelle just smiles and sips her soda. I can’t help thinking that at least they had seen Annabelle as a threat, something they would never think about me.

  The auditions are held in the gym. We’re told to sit on the bleachers while the crew gets organized. Half the school must be here. The girls are all hoping to see Jake, and the boys are trying to catch a glimpse of Madison. As if either of them would just be hanging out in the gym. The same crew member who gave us the advice at the mall stands up and tells us to quiet down, which we instantly do. She’s wearing a headset with a little microphone in front of her mouth.

  “Hi, everyone. I’m the AD,” she says, smiling. “That means Assistant Director. It’s my job to organize the extras. How many of you have been in a movie before?”

  We all burst out laughing as if that’s the funniest thing we ever heard, and she joins in. “Okay, well, it’s nothing to be intimidated by. Actors are real people just like you and me. In fact, to prove it, I’d like to introduce you to a few.”

  Our heads swivel to the left as the gym door swings open. In walk Jake and Madison, waving and smiling, flanked on both sides by security guards. We all jump to our feet and clap. It’s weird to be clapping for someone just because they walked into the room, but that’s what we’re doing. Annabelle is gripping my arm so hard I think she’s going to leave a bruise. On Annabelle’s other side, Sari is gripping hers. Jake is even more “gorgy” in person, even though he looks a little older than I expected. One of the other crew members hands him a cordless mike. “Thank you, Willow Falls, for welcoming us! I know this is going to be a great movie! I bet you’re all wondering w