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  Zoey solves the problem by sticking the end of her cigarette directly into the fire. She pulls it out and the entire bottom half is black.

  “Hurry and toke on it,” Joe instructs her. “Or it won’t catch.” She puts the cigarette to her lips and inhales deeply. The end catches just like Joe said it would. But Zoey’s face turns bright red. I’m waiting for the smoke to come out of her mouth. Suddenly she starts coughing and hacking and her eyes water. Megan leans over and pounds her on the back. Zoey waves her off, holding her throat.

  “Will a sip of this help?” Joe asks, holding out the brandy. “Uh, I don’t think so,” Katy says.

  Zoey finally stops coughing and buries the cigarette in the sand. “Well, that’s one dirty habit I won’t be picking up.”

  “Why don’t we go walk it off?” Joe suggests.

  “Yeah,” Shmo says, glancing at Megan. “We should get her away from the smoky fire.”

  “Is that okay?” Megan asks Katy and me. “We’ll just be gone a few minutes.”

  “Take your time,” I tell them. “Katy and I can entertain ourselves.”

  “You’re sure?” Zoey asks, slowly getting to her feet.


  As soon as the four of them are out of earshot, I tell Katy, “I thought they’d never leave. So tell me, tell me, tell me.”

  Katy suggests we go down by the water, so I follow her to a dry patch near the edge, and we sit. She proceeds to untie and tie the shoelaces of both her sneakers.

  “C’mon, Katy. I’m not getting any younger.”

  “I’m just trying to think of how to say it.”

  “Would it help if I guess?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “All right. Let me try.” I think for a minute and then ask, “Are you moving?”

  She shakes her head.

  “Thank god,” I say. That had been my biggest fear. As much as I like Megan and Zoey, I would die if Katy left. I try another guess. “Are you doing drugs?”


  “Did you steal something and get caught?”


  “Are you pregnant?” I ask, laughing as I say it since I know that’s not possible, unless Orlando is due for a virgin birth. But Katy isn’t saying no. A tightness grips my chest and I grab her arm. “Katy, are you pregnant?”

  “No, no, I’m not pregnant,” she says.

  I let out a deep breath. I’ve never been so happy to hear the word “no” before.

  Then she adds, “It’s pretty much the opposite of pregnant.”

  “Huh? What’s the opposite of pregnant?”

  She closes her eyes and says in a voice so soft I have to lean in to hear, “I have a crush on a teacher.”

  I laugh with relief. “Is that all? What’s the big deal? You know I have a crush on Mr. Simon!”

  “It’s different,” she says.

  “Why is it different? Who is it, Principal Harrison? He’s kinda old, but he’s not bad looking, I guess.”

  She shakes her head and sighs. “It’s Ms. Connors.”

  My jaw falls open. Katy reaches over and shuts it for me. My eyes are open so wide they feel too big for their sockets. Her words float out over the lake. I picture them hanging there, suspended in mid-air. My brains searches for things to say.

  “But she’s like... she’s a... she’s a woman,” I stammer.

  “I’ve noticed,” Katy says, digging in the sand with a stick.

  I still feel like I’m not hearing her correctly. Just to point out the obvious, I ask, “What about that time in the coat room in sixth grade when you kissed that kid Billy Something who moved to New Jersey?” My arms flail about in the air as I search for more examples of why Katy isn’t gay. “Okay, and you went to second base with that boy you met at the Museum of Natural History last summer in New York. Also,” I continue, my voice rising, “Jeff Grand wanted to ask you to the prom before he found out sophomores can’t ask people.”

  “He did?”

  Even in the dark I can tell she’s pleased. “Yes,” I reply.

  “Before this whole thing, I didn’t think I was gay either,” Katy says, jabbing the stick hard into the sand. “I’m very confused. I mean, I did like those two guys. And I even like Jeff Grand a little.”

  I stand up and sit back down for no good reason. I am very aware that this is a hugely important conversation and I don’t want to say anything stupid. I have to focus. I have to help her sort through this. It’s like with the little girl at Disney this afternoon. It’s so important to listen to the words between the words. The words that aren’t being said. I lean back on my heels and ask, “Are you attracted to Ms. Connors? Like in a sexual way?”

  She doesn’t answer right away. Then she sighs and says, “I don’t know. I look forward to her class every day. I like watching her teach. She’s so free and confident and everything.”

  “It sounds like you admire her and want to be like her,” I point out, hoping I’m not just grasping aimlessly. “Like I might admire Alyssa Levy’s breasts, but I wouldn’t want to kiss her.”

  She looks up at me. “That girl in our gym class?”

  “You’re missing the point.”

  “No, I get what you’re trying to say. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.”

  “But if you do want to kiss her,” I begin, feeling this is an important point I need to get across, “if you do want to, then you can tell me.”

  “I’ll have to think about that,” Katy says. I wait for her to say more but she just sits there, lost in thought. At least her shoulders aren’t hunched up anymore. Finally she says, “Thank you for being so cool about this. I was so scared to tell you.”

  “Don’t be scared to tell me anything. I’m your best friend no matter what.” Hey, if I can handle what happened with Dad today at Disney World, I can handle this.

  “Aw, shucks,” Katy says, in a southern drawl. “You’re not gonna hug me now, are ya?”

  “Very funny.”

  “It’s weird,” Katy says. “Now that two people know it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.”

  “Are you serious? You told Ms. Connors you have a crush on her?” Oh, that can’t have been good.

  “No! Of course not,” Katy says. “I mean you and Mrs. Lombardo in the school office. She read it in my note. You gave it to her this morning.”

  “What? No, I didn’t! I gave your note back to you when you tackled me in the hall.”

  “No, you didn’t. You gave me your mother’s note excusing you from school. You gave my note to Mrs. Lombardo.”

  Once again, she shocks me. My jaw drops. I throw my hand over my mouth. “You’re kidding me!”

  “I kid you not.”

  I feel the laughter rising up from inside me and we both fall onto our backs in the sand. I laugh until my stomach aches.

  In between giggles, Katy asks, “You don’t think she’ll tell Ms. Connors, do you?”

  I shake my head, not even minding the sand that’s now ground into my hair. “Mrs. Lombardo must have secrets on every kid in school. She’s like a tomb.”

  “What are you guys laughing about?” Zoey says, approaching with Megan. I hadn’t even heard them approaching. I hope they didn’t hear anything else. Katy and I quickly stand up and brush the sand off ourselves.

  Katy answers hurriedly, “An old Seinfeld rerun I watched last night when I couldn’t fall asleep.”

  “Oh,” Megan says. “I never really got that show.”

  Katy looks visibly relieved that they bought her excuse. She looks back and forth between the two of them and says, “So, it looks like you guys had a good time. Nice hickey, Megan.”

  Megan’s hand flies up to her neck. The rest of us laugh.

  “I wouldn’t laugh, Zoey, if I were you,” Megan says. “You have lipstick all over your chin.”

  Zoey frantically swipes at her chin with the sleeve of her sweatshirt.

  “So where are Joe and Shmo?” I ask.