Finally Read online

  Soon enough, her parents are gone. Not an uncle or aunt in sight. I glance over at Natalie’s brother’s band, but they’re so into their playing that they probably wouldn’t notice if a spaceship landed and abducted all of us.

  One by one, kids start making their way into the pool house. I hear Ruby say, “Oh, I think I left my bathing suit here last week. Do you want to help me check?” and all the other gymnastics girls run in after her, giggling. Then one of the boys says, “Hey, I think they’ve got a soccer ball in there that we can kick around.” Six guys push and shove to get inside first.

  “C’mon,” Annabelle says, pulling me by the arm. She catches the door before it closes and pushes me through it. All of the shades in the large, square-shaped room have been pulled down, which makes it seem like it’s nighttime in the middle of the day.

  “I’ll be right back,” I tell Annabelle, pushing gently through the crowd before she has a chance to stop me. The bathroom is attached to the main room through a small hall. I lock the door behind me and turn on the light. The toilet itself is behind its own door, so someone could change into their bathing suit in private, if they liked. I go into the stall and sit down on the closed toilet seat.

  For lack of anything better to do, I start taking things out of my purse. First, the lip gloss. Might as well put more on, since I’m sure mine wore off when I ate. After that, I lift out my house key and turn it over a few times. I wonder what my family’s doing at home. I heard Dad say something about building a fort for Sawyer out of old boxes and blankets. I like forts. When I was younger, Dad used to build them with me, and then we’d crawl inside and read comics with our flashlights. I suddenly worry that Natalie won’t like my gift. She probably doesn’t play in many forts these days. I put the key back into the purse and pull out my cell phone. As always, the weight of it in my hand makes me happy. I’m also very proud of myself that I haven’t lost it since that first day. My fingers move toward the numbers. My hand seems to know I’m about to call Mom even before my brain does.

  I’ve only gotten to the first three numbers when I hear voices outside the door. I freeze as the outside knob to the bathroom jiggles. “It’s locked,” a girl’s voice says, sounding disappointed. I let out my breath, relieved I’d remembered to lock it. More jiggling. “Wait,” the girl says, pushing against it, “I think it’s just stuck.” And to my horror, the door bangs open! I instantly pull my legs up onto the seat. This is getting to be a pattern. Nothing good came out of it last time, and I’m not expecting a happy ending this time, either.

  The girl, giggling, says, “C’mon, we only have five minutes before it’s someone else’s turn.” I know I recognize her voice, but I can’t think straight enough to place it.

  My eyes widen when a boy’s voice replies, “Okay, okay,” and he pushes the door closed behind him.

  “So …” the girl says, “how come you’re never online anymore? I haven’t seen your screen name pop up since our IM that time, like, weeks ago.”

  “What IM?”

  Omigod. It’s Alexa and Boy Rory! And of course now the soda is telling me I really do need to use the bathroom. I scrunch into an even smaller ball, if that’s possible.

  “Sure we did,” Alexa says. “We even talked about this party.”

  “Sorry,” he says. “Just didn’t happen.”

  I’d love to peek through the wooden slats to see Alexa’s expression right now, but I don’t dare.

  After a pause she says, “Well, we only have two minutes left. Are we gonna kiss or what?”

  “Why not?” Boy Rory replies.

  I roll my eyes. How romantic. For the next two minutes I squeeze my eyes closed and cover my ears with my hands, one of which is still grasping my phone. I’d hum to block out the noise even more, but can’t risk detection.

  After the longest 120 seconds in human history, the door opens and they leave. I scramble out of the stall and lock the main door. This time I notice one of those chain locks on the top, which must be there because the one on the knob doesn’t work. I quickly latch the chain and hurry back to the stall. Right as I turn around to flush, the knob jiggles, no doubt with the next happy couple. “Just a minute,” I call out, heart pounding. I try to do everything at once — flush, stick my phone back in my purse, put my purse back on my arm, straighten my dress. I hear the plop before I see it. Wincing and praying, I turn around and peek in the toilet. My worst fear is confirmed. There, on the bottom of the bowl, lies my cell phone. With only a second’s hesitation, I reach in, grab it, wrap it in toilet paper, and stuff it in my purse. Then I let myself out of the stall and wash my hands really, really well.

  “Hurry up in there!” a boy’s voice says, knocking on the door. “We don’t have all day!”

  I don’t bother to reply, just push my way out, without even bothering to see who it is. Then an arm grabs me and I stop and turn. Annabelle!

  “Hey!” she says. “Are you okay? You’ve been gone forever!”

  “Actually, I don’t feel great. I think I’m going to call my mom to pick me up.”

  I glance over to see that the boy who was knocking before is Leo’s friend Vinnie, who is an extra with us. I’d seen him and Annabelle talking a few times, but she never mentioned that she liked him or anything.

  “Are you sure?” she asks. Then she glances at Vinnie, who is pointing to his watch and tapping his foot. “Do you mind if I stay?”

  “No, you totally should. I’ll call you later.”

  “Okay,” she says, reaching out to hug me. “Feel better.” Vinnie holds the door open for Annabelle to enter first, then he closes it behind them with a wave.

  Leaning against the wall, I open my purse and unwrap the wet toilet paper until I reach the phone. Hoping against hope, I press some buttons. No beeps. No lights flash on the screen. Nothing. This is even worse than a fine kettle of fish. Not that I actually know what a kettle of fish is.

  I drop the phone in my purse, and head back into the main pool house. The group has thinned. I easily slip out the front door and have to blink against the brightness. The band is still playing, but now it’s not really music, it’s more like noise, like they’re all playing their instruments at once. Sari is sitting on a slope of grass talking to some kids from our gym class, although I’m not sure how they can hear one another over the band. When I approach, Sari looks up and asks, “Is it our turn yet?” and I realize the people outside are just waiting to be the people inside. I shake my head and ask to borrow her phone. She digs it out of her pocket and hands it to me.

  “What happened to yours?”

  “I’d rather not say.”

  She shrugs happily and returns to the group. I walk to a relatively quiet corner of the yard and call Mom.

  “Sari?” she says. “What’s wrong? Where’s Rory?”

  “It’s me, Mom. I’m just using Sari’s phone.”

  “Oh, phew, okay. Wait, what’s wrong with your own phone?”

  I sigh. “I’d rather not say.”

  “Why are you calling? The party’s not over yet, is it?”

  “Not exactly … I was just thinking maybe you could pick me up a little early?”

  She doesn’t answer, and for a second I worry we lost the connection. Then she says, “It’ll take me at least twenty minutes to get there. Is that okay?”

  “No problem.”

  “Do you want me to come inside?” I shake my head, then feel stupid since obviously she can’t see me. “No, no, I’ll wait out front.”


  I give Sari her phone back, and tell her the same story I told Annabelle. She raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t question me. I walk around to the front of the house, sit down on the tall curb, and tuck my dress around my legs.

  The band must be taking a break because I can’t hear them anymore. In fact, it’s very quiet except for some faraway dog barking. Not a single car goes by in my first minute out here. I shift my weight a bit. It feels strange to be sitting alone in an unf