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  “Ah, the Sweet Sixteen Initiation at the lake,” she says almost wistfully. “I’d forgotten about that.”

  My eyes widen. “You know about that?”

  “I was sixteen once too, you know. In this very town.” She walks to the curb with me and we wait for the bus together. “I promise I won’t ask about what you do tonight if you don’t ask what I did all those many years ago.”

  Even though I know my mom would never ask me about my night, I say, “Deal.” We shake on it. “But I don’t even know what’s supposed to happen. No one will tell me.”

  “That’s the downside of turning sixteen before all your friends,” Mom says. “Someone has to go first.”

  “Can you just give me a hint?”

  She laughs and shakes her head. “It’s different for everyone.” “It might not even matter, because if I fail my driver’s test I’m not going.”

  “Oh, that reminds me,” she says, reaching into her apron pocket. “Here’s the note excusing you from third period.”

  I take the note and slip it into one of the deep pockets of my cargo pants. “Dad’s picking me up, right?”

  “He’ll be there, don’t worry. If you’re not going to eat that extra muffin you should give it to Megan. The last time she was here for dinner I swear the girl only ate two kernels of corn.”

  My mother and my friend Megan Panopolis’s mother went to high school together, so Mom treats Megan like a second daughter. Actually, she may show a bit more concern for Megan!

  “She won’t eat it, Mom. I’ve tried. She’s trying out for the part of Belle in Beauty and the Beast at Disney-MGM this summer and thinks she has to lose weight.” Megan and I have promised never to try out for the same part so we’ll never jeopardize our friendship. So far it’s working great, and we keep each other motivated.

  “She’s perfectly fine the way she is,” my mother insists. “I’m going to have a talk with her mother.”

  “I don’t think it will help,” I say as the bus pulls up.

  “Good luck with Juliet!” Mom says as I climb the three steps up. “Break a leg!” She waves goodbye as I take my seat by the window next to Katy. Some people would be embarrassed to have their mother wave to them from the bus stop, but I have a very high embarrassment threshold. It has served me well over the years. Katy practically melts into the ground whenever her mother even talks to her in public. Granted, her mother is pretty strange. Ten years of working as the set designer for the “It’s a Small World” ride was bound to cause some permanent damage.

  Katy says happy birthday and gives me a big hug. I turn around to look for Zoey, who usually sits right behind Katy. Zoey respects the fact that Katy and I are best friends and leaves the seat next to Katy for me. I would do the same for her and Megan, except Megan doesn’t take our bus. Zoey isn’t in her seat today.

  I turn back around. “Where’s Zoey?”

  “She called me at six-thirty this morning,” Katy explains, stretching her long legs out into the aisle. “She had a self-tanning incident.”

  “Again?” Zoey is so pale she’s not allowed to sit in the sun at all. She and her brother both have light red hair and white skin. It looks good on Zoey. Her brother, Dennis, who is a junior, just looks pasty. Although that may be a side effect of staying in his room all day partying and only listening to Pink Floyd. Their mother has this obsession with skin cancer. You’d think their family would have considered that before moving to Florida. This is the third time this year Zoey has had a mishap with self-tanners. I personally think she does it so she’ll look like Megan, who has naturally olive-colored skin. Poor Zoey always turns orange instead of olive.

  “She’ll be at the lake tonight, though, right?”

  Katy nods. “Her mother’s making her scrub it all off with this special ammonia stuff, and then she’ll drive her to school later.”

  The best-looking guy in our grade, Jason Count, gets on at the next stop. Since everything is working with my appearance today, I’ll be brave and smile at him. The corners of my lips begin turning upright in preparation. Then Jason’s girlfriend, Erica or Emily or Emma or some such name that starts with an E, steps onto the bus after him.

  “She doesn’t even live near here,” Katy whispers as they take a seat in the back.

  “Do you think she spent the night at his house?” I whisper back. Katy turns her head to look at them. “She’s practically sitting in his lap.”

  I steal a glance at them and they do look very cozy with his strong arms around her. I wonder if I’ll ever have a real boyfriend to get cuddly with. Andrew was more of a make-out-behind-the-bleachers kind of guy.

  “So did you get the car key yet?” Katy asks.

  I dig out my key chain and show it to her. “It’s the big shiny one that says Ford on it.”

  “This is the key chain your leapmate sent you, right? I’m surprised he found one with Josie on it. I mean, Pussycats aside, I didn’t think it was that popular a name.”

  “Chris special-ordered them all. He’s really sweet.”

  “Did you ever think of maybe dating him some day? I know he lives on the opposite end of the country, but maybe you could go to the same college or something.”

  I put the keys back in the side pocket of my bookbag. “I don’t think I’m his type.”

  “Why not?”

  “I’m pretty sure he’s gay.”

  She looks surprised. “Why would you think that?”

  “Well, for one thing he told me his friends are taking him to a club called The Pink Triangle for his birthday. And once he asked me if it’s difficult to get a job singing in the Main Street Parade at Disney.”

  Katy nods knowingly. “You’re probably right, then.”

  It’s a well-known fact at our school that any guy who is either in the Main Street Parade or performs in one of the EPCOT shows is not going to be asking any girls to the prom.

  We’re still a block away from school when the engine starts sputtering and the bus grinds to a halt. The driver opens the door. “Everybody out.”

  “Hey,” Katy says as we file down the stairs and head toward the school. “At least this time there’s no smoke coming out of the back of the bus.”

  “Soon we’ll be in the Shark and won’t have to deal with the humiliation of arriving by bus.”

  “Not soon enough for me,” Katy says, pushing open the heavy wooden door at the side entrance of the school.

  The halls of the school are covered with bright posters advertising upcoming activities.




  My hands itch to pull it down. The fewer people who know about it, the better. Luckily my better judgment prevails. Katy and I continue through the throng of rushing students and part ways at the door of my homeroom English class. She pushes a note into my hand.

  “You wrote me one already? School hasn’t even started yet.” “It’s a special birthday note,” she says, with an emphasis on the word special. “Make sure no one reads it over your shoulder.”

  “Okay,” I stick the note deep in my pocket. “See you in gym.” The bell rings as I slip into my seat. I look up to see happy 4th birthday, josie! on the blackboard. I wonder who wrote it. A bunch of people smile at me as I look around the room, so I can’t be sure. Mrs. Greenspan is going through the aisles, handing back last week’s homework with the usual bounce in her step. Mrs. G is a great teacher, but she gives more homework than anyone else. She says she does it because she cares. I’ve yet to figure that one out.

  Mitch Hurley probably wrote my birthday message. I know he has a little crush on me because his mother — who is friends with my mother — once found a valentine in his room with my name on it. He never gave me the card, though, so maybe he changed his mind. When Mitch sees me looking at him just now he blushes and then covers his face. Yup, he did it. I thin