Finally Read online

  “Oh, right.” I actually had remembered; I was just trying to be nice. That, and it might not hurt to get one more opinion on my geometry equations.

  As she leaves, she says, “Unfortunate incident aside, you made it through your first time home alone. How does it feel?”

  “It feels pretty good, unfortunate incident, you know, aside.”

  “You still think you’re ready to babysit?”

  I pause before answering. I know she’s hoping I’ll say no. I probably could use a few more sessions in my own house before taking on someone else’s. But if I want Kyle, then I’m going to have to “man up.” “Yup, I’m ready. Bring it on.”

  If she’s disappointed, she does a good job of hiding it. “All right. You can sign up for the next Red Cross babysitting class.” She kisses me on the head, and I crawl into bed. Then I realize I officially have an extra half hour on my bedtime now. A whole half hour! I can’t go online due to my punishment, so I head downstairs and flick through the channels on TV. All the shows look violent or scary. I guess a half hour makes a big difference. I’ve had enough of being scared for one day, so I wander into the kitchen. Dad is making his sandwich for work tomorrow. When he sees me he just grunts. I guess since technically it was his foot that went through the door, he has a right to hold a grudge. At least until his foot stops hurting.

  I can’t help noticing that he’s not making a sandwich for my lunch, too. In fact, I don’t see carrot sticks or juice boxes or my blue lunch bag anywhere in sight. He might be mad at me, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t let me starve. Unless … could this mean … I think it does! I finally get to buy my own lunch! No parents looking over my shoulder to ensure I make the healthiest choices. I reach up and give Dad a kiss on the cheek.

  “What’s that for?” he asks, slicing his tuna sandwich in half.

  “For worrying you today.”

  “Well, the next time I have to kick a door down, it’s coming out of your allowance.”


  I go to bed dreaming of the bags of chips and piles of warm cookies that await me in the cafeteria. I wake up groggy. It’s a good thing I had picked out my outfit last night before bed, because who knows what I would come up with now. It takes until halfway through my bowl of Cheerios to feel even half awake. I guess functioning on less sleep is going to take some getting used to.

  “You better hurry if you want to make it to school on time,” Mom says, coming up behind me.

  I turn to ask what she means and am surprised to see that she’s still wearing her slippers and robe.

  “Aren’t you driving me?”

  She shakes her head. “You walk to school now, remember?”

  The last bit of sleep fog lifts. “That’s right!”

  “And here’s your lunch money.” She reaches into the pocket of her robe and hands me a five dollar bill. “I expect change.”

  “No problem,” I say, stashing the bill in my pocket and pushing back my chair. “Well, guess I better run then.”

  “Guess so,” she says.

  I’m not sure, but I think I detect a little catch in her voice. “You’re sure you don’t want to drive me? I don’t mind or anything.”

  “No, you go ahead. It’s only three blocks, right? And of course you’ll go directly to school, and won’t talk to strangers who pull over to ask for directions, because you never know if that’s really what they’re after. Pretend you don’t speak English or something, and walk away fast.”

  “But what if they really do need directions? Wouldn’t it be rude not to help them?”

  “Rory, I doubt anyone’s going to ask a kid —”


  “Who’s going to ask a preteen for directions?”

  “Maybe you’re right. But what if they offer me candy?” I joke.

  Her face grows grim. “That’s not funny.”

  “Sorry, yeesh. I promise I won’t talk to anyone. Even if old Mrs. Moody down the street comments on the weather.”

  “Mrs. Moody you can talk to,” Mom says, closing the door behind me. Then she opens it and sticks her head out. “But make sure it’s really her, and not someone masquerading as her.”

  Now I know where I get my paranoia from.

  As I set out, it occurs to me that I’m rarely outside at this time of day. There’s a crispness to the air that I never noticed just going from the house to the car, and the car to the school. The ground is still lightly covered with dew, and the air itself is filled with the smell of apples. Apples have not actually grown in Willow Falls since my grandparents’ days, but I swear I smell them sometimes when the wind is right.

  The walk takes longer than I would have thought, and not all the streets have sidewalks. It’s amazing how many people ignore the town’s pooper-scooper laws, and also what they toss in the gutters. So far I’ve seen numerous smashed pens, three nickels and a dime, a scratch-off lottery ticket, and two cracked CDs (Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and the soundtrack to one of the High School Musical movies, which I know I’m supposed to like, but just don’t). I think the key to this walking-to-school thing is having people to walk with. Or at least an iPod. It’s not like I can wear my Discman to school with those big headphones. As I turn the last corner, a car whizzes by so close the breeze lifts the back of my hair. It comes to a stop in front of me, so I have to stop, too. Is someone seriously going to ask me for directions? Did Mom set this up as a test? I search my brain for how to say something, anything, in Spanish. All that comes to mind is ¿Dondé está la biblioteca?, which means “Where is the library?” That doesn’t really apply. But all that happens is the driver — an older woman — leans across the passenger seat and says, “Sorry, honey, I didn’t see you.”

  “No problemo.” And then for good measure I add, “La biblioteca.” She gives me a strange look, and then sets off again. Mom would be proud.

  The school yard is buzzing with activity as I approach. Usually a few kids hang out on the front steps, or where the buses let out, but now the whole school is outside, watching men and women carry big pieces of equipment from a huge truck parked in the teachers’ lot. As I get closer, I see a bunch of smaller trailers, too. My pace quickens as I realize what’s going on. The movie people are setting up!

  I spot Annabelle and Sari next to one of the trailers and run over to them.

  “Hey, you made it!” Annabelle exclaims.

  “Why wouldn’t I?”

  “It’s not every day your dad has to break a door down to rescue you from drowning in the tub!”

  She and Sari laugh.

  “For your information, he didn’t break the door down. He just kicked a hole through it.”

  “I hope he was wearing a shoe!” Sari says, and this cracks them up even more.

  “And I wasn’t drowning,” I mutter. When they finally stop laughing, I ask, “So what’s going on here?”

  “This one is hair and makeup!” Annabelle says, pointing to the nearest trailer. “We’ve been trying to look inside, but the windows are too high.”

  We all jump up, but she’s right, still a foot too high. “What if we get a box or something to stand on?” Sari suggests.

  “Good idea,” Annabelle says, looking around. Before we find anything useful, the bell rings, and hordes of kids start running for the door. The morning announcements are all about the movie. The principal warns everyone to stay away from the trailers and not to approach the crew or the actors, or there will be serious consequences. She explains that the crew is here this week to set up the lights and other equipment, and for the director to block scenes. This means we’re supposed to be careful when we see big pieces of black tape on the hallways, or thick wires running along the walls and ground. She thanks us all for our patience and cooperation. Almost as an afterthought, she tells us that auditions for extras will be held next Monday. Squeals reverberate through the halls. I hear a phone beep, and it takes me a few seconds to realize it’s mine! Luckily there was so much noise that